A walk in the countryside—Psalm 19

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

A walk in the countryside is good for the soul. This is good advice which comes from several sources, religious and not-religious. Being in the countryside helps to destress. They are right, of course, I prefer to cycle than to walk, being disabled makes walking for a long time difficult even with crutches, something is rejuvenating, even on those times when rain or hail has been in your face. (Less so if it’s misty or foggy and the view is hidden, I’m writing this indoors on a cold, misty day).

Even the views from a car or train help relaxation. I am fortunate in living in Huddersfield, the view on the train to Manchester, particularly the stretch between Standedge Tunnel and Stalybridge, is amongst the best railway views in the country.

That is because, says David, because God’s creation points us towards God.

A view of a village and the countryside beyond fron a mountain top.
Photo by Chris Matthews on Pexels.com

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

19 The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

  • The law of the Lord is perfect,
        reviving the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure,
        making wise the simple;
    • the precepts of the Lord are right,
          rejoicing the heart;
      the commandment of the Lord is pure,
          enlightening the eyes;
      • the fear of the Lord is clean,
            enduring for ever;
        the rules of the Lord are true,
            and righteous altogether.
    • 10 More to be desired are they than gold,
          even much fine gold;
      sweeter also than honey
          and drippings of the honeycomb.
  • 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
        in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19 ESVUK paragraphs and bullet points added by me

It never helps when translators translate the same word in different ways, it can hide what the author was trying to say.

Psalm 19 is one of those places. That it forms a chiasm, a structure that introduces themes in one order and then returns to the start in the opposite order, sometimes there is a middle section. The first and last sections are built around the Hebrew word omer which is translated here as ‘speech’ in verses 2 and 3, but as words in verse 14. This psalm is a meditation on a walk in the countryside. It has 3 parts:

Part 1 starts with the heavens speaking of God’s glory in verses 1 to 4a and concludes in verse 14 with David, the Psalmist speaking of God’s glory. Those of a certain age will remember that the song Rivers of Babylon by Boney M, itself based on Psalm 137, which reached Number 1 in the British charts, has the words of verse 14 to conclude the song.

Part 2 Begins in verses 4b to 6 saying that nothing is hidden from the sun and concludes in verses 14 and 15 that nothing is hidden from God, which is not bad news, as God can clean us from both our confessed sins and also the faults we are unaware of. I love the simile of the sun coming out of its tent like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. Over 40 years later I remember getting up for breakfast after spending the night for the first time with my wife and how good that felt, everything felt all right with the world. A wonderful picture of how God gives creation for us, of God’s love.

Part 3, the central section, is a song within the song which itself has the same structure as the outer Psalm. Or so I have been told, but I cannot see it but I have left the structure in bullet points so that you can look at it for yourself. What I can see that it talks about are the benefits of studying God’s word, which have similarities with the benefits of a walk in the countryside. As we benefit from a walk in God’s creation so we benefit from reading God’s word.

The central section of Psalm 19 talks about the benefits of God’s word in contrast to that in Psalm 119. Psalm 19 is a song of praise, Psalm 119 reads like a lament, of a person looking at what the benefits of God’s word are supposed to be and asking in around half its verses, God where are my benefits from reading your word? There is nothing wrong with lamenting, it’s just that Psalm 19 is not a lament. Personally, I think that as Christians we do not lament enough.

Back to Psalm 19. It is good to praise the benefits of being in God’s creation and to praise God’s word. Both enlighten us.

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