Biblical Commentary
(Bible Study)

Psalm 19



This is one of three psalms that celebrate the to·ra—God’s law.  The other two are Psalm 1 and Psalm 119.

This psalm begins by celebrating the universe which God has created (vv. 1-6).  Then it celebrates God’s law (to·ra—instruction), which the author sees as life-giving—just as the sun is life-giving (vv. 7-10).  Then the psalm, while admitting the benefits of the law, also admits inability to keep it.  The psalmist asks God forgiveness so that he might be blameless (vv. 11-13).  The final verse asks that his words and meditations might be acceptable to God (v. 14).

I like to visualize this psalm as three concentric circles:

The outer circle celebrates the whole universe, all of God’s creation—and especially the sun, which proclaims God’s glory (vv. 1-6).

• The middle circle narrows the focus, celebrating God’s to·ra—God’s instruction, which instructs us with regard to God’s will.

• The inner circle narrows the focus to the author of the psalm—his struggle to keep the law—his plea for forgiveness—and his prayer that “the words of (his) mouth and the meditation of (his heart) be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and redeemer.

The pivot point around which these circles are drawn is not the sun or the to·ra or the psalmist, but God.

Some scholars have proposed that one author wrote verses 1-6 and another wrote the remainder of the psalm.  They note differences in style between the two sections, as well as the presence of sun-worship in the ancient world.  Some suggest that verses 1-6 came out of that sun-worship background.  However:

• Verses 1-6 are quite the opposite of the sun-worshiping tradition.  These verses place the sun firmly in its place as a created object—not a god.  The created object (the sun) points to the creator (God).  The sun gives glory to the creator rather than garnering glory for itself.  If there is any connection between the sun-worshiping tradition and this psalm, it is that this psalm was written, in part, to counter that tradition.

• While there are some differences in sentence structure and language between verses 1-6 and the following verses, the flow of thought throughout the psalm is quite fluid and natural.  It doesn’t bear the disjointed feel of a pieced-together poem.  Quite to the contrary, it begins with one metaphor (the created universe—the sun), and segues quite nicely into a parallel metaphor (God’s to·ra)—and then segues into the final section where the psalmist examines the implications of God’s to·ra for his life.  As noted above, God is at the center of all three sections—is the pivot point around which each revolves.

• Poetic threads that work their way through all three sections also suggest the unity of the psalm.  For instance, verses 1-6 talk about how the firmament has no speech or words, but “their voice goes out through all the world” (v. 4).  Verses 7-10 do not include “speech” or “voice” or “words,” but they speak at length about Yahweh’s to·ra—God’s law—which is, after all, a collection of words.  In the third section, the psalmist says, “Let the words of my mouth….” (v. 14).


For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God.
The expanse shows his handiwork.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech,
and night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech nor language,
where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice has gone out through all the earth,
their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which is as a bridegroom coming out of his room,
like a strong man rejoicing to run his course.

6 His going forth is from the end of the heavens,
his circuit to its ends;
There is nothing hidden from its heat.

“For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David.”  This is called the superscription.

There are two systems for numbering the verses in the Psalms.  One system counts the superscription as verse 1.  In the other system, the superscription is not numbered.  Most modern Bibles use the second numbering system—do not assign a number to the superscription.  Thus verse 1 in this instance begins with “The heavens declare the glory of God” instead of “For the Chief Musician.”  However, in some Bibles and commentaries the superscription will be labeled verse 1 and “The heavens declare the glory of God” will be labeled verse 2.

As an example of the kind of confusion that this can cause, my English-language Bible uses one system and my Hebrew-language Bible uses the other.  Most of my commentaries track with my English Bible, but the Word Biblical Commentary tracks with the Hebrew Bible. The numbers are just one number off from each other, so it is easy to compensate—but it has been helpful to understand why the difference exists.

This is one of a number of psalms that include a superscription concerning David.   Readers through the centuries have interpreted “A Psalm by David” to mean “A Psalm written by David,” but a number of scholars question that interpretation today.  There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that “several Davidic psalms refer to the ‘temple’ (e.g., 5:7, 27:4; 65:4; 68:29” (Broyles, 28)—but the temple was built by David’s son, Solomon, and was not in existence during David’s lifetime.

Also, the Hebrew word le (usually translated “of” in English translations) is ambiguous.  Broyles notes that it could have any one of five meanings:

“(1) ‘of’ or ‘(belonging) to’ David in the sense of possession, because he authored the psalm;

(2) ‘(belonging) to’ the Davidic collection of psalms…. in other words, a royal collection of psalms….

(3) ‘(dedicated) to’ David or to the Davidic king….

(4) ‘for (the use of)’ David or the Davidic king….

(5) ‘concerning/about’ David” (Broyles, 27-28).”

The issue of Davidic authorship of the psalms is sufficiently complex that I can’t do it justice here.  If you are interested in further study, look at Craig C. Broyles, New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms, pages 26-31 and A.A. Anderson, The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms (1-72), pages 43-45.  Both are commentaries worthy of your purchase.

“The heavens declare the glory of God (Hebrew: El). The expanse shows his handiwork”(Hebrew: the works of his hands) (v. 1).  As is characteristic of Hebrew poetry, these two phrases express the same thought in two slightly different ways.  The heavens and the firmament tell God’s glory and proclaim the work of his hands.

“Heavens” and “expanse” (“firmament” in some translations) are roughly synonymous as used here.  The creation account in Genesis says that God created “the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse” (Genesis 1:7).  The Hebrews thought of the firmament as an overarching dome (or firmament) from which the sun, moon, and stars hung.  When the psalmist uses the word “expanse,” he is referring to the expanse or the firmament in its fullest expression, which includes the sun, moon, and stars.

Beginning in verse 7, the psalm will use God’s proper name, Yahweh, but here it uses the word El, which can be used for gods generally, but is also often used to speak of the God of Israel—Yahweh.  El speaks particularly of God’s power and might.

“The expanse shows his handiwork” (v. 1b).  Every artwork reveals something of the artist.  The Mona Lisa reveals something of Leonardo Da Vinci, who painted it.  The painting tells us not only that Leonardo lived, but also that he was a great artist—an artistic genius.

So it is with the work of God’s hands—the sun, moon, and stars.  They not only point to the existence of the creator, but they also proclaim God’s artistic genius.  They also proclaim God’s love for humankind.  Why else would God invest so heavily in creating the gloriously complex and beautiful heavens.  The sun would support life.  All the rest is jewelry—diamonds in the sky—created for our pleasure—and created to proclaim the genius of the creator.

“Day after day they pour forth speech, and night after night they display knowledge” (v. 2).  The sun pours forth its proclamation—its witness to God—by day.  The moon and stars pour forth their witness to God by night.  These constitute a kind of speech—a kind of knowledge—that has the potential to inform every human heart.

“There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (v. 3).  The witness of these heavenly bodies is not conveyed by ordinary speech or words or voices.  They constitute a different kind of art-form that can convey meaning without speech or words or voice.  In fact, the visual witness that they offer goes beyond speech or words or voices.  They convey a kind of wonder that is impossible to express in mere words.  As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Because the witness of the heavenly bodies is conveyed by image rather than ordinary words, it is able to convey its message to people everywhere—regardless of their native language or linguistic ability.  Even an illiterate person can understand the witness of the heavenly bodies to the Creator who stands behind them.

“Their voice has gone out through all the earth, their words to the end of the world” (v. 4a).  The very presence of these heavenly bodies points to the one who created them.  Their presence conveys meaning, so it is as if they were using voices or words.  It is as if they were singing a heavenly chorale that can be easily understood by sensitive hearts—proclaiming the presence and power and love of the creator.

This witness is not bounded by geography.  These heavenly bodies are on view (standing in their pulpit, as it were) every day and every night (at least every day and night when the clouds have not obscured them from view).  Half the world is exposed to the witness of the sun while the other half is exposed to the witness of the moon and stars.  Some places, like the Arctic region, that might seem to be deprived of part of this witness (because the sun shines little or not at all during the winter) are not deprived at all.  God created the Arctic lights—the Aurora Borealis—to serve as their special witness.

The apostle Paul said that the witness of the created order continues as a powerful witness.  Those who have not had the advantage of scripture or proclamation are without excuse, because “For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

“In them (the heavens) he has set a tent for the sun” (v. 4b).  God provided a tent for the sun, where it can retire to rest during the night (the psalmist has no idea that the sun illuminates the other side of earth during his nighttime).

“which is as a bridegroom coming out of his room, like a strong man rejoicing to run his course”(v. 5).  When the sun comes up in the morning, it is a glorious sight—much like the sight of a bridegroom emerging joyously from the bridal chamber—a big smile on his face.  As the sun works its way across the heavens during the day, it is like a strong man enjoying a good run—exulting in his strength and the feel of wind in his face.

Who can fail to appreciate the beauty of the sun running its course?  Who can fail to notice its steady progression across the sky?  Who can fail to recognize its significance?  The sun not only lights our days, but it also produces the light and warmth necessary to sustain vegetation, animal life, and human life.  Without the sun, the earth would be merely a frozen and lifeless rock.

“His going forth is from the end of the heavens, his circuit to its ends; There is nothing hidden from its heat” (v. 6).  The sun rises in the eastern sky and sets in the western sky.  That was true yesterday, and is true today, and will be true tomorrow.  The sun moves faithfully through its course through each day—has done so since God created it—and will continue to do so until the end of time.

Occasional solar eclipses will block the sun’s light for a few minutes, but even at the height of the eclipse we can see the sun’s corona behind the moon that is blocking the sun’s light.

There will be cloudy days that block our view of the sun, but we see enough light during those days to remind us that the sun is there—and to make us wish that we could see it.


7Yahweh’s law (Hebrew: to·ra—instruction or law) is perfect,
restoring the soul;

Yahweh’s testimony is sure,
making wise the simple;

8Yahweh’s precepts are right,
rejoicing the heart;

Yahweh’s commandment is pure,
enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of Yahweh is clean,
enduring forever;

Yahweh’s ordinances are true
and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold,
yes, than much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and the extract of the honeycomb.

“Yahweh’s law (to·ra—instruction or law) is perfect, restoring the soul.  Yahweh’s testimony is sure, making wise the simple” (v. 7).  Again, we have two parallel statements, typical of Hebrew poetry.

Scholars call this kind of two-part verse a “bicolon”—”bi” meaning “two” and “colon” referring to a rhythmic measure of lyric meter.

• The first colon is “Yahweh’s law is perfect, restoring the soul.”

• The second colon is “Yahweh’s testimony is sure, making wise the simple.”

The second colon is repetition, but using slightly different words.  The repetition reinforces the thought being proclaimed. Most of the verses in this psalm are bicolons.  The other psalms also make extensive use of bicolons.

In verses 1-6, the reference to God is the Hebrew El, a word that can be used for the God of Israel or other gods.  In verses 7-10, the word used for God is Yahweh—God’s name as revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14).  The word Yahweh is used over and over in these verses—six times in verses 10-13 and once in verse 14.

“Yahweh’s law is perfect, restoring the soul” (v. 7a).  In what sense does the law of the Lord revive the soul?  Ask an alcoholic who has quit drinking, in part, because he or she has learned to appreciate God’s law.  Ask someone who has managed to keep a marriage together because he or she has done the same.  They will tell you that faithfulness to God’s law is truly life-changing.

“Yahweh’s testimony is sure, making wise the simple” (v. 7b).  In what sense does God’s law make wise the simple?  For one thing, God’s law (especially as interpreted by Jesus) is easy to understand.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  What could be easier to understand than that?  God’s law is easier to understand than to put in practice—it isn’t always easy to love God, and it especially isn’t always easy to love our neighbor—but even the simplest mind can understand what needs to be done.

In fact, ordinary people are often more sensitive spiritually than their more sophisticated kin.  God has chosen to do most of his work through very ordinary people.  That has been part of his plan.  When brilliant people do great things, we tend to give them credit.  When ordinary people do great things, we tend to ask how that could be—which can lead us to look for God’s hand behind the great outcome.

“Yahweh’s precepts are right, rejoicing the heart” (v. 8a).  In what sense does the rightness of God’s law cause our hearts to rejoice?  There are times when we bump up against God’s law without rejoicing, because we want to do something that God would not want us to do.  There are times when the desires of our hearts are diametrically opposed to the direction that God would lead us.  But, as Jesus warned, “the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

When we refuse to do what God wants us to do, the results are often bad—sometimes disastrous.  Sometimes the bad result comes quickly, and other times it comes only after a number of years—but it usually comes.  But when we do what God wants us to do, the results over the long haul are likely to be much better.  It is when we see these positive outcomes that our hearts rejoice that God has taught us faithfully.

“Yahweh’s commandment is pure, enlightening the eyes” (v. 8b).  The Bible isn’t always easy to understand, so in what sense is the commandment of the Lord clear?  Consider the Ten Commandments.  You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Honor your father and your mother.  You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house (Exodus 20:3-17).  Which of those is confusing?  Which couldn’t you understand?

And then Jesus simplifies it.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Which of those isn’t clear?

While the Bible might not always be easy to understand, the parts that we can understand are sufficient to enlighten us—to help us to clarify our priorities—to guide us in such a way that we will not crash and burn.

“The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever” (v. 9a).  Verses 7 and 8 have talked about the laws and decrees and precepts and commandments of the Lord.  Each of those four words is roughly synonymous.  But now the psalmist speaks of something quite different—related but not the same—”the fear of Yahweh.”  When the Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord, it usually means the respect and reverence and faith that lead a person to obey the Lord—to obey God’s laws—to do God’s will.  That’s the tie-in with verses 7 and 8.  The person who fears the Lord will obey God’s laws.

Fear of the Lord is serving the Lord and the Lord only (Deuteronomy 6:13).  It is observing God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 28:58).  Fear of the Lord is “the beginning of knowledge,” in the sense that the person who fears God will be open to instruction by God (Proverbs 1:7).  It is often the result of seeing God’s power in action (Exodus 14:31).  Fear of the Lord requires righteousness (Acts 10:22), faithful service to God, and rejection of false gods (Joshua 24:14).  Fear of the Lord insures God’s mercy (Luke 1:50), and results in spiritual prosperity (Acts 9:31).  “Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness” (Psalm 33:18).

This kind of reverence for God helps us to build solid, stable lives—the kind of lives that help us through the thick of life, when it would be easy to succumb to temptation—and through the thin of life, when it would be easy to succumb to despair.  Reverence for God can keep us from falling, and keeps us from breaking when we do fall.

“Yahweh’s ordinances are true, and righteous altogether” (v. 9b).  Ordinance is another word for law.  Verse 9b briefly summarizes the content of verses 7-9a.  God’s laws are true.  They are dependable.  They are reliable.  We can count on them to guide us rightly.  They will not lead us astray.

“More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the extract of the honeycomb” (v. 10).  The psalmist likens God’s laws to gold, which constitutes a kind of wealth—and to honey, which is a sweet and pleasant.  But God’s laws are not simply like gold or honey, but are superior to them.  Gold is precious, but thieves can steal it and death will wrest it from our grasp.  But a faithful heart is impervious to rust and moths and thieves.  A Godly heart will see us through this life, and will usher us into the next life.

So also with honey.  Honey is sweet, and we love sweet foods.  My dentist commented recently that sugar (it is sugar that makes honey sweet) is everywhere.  Fast foods are laced with it, as are soft drinks.  Catsup has lots of sugar in it.  Baked goods have sugar.  Most prepared foods include it.  My dentist’s interest in sugar is that it rots our teeth.

And high intakes of sugar contribute to obesity and diabetes and various other ailments.

So, while honey and other sugars might taste good, God’s laws are better.  They will help us to maintain our health—both physical and spiritual.  They will not cause us harm.


11Moreover by them (God’s laws) is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12Who can discern his errors?
Forgive me from hidden errors.

13Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.

Then I will be upright,
and innocent of great transgression.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
Yahweh, my rock and my redeemer (Hebrew: go·ali—from ge·uliym).

“Moreover by them (God’s laws) is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”(v. 11).  This verse might seem to go with verses 7-10 rather than 12-14, because it continues the thought that God’s laws warn and offer a great reward for those who keep them.  However, most scholars group verses 11-14 together, because beginning with this verse the focus narrows to “your servant”—the psalmist.

As noted above, it is possible to see this psalm as three concentric circles.  The large circle speaks of the universe (vv. 1-6).  The middle circle speaks of God’s laws (vv. 7-10).  The small circle narrows the focus to “your servant”—the psalmist.  With this verse, the principles outlined in the earlier verses become quite personal.

“Who can detect his errors? Forgive me from hidden errors” (v. 12).  The mood of the psalm so far has been unremittingly upbeat, but now it turns downward.  The psalmist turns his attention to errors and hidden faults—his hidden faults—his sins.  He has witnessed the perfection of the God-created universe and the God-created laws.  He, too, is God-created, but he knows that he is not perfect.  He sees the contrast between the rest of the created order and his own life.

Who can detect his sins?  He is aware of his sins—some of them, at least, and Yahweh certain knows of them, so he asks God to forgive him—to purge the record so that he might no longer be guilty.

The mention of “hidden errors” reminds us that “There is nothing hidden from (the sun’s) heat” (v. 6).  Neither is anything hidden from God’s watchful eye.

“Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins.  Let them not have dominion over me”(v. 13a).  Who are the presumptuous—the arrogant?  There is no shortage of candidates, but in the context of this psalm we might assume that they are those who are insolent with regard to God’s laws—in other words, those who follow the advice of the wicked, who take the path that sinners tread, and who sit in the seat of scoffers (see Psalm 1:1).  This verse is more than a prayer for deliverance from people with an attitude.  It is a prayer for deliverance from the ungodly.

“Then I shall be upright and innocent of great transgression” (v. 13b).  Only if Yahweh will clear the psalmist from hidden faults (v. 12b) and deliver him from the ungodly (v. 13a) can the psalmist become blameless and innocent.  He is aware that his propensity to sin has not led him only into small sins.  He needs God’s help lest he be guilty of “great transgression.”

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight” (v. 14a).  The psalmist has said that the heavens tell the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork (v. 1).  He has said that the law of the Lord is perfect, implying that it reveals perfectly the will of God for the world and the individual (v. 7).  Now, conscious of his own imperfect witness, he prays that his words and heart might be acceptable to God—might come up to the standard of the rest of the created order.

“Yahweh, my rock” (v. 14b).  When the psalmist speaks of Yahweh as his rock, he is picturing Yahweh as strong and immovable.  The person whose life is built on the Yahweh-rock is like a wise man whose house is safe from storms and floods because it has a strong foundation (Matthew 7:24-25).

“and my redeemer” (Hebrew: go·ali—from ge·uliym) (v. 14c).  The word that is translated “redeemer” here is a word used for the redemption of an impoverished person by another member of the family.  Levitical law required Israelites to buy back (redeem) family members who had been forced to sell themselves into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-49).  It also required them to buy back family land that had fallen into other hands due to poverty (Leviticus 25:25, 33).  A redeemer, therefore, is a kind of savior.

Here the psalmist pictures Yahweh as his redeemer—his savior—the one who will free him (or who has freed him) from his sins.


While Jesus experienced a great deal of conflict from scribes, Pharisees, and others devoted to the Jewish law, he did not call for the abolishment of the law but said instead that he had come to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20).  He went on to call for radically higher standards that embodied the spirit of the law (Matthew 5:21ff.).

The early church was composed initially of Jews who were committed to the keeping of the law.  The big breakthrough came with Peter’s rooftop vision where God commanded him to kill and eat various animals proscribed by the law.  On the heels of that vision, Cornelius, a Roman centurion, came to visit Peter.  Peter concluded that God was opening the door to the church for Gentiles, and took that message to Jerusalem (Acts 11).

The Epistles address the issue of adherence to the law at some length.  Ephesians says that Christ has “abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace” (Ephesians 2:15).  The apostle Paul said, “For Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

But that does not mean that God has left Christians less well equipped than Jews to know God’s will.  For Christians, what was once said about the law can now be said about all scripture.  As Paul said, “Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.  The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament.  The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.



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Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan