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  • ADAM CLARKE'S BIBLE COMMENTARY -
    PSALMS 19

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    PSALM XIX

    The heavens and their host proclaim the majesty of God, 1-6; the excellence and perfection of the Divine law, 7-10; its usefulness, 11. The psalmist prays for pardon and preservation from sin, 12, 13; and thy his Words and thoughts nay be holy, 14.

    NOTES ON PSALM XIX

    The title of this Psalm has nothing particular in it; but it is not very clear that it was written by David, to whom it is attributed; though some think that he composed it in the wilderness, while persecuted by Saul. For this opinion, however, there is no solid ground. There is no note in the Psalm itself to lead us to know when, where, or by whom it was written. It is a highly finished and beautiful ode.

    Verse 1. "The heavens declare the glory of God " - Literally, The heavens number out the glory of the strong God. A first view of the starry heavens strikes every beholder with astonishment at the power by which they were made, and by which they are supported. To find out the wisdom and skill displayed in their contrivance requires a measure of science: but when the vast magnitude of the celestial bodies is considered, we feel increasing astonishment at these works of the strong God.

    "The firmament " - The whole visible expanse; not only containing the celestial bodies above referred to, but also the atr, light, rains, dews, &c., &c. And when the composition of these principles is examined, and their great utility to the earth and its inhabitants properly understood, they afford matter of astonishment to the wisest mind, and of adoration and gratitude even to the most unfeeling heart.

    Verse 2. "Day unto day uttereth speech " - Each day is represented as teaching another relative to some new excellence discovered in these manifold works of God. The nights also, by the same figure, are represented as giving information to each other of the increase of knowledge already gained.

    "The labours of these our instructers know no intermission; but they continue incessantly to lecture us in the science of Divine wisdom. There is one glory of the sun, which shines forth by day; and there are other glories of the moon and of the stars, which become visible by night. And because day and night interchangeably divide the world between them, they are therefore represented as transmitting, in succession, each to other, the task enjoined them, like the two parts of a choir, chanting forth alternately the praises ot God." - Bisbop Horne.

    Verse 3. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.- Leave out the expletives here, which pervert the sense; and what remains is a tolerable translation of the original: - lwq [mn ylb yrbd yaw rma ya Ein omer veein debarim, beli nishma kolam.

    "No speech, and no words; their voice without hearing." hylm lbt hxqbw wq axy rah lkb Bechol haarets yatsa kavvam: Ubiktsey thebel milleyhem.

    "Into all the earth hath gone out their sound; and to the extremity of the habitable world, their eloquence." The word wq kau, which we translate line, is rendered sonus, by the Vulgate, and fqaggov, sound, by the Septuagint; and St. Paul, Rom. x. 18, uses the same term. Perhaps the idea here is taken from a stretched cord, that emits a sound on being struck; and hence both ideas may be included in the same word; and wq kavvam may be either their line, or cord, or their sound. But I rather think that the Hebrew word originally meant sound or noise; for in Arabic the verb kavaha signifies he called out, cried, clamavit. The sense of the whole is this, as Bishop Horne has well expressed it: - "Although the heavens are thus appointed to teach, yet it is not by articulate sounds that they do it. They are not endowed, like man, with the faculty of speech; but they address themselves to the mind of the intelligent beholder in another way, and that, when understood, a no less forcible way, the way of picture or representation. The instruction which the heavens spread abroad is as universal as their substance, which extends itself in lines, or rays. By this means their words, or rather their significant actions or operations, hylm , are everywhere present; and thereby they preach to all the nations the power and wisdom, the mercy and lovingkindness, of the Lord." St. Paul applies this as a prophecy relative to the universal spread of the Gospel of Christ, Rom. x. 18; for God designed that the light of the Gospel should be diffused wheresoever the light of the celestial luminaries shone; and be as useful and beneficent, in a moral point of view, as that is in a natural. All the inhabitants of the earth shall benefit by the Gospel of Christ, as they all benefit by the solar, lunar, and stellar light. And, indeed, all have thus benefited, even where the words are not yet come. "Jesus is the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." His light, and the voice of his Spirit, have already gone through the earth; and his words, and the words of his apostles, are by means of the Bible and missionaries going out to all the extremities of the habitable globe.

    On these words I shall conclude with the translation of my old Psalter: - Ver. 1. "Hevens telles the joy of God; and the werkes of his handes schwis the firmament." Ver. 2. "Day til day riftes word; and nyght til nyght schewes conying." Ver. 3. "Na speches er, ne na wordes, of the qwilk the voyces of thaim be noght herd." Ver. 4. "In al the land yede the soune of tham; and in endes of the wereld thair wordes." Ver. 5. "In the Soun he sett his tabernacle; and he as a spouse comand forth of his chaumber: he joyed als geaunt at ryn the way." Ver. 6. "Fra heest heven the gangyng of hym: and his gayne rase til the heest of hym: nane es that hym may hyde fra his hete." All the versions, except the Chaldee, render the last clause of the fourth verse thus: "In the sun he hath placed his tabernacle;" as the old Psalter likewise does. They supposed that if the Supreme Being had a local dwelling, this must be it; as it was to all human appearances the fittest place. But the Hebrew is, "Among them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun." He is the center of the universe; all the other heavenly bodies appear to serve him. He is like a general in his pavilion, surrounded by his troops, to whom he gives his orders, and by whom he is obeyed. So, the solar influence gives motion, activity, light, and heat to all the planets. To none of the other heavenly bodies does the psalmist assign a tabernacle, none is said to have a fixed dwelling, but the sun.

    Verse 5. "Which is as a bridegroom, &c. " - This is a reference to the rising of the sun, as the following verse is to the setting. He makes his appearance above the horizon with splendour and majesty; every creature seems to rejoice at his approach; and during the whole of his course, through his whole circuit, his apparent revolution from east to west, and from one tropic to the same again, no part of the earth is deprived of its proper proportion of light and heat. The sun is compared to a bridegroom in his ornaments, because of the glory and splendour of his rays; and to a giant or strong man running a race, because of the power of his light and heat. The apparent motion of the sun, in his diurnal and annual progress, are here both referred to. Yet both of these have been demonstrated to be mere appearances. The sun's diurnal motion arises from the earth's rotation on its axis from west to east in twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, and four seconds, the mean or equal time which elapses between the two consecutive meridian-transits of the same fixed star. But on account of the sun's apparent ecliptic motion in the same direction, the earth must make about the three hundred and sixty-fifth part of a second revolution on its axis before any given point of the earth's surface can be again brought into the same direction with the sun as before: so that the length of a natural day is twenty-four hours at a mean rate. The apparent revolution of the sun through the twelve constellations of the zodiac in a sidereal year, is caused by the earth's making one complete revolution in its orbit in the same time. And as the earth's axis makes an angle with the axis of the ecliptic of about twenty-three degrees and twenty eight minutes, and always maintains its parallelism, i.e., is always directed to the same point of the starry firmament; from these circumstances are produced the regular change of the seasons, and continually differing lengths of the days and nights in all parts of the terraqueous globe, except at the poles and on the equator. When we say that the earth's axis is always directed to the same point of the heavens, we mean to be understood only in a general sense; for, owing to a very slow deviation of the terrestrial axis from its parallelism, named the precession of the equinoctial points, which becomes sensible in the lapse of some years, and which did not escape the observation of the ancient astronomers, who clearly perceived that it was occasioned by a slow revolution of the celestial poles around the poles of the ecliptic, the complete revolution of the earth in its orbit is longer than the natural year, or the earth's tropical revolution, by a little more than twenty minutes; so that in twenty-five thousand seven hundred and sixtythree entire terrestrial revolutions round the sun, the seasons will be renewed twenty-five thousand seven hundred and sixty- four times. And in half this period of twelve thousand eight hundred and eighty-two natural years, the points which are now the north and south poles of the heavens, around which the whole starry firmament appears to revolve, will describe circles about the then north and south poles of the heavens, the semi-diameters of which will be upwards of forty-seven degrees.

    "Coming out of his chamber " - wtpjm mechuppatho, from under his veil.

    It was a sort of canopy erected on four poles, which four Jews held over the bridegroom's head.

    Verse 7. "The law of the Lord " - And here are two books of Divine Revelation:

    1. The visible HEAVENS, and the works of creation in general.

    2. The BIBLE, or Divinely inspired writings contained in the Old and New Testaments. These may all be called the LAW of the Lord; hrwt torah, from hry yarah, to instruct, direct, put straight, guide. It is God's system of instruction, by which men are taught the knowledge of God and themselves, directed how to walk so as to please GOD, redeemed from crooked paths, and guided in the way everlasting. Some think that hrwt torah means the preceptive part of Revelation. Some of the primitive fathers have mentioned three LAWS given by God to man:

    1. The law of nature, which teaches the knowledge of God, as to his eternal power and Deity, by the visible creation. 2. The law given to Moses and the prophets, which teaches more perfectly the knowledge of God, his nature, his will and our duty. 3. The law of grace given by Christ Jesus, which shows the doctrine of the atonement, of purification, and of the resurrection of the body. The first is written in hieroglyphics in the heavens and the earth. The second was written on tables of stone, and in many rites and ceremonies. The third is to be written on the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    "Is perfect " - hmymt temimah, it is perfection, it is perfect in itself as a law, and requires perfection in the hearts and lives of men. This is ITS character.

    "Converting the soul " - Turning it back to God. Restoring it to right reason, or to a sound mind; teaching it its own interest in reference to both worlds. This is ITS use.

    "The testimony of the Lord " - twd[ eduth, from d[ ad, beyond, forward.

    The various types and appointments of the law, which refer to something beyond themselves, and point forward to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Some understand, the doctrinal parts of the law.

    "Is sure " - hnman neemanah, are faithful; they point out the things beyond them fairly, truly, and fully, and make no vain or false report. They all bear testimony to the great atonement. This is THEIR character.

    "Making wise the simple. " - The simple is he who has but one end in view: who is concerned about his soul, and earnestly inquires, "What shall I do to be saved?" These testimonies point to the atonement, and thus the simple-hearted is made wise unto salvation. This is THEIR use.

    Verse 8. "The statutes of the Lord " - ydwqp pikkudim, from dqp pakad, he visited, cared, took notice of, appointed to a charge. The appointments, or charge delivered by God to man for his regard and observance.

    "Are right " - yry yesharim, from ry yashar, to make straight, smooth, right, upright, opposed to crookedness in mind or conduct; showing what the man should be, both within and without. This is THEIR character.

    "Rejoicing the heart " - As they show a man what he is to observe and keep in charge, and how he is to please God, and the Divine help he is to receive from the visitations of God, they contribute greatly to the happiness of the upright-they rejoice the heart. This is THEIR use.

    "The commandment " - hwxm mitsvah, from hwx tsavah, to command, give orders, ordain. What God has ordered man to do, or not to do. What he has commanded, and what he has prohibited.

    "Is pure " - From hrb barah, to clear, cleanse, purify. All God's commandments lead to purity, enjoin purity, and point out that sacrificial offering by which cleansing and purification are acquired. This is ITS character.

    "Enlightening the eyes. " - Showing men what they should do. and what they should avoid. It is by God's commandments that we see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the necessity of redemption, so that we may love the Lord with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. For this is the end of the commandment, and thus to enlighten the eyes is ITS use.

    Verse 9. "The fear of the Lord " - hary yirah, from ary yara, to fear, to venerate; often put for the whole of Divine worship. The reverence we owe to the Supreme Being.

    "Is clean " - hrwhf tehorah, from rhf tahar, to be pure, clean; not differing much from hrb barah, (see above,) to be clean and bright as the heavens; as purified SILVER. Its object is to purge away all defilement, to make a spotless character.

    "Enduring for ever " - d[l tdmw[ omedeth laad, standing up to PERPETUITY. The fear that prevents us from offending God, that causes us to reverence him, and is the beginning as it is the safeguard of wisdom, must be carried all through life. No soul is safe for a moment without it. It prevents departure from God, and keeps that clean which God has purified. This is ITS use.

    "The judgments of the Lord " - yfpm mishpatim, from tp shaphat, he judged, regulated, disposed, All God's regulations, all his decisions; what he has pronounced to be right and proper.

    "Are true " - tma emeth, truth, from a am, to support, confirm, make stable, and certain. This is the character of God's judgments. They shall all stand. All dispensations in providence and grace confirm them; they are certain, and have a fixed character.

    "And righteous altogether. " - They are not only according to truth; but they are righteous, wqdx tsadeku, they give to all their due. They show what belongs to God, to man, and to ourselves. And hence the word altogether, wdjy yachdav, equally, is added; or truth and righteousness united.

    Verse 10. "More to be desired are they than gold " - This is strictly true; but who believes it? By most men gold is preferred both to God and his judgments; and they will barter every heavenly portion for gold and silver! Sweeter also than honey - To those whose mental taste is rectified, who have a spiritual discernment.

    Honey-comb. ] Honey is sweet; but honey just out of the comb has a sweetness, richness and flavour, far beyond what it has after it becomes exposed to the air. Only those who have eaten of honey from the comb can feel the force of the psalmist's comparison: it is better than gold, yea, than fine gold in the greatest quantity; it is sweeter than honey, yea, than honey from the comb.

    Verse 11. "By them is thy servant warned " - rhzn nizhar, from rhz zahar, to be clear, pellucid. By these laws, testimonies, &c., thy servant is fully instructed; he sees all clearly; and he discerns that in keeping of them there is great reward: every man is wise, holy, and happy, who observes them. All Christian experience confirms this truth. Reader, what says thine?

    Verse 12. "Who can understand his errors? " - It is not possible, without much of the Divine light, to understand all our deviations from, not only the letter, but the spirituality, of the Divine law. Frequent self-examination, and walking in the light, are essentially necessary to the requisite degree of spiritual perfection.

    "Cleanse thou me from secret faults. " - From those which I have committed, and have forgotten; from those for which I have not repented; from those which have been committed in my heart, but have not been brought to act in my life; from those which I have committed without knowing that they were sins, sins of ignorance; and from those which I have committed in private, for which I should blush and be confounded were they to be made public.

    Verse 13. "From presumptuous sins " - Sins committed not through frailty or surprise, but those which are the offspring of thought, purpose, and deliberation. Sins against judgment, light, and conscience. The words might be translated, Preserve thy servant also from the proud; from tyrannical governors, i.e., from evil spirits. - Bishop Horsley. So most of the versions understand the place.

    "Let them not have dominion over me " - Let me never be brought into a habit of sinning. He who sins presumptuously will soon be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

    "Then shall I be upright " - Let me be preserved from all the evil that the craft and malice of the devil or man work against me, then shall I continue to walk uprightly, and shall be innocent from the great transgression-from habitual sinning, from apostasy, from my easily-besetting sin. He who would be innocent from the great transgression, must take care that he indulge not himself in any. See Bishop Horne. Most men have committed some particular sin which they ought to deplore as long as they breathe, and on account of the enormity of which they should for ever be humbled.

    Verse 14. "Let the words of my mouth " - He has prayed against practical sin, the sins of the body; now, against the sins of the mouth and of the heart. Let my mouth speak nothing but what is true, kind, and profitable; and my heart meditate nothing but what is holy, pure, and chaste.

    "Acceptable in thy sight " - Like a sacrifice without spot or blemish, offered up with a perfect heart to God.

    "O Lord, my strength " - yrwx tsuri, "my fountain, my origin." My redeemer. - ylag goali, my kinsman, he whose right it is to redeem the forfeited inheritance; for so was the word used under the old law. This prayer is properly concluded! he was weak, he felt the need of God's strength. He had sinned and lost all title to the heavenly inheritance, and therefore needed the interference of the Divine kinsman; of HIM who, because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, also partook of the same. NO prayer can be acceptable before God which is not offered up in his strength; through HIM who took our nature upon him, that he might redeem us unto God, and restore the long-lost inheritance. "Lord my helpar and my byer." -Old Psalter. He who is my only help, and he that bought me with his blood. This prayer is often, with great propriety, uttered by pious people when they enter a place of worship.

    ANALYSIS OF THE NINETEENTH PSALM

    I. There are TWO parts in this Psalm. The first is doctrinal; the second, penitential. The doctrinal part has two members: - 1. The first teaches us to know God by natural reason, from the book of creation, ver. 1-7.

    2. But because this way is insufficient to save a soul, therefore in the second part we have a better way prescribed, which is the book of the Scriptures; the excellences of which are described, ver. 7-11.

    II. The penitential part begins at the twelfth verse, for since the reward to be expected proceeds from the keeping of God's law, and David's heart told him he had not kept it, therefore, he begs pardon and grace, ver. 12-14.

    I. "The heavens declare," &c. By the glory of God we are to understand his goodness, wisdom, power; in a word, all his attributes, of which we have a double declaration: - 1. A testimony from the creatures, but especially the heavens, whose magnitude, beauty, order, variety, perpetual motion, light, influences, &c., declare that there is an omnipotent, wise, good, and gracious God, who is their Creator; with this David begins: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth forth," &c.

    2. The vicissitude of day and night, proceeding from their motions, declares this also: "Day unto day uttereth speech," &c. 1. The heavens are diligent preachers; for they preach all day and all night, without intermission. 2. They are learned preachers, for they preach in all tongues: "There is no speech-where their voice is not heard." 3.

    They are universal preachers, for they preach to the whole world: "Their sound is gone through all the earth," &c.

    3. But among all these creatures the SUN, for which God in heaven has set a throne, makes the fairest and clearest evidence, and that in the three following ways: - 1. By his splendour, light, and beauty; he riseth as gloriously as a bridegroom coming from under his canopy.

    2. By his wonderful celerity, not only in revolving round his own axis, which revolution, although he is one million three hundred and eighty-four thousand four hundred and sixty-two times bigger than the earth, he performs in twenty-five days fourteen hours of our time, but also in the swiftness with which his light comes to the earth. It travels at the rate of one hundred and ninety-four thousand one hundred and eighty- eight miles in a second of time; and reaches our earth in eight minutes and about twelve seconds, a distance of ninety- five millions five hundred and thirteen thousand seven hundred and ninety-four English miles, at a mean rate.

    3. His strange and miraculous heat, from which nothing is hidden, and by which every thing is benefited.

    II. But as the declaration, even from the most glorious of creatures, is not sufficient to make men wise and happy, he has been pleased to declare himself by his WRITTEN WORD, called here the LAW generally; and is commended to us by the following reasons: - 1. From the author: It is the "law of Jehovah." 2. From its sufficiency: It is "perfect." 3. From its utility: "It converts the soul:gives wisdom to the simple." 4. From its infallibility: "The testimony of the Lord is sure." 5. From its perspicuity: "The statutes of the Lord are right." 6. From the effects it works on the soul: "They rejoice the heart." They quiet the troubled conscience; "being justified by faith, we have peace with God." 7. From its purity: "The commandment of the Lord is pure." It is opposed to all bad opinions and evil practices.

    8. From its effects in the understanding: "It enlightens the eyes." It dispels all darkness and ignorance, all doubts and fears, diffidence, carnal security, false worship, &c., and gives us to see our own deformities.

    9. From its uncorruptness: "The fear of the Lord is clean." Other religions are polluted with human inventions, strange ceremonies, uncommanded sacrifices, false gods, &c.

    10. From its perpetuity: "It endureth for ever." It is an endless law, and an everlasting Gospel.

    11. From its truth and equity: "It is altogether true and righteous." From all which David concludes, that it is both precious and delightful.

    1. The price of it is beyond the best gold: "More to be desired than gold; yea, than much fine gold." 2. It is delightful: "Sweeter than honey and the honey-comb." 3. This he knew by his own experience: "Moreover, by them is thy servant illuminated." 4. It is profitable to observe them: "For in keeping of them there is, 1.

    A reward. 2. A great reward." III. But this last consideration sent David to the throne of mercy. What! a reward, a great reward! and only to those who keep God's law? My conscience tells me that the reward is not for me, I cannot plead this observance. David had public sins, secret faults and errors, to deplore. But he had at hand three means of help:

    1. Confession of sin. 2. Petition for grace. 3. Faith in the Divine mercy, through the great Redeemer.

    1. He knew he was an offender, but he knew not how greatly he had offended. He saw that he was guilty, and asked pardon. He felt that he was impure, and asked cleansiny: "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from my secret faults." 2. He prays that he may be preserved from presumptuous sins; that he might not be hardened in transgression: "Keep back also thy servant from presumptuous sins." For which he gives two reasons:

    1. If he were not kept back from them, sin would get the dominion over him.

    Sin would become a king, who would command, rule, and enslave him. 2. If thus kept back, he would be innocent from the great transgression; for he that gets under the strong habit of sin may at last deny God himself, renounce the blood of the covenant, and become a castaway.

    3. Lastly, that his prayer may be heard, he prays for his prayer: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight." This is pleading, or supplication.

    That prayer and supplication may be successful he acts faith in God, whom he, 1. Claims as his strength; literally, his rock, by whom alone he could resist and overcome.

    2. His redeemer, through whom alone he could get pardon for the past, and grace to help him in time of need. To this word he adds nothing, as it includes every thing necessary to saint and sinner. See the notes.

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