Monday, June 30, 2008

Reflections on Psalm 19

After my previous post, I received several emails about people's interests in C.S. Lewis' views on the Psalms, so I'll continue with a few more posts on the topic.

I found it interesting to read this week in "Reflections on Psalms" that C.S. Lewis' favorite was Psalm 19, a pslam with fourteen verses and attributed to King David. Lewis says, "I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world."

The first six verses of Psalm 19 are a description of nature, and how the heavens "declare the glory of the Lord".

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

On these first five verses, Lewis notes that the writer, first "thinks of the sky; how day after day, the pageantry we see there shows us the splendour of its Creator. Then he thinks of the sun, the bridal joyousness of its rising, the unimaginable speed of its daily voyage from east to west. Finally of its heat.." He adds that "nothing is hidden from its heat" is the key phrase in the psalm, as the writer "has felt the sun, perhaps in the desert, searching him out in every nook of shade where he attempted to hide from it, so he feels the Law searching out all the hiding-places of his soul."

The next several verses (verse 7-12) describe the law of the Lord:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

For me, it was interesting to see a pattern or "formula" in these verses:

"the ____ of the Lord is ____, _____, ____"

For the first part of the formula, the writer used the following words:

  • the Law of the Lord
  • the statutes of the Lord
  • the precepts of the Lord
  • the commands of the Lord
  • the fear of the Lord
  • the ordinances of the Lord

Next, the writer used this amazing set of words to describe the Law: perfect, reviving the soul, trustworthy, making wise the simple, right, giving joy to the heart, radiant, giving light to the eyes, pure, enduing forever, sure, altogether righteous, more precious than g0ld, sweeter than honey.

On these verses, Lewis explains that "the Law gives light, it is clean and everlasting, it is 'sweet'. No one can improve on this and nothing more fully admit us to the old Jewish feeling about the Law; luminous, severe, disinfectant, exultant."

Next (in verses 12 and 13) are two verses about forgiveness:

12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
The last verse (verse 14), I noticed, is a verse that traditionally many pastors have said just before delivering a sermon:

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

...a good prayer for us to pray as we read and reflect on Psalm 19 too.

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