Sunday, July 20, 2008

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 (NET):

For the music director; a psalm of David.

The heavens declare God's glory;
the sky displays his handiwork.

2 Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.

3 There is no actual speech or word,
nor is its voice literally heard.

4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth;
its words carry to the distant horizon.
In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun.

5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber;
like a strong man it enjoys running its course.

6 It emerges from the distant horizon,
and goes from one end of the sky to the other;
nothing can escape its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect
and preserves one's life.
The rules set down by the LORD are reliable
and impart wisdom to the untrained.

8 The LORD's precepts are fair
and make one happy.
The LORD's commands are pure
and give moral insight.

9 The commands to fear the LORD are right
and permanent.
The regulations given by the LORD are trustworthy
and completely just.

10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from honeycomb.

11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there;
those who obey them receive a rich reward.

12 Who can avoid sinning?
Please do not punish my unintentional sins.

13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins;
do not allow such sins to control me.
Then I will be blameless,
and innocent of blatant rebellion.

14 May my words and my thoughts
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my protector and my defender.

This psalm almost seems like two psalms. First, there is praise of God as He is revealed in nature. Then, there is praise of God's word. Is this a praise psalm or a wisdom psalm? Is it both?

I think it is a praise psalm. First, the psalmist praises God for His wonders in nature. Then, he praises Him for the wisdom in His word. (Perhaps, then, this is a lesson that praise and wisdom are not mutually exclusive.)

First, the psalmist praises God as revealed in nature. He portrays the sun as a bridegroom or a strong man, who struts across the sky and warms everything he pleases. Nothing can stop him. Nothing can get in his way. And yet, in verse 4, God has pitched his tent.

I think there is something truly revelatory about nature. I learned this when I was in Dallas. I loved living there, but the city is a lesson in the bases of modern urban success. I have heard that in the 1960s, Dallas was a small cow town. SMU, located in what most would call the heart of the city, was on the outskirts. Now, I hear there are 4 million people in the DFW area. It used to be that major urban areas grew up around natural resources like a good harbor or the convergence of rivers and lakes. Now, with air travel and a developed highways system, none of that matters as much. There is nothing in Dallas but the convergence of I-35 and I-30.

Like I said, that's not to knock Dallas--it's a great city. But everything that is there was put there by a person. The best views are of the buildings. The trees were all planted. Even the lakes are all man-made. It really is a testament to what people can do. But that isn't always a good thing. Cities can be the glory of man as opposed to God. Like modern Babels, they can be the symbol of our autonomy from or maker.

On the other hand, there is something about being in nature that reminds you of your relative insignificance. Something about seeing God's creation speaks of His glory. It that sense, there is something spiritual about getting away from urban life. The heaven's still declare God's glory. If you doubt this, check out John's blog.

The second part of the psalm deals with the greatness of God's law. It seems like the psalmist thought that the law was actually the best way to live. He calls it "fair," "pure," and "right," and he says that it "gives you moral insight" and "makes you happy." Most of the time we (by "we" I mean "me") see God's ways as an inconvenience. They're something we do because of tradition or because we want to fit in, not because we think they're the best way to live.

Growing up I always saw Christian living as kind of fulfilling an obligation. (In some ways, it is.) God and I were in a relationship--He saved me and so I pay Him back with Christian living. While I still think the idea of "righteousness" relates to fulfilling what is properly expected of you in a relationship, the psalmist here says that it is more than that. God isn't a sadist, demanding us to do things that are harmful or otherwise foolish, He asks us to do things that are ultimately in our best interest.

Now if I can just figure out how loving those who hate me is in my best interest.

"Father, I confess that You are good and that You desire the good of Your children. I also confess that we don't always know what is good for us. So much of Jesus' teaching is hard, not because it isn't clear, but because it goes against everything we think is good for us. Perhaps that's where the Holy Spirit comes in. He convinces us to want to follow Christ. Father, I read the psalmist's words, 'Who can avoid sinning?' and 'keep me from flagrant sins,' and I can't help but think how often the right thing is clear to me, I just choose to do something different. That vexes me. I guess I would echo the psalmist's prayers. I thank you for the cross and for the righteousness that is ours through faith in Jesus. I pray that through Your Spirit that we might better live like Him. Amen."

No comments: