Theme: One Psalm or Two
In this week’s lessons we continue our study of Psalm 19, and move from God’s revelation of himself in creation to the written revelation of himself in Scripture.
Scripture: Psalm 19:7-14
In the first chapter of 2 Peter there are verses that have bearing on Psalm 19. Peter is an old man at this point (cf. v. 14), and he has been reflecting on the time he and two other disciples saw the Lord Jesus Christ transfigured before them on the mountain. It was a great experience. “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” he says. They heard “the voice that came to him from heaven” (vv. 16, 18). Nevertheless, in spite of having seen the Lord’s glory and having heard the very voice of God from heaven, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” Peter says that there is an even greater witness to the truth. “We have the word of the prophets made more certain,” is his testimony (v. 19). The Authorized Version of the Bible calls this witness a “more sure word of prophecy,” more sure even than the voice from heaven.
This has bearing on Psalm 19, as I say. For the verses in 2 Peter l are a New Testament equivalent of the transition from verses 1-6 in Psalm 19, which talk about the general revelation of God in nature, and verses 7-11, which talk about the revelation of God in Scripture. The revelation of God in nature is glorious, just as the visible transfiguration of Jesus and the heavenly voice were glorious. But glorious as they are, none of these things compares to the written revelation. It is that “more certain” or “more sure” revelation that chiefly concerns David in the psalm.
The movement from the first part of this psalm to the second is so abrupt that some scholars have used it to argue that Psalm 19 was originally two separate psalms. This is a typical example of the working of the liberal mind, and the reason for it is not hard to discover. If the two sections were originally separate, then the first half of the psalm, in which the psalmist writes of nature, can be compared to the many nature hymns of the ancient pagan world, such as the Babylonian hymns to Shamash or the Egyptian hymns to the various sun gods, or even the well-known hymn to Aten.
Of course, nothing could be more removed from what is actually going on in this poem. The first part of the psalm is not a hymn to nature. It does not deify creation. It is a hymn of praise to God, who has revealed himself in the glories of the heavens. It is the most natural thing in the world for it to turn from that general revelation, which all persons possess, to the revelation of God in Scripture, which was specifically given to the Jews.
This second, specific revelation is so superior to the first or general revelation that the style of the poem quite naturally changes, and in several ways.
1. The name used for God changes. In the first half the name is el. It occurs only once, and that is in verse 1, which says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” El (not even elohim) is the most generic of all names for God. It is an appropriate name for one made known by the general revelation. In the second half of the psalm the name used for God is Jehovah. Jehovah is the covenant name revealed to Moses at the burning bush (“I am who I am,” [Exod. 3:14]). It is appropriate for the special and specific revelation of God in Scripture. This name occurs seven times (in verses 7, 8, 9 and 14), and the frequency serves to heighten the emotional tone of the poem’s second half.
2. The length of the lines also changes. In the first half the lines are longer, which is appropriate to the continuous, abundant and universal witness of the heavenly bodies to God’s glory. In the second half the lines are much shorter, as the poet begins to throw out descriptive epithet after descriptive epithet and adjective after adjective to capture the wonder of the written revelation. The link between the sections, as I mentioned in the last study, is the final sentence of verse 6. David says of the sun, “Nothing is hidden from its heat.” But this is also true of the pervasive, life-giving law. It is as necessary for the life of the human soul as the sun is for the life of the body.
Why have some scholars suggested that Psalm 19 was originally two separate psalms? What is wrong with this idea?
What changes take place in this second half of the psalm?
For Further Study: God has revealed himself in Scripture by different names. To learn more about another name for God from the book of Genesis, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “The Names of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)