Psalm 19 - The heavens are telling

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens God has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord,
my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19 (NRSV)
17th Sunday of Pentecost, Year B, verses 7-14

God is on high. The heavens themselves sing "Glory!" The majesty of the natural order is the prelude. The praise of the firmament, the sun bursting out like a bridegroom set the scene for the brilliance of the Lord's law.

The God of Genesis 1 and 2 orders the world. Creation is God's active intervention in an unruly and inhospitable universe, setting things in order.

The Lord's law, decrees, precepts, commandments are also creative. They bring order to the social world, setting boundaries on an unruly human environment. "Nature red in tooth and claw," in Alfred Lord Tennyson's poetic phrasing, is not inherently kind to us, nor does it encourage the righteousness that God clearly wants humans to cultivate.

The Wisdom tradition in Israel links the Word of the Lord to living a godly, virtuous life. It is the good life. The commandments revive the soul, give light in the darkness, make the simple wise, and bring joy to the heart. It can sound over the top, like Madison Avenue ad-men selling soap or cigarettes. But the psalmist really means it. God's word is life-giving.

Even that final claim: "the fear of the Lord is pure." There are many ways to understand that weighty phrase which turns up again and again in Biblical religion. "The fear of the Lord..." Fear is awe, fear is respect, fear is obedience, and fear is also fear. We might justly fear going against God, not even because we fear vengeance, but because we fear the consequences of going outside the bounds of what God has said is good for us. "By God's word is your servant warned; in keeping it there is great reward."

We also know we are not that good at discernment and obedience. We have a great capacity for self-deceit and witting or unwitting ignorance when it comes to doing it our way. So this psalm has become the prayer of the preacher, who accepts the awesome (fearful) responsibility of saying a word from God, and none against God.

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord,
my rock and my redeemer.

My rock and my redeemer. Better than gold, sweeter than honey, brighter than the sun.



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