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Psalm 19

Learning to walk with God

 A David Psalm.

 1 The heavens declare God’s glory
the skies announce his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they repeat the message
night after night they make it known.
3 Though without a word, sound or syntax
4 it’s broadcast to earth’s farthest corners
beamed everywhere with perfect clarity.

Every evening the starry sky appears
like a vast tent God pitches for the sun to sleep in.
5 The sun appears each morning
glowing like a groom on his honeymoon
eager as a triathlete at the starting line.
6 The sun blazes around its course
from one end of the sky to the other
with such intensity
that nothing escapes its heat.

7 Yahveh’s Word is so flawless
it refreshes the soul.
Yahveh’s covenant is so trustworthy
it makes the naïve wise.
8 Yahveh’s directions are so just
they make the heart soar
Yahveh’s commands so luminous
they open sightless eyes.
9 Yahveh’s reverence is so pure
it endures forever.
Yahveh’s judgments are truthful
and altogether faithful.
10 More desirable than gold—
even mountains of pure gold.
Sweeter than a hatful
of strawberries picked in the wild.
11 They warn your servant of danger
and beckon to rich reward.

 12 Why then are we so prone to wander?
Cleanse me from hidden sins
13 and deliver your servant from the insolent.
Don’t ever let them control me.
Then I’ll be wholly yours
free from open rebellion.
14 May the words of my mouth
and the meditations[1] of my heart
be pleasing to you, Yahveh
my rock and my redeemer.

Written with Genesis 1-3 in mind, this beautiful psalm[2] moves in sequence from God’s revelation in creation and scripture to David’s plea for deliverance from evil. Creation—represented by the night sky and the sun[3]—clearly attests to God’s power and majesty, beaming the message everywhere 24/7.

In both creation accounts in Genesis, creation is followed by divine instruction.[4] David likewise pivots in verse seven from creation’s revelation of God to scripture’s revelation of Israel’s redeemer. As the sun gives physical light, scripture gives light and life to the soul. “Desirable” (nehemad) appears in Genesis 3 where Eve, naïvely believing the forbidden fruit would open her eyes, sees it as desirable to make her wise. David instead says that God’s guidance in scripture makes the naïve wise, opens eyes and is supremely desirable (vv. 8, 10).

This prompts David to ask why we so easily go wrong. He prays to avoid both hidden sins and open rebellion. He seeks protection from following those bent on leading him astray. David concludes by asking God to make everything he thinks, desires and says pleasing to him and by placing his trust in Yahveh, his rock of refuge and his redeemer.[5]

Lord, you call to me in both creation and scripture. Help me listen and respond with humility and gratitude. Help me to succeed where Adam failed—to heed all your warnings, resist temptation, refuse blind guides and desire you above all else. You’re my only hope, O God. Amen.


[1] Literally, “murmurings,” this includes whatever thoughts and desires stir the heart (Robert Alter, p. 64).

[2] C. S. Lewis counted Psalm 19 “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world” (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 56).

[3] Ancient Middle Eastern myths made the sun the god of justice and referred to the sun-god as a “hero,” a “warrior” or “strongman” and a “bridegroom.” David subverts this familiar imagery in saying that God appointed the sun to run its course and contrasting the sun with God’s Word, which respectively scorch and refresh (Rolf A. Jacobson, 2014, 210).

[4] Gen. 1:28-30, 2:16-17.

[5] This psalm’s placement between two psalms so emphatically about life-and-death battle situations suggests that the psalmist (and the Psalter’s compilers) saw its final section as referring to the all-out spiritual battle against the evil that can subvert the soul.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.