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Praise to the God of the Law

            When we consider the beautiful sky above, most of us are easily led to praise God the Creator. However in Psalm 19 David finds even more reason to praise God because of the law.  The placement of Psalm 19 in the Psalter, the name for God in verses 7-14, the benefits of the Law and David’s response help us to understand why David praises the God of the Law.

            Psalms 18 and 19 share some verbal links that should lead us to read them together.  Both are ascribed to David.  Psalm 18 reads “of David the servant of the Lord.”  In Psalm 19:13 David, speaking to the Lord, refers to himself as “your servant.”  Even more clearly relating the two psalms, David closes Psalm 19 “O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer,” while in Psalm 18 David calls the Lord his rock three times (vv. 2, 31, 46).  This linking of the two psalms gives a very thorough presentation of God’s revelation in the form of prayers of praise.  Psalm 18 extols the Lord for revealing himself in history by delivering his servants in times of distress.  Psalm 19 celebrates God as the creator revealed in the heavens (vv. 1-6) and then as the covenantal God revealing himself in the law (vv. 7-14).

            It is natural for sinful humans to look on law as a standard that condemns, but that is not the perspective of Psalm 19.  Switching from “God,” which stresses the divine creative power and beauty (v. 1), verses 7-14 only refer to God as “Lord,” his covenantal name.  This law, then, does not condemn.  It is rather the outline of the pathway that the Lord has laid out for his people that it may go well with them.  Furthermore, by repeating “Lord” seven times against only writing “God” once in verses 1-6 the psalmist demonstrates that it is the Lord’s revelation in the law that is the clearest and most beneficial to his children.

            Five different Hebrew words are used to designate the ways in which the Lord reveals the way of life blessed by God, each is described positively with some characteristic and then each has a benefit attached to it.  Following the ESV we have:

v. 7a     law                               perfect                                      reviving the soul

v. 7b    testimony                      sure                                          making wise the simple

8a        precepts                       right                                          rejoicing the heart

8b        commandment              pure                                         enlightening the eyes

9b-11   rules                             true                                          servant warned

                                                righteous altogether                   great reward in keeping them

                                                more desirable than gold

                                                     even much fine gold

                                                sweeter than honey

                                                     and drippings of the honeycomb


So grateful is the psalmist for the law of the Lord that he ends in a crescendo of praise in which the Lord’s rules are described by four different characteristics and two benefits.  He also adds “the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.”  Fear is not a word for law, but, being the equivalent of obeying the Lord, fits in with the praise of the Lord due to his law.

            An important change takes place in verse 11.  David begins to speak directly to the Lord as “your servant.”  The psalm moves from praise to personal petition for forgiveness, (v. 12), deliverance from presumptuous sins (v. 13) and ends with the request that his meditation would be acceptable in the Lord’s sight.  This shift demonstrates again the superiority of God’s revelation of himself in the law to the one in creation.  In the law God speaks directly to us, even personally.  The law also more clearly reveals his will to us and thus our need for his mercy.  Finally, the law of the Lord reveals that we cannot approach God according to our own ideas.  Worship and meditations about him are to be done in the way he has prescribed.  Therefore, the psalmist prays that his meditation will be acceptable to the Lord, but he does so not in fearful doubt but in confidence because the Lord is his rock and redeemer, as he is ours as well.

26 thoughts on “Praise to the God of the Law

  1. Brilliant analysis, as always. My question about this psalm is what verse 13 refers to specifically when it says “presumptuous sins.”

  2. I really like how the law is described in Psalm 19. I think it is good to remember all of the good that comes from having the law. I also liked what you said about why David ended the psalm the way he did. That confused me before because it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the psalm.

    1. Thanks, Elisabeth. I admit that I had to think a great deal about the ending, since it didn’t, as you write, fit in easily with the flow of the rest of the psalm.

  3. I really appreciate reading these posts and then seeing all of these attributes and similarities of the psalms that I never would have seen before. The difference between the name “God” and “Lord” has never shown itself to me and I will have to remember to think of them differently in some ways now.

  4. This is very informative and helpful. Could you explain what you mean by saying that we cannot approach God according to our own ideas? What would be some examples of that? And how can one worship and meditate on Him in a way that he has prescribed?

    1. Well, the closing prayer of Psalm 19 is that his words and meditation would be acceptable in God’s sight. This means that there could be words and meditations that don’t please God and he doesn’t accept them. One of the chief challenges today with regard to worship is that many tend to think that worship should be what moves or pleases them and do not want to have any criticism of something they like, even criticism from the Scripture.

  5. Verses 7 and 8 as well as verse 1 of Psalm 19 really shows the beauty in the writing of the Bible, especially in the Psalms and as well as in The song of Solomon. It is just kind of funny that there is beaty in describing beauty.

  6. I appreciate the fact that you so clearly laid out the five different Hebrew words in Psalm 19, along with each of their benefits and characteristics. Are we certain that David wrote Psalm 19 though? Psalm 19 says at the beginning that it is a “Psalm of David” but I remember in class you said the word “of” in Hebrew could be translated in different ways. (e.g. to, for, etc.)
    Also, I feel like I’ve been brought up and taught to believe that the law actually does condemn. Can you explain a little bit more why exactly the law does not condemn believers?

    1. You’re right about the authorship, Maddie. It may very well be David, especially with the connection to Psalm 18 which seems to reflect David’s experience. We can never be absolutely sure. Sometimes I just use “David” to avoid always writing “the author” or something similar. I do think that is a decent chance that this psalm is by David.
      With regard to the law, the law does not condemn believers. It guides and directs us. We need to be careful to distinguish the various meanings given to the word “law” in the Bible, because the different meanings lead to different functions and results of the law. The law does condemn us, if we think that we can become right with God by our obedience to the law.

  7. I love this chapter of Psalms! When i was reading it, I felt moved by God into praise of Him and all He is. Their is something absolutely wonderful about all out, heart felt praise of God that is just amazing. I have greatly enjoyed reading your post Dr.Isley. They have given me a lot of incite into the Psalms. I look forward to reading more.

  8. I love how you show that David sees the law as a form of communication and not condemnation. I think viewing the law as such will help us grow closer to God and understand him better. Thank You!!

  9. It seems like a good thing that the Hebrews have several different meanings of a word. English would fair for the better if it were like that ( example: love)

  10. Before i read this post, I had never thought of the different implications of the five words you listed. It really shows to me how thought out these Psalms are, plus David’s dedication to them.

  11. You say David request that his meditation is acceptable to God, and later that we cannot come to to the Lord according to our own ideas. Could you elaborate on that point? Can we not come to God, regarding prayer, in any form of idea or manner?

    1. This is a good question, Nick. See my reply to Andrew. I would add that we can’t come to God in prayer in any manner. The Psalms are in part God’s word to us to teach us how to pray. Remember too that when Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s prayer, he said that this is how you are to pray (Matthew 6:9).

  12. Thank you for this analysis. I had never considered that switching the title we use to address the Lord could actually be significant. I think this is my favorite psalm so far because it is mostly consisted of praising the Lord. I was wondering when David mentions the part about presumptuous sins was that just a way of repenting of the sins he might not have been able to remember at that time? Because I have been wondering what a correct way to do that was.

    1. Thank you, Gabby. I too love Psalm 19. I think that David was very aware of his presumptuous sins. See what I wrote to Brook. More to the point of your question is his prayer that the Lord would forgive hidden sins. We don’t know our own selves, but God does. He sees the faults that we don’t. This is why it is good to pray for forgiveness of hidden sins and to realize that the Lord forgives them and will help us to see them and overcome them too.

  13. You explained a little why the word fear was used, but wouldn’t other words have conveyed his meaning better?

    1. Well, I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to improve on the Bible. We might think about whether translating the Hebrew with the word “fear” was a good choice. I will say that I think the concept is so rich and comprehensive that one English word may not cover it.

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