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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 19


psa 19:0

Prayer to God, Whose Revelation of Himself Is Twofold

In the inscription of Ps 18 David is called עבד יהוה, and in Psa 19:1-14 he gives himself this name. In both Psalms, in the former at the beginning, in the latter at the close, he calls upon Jahve by the name צוּרי, my rock. These and other points of contact (Symbolae p. 49) have concurred to lead the collector to append Psa 19:1-14, which celebrates God's revelation of Himself in nature and in the Law, to Ps 18, which celebrates God's revelation of Himself in the history of David. The view, that in Psa 19:1-14 we have before us two torsi blown together from some quarter or other, is founded upon a defective insight into the relationship, which accords with a definite plan, of the two halves Psa 19:2, Psa 19:8, as Hitzig has recently shown in opposition to that view. The poet begins with the praise of the glory of God the Creator, and rises from this to the praise of the mercy of God the Lawgiver; and thus through the praise, springing from wondering and loving adoration, he clears the way to the prayer for justification and sanctification. This prayer grows out of the praise of the mercy of the God who has revealed Himself in His word, without coming back to the first part, Psa 19:2. For, as Lord Bacon says, the heavens indeed tell of the glory of God, but not of His will, according to which the poet prays to be pardoned and sanctified. Moreover, if we suppose the Psalm to be called forth by the aspect of the heavens by day, just as Psa 8:1-9 was by the aspect of the heavens by night, then the unity of this praise of the two revelations of God becomes still more clear. It is morning, and the psalmist rejoices on the one hand at the dawning light of day, and on the other he prepares himself for the days' work lying before him, in the light of the Tפra. The second part, just like the first part, consists of fourteen lines, and each of them is naturally divided into a six and an eight line strophe. But in the second part, in the place of the short lines comes the caesural schema, which as it were bounds higher, draws deeper breaths and surges as the rise and fall of the waves, for the Tפra inspires the psalmist more than does the sun. And it is also a significant fact, that in the first part God is called אל according to his relationship of power to the world, and is only mentioned once; whereas in the second part, He is called by His covenant name יהוה, and mentioned seven times, and the last time by a threefold name, which brings the Psalm to a close with a full toned יהוה צורי וגאלי. What a depth of meaning there is in this distinction of the revelation of God, the Redeemer, from the revelation of God, the Creator!

The last strophe presents us with a sharply sketched soteriology in nuce. If we add Psa 32:1-11, then we have the whole of the way of salvation in almost Pauline clearness and definiteness. Paul, moreover, quotes both Psalms; they were surely his favourites.

Psalms 19:1

psa 19:1

(Heb.: 19:2-4) The heavens, i.e., the superterrestrial spheres, which, so far as human vision is concerned, are lost in infinite space, declare how glorious is God, and indeed אל, as the Almighty; and what His hands have made, i.e., what He has produced with a superior power to which everything is possible, the firmament, i.e., vault of heaven stretched out far and wide and as a transparency above the earth (Graeco-Veneta τάμα =ἔκταμα, from רקע, root רק, to stretch, τείνειν), distinctly expresses. The sky and firmament are not conceived of as conscious beings which the middle ages, in dependence upon Aristotle (vid., Maimonides, More Nebuchim ii. 5), believed could be proved fro this passage, cf. Neh 9:6; Job 38:7. Moreover, Scripture knows nothing of the "music of the spheres" of the Pythagoreans. What is meant is, as the old expositors correctly say, objectivum vocis non articulatae praeconium. The doxa, which God has conferred upon the creature as the reflection of His own, is reflected back from it, and given back to God as it were in acknowledgment of its origin. The idea of perpetuity, which lies even in the participle, is expanded in Psa 19:3. The words of this discourse of praise are carried forward in an uninterrupted line of transmission. הבּיע (fr. נבע, Arab. nb‛, root נב, to gush forth, nearly allied to which, however, is also the root בע, to spring up) points to the rich fulness with which, as from an inexhaustible spring, the testimony passes on from one day to the next. The parallel word חוּה is an unpictorial, but poetic, word that is more Aramaic than Hebrew (= הגּיד). אמשׁ also belongs to the more elevated style; the γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ deposited in the creature, although not reflected, is here called דּעת. The poet does not say that the tidings proclaimed by the day, if they gradually die away as the day declines, are taken up by the night, and the tidings of the night by the day; but (since the knowledge proclaimed by the day concerns the visible works of God by day, and that proclaimed by the night, His works by night), that each dawning day continues the speech of that which has declined, and each approaching night takes up the tale of that which has passed away (Psychol. S. 347, tr. p. 408). If Psa 19:4 were to be rendered "there is no speech and there are no words, their voice is inaudible," i.e., they are silent, speechless witnesses, uttering no sound, but yet speaking aloud (Hengst.), only inwardly audible but yet intelligible everywhere (Then.): then, Psa 19:5 ought at least to begin with a Waw adversativum, and, moreover, the poet would then needlessly check his fervour, producing a tame thought and one that interrupts the flow of the hymn. To take Psa 19:4 as a circumstantial clause to Psa 19:5, and made to precede it, as Ewald does, "without loud speech...their sound has resounded through all the earth" (341, d), is impossible, even apart from the fact of אמר not meaning "Loud speech" and קוּם hardly "their sound." Psa 19:4 is in the form of an independent sentence, and there is nothing whatever in it to betray any designed subordination to Psa 19:5. But if it be made independent in the sense "there is no loud, no articulate speech, no audible voice, which proceeds from the heavens," then Psa 19:5 would form an antithesis to it; and this, in like manner, there is nothing to indicate, and it would at least require that the verb יצא should be placed first. Luther's rendering is better: There is no language nor speech, where their voice is not heard, i.e., as Calvin also renders it, the testimony of the heavens to God is understood by the peoples of every language and tongue. But this ought to be אין לשׁון or אין שׂפה ro אין (Gen 11:1). Hofmann's rendering is similar, but more untenable: "There is no speech and there are no words, that their cry is not heard, i.e., the language of the heavens goes forth side by side with all other languages; and men may discourse ever so, still the speech or sound of the heavens is heard therewith, it sounds above them all." But the words are not בּלי נשׁמע (after the analogy of Gen 31:20), or rather בּלי ישּׁמע (as in Job 41:8; Hos 8:7). בּלי with the part. is a poetical expression for the Alpha privat. (Sa2 1:21), consequently כלי נשׁמע is "unheard" or "inaudible," and the opposite of נשׁמע, audible, Jer 31:15. Thus, therefore, the only rendering that remains is that of the lxx., Vitringa, and Hitzig: There is no language and no words, whose voice is unheard, i.e., inaudible. Hupfeld's assertion that this rendering destroys the parallelism is unfounded. The structure of the distich resembles Psa 139:4. The discourse of the heavens and the firmament, of the day (of the sky by day) and of the night (of the sky by night), is not a discourse uttered in a corner, it is a discourse in speech that is everywhere audible, and in words that are understood by all, a φανερόν, Rom 1:19.

Psalms 19:4

psa 19:4

(Heb.: 19:5-7) Since אמר and דברים are the speech and words of the heavens, which form the ruling principal notion, comprehending within itself both יום and לילה, the suffixes of קוּם and מלּיהם must unmistakeably refer to השׁמים in spite of its being necessary to assign another reference to קולם in Psa 19:4. Jer 31:39 shows how we are to understand קו in connection with יצא. The measuring line of the heavens is gone forth into all the earth, i.e., has taken entire possession of the earth. Psa 19:5 tells us what kind of measuring line is intended, viz., that of their heraldship: their words (from מלּה, which is more Aramaic than Hebrew, and consequently more poetic) reach to the end of the world, they fill it completely, from its extreme boundary inwards. Isaiah's קו, Psa 28:1-9 :10, is inapplicable here, because it does not mean commandment, but rule, and is there used as a word of derision, rhyming with צו. The ὁ φθόγγος αὐτῶν of the lxx (ὁ ἦχος αὐτῶν Symm.) might more readily be justified, inasmuch as קו might mean a harpstring, as being a cord in tension, and then, like τόνος (cf. τοναία), a tone or sound (Gesenius in his Lex., and Ewald), if the reading קולם does not perhaps lie at the foundation of that rendering. But the usage of the language presents with signification of a measuring line for קו when used with יצא (Aq. κανών, cf. Co2 10:13); and this gives a new thought, whereas in the other case we should merely have a repetition of what has been already expressed in Psa 19:4. Paul makes use of these first two lines of the strophe in order, with its very words, to testify to the spread of the apostolic message over the whole earth. Hence most of the older expositors have taken the first half of the Psalm to be an allegorical prediction, the heavens being a figure of the church and the sun a figure of the gospel. The apostle does not, however, make a formal citation in the passage referred to, he merely gives a New Testament application to Old Testament language, by taking the all-penetrating praeconium coelorum as figure of the all-penetrating praeconium evangelii; and he is fully justified in so doing by the parallel which the psalmist himself draws between the revelation of God in nature and in the written word.

The reference of בּהם to השׁמים is at once opposed by the tameness of the thought so obtained. The tent, viz., the retreat (אהל, according to its radical meaning a dwelling, from אהל, cogn. אול, to retire from the open country) of the sun is indeed in the sky, but it is more naturally at the spot where the sky and the קצה תבל meet. Accordingly בהם has the neuter signification "there" (cf. Isa 30:6); and there is so little ground for reading שׁם instead of שׂם, as Ewald does, that the poet on the contrary has written בהם and not שׁם, because he has just used שׂם (Hitzig). The name of the sun, which is always feminine in Arabic, is predominantly masculine in Hebrew and Aramaic (cf. on the other hand Gen 15:17, Nah 3:17, Isa 45:6, Mal 4:2); just as the Sabians and heathen Arabs had a sun-god (masc.). Accordingly in Psa 19:6 the sun is compared to a bridegroom, who comes forth in the morning out of his חפּה. Joe 2:16 shows that this word means a bride-chamber; properly (from חפף to cover) it means a canopy (Isa 4:5), whence in later Hebrew the bridal or portable canopy (Talmud. בּית גּננא), which is supported by four poles and borne by four boys, at the consecration of the bridal pair, and then also the marriage itself, is called chuppa. The morning light has in it a freshness and cheerfulness, as it were a renewed youth. Therefore the morning sun is compared to a bridegroom, the desire of whose heart is satisfied, who stands as it were at the beginning of a new life, and in whose youthful countenance the joy of the wedding-day still shines. And as at its rising it is like a bridegroom, so in its rapid course (Sir. 43:5) it is like a hero (vid., on Psa 18:34), inasmuch as it marches on its way ever anew, light-giving and triumphant, as often as it comes forth, with גּבוּרה (Jdg 5:31). From one end of heaven, the extreme east of the horizon, is its going forth, i.e., rising (cf. Hos 6:3; the opposite is מבוא going in = setting), and its circuit (תּקוּפה, from קוּף = נקף, Isa 29:1, to revolve) על־קצותם, to their (the heavens') end (= עד Deu 4:32), cf. 1 Esdr. 4:34: ταχὺς τῷ δρόμῳ ὁ ἥλιος, ὅτι στρέφεται ἐν τῷ κύκλῳ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ πάλιν ἀποτρέχει εἰς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ τόπον ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ. On this open way there is not נסתּר, anything hidden, i.e., anything that remains hidden, before its heat. חמּה is the enlightening and warming influence of the sun, which is also itself called חמּה in poetry.

Psalms 19:7

psa 19:7

(Heb.: 19:8-10) No sign is made use of to mark the transition from the one part to the other, but it is indicated by the introduction of the divine name יהוה instead of אל. The word of nature declares אל (God) to us, the word of Scripture יהוה (Jahve); the former God's power and glory, the latter also His counsel and will. Now follow twelve encomiums of the Law, of which every two are related as antecedent and consequent, rising and falling according to the caesural schema, after the manner of waves. One can discern how now the heart of the poet begins to beat with redoubled joy as he comes to speak of God's word, the revelation of His will. תּורה does not in itself mean the law, but a pointing out, instruction, doctrine or teaching, and more particularly such as is divine, and therefore positive; whence it is also used of prophecy, Isa 1:10; Isa 8:16, and prophetically of the New Testament gospel, Isa 2:3. But here no other divine revelation is meant than that given by the mediation of Moses, which is become the law, i.e., the rule of life (νόμος), of Israel; and this law, too, as a whole not merely as to its hortatory and disciplinary character, but also including the promises contained in it. The praises which the poet pronounces upon the Law, are accurate even from the standpoint of the New Testament. Even Paul says, Rom 7:12, Rom 7:14, "The Law is holy and spiritual, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." The Law merits these praises in itself; and to him who is in a state of favour, it is indeed no longer a law bringing a curse with it, but a mirror of the God merciful in holiness, into which he can look without slavish fear, and is a rule for the direction of his free and willing obedience. And how totally different is the affection of the psalmists and prophets for the Law, - an affection based upon the essence and universal morality of the commandments, and upon a spiritual realisation of the letter, and the consolation of the promises, - from the pharisaical rabbinical service of the letter and the ceremonial in the period after the Exile!

The divine Law is called תּמימה, "perfect," i.e., spotless and harmless, as being absolutely well-meaning, and altogether directed towards the well-being of man. And משׁיבת נפשׁ restoring, bringing back, i.e., imparting newness of life, quickening the soul (cf. Pil. שׁובב, Psa 23:3), to him, viz., who obeys the will of God graciously declared therein, and enters upon the divine way or rule of salvation. Then in the place of the word תורה we find עדוּת, - as the tables of the Ten Commandments (לחוּת העדוּת) are called, - from עוּד (העיד), which signifies not merely a corroborative, but also a warning and instructive testimony or attestation. The testimony of Jahve is נאמנה, made firm, sure, faithful, i.e., raised above all doubt in its declarations, and verifying itself in its threatenings and promises; and hence מחכּימת פּתי, making wise simplicity, or the simple, lit., openness, the open (root פת to spread out, open, Indo-Germ. prat, πετ, pat, pad), i.e., easily led astray; to such an one it gives a solid basis and stability, σοφίζει αὐτὸν, Ti2 3:15. The Law divides into פּקּוּדים, precepts or declarations concerning man's obligation; these are ישׁרים, straight or upright, as a norma normata, because they proceed from the upright, absolutely good will of God, and as a norma normans they lead along a straight way in the right track. They are therefore משׂמּחי לב, their educative guidance, taking one as it were by the hand, frees one from all tottering, satisfies a moral want, and preserves a joyous consciousness of being in the right way towards the right goal. מצות יהוה, Jahve's statute (from צוּה statuere), is the tenour of His commandments. The statute is a lamp - it is said in Pro 6:23 -and the law a light. So here: it is בּרה, clear, like the light of the sun (Sol 6:10), and its light is imparted to other objects: מאירת עינים, enlightening the eyes, which refers not merely to the enlightening of the understanding, but of one's whole condition; it makes the mind clear, and body as well as mind healthy and fresh, for the darkness of the eyes is sorrow, melancholy, and bewilderment. In this chain of names for the Law, יראת ה is not the fear of God as an act performed, but as a precept, it is what God's revelation demands, effects, and maintains; so that it is the revealed way in which God is to be feared (Psa 34:12) - in short, it is the religion of Jahve (cf. Pro 15:33 with Deu 17:19). This is טהורה, clean, pure, as the word which is like to pure gold, by which it is taught, Psa 12:7, cf. Job 28:19; and therefore עמדת לעד, enduring for ever in opposition to all false forms of reverencing God, which carry their own condemnation in themselves. משׁפּטי ה are the jura of the Law as a corpus juris divini, everything that is right and constitutes right according to the decision of Jahve. These judgments are אמת, truth, which endures and verifies itself; because, in distinction from most others and those outside Israel, they have an unchangeable moral foundation: צדקוּ יחדּו, i.e., they are צדיקים, in accordance with right and appropriate (Deu 4:8), altogether, because no reproach of inappositeness and sanctioned injustice or wrong clings to them. The eternal will of God has attained a relatively perfect form and development in the Law of Jahve according to the standard set up as the law of the nation.

Psalms 19:10

psa 19:10

(Heb.: 19:10-14) With הנּחמדים (for which, preferring a simple Sheb with the gutturals, Ben-Naphtali writes הנּחמּמדים) the poet sums up the characteristics enumerated; the article is summative, as in השּׁשּׁי at the close of the hexahemeron, Gen 1:31. פּז is the finest purified gold, cf. Kg1 10:18 with Ch2 9:17. נפת צוּפים "the discharge (from נפת = Arab. nft) of the honeycombs" is the virgin honey, i.e., the honey that flows of itself out of the cells. To be desired are the revealed words of God, to him who possesses them as an outward possession; and to him who has received them inwardly they are sweet. The poet, who is himself conscious of being a servant of God, and of striving to act as such, makes use of these words for the end for which they are revealed: he is נזהר, one who suffers himself to be enlightened, instructed, and warned by them. גּם belongs to נזהר (according to the usual arrangement of the words, e.g., Hos 6:11), just as in Psa 19:14 it belongs to חשׂך. He knows that בּשׁמרם (with a subjective suffix in an objective sense, cf. Pro 25:7, just as we may also say:) in their observance is, or is included, great reward. עקב is that which follows upon one's heels (עקב), or comes immediately after anything, and is used here of the result of conduct. Thus, then, inasmuch as the Law is not only a copy of the divine will, but also a mirror of self-knowledge, in which a man may behold and come to know himself, he prays for forgiveness in respect of the many sins of infirmity, - though for the most part unperceived by him, - to which, even the pardoned one succumbs. שׁניאה (in the terminology of the Law, שׁננה, ἀγνόημα) comprehends the whole province of the peccatum involuntarium, both the peccatum ignoranitiae and the peccatum infirmitatis. The question delicta quis intelligit is equivalent to the negative clause: no one can discern his faults, on account of the heart of man being unfathomable and on account of the disguise, oftentimes so plausible, and the subtlety of sin. Hence, as an inference, follows the prayer: pronounce me free also מנּסתּרות, ab occultis (peccatis, which, however, cannot be supplied on grammatical grounds), equivalent to mee`alumiym (Psa 90:8), i.e., all those sins, which even he, who is most earnestly striving after sanctification, does not discern, although he may desire to know them, by reason of the ever limited nature of his knowledge both of himself and of sin.

(Note: In the Arab proverb, "no sin which is persisted in is small, no sin great for which forgiveness is sought of God," Arab. ṣgı̂rt, directly means a little and Arab. kbı̂rt, a great sin, vid., Allgem. Literar. Zeitschr. 1844, No. 46, p. 363.)

נקּה, δικαιοῦν, is a vox judicialis, to declare innocent, pronounce free from, to let go unpunished. The prayer for justification is followed in Psa 19:14 by the prayer for sanctification, and indeed for preservation against deliberate sins. From זוּד, זיד, to seethe, boil over, Hiph. to sin wilfully, deliberately, insolently, - opp. of sin arising from infirmity, Exo 21:14; Deu 18:22; Deu 17:12, - is formed זד an insolent sinner, one who does not sin בּשׁננה, but בּזדון (cf. Sa1 17:28, where David's brethren bring this reproach against him), or בּיר רמה, and the neuter collective זדים (cf. סטים, Psa 101:3; Hos 5:2) peccata proaeretica or contra conscientiam, which cast one out of the state of grace or favour, Num 15:27-31. For if זדים had been intended of arrogant and insolent possessors of power (Ewald), the prayer would have taken some other form than that of "keeping back" (חשׂך as in Sa1 25:39 in the mouth of David). זדים, presumptuous sins, when they are repeated, become dominant sins, which irresistibly enslave the man (משׁל with a non-personal subject, as in Isa 3:4, cf. Psa 103:19); hence the last member of the climax (which advances from the peccatum involuntarium to the proaereticum, and from this to the regnans): let them not have dominion over me (בי with Dech in Baer; generally wrongly marked with Munach).

Then (אז), when Thou bestowest this twofold favour upon me, the favour of pardon and the grace of preservation, shall I be blameless (איתם 1 fut. Kal, instead of אתּם, with י as a characteristic of ē) and absolved (ונקּיתי not Piel, as in Psa 19:13, but Niph., to be made pure, absolved) from great transgression. פּשׁע

(Note: The Gaja with מפּשׁע is intended in this instance, where מפשׁע רב are to be read in close connection, to secure distinctness of pronunciation for the unaccented ע, as e.g., is also the case in Psa 78:13, ים בּקע (bāḳa‛jām).)

from פּשׁע (root פש), to spread out, go beyond the bounds, break through, trespass, is a collective name for deliberate and reigning, dominant sin, which breaks through man's relation of favour with God, and consequently casts him out of favour, - in one word, for apostasy. Finally, the psalmist supplicates a gracious acceptance of his prayer, in which both mouth and heart accord, supported by the faithfulness, stable as the rock (צוּרי), and redeeming love (גּואלי redemptor, vindex, root גל, חל, to loose, redeem) of his God. היה לרצון is a standing expression of the sacrificial tra, e.g., Lev 1:3. The לפניך, which, according to Exo 28:38, belongs to לרצון, stands in the second member in accordance with the "parallelism by postponement." Prayer is a sacrifice offered by the inner man. The heart meditates and fashions it; and the mouth presents it, by uttering that which is put into the form of words.

Next: Psalms Chapter 20