The 19th psalm is one of the most magnificent writings in the Bible and indeed in all literature. As in all the psalms, the structure is poetic as it extols the majesty of creation in its first six verses, followed by the far greater glory of the Scriptures in the final eight. It displays remarkable scientific insight as well as profound spiritual truth.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork" (Psalm 19:1). The "firmament" (Hebrew,reqia, meaning "expanse") was indicated as the space between the primeval "waters above the firmament" and those below (Genesis 1:7), so it seems to have essentially the same meaning as our modern scientific concept of "space."
Then, verse 2 tells us that the marvels displayed by God in "space" are also being shown through "time." "Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge." These remarkable verses are speaking of the space-time universe in which are shown forth all the multitudinous workings of God and all the beautiful and intricate designs in His creations.
In fact, they are all "declaring the glory of God." We know from the New Testament that, in the deepest sense, this can only mean the Lord Jesus Christ who is the very "brightness of His glory" (Hebrews 1:3), for we ultimately have "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6). In one way or another the gospel is being "preached [in every creation] which is under heaven" (Colossians 1:23).
That is, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, "the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made," so that those who will not see and hear the witness of God in creation are "without excuse" (Romans 1:20). The heavens declare the glory of God, but sadly, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
This testimony of the created world has "no speech nor language" (note that "where" in verse 3 is not in the original Hebrew of this verse). Nevertheless, "their line gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" (v.4). This verse is quoted in the great missionary passage of Romans 10 as saying "their sound went into all the earth" (Romans 10:18) and as proving that all men have had access to the evidence of God's power and love. Jesus Christ is "the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9).
The problem is that "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil," so would not come to the light (John 3:19,20). The "line" of Psalm 19:4 is a reference to the measuring line of the surveyor, indicating that God's measurement of human response to His revealed glory in creation somehow conditions any further revelation He might give to men and women.
In the structures and processes of "nature," there is abundant witness to His "eternal power and Godhead," leaving men and women "without excuse" when they have "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" (Romans 1:20,23), attempting to replace the God of creation with an atheistic or pantheistic evolutionary pseudo-creation. God's measuring line thus finds them far "short of the glory of God."
The most magnificent of God's structures is the sun, which provides the energy for maintaining practically all earth's natural processes. "In them [that is, in space and time] hath He set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race" (Psalm 19:4,5).
At first, the metaphors of bridegroom and runner seem strange figures to apply to the glorious light of the sun, which — physically speaking — is nothing less then the "light of the world," sustaining its very life. But that actually makes it a beautiful type of the world's Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. He indeed is the heavenly Bridegroom, coming forth to choose and claim His Bride, the Church, and the heavenly Runner, encouraging us who are in His Church to "run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:1,2).
"His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof" (Psalm 19:6). This verse is often derided by skeptics as teaching that the sun goes around the earth, instead of the earth rotating on its axis.
But the writer was more scientific then his critics. There is no fixed point of zero motion in the universe, so far as astronomers know. The sun indeed is moving in a gigantic orbit in the Milky Way galaxy, and the galaxy itself is moving among the other galaxies. So the circuit of the sun is, indeed, from one end of the heavens to the other.
However, the psalmist was really using the scientifically correct terminology of "relative motion." No one knows scientifically where a fixed point of zero motion may be, so all motion must be referenced to some assumed fixed point. For practically all measurements by surveyors, navigators, and astronomers, the most useful (therefore, the most scientific) zero point is the earth's surface at the location of the observer. That is exactly what the psalmist has assumed.
And note the significance of the statement that "there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." This refers mainly to the sun's effect on the earth, and scientists now know that the heat energy transmitted to the earth by solar radiation empowers all activity on earth, either directly (e.g., winds, rains) or indirectly (plant life through photosynthesis, and therefore also animal and human life). Through "fossil fuels" derived from buried organisms, it even drives our machinery. It is significant that the science which deals with all these energy transfers is called thermodynamics (meaning "heat power") and its two basic laws are the best-proved and most universally applicable laws of science.
These two laws testify plainly to the existence and power of God. The Second Law (the law of decreasing available energy, as the universe heads downward toward an eventual "heat death," with the sun and stars all burned out) tells us that there must have been a primeval creation, or else the universe would already be "dead"! The First Law (law of energy conservation) tells us that no energy is now being created, so the universe could not have created itself. The only scientific conclusion is that "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
When this verse speaks of the sun's "going forth," however, it is not referring only to its transit across the sky, but to the "outgoing" of its radiant heat energy. It is the same Hebrew word as in Deuteronomy 8:3 which reminds us that man cannot live by bread alone, but "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD." It is also used in the remarkable prophecy of the coming birth of Christ in Bethlehem, where we are told that His "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2).
Here also, the sun is a beautiful type of Christ, picturing both the Living Word and the Written Word of God. He is the eternally begotten Son of God, everlastingly proceeding from the Father and declaring Him (John 1:18), while the Holy Scriptures "for ever settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89), can continually sustain our spiritual lives, just as the sun does our physical lives.
As marvelous as God's witness in the creation may be, it can never bring lost men to salvation. The sun may sustain their lives, but it can never save their souls.
Testimony of the Word of God
But God's Word can! "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul" (Psalm 19:7). We are saved by grace through faith, but "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Therefore the apostle exhorts us to "receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). We can only know the One who is the Living Word through His revelation in the written Word, "the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:15).
That is why we, like the psalmist, must read, believe and love the Holy Scriptures. The psalmist (David) only had a relatively small portion of the Scriptures available in his day, yet he could say: "More to be desired are they than gold . . . sweeter also than honey . . . in keeping of them there is great reward" (vv. 10,11).
Note David's further convictions. "The testimony of the LORD is sure. . . . The statutes of the LORD are right . . . the commandment of the LORD is pure . . . the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether" (vv.7,8,9). And Paul echoes with similar conviction: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Combining the witness of David and Paul, we are assured that "the law of the LORD is perfect . . . that the man of God may be perfect" (Psalm 19:7; II Timothy 3:17).
The psalm ends with a prayer, asking God for cleansing through the Word. "Cleanse thou me from secret faults" (or sins of ignorance — v.12). "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins" (or willful acts of disobedience — v.13). Otherwise, long-continued deliberate rejection of God's Word may become "the great transgression" (v.13) from which there is no deliverance.
Then he prays, and so should we: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD my strength, and my redeemer" (v.14).
*Dr. Morris is Founder and President Emeritus of ICR.