Silence and speech; emptiness and meaning. These may seem like opposites, but Psalm 19 suggests otherwise. In this psalm, one of the most beautiful examples of Hebrew poetry, David describes God’s revelation of Himself, firstly through nature and then through words. The psalm opens with the declaration that the heavens and sky declare God’s glory and creativity. We might expect David to focus on the heavenly beings – sun, moon and stars – and, indeed, in verses 4-6 he does describe the sun’s majesty, but in verses 1-3 it is the empty space of the sky that is said to have meaning. The silent expanse of emptiness is speaking – spreading it’s message of a glorious creator across the globe. As the sun bursts like a resplendent bridegroom into the sky it simply magnifies what would still be evident if it never rose. Creation is pointing to creator.
Yet powerful as this general revelation in creation may be – and many people have been led by their observations of the intricacies of nature to seek its designer – it cannot accomplish the transformation of a life. For this the Word of God is necessary. As David turns his attention to the words God had revealed to Israel his delight in God’s law is evident. It is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true. Not only this, but it is powerful. It changes lives: it is able to make the simple wise, to bring joy to the heart, to enlighten the eyes and to warn the servant of God. This enduring word of God is more precious than gold, more sweet than honey, a very great reward. David’s obvious delight should amaze us even more when we realise that he is referring here to the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament. How much more value should we place on the complete Scriptures of Old and New Testaments?
The contrast between the general revelation of verses 1-6 and the special revelation through Scripture in verses 7-11 should be clear. The way they are juxtaposed is striking. While nature inspires awe and reveals God’s glory, only words that can be understood, believed and obeyed are capable of guiding the life of faith. A transcendent experience of God, however profound, is inadequate without the guidance of the Scriptures. Only through the words of the Bible can we discern what God’s perfect will is. Only in light of the Bible can we be sure that our experience is leading us towards God and not away from Him. It is the words God has revealed that save us from the error of our ancestors (both the Canaanites near David and the prehistoric inhabitants of this island of Ireland where I live) in worshipping the sun rather than understanding it to be a testament to the all-powerful creator.
The realisation that God is all-powerful and that His standard, revealed in the law, is so perfect, must lead us, as it leads David (verses 12-14), to personal reflection. We become aware of our own sinfulness and we must call out to God to declare us innocent, to preserve us from sin and to make us blameless. We pray to the speaker of true, pure and sweet words that we might learn to speak truthfully, righteously and attractively. We ask the One who can transform hearts that He might guide our thoughts to what pleases Him. We turn to the creator who does not hide Himself, but who speaks to His people and we find in Him our Rock and our Redeemer.