Poetry and Lyric

An Essay on Psalm 19

Reading books in the past was often a form of entertainment. Committing passages of famous writers and poets to memory was considered a good way to pass the time with friends. Times have changed. Today, we get together to watch movies, reality TV or an important sporting event. These in themselves are not inappropriate but can often take us away from using our minds as we should. Reading, especially for students, can be tedious as they are filled with information to pass a course or write an exam. The obligation of the task takes away the joy of learning something new, and often is not put into our long term memory.

As we read the Bible, we are taken from the historical narrative of the Hebrew nation and the laws that God gave them. The Psalms poetically recite the victories of the past and tenderness of God for those who call upon Him. The prophets remind us of how God did not forget the exiled Jewish nation and the hope that was before them; leading into biographies of the life of Christ known as the gospels.  We then can read the instructions of the apostles to the early church and finish with the apocalyptic descriptions penned by John in Revelation.

When I was younger, I often read the Bible with the impatience of a rushing student out of obligation or because I was actually sitting in church! Over the years I had a few experiences that made me realize the Bible had more to say than just cold hard facts. The first time was when I was still a teenager and had to speak to a group of youth. The verse in Colossians 3:2 was the portion I chose and as I explained it to the group it began to make better sense to me. It was simple, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” I think I learned more than my peers did that May evening, on Ambleside Beach, and I still remember it to this day.

Another time was in my mid-twenties while taking a course during my Bible school days on the Mercy Ships. The course was on the book of Philippians and it made the teachings of Paul come alive to me. Paul’s Spirit-filled teaching resonated in my heart with conviction, and caused an adjustment of how I viewed God and how I related to others. The second chapter of Philippians has become one of my favorite passages in Scripture. These are obviously watershed experiences that formed part of who I am today. Since those times, many portions of Scripture have touched my heart and challenged me as well.

The Psalms are the poetic renderings of musicians, artists and poets. Some like King David expressed their heart from their experiences of great joy and victory as well as very low points in their lives. According to C.S. Lewis, Psalm 19 “is the greatest poem in the Psalms, and some of the greatest lyrics in the world.” From the Christian point of view, it contains the clearest summary of the doctrine of Revelation to be found in the Old Testament. It reveals that God has made Himself known to all mankind as Creator in verses 1-6, known as general revelation; to Israel as Law Giver in verses 7-10, known as special revelation; and to the individual as Redeemer in verses 11-14, which would be personal revelation.

John Stott says, firstly, there is general revelation (1-6), so called because it is made to all people everywhere. This witness is given in nature, especially the Heavens. It is continuous and universal. In dramatic imagery the psalmist likens the sunrise to the emergence of a bridegroom, and the sun’s daily course across the sky to the way an athlete runs a race.

Secondly, there is special revelation (7-10). Abruptly the subject changes from God’s general revelation through nature to his special and supernatural revelation through the Torah, which means Old Testament in Hebrew . The virtues of the law are set forth in perfect Hebrew parallelism. It revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart, and gives light to the eyes. The commandments of the Lord, it says, are “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (v.10) because they reveal God to us.

Thirdly, there is personal revelation (11-14). The psalmist now mentions himself for the first time and expresses his personal spiritual aspirations as God’s servant. He prays for forgiveness and for holiness. And he concludes with a prayer (which is frequently echoed by many Christians) that all his words and thoughts will be pleasing in the sight of God, whom he now declares to be both his Rock and his Redeemer.

I encourage you to not rush through your Bible reading as an obligation, but take joy in it as a source of learning for your mind and nourishment for your soul.


By: Pastor David Jones