Highlighted Text: Psalm 19
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We have recorded an hour-long conversation with guest contributor Austin D. Hill on Psalm 19.
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In the following commentary, we examine the lectionary text through three lenses: the ancient, Ἰησοῦς=Jesus, and modern.
Ancient Lens: What can we learn from the historical context?
Book I of V and David, the attributed author: The Book of Psalms is divided into five books, like the five books of the Torah. While it is not obvious how each particular Psalm fits into these books, there are general themes and trends that come through in each book. For example, most of the Davidic Psalms are found in Books I and II. Book I, Psalms 1-41, is almost entirely attributed to David. Aside from Psalms 1 and 2, generally considered to be a joint introduction to the entire Psalter, all the rest of the Psalms are attributed to David. Granted, Psalms 10 and 33 have no author attributed to them, but they are believed to be connected to the previous Psalms, both of which are attributed to David.
Practically the entire book is attributed to King David. While these are personal prayers, poems, songs, and liturgical writings, it was commonly understood that these writings were to be used in corporate worship settings. Our Psalm, 19, demonstrates this dual use. While it is, in one sense, a personal petition for God to help the Psalmist discern his path, it is also a corporate invitation to pursue wisdom from God.
Torah, An Invitation to Wisdom: This Psalm includes similar themes in Psalm 1 and Psalm 119. These Psalms can be seen as an invitation to wisdom by describing the wonders of the Torah. Psalm 1 describes the one who delights in the law (Torah) of the Lord as like a tree planted by the stream. Psalm 119 describes the benefits of following the Torah in an acrostic poem, with each stanza beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This Psalm includes similar imagery from verse 7 onward, describing the Torah as perfect, trustworthy, and refreshing to the soul.
Psalm 19 includes a movement of how we discern and discover God’s will. The first section describes how creation reveals God’s glory. Even though the heavens do not use any speech, their voice goes out through all the earth, demonstrating the glory of the Lord. Yet, the Torah gets more specific, providing clear enlightenment, inviting one toward fear of the Lord. This is vital because the Psalmist admits in verse 12, “Who can detect their own errors?”
This ultimately leads to the petition in verse 14, the culmination of the Psalm, where David says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
David, the Attributed Author: Assuming that David wrote this Psalm, it’s a vivid portrayal of David’s heart for following God faithfully. He admits his need for discernment that comes from beyond himself. Even though creation itself reveals God’s glory, and the Torah makes the simple wise, David is prone to self-deceit, in need of God’s assistance; he prays that the words of his mouth and the meditations of his heart would be pleasing in God’s sight. While David’s life was filled with violence, he was still called a man after God’s own heart. It is Psalms like this that allow us a glimpse into that character.
Ἰησοῦς Lens: How do we point to Jesus?
The Role of the Law Under the New Covenant: In Hebrew culture, the Torah was seen as a gift, God’s word given to God’s people. Not simply instructions for right living, the Torah was an invitation to relationship with God. This can be seen at the beginning of Exodus 20, when the Israelites received the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai. The first word of the “Decalogue” was not simply, “Thou shalt have no gods before me,” but was actually, “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
As Christians, we read phrases from the Apostle Paul that negatively describe the law, that pit it against faith. For example, in Galatians 3, Paul describes the law as a caretaker or guardian until Christ, when we might be justified by faith. Now that Christ has come, we are no longer under a guardian. However, in his sermon on the mount, Jesus says that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. So what are we to do with the law? Are we to go on sinning all the more so that grace may abound? What parts of Scripture do we follow today? Are we bound to the same commandments of the Old Testament? Does the law really “revive the soul” as the NRSV of Psalm 19:7 says?
Jesus as our Interpretive Lens: In John 14:6, Jesus says that he is the way, and the truth, and the life. Said another way, we look to the prologue of John’s gospel that describes Jesus as the Word, the logos. This word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Therefore, when we struggle with how to apply a particular part of the law as described in the Hebrew scriptures, we first look at Jesus as our interpretive lens. While Paul, as a Jewish believer of Jesus could say that all Scripture is God-breathed (referring to the Old Testament, the only scripture he likely knew) Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God to us. We see in Christ the fullness of God that even Moses did not see when he caught a glimpse of God passing by on Mt. Sinai. Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection ultimately show us the fullness of God.
And should we struggle with how to live out the law, like the religious scholar who tested Jesus about the law, we look to Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:37 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Modern Lens: How does this touch my heart, life, emotions, thoughts and relationships today?
When Truth Is Contested, How Do We Discern?: The question of the Psalmist in verse 12 remains a powerful one for us today: “Who can discern their own errors?” In a culture of echo chambers, where the almighty algorithm recommends what content we see, we’ve all become too aware of the destructive power of alternative facts. Mass communication, a fully globalized society, and ubiquitous internet have democratized information. Anybody can read about anything at any time from anywhere. In a world of infinite information, how do we find meaning and discern the truth?
This Psalm invites us to pursue wisdom. There’s a progression of this pursuit described in the text. We first look for evidence of who God is in creation around us. We then go to the Scriptures, and we ultimately ask God to guide our words and the meditations of our hearts.
A key point of this process is described in the superscript at the beginning of the Psalm. Written for the choir director, this Psalm was intended to be used in corporate worship settings. Our pursuit of wisdom is done in the community. Alone, we are all the more susceptible to our own hidden faults and willful sins as described in verses 12 and 13 of our Psalm. We discern God’s will for us when we submit ourselves to Scripture, interpreted through the life of Jesus, affirmed by the Christian community, led by the Holy Spirit.
Humility before God: This Psalm begins by describing God’s glory as attested by creation itself. Even the sun reveals more to us about God. Further, God’s word given to us, described as the Torah in this passage, revives us. God’s commands are radiant, and fear of the Lord endures forever. Next to this, the individual human is unable to discern their own errors, unaware of their hidden faults, pleading for deliverance from their willful sins that they might not rule of them.
Yet, we are so often self-assured. In the world of 280-character tweets (twice what it used to be!) there’s no time for discernment, humility, and self-reflection. We don’t need to submit ourselves to an authority when we can simply pave our own way. This Psalm encourages us to humble ourselves before the Lord. We are called to slow down, notice how even the created order points us toward God, and submit our whole selves to God. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Austin Hill has been the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Dodge, IA since 2013. Originally from Southern California, Austin received a B.A. in Psychology from Seattle Pacific University and his M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he met his wife, Sara. In 2017, Austin completed his Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Men [and women] are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.
The Gorilla & The Lion
A man who is desperate for work applies to a zoo that he’s heard has some openings. “Well, it’s a little unusual, but I do have something,” said the zoo director. “Our gorilla died sometime ago, and we haven’t had the money to replace him. If you’re willing to wear a monkey suit and impersonate an ape, you’ve got the job.”
It didn’t feel terribly authentic, but the man figured a job’s a job, so he signed on. After a few awkward days he began to get into the spirit of the thing, and soon he became one of the zoo’s prime attractions. One morning he was swinging from one vine to the next with a little too much animation and inadvertently swung himself right over the wall into the cage next to his – which was occupied by an enormous African lion.
The man could feel the lion’s hot breath on his face. He knew he was a goner. Reflexively, he began screaming for help, when suddenly the lion whispered urgently to him, “Shut up, you idiot, or we’ll both be out of a job!”
Comment: As Austin mentions in his “AIM” of the text, deception is everywhere. The media for example, has splintered so profoundly that the truth I find from one source directly contradicts the truth you find from yours. The Gorilla and the Lion illustration speaks to a society that has become so filled with lies that it cannot discern truth from fiction. As the church, we have to speak out against a culture of deception, otherwise we will become like those living during the time of the Judges, where everyone “did what was right in their own eyes.”
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 1
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.
Or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers,
But whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
And who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.
Spirit of the living God, draw us close to you that we might be nourished and bear fruit.
Austin D. Hill
Prayer of Confession
God of wisdom, we come before you in humility. Too often we choose our own way, discern our own path, without looking to you. We ignore the prompting of your Holy Spirit, and choose what is easiest, most comfortable, or requires the least from us. Please forgive us for our narrowmindedness. Soften our hearts of stone, that we might have, instead, hearts of flesh to perceive your call in our lives. Then please give us the courage to act on your calling.
Austin D. Hill
Assurance of Pardon
Psalm 103 reminds us that God forgives all our sins and separates us from our sin as far as the East is from the West. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is God’s love for us. Friends, believe the good news. In Jesus Christ, your sins have been forgiven.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
As you go forth from here, may you go forth with the heart of the Psalmist, in humility, seeking the will of the Lord in all you do, and in confidence, knowing that the Lord is our rock and redeemer.
And may the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you this day and forevermore. Amen.
Austin D. Hill