The Psalms: God Revealed in Nature and His Word

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from wilful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

– Psalm 19

This Psalm splits into two distinct sections. The first half is about God’s word revealed in nature and the second half about how God is revealed in his Word.

The glory of God is reflected in the world around us, in the beauty of the night sky and in the splendour of the life-giving sun. Nearly three thousand years later the poet John Keats complained about how ‘cold philosophy’ (meaning science) would ‘unweave a rainbow’ explaining it away in prosaic, mundane terms but, rather oddly, the believer will (for once) agree with Richard Dawkins that human enquiry reveals rather than destroys the beauty of the natural world. The correct Christian attitude towards science is not to see it as a threat to faith but to see it, as the famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler said, as a privileged opportunity to think God’s thoughts after him.

The glory of God revealed in nature is there but it is sometimes misted, obscured, earthquakes and tsunamis speak of a nature that is glorious but is fallen and we await its future renewal (Romans 8:19-21).

The glory of God is demonstrated more clearly in his Word. English translations speak of God’s law but we have already noted that the Hebrew word ‘Torah’ has a much broader meaning and speaks of the whole of God’s dealings with his people and should not be understood in some narrow legal sense. The record of God’s dealings with his people and with humanity do indeed refresh the soul and give joy to the heart, they are not a burden but an incredible blessing. They are more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. David glimpsed that in the sacred words that he knew and in the stories of God’s dealings with his people, how privileged are we that we have seen God’s glory revealed in the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

To come face to face with God though causes us to think about the direction of our lives and how we’re living (verses 11-13).  Bizarrely, even though we know how God wants us to live and flourish, we often fail to live that way (Paul speaks of this in Romans 7) and we’re thrown back on the God who the last verse describes is both utterly dependable (‘my rock’) and utterly merciful (‘my redeemer’).

That final verse is one that I’ve often used before preaching but they are good words for all of us and for all times.