Psalm 19: A Paradigm of Faith

Psalm 19: A Paradigm of Faith

An Essay

By Cassandra L. Wood
INTRODUCTION

Psalm 19 is a majestic psalm which sees the glory of God from a macroscopic to a microscopic perspective. That is, God’s glory is revealed from its lofty heights in the heavens down to its habitation in the human spirit. The boundaries of Psalm 19 reach from up to the skies to the inner recesses of the human soul.
The key theological theme in Psalm 19 is the glory of the LORD, reflected, seen, and known not only in His creation but also by, through and in the revealed Word of God, also called the Law and the Torah.
The revelation of His magnificence and glory, both through His Word (Law) and through His creation, lead to a response of humility from human beings.
Psalm 19 is more than simply a psalm which extols the grandeur of God’s creation and His Law. It is also a model, or paradigm, of faith. It is a paradigm of how to have faith in God holistically, i.e., by meditation on all of His works of creation, His Law, and in His redeeming love.
In this article, I will discuss the tri-layered categorization of Psalm 19. Interwoven into this discussion will be elements of its structure and literary features. Finally, I will conclude with how the revelation of God’s glory in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament.
Psalm 19: Structure and Categorization
            Historically, as stated in its superscription, Psalm 19 is a Psalm of David written for the choirmaster. The superscription provides a clue that the psalm was and is appropriate to be used in a corporate worship setting.[1]  Psalm 19 is structured into three strophes[2] and two stanzas.[3] Psalm 19 can be categorized as a wisdom psalm, a Torah psalm, and, to some extent, a psalm of praise.
Psalm 19 as a Wisdom Psalm
            Psalm 19:1-6 is an acknowledgment of the theological principle that the celestial creation of the LORD is a revelation of His divine will as reflected in the heavens.  Strophe 1 (vs. 1-6), speaks of the wisdom of God as displayed in the heavens. The common theme is God’s magnificent creation, particularly of the sun and the moon. Structurally, vs. 1-4a is a quatrain strophe, utilizing a parallel pattern[4] to praise the glory of God. Psalm 19 also meets the categorization of a psalm of praise because it has its own language of praise which gives universal glory to the LORD.[5]The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words;  no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. [6]
Verses 4b-6 is also a part of the first strophe of Psalm 19. The sun is the common theme in this bi-colona line. The Psalmist describes the sun using the literary style of personification to emphasize its strength, vitality and energy. To reinforce the imagery, the Psalmist employs the simile of an athlete eager to run the race. “In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.”[7] Psalm 19 is not traditionally included in the genre of a wisdom psalm because it does not include all of the elements of style and motifs of the wisdom psalms.[8]
Psalm 19 as a Torah Psalm
Because they do not have a standard literary pattern as do other literary genres in the Psalms, Torah psalms are to be thought of as a category rather than of a genre.[9] The Torah is the set of instructions which God imparted to the Israelites, through Moses on Mt. Sinai. This law was codified in the first five books of the English bible, what we know of today as the Pentateuch. The Torah is much more than the simple codification of God’s precepts, however. Abraham showed himself to be the model of the intended purpose of God’s law. He lived a life of obedient faith, based on the Torah.  In reference to the faith of Abraham, the LORD said, “. . .because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”[10] Notice in the previous text the manner in which Genesis uses many different words to describe the Torah. This use of multiple terms for God’s law is mirrored in Psalm 19:7-9:
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,  making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. 
In reference to the law of God, Psalm 19 uses the words “law”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “commands”, and “decrees.”  Psalm 19:7-9 is an acknowledgment of the theological principle that the law of the LORD is a revelation of His divine will to human beings.
Interpreting Psalm 19
Is Psalm 19 One Psalm or Three Psalms?
The analysis of Psalm 19 thus far has shown us that the first strophe of Psalm 19, verses 1-6, is an acknowledgment of the theological principle that the celestial creation of the LORD is a revelation of His divine will as reflected in the heavens and that the second strophe, verses 7-11, acknowledges the theological principle that the law of the LORD is a revelation of His divine will as given to human beings.
A key interpretive issue of Psalm 19 is the sudden change in topics between strophe one (vs. 1-6), strophe two (vs. 7-11) and strophe three (vs. 12-14).  Broyles notes that they read like two separate compositions.[11]  Bullock’s contention is that the two stanzas of verses 1-3 and verse 14 are held together by the same word, “The same word (‘omer) occurs for “speech” in the first stanza (v.2) and in the psalmist’s prayer that his “words” (‘imre, from the same root) be heard (v. 14).”[13]
Bullock further notes that C.S. Lewis argues that the connecting link between the two stanzas is verse 7, “nothing is hidden from its heat.”[14] The argument is that “[t]he Torah dominates human life as the sun dominates the daytime sky.”[15]  I disagree with Lewis’ argument. I would argue that the connecting link or the parallelism between the first stanza which speaks of God’s glory in the heavens and the second stanza which speaks of God’s Law is the entire bi-colon of vs. 4-6. Just as the sun is radiant, so is the law of the LORD radiant.[16] Just as the sun is likened unto a “champion rejoicing to run his course”[17] so the “precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.”[18]
The Psalmist’s Humble Response
The Psalmist’s response to the magnificence of the revelation of God’s glory in the heavens and His glorious precepts are found in verses 12-13. In these verses, the Psalmist voices a petition wrought with humility.  The revelation of the LORD’s magnificence and glory, both through his Law and through His creation, leads to a response of humility. “But who can discern their own errors?  Forgive my hidden faults.  Keep your servant also from willful sins;  may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless,  innocent of great transgression.” 
It is as if the Psalmist was declaring an ultimate surrender before the magnificent Creator — what more can be said or done before such a holy God? The Psalmist’s petition is reminiscent of the words spoken in regard to God’s creation in another psalm: “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?[19]
CONCLUSION
The concluding meditation of Psalm 19 is “[m]ay these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”[20]  These are the words which tie the entire psalm together.  It is at this beautiful conclusion that one sees how Psalm 19 is a paradigm of faith. It is a pattern to be followed by all believers as to how to have faith in God holistically, i.e., by meditation on all of His works of creation, His Law, and in is redeeming love manifested by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is here that the Christian can see the Messiah revealed in the Psalms. In speaking of our Redeemer, the New Testament says,
 . . .while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”[21]  Psalm 19, then, is truly a psalm which reveals to us the glory of God from a macroscopic to a microscopic perspective.
 [1]Greg M. Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Psalms,” Bibliotheca Sacra (April-June 1990): 172.
[2] Mark. D. Futato, Interpreting the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, Inc., 2007), 29. The first strophe is vs. 1-6, the second strophe is vs. 7-11, and the third strophe is vs. 12-14.
[3]C. Hallell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids,  MI: Baker, Academic, 2001),  220.  The first stanza is vs. 1-11 and the second stanza is vs. 12-14.
[4]Futato, 50, 51.
[5]Bullock, 126, 130. Bullock notes that the Psalms of Praise have four major themes: creation, the universality of Yahweh’s presence and sovereignty, Israel’s history, and God’s awesome deeds.
[6] Psalm 19:1-4a (NIV).
[7] Psalm 19: 4b-5 (NIV).
[8] Bullock, 202-203. Bullock lists six styles and four motifs in his discussion of the wisdom psalms. Psalm 19 uses one of the styles (the nature simile) and arguably none of the themes (motifs), unless one argues that vs. 13 is a theme encouraging one to be diligent in one’s personal actions.
[9] Bullock, 214. The Torah Psalms are Psalms 1, 19 and 11. These psalms are called Torah psalms because of the major concentration of the psalms are in the law of the LORD.
[10] Genesis 26:5 (NIV).
[11] Craig C. Broyles, Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 108. Bullock here includes vs. 12-14 with the second strophe of vs. 7-11.
[12] Bullock, 220.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 220. The reference made is actually verse 6b, not verse 7.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Psalm 19:8 (NIV).
[17] Psalm 19:5 (NIV).
[18] Psalm 19:8 (NIV).
[19] Psalm 8:4 (NIV).
[20]  Psalm 19:4 (NIV).
[21] Titus 2:13, 14 (NIV).