Thursday, August 20, 2015

Joining the Chorus of the Heavens: Learning to Pray Psalm 19 (part 1)

About Psalm 19, C. S. Lewis wrote, "I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”[1] 

Psalm 19 reorients us to the Torah as a source of strength and sustenance for the journey.

Psalm 19 includes elements of praise and petition. It opens with a sense of awe at the distinct witness of creation to its creator (vv. 1–6). The praise continues but shifts to focus on the power of the LORD’s concrete revelation to God’s people in the form of the Torah (vv. 7-10). The psalms concludes with the psalmist recognizing his or her own need before the shining light of God’s word (vv. 11–14). In verse 14, the Psalm comes full circle with a request by the psalmist for cleansing so that he or she may join in the praise of the LORD in concert with the voices of the heavens.
Psalm 19 begins by reflecting on the witness to God by the creation itself. As we saw in our review of 146–150, the final psalms especially 148 and 150 anticipate an all creation praise of the LORD.

Psalm 19 opens memorably, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Glory refers to God’s awesomeness or weightiness. There is a witness in creation about the Creator. It is interesting that in Psalm 19 two different words for “God” are deployed. In v. 1, it is a generic word “God” that could be used of any “god.” Obviously, the psalmist has Israel’s God in mind, but it is notable that God’s personal name “LORD” is found only from vv. 7–14 when the witness of the Torah is in view.

Why is this? This is part of the beauty of Ps 19. Creation offers a witness to the reality of the divine, but look at vv. 2–4. There is revelation about God but it is not clear or specific. When we ponder the beauty and grandeur of creation, we can recognize the hand of the Creator, but we do not gain specific knowledge of God’s character, mission, or will.

Of creation’s witness, Paul writes these words in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Thus, nature shows us that there is a Creator.  But we as person’s seeking to know God need more.
We desire to know: Who is God? What is God’s will? We need a clear Word from God.  

Psalm 19 transitions to the next section by reflecting on the sun in vv. 4b–6. The sun is everywhere and brings its life-giving warmth to the entire earth. As we will see, the law or Torah of the LORD will serve in this role for people. It will be the law of the LORD that provides clear instruction and transformative truth to guide us through the world.

How does nature proclaim God’s glory?
What is your personal experience of nature’s proclamation?
What are the limitations of natural revelation?

[1] Reflections on the Psalms, 56.

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