Psalms 19 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm consists of two distinct parts. The first part celebrates the revelation of the Power and Majesty of God in Nature, the universal and unceasing testimony of the heavens to their Creator ( Psa 19:1-6). The second part celebrates the moral beauty and beneficent power of Jehovah’s ‘Law’ in its manifold elements and aspects ( Psa 19:7-11); and the Psalmist, viewing his own life in the sight of this holy Law, concludes with a prayer for pardon, preservation, and acceptance ( Psa 19:12-14).
The identity of the Lawgiver of Israel with the Creator of the Universe was a fundamental principle of Old Testament religion (Amo 4:13; Amo 5:7-8): and the Psalm is certainly intended to suggest a comparison between the universal revelation of God’s majesty in creation, manifest to all mankind (Rom 1:19-20), and the special revelation of His moral character and of man’s duty in His ‘Law,’ given to Israel only. The use of the Divine names is significant. In the first part God is styled El, as the God of power, the Creator: in the second part He is styled Jehovah (seven times repeated), the Name by which He made Himself known as the covenant God of Israel, the God of grace and redemption.
Were the two parts the work of one poet? Form, style, and tone point to a negative answer. No doubt the same poet might have adopted a fresh rhythm to correspond to the change of subject; and the abruptness of the transition from one part to the other cannot be pressed as an argument against unity of authorship, for it is quite in accordance with the spirit of Hebrew poetry to place two thoughts side by side, and leave the reader to draw the intended inference. But the closest parallel to the first part is Psalms 8: to the second, Psalms 119.
We know from the example of Psalms 108 that no scruples were felt in combining parts of different poems into a new whole; and it seems most probable that the second part of the Psalm was written as a supplement to part of an already existing poem, or that portions of two poems were combined, with a view of suggesting the comparison between God’s two great volumes of Nature and the Scriptures.
Each of these volumes has its special lessons. Rightly interpreted, they can never be in conflict. “It is written,” says Lord Bacon, “ Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei; but it is not written coeli enarrant voluntatem Dei: but of that it is said, ad legem et testimonium: si non fecerint secundum verbum istud &c.” ( Advancement of Learning, II. 25, 3).
“The starry sky above me,” said Kant, “and the moral law in me, … are two things which fill the soul with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence.” Wallace’s Kant, p. 53.
What does the Psalmist mean by “the law of Jehovah,” which he describes in different aspects as testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, judgements? it is the moral law embodied in the Pentateuch, but not this exclusively, but all the priestly and prophetic teaching by which Jehovah’s will was made known. The “Law” is to the writer no burden-some and vexatious restriction of liberty, but a gracious reflection of the holiness of God, designed to lead man in the way of life and peace. Yet already in the closing verse we have a hint of the sterner function of the Law as an instrument for teaching man to know his own sinfulness (Rom 3:20), and to feel the need of an effectual atonement (Rom 8:3).
Psalms 19 is one of the Proper Psalms for Christmas Day. The Revelation of God in Nature, and the Revelation of God in His Word, prepared the way for the crowning Revelation of God in the Incarnation (Bp. Perowne).
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".