Matthew Poole's Commentary
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.THE ARGUMENT
The design of this Psalm is to adore and magnify the name of God, for the discovery of his wisdom, and power, and goodness, both by his great and glorious works of creation and providence, and especially by his word and the Holy Scripture; which he prefers before the former.
The heavens declare the glory of God, Psalm 19:1. So do night and day, Psalm 19:2,3, and the sun, Psalm 19:4-6. The perfection, purity, and extent of God’s law; its effects, Psalm 19:7-12. He prayeth against presumptuous sins, Psalm 19:13.
The heavens; these visible heavens, so vast and spacious, richly adorned with stars, so various and admirable in their course or station, so useful and powerful in their influences.
Declare; not properly, but objectively, as the earth, and trees, and stars are said to speak, Job 12:8 38:7 Isaiah 55:12; they demonstrate or make it evident and undeniable to all men of sense or reason; they are as a most legible book, wherein even he that runs may read it.
The glory of God, i.e. his glorious being or existence, his eternal power and Godhead, as it is particularly expressed, Romans 1:20; his infinite wisdom and goodness; all which are so visible in them, that it is ridiculous to deny or doubt of them, as it is esteemed ridiculous to think of far meaner works of art, as a house or a book, &c., that they were made without an artist, or without a hand.
The firmament; or, the expansion, i.e. all this vast space extended from the earth to the highest heavens, with all its goodly furniture, the same thing which he called heavens.
Showeth his handywork; the excellency of the work discovers who was the author of it, that it did not come by chance, nor spring of itself, but was made by the Lord God Almighty.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.Day unto day; or rather, after (as the Hebrew lamed oft signifies, as Exodus 16:1 29:38 2 Chronicles 30:21 Psalm 96:2) day; for the day doth not utter this to the day, but to us upon the day. The sense is either,
1. That orderly, and constant, and useful succession of days and nights one after another declare this. But of the course of the sun, the effect whereof this succession is, he speaks Psalm 19:5. Or rather,
2. Every day and night renews or repeats these documents and demonstrations of God’s glory. He that neglects them one day, may learn them the next day.
Uttereth, or, poureth forth, to wit, constantly, and abundantly, and forcibly, as a fountain doth water, as this Hebrew verb signifies.
Speech; or the word, or discourse, to wit, concerning God. It hath as it were a tongue to speak the praises of its Maker, i.e. it gives men occasion to magnify and adore him.
Showeth knowledge, i. e. gives us a clear and certain knowledge or discovery of God their author.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.Or, understood, as the verb oft signifies, as Genesis 11:7 42:23 2 Kings 18:26 1 Corinthians 14:2; for the hearing of it would have been insignificant without the understanding of it, in which the force of the argument lies. The sense is, There are divers nations in the world, which have several languages, so that one cannot discourse with or be understood by another; but the heavens are such a universal and admirable teacher, that they can speak to all people under them, and be clearly understood by all. No nation, or people, saith that wise and learned heathen, Tully, is so barbarous and sottish, as, when they look up to the heavens, not to perceive that there is a, God, or to imagine that those things are the effect of blind chance, which are made with such wonderful art and wisdom, that it requires extraordinary art to understand their excellent orders and course. But this verse is by divers learned men otherwise translated, not without an elegant gradation, as some observe. They have no speech nor word, nor is any voice or heard in or from them. Then follow the next verse by way of opposition, yet their line, &c. Or thus, They have no speech nor words, (which is supposed to be here said by way of prolepsis, to soften and explain his former expressions of the heavens, declaring and speaking,) yet (or, but without them) their voice is heard or understood.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,Their line; either,
1. Their admirable structure made exactly, and as it were by line: see Job 38:5 Zechariah 1:16. Or,
2. Their lines, the singular number being put for the plural, for the line answereth to the words in the next clause. And by line or lines he may understand their writing, as this very word is taken, Isaiah 28:10, which is made up of several lines. And this expression may seem to be very fit and proper, because the heavens do not teach men audibly, or by speaking to their ears, but visibly, by propounding things to their eyes, which is done in lines or writongs.
Is gone out, i.e. is spread abroad or drawn forth.
Through all the earth; so as to be seen and read by all the inhabitants of the earth.
Their words, i.e. their magnificent structure, and their exquisite order, and most regular course, by which they declare their author, no less than if they used many words or long discourses to that purpose, or no less than men discover their minds by their words. See more concerning this verse upon Romans 10:18, where it is applied to the preaching of the gospel by the apostles in the several parts of the world.
A tabernacle; which is a movable habitation, and therefore fitly applied to the sun, which is here described to be in constant and perpetual motion, Psalm 19:5,6.
For the sun; which being the most illustrious and useful of all the heavenly bodies, is here particularly mentioned.
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.As a bridegroom; gloriously adorned with light as with a beautiful garment, and smiling upon the lower world with a pleasant countenance.
Coming out of his chamber; in which he is poetically supposed to have rested all night, and thence to break forth as it were on a sudden, as both sacred and profane poets represent the matter.
As a strong man; who being conscious and confident of his own strength, and promising to himself victory and the glory which attends it, sets upon his work with great pleasure.
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.His course is constant from east to west, and thence to the east again. There is no part of the earth which doth not one time or other feel the comfort and benefit of its light and heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.The law of the Lord, i.e. the doctrine delivered by God to his church, whether by Moses or by other prophets, and holy men of God after him; for the title of law is given not only to the ten commandments, or the moral law, as it is Romans 2:23,25,27 3:31, but also to the whole word of God, as Psalm 1:2 119:70 &c.; Jeremiah 8:8 Malachi 2:6; to the Psalms, as John 10:34 15:25, compared with Psalm 82:6 35:19; and to the writings of the prophets, 1 Corinthians 14:21, compared with Isaiah 28:11; yea, even to the gospel itself, as Isaiah 2:3 42:4 5:4,7 Ro 3:27 Galatians 2:21. And in this general sense it must be here understood, because the effects here following do not flow from one, but from all the parts of it, precepts, and counsels, and threatenings, and promises, and God’s gracious covenant made with man therein revealed. Having discoursed hitherto of the glory of God shining forth in and demonstrated by the visible heavens, and the heavenly bodies, he now proceeds to another demonstration of God’s glory, which he compares with and prefers before the former; which he doth partly, to prevent that excessive admiration of the splendour and beauty of the sun and stars, by the contemplation whereof the heathens were brought to adore them, an error which the Israelites were not free from the danger of, Deu 4:19; partly, to make the Israelites sensible of their singular obligations to God, who, besides that common light and influence of the heavenly bodies, had given them a peculiar and a more necessary and beneficial light; and partly, to awaken and provoke the Gentiles (into whose hands these Psalms might come) to the study and love of God’s law, by representing those excellent advantages which they no less than the Jews might obtain by it.
Perfect; without fault or defect, fully and completely discovering both the nature and will of God, and the whole duty and business of man, whom and how he is to worship and serve, what he is to believe and practise, and whatsoever is necessary to his present and eternal happiness; wherein there seems to be a secret reflection upon the former and natural discovery of God by his works of creation, as that which is defective and insufficient for the great and glorious ends here following, which although it did declare so much of God’s being and nature as left all men without excuse, Romans 1:20, yet did not fully nor clearly manifest the mind and will of God, nor direct and bring men to eternal salvation. Converting, to wit, from the errors of mind and conversation, in which men without this light do generally wander and perish, unto God, from whom all men are naturally revolted. Or, comforting or reviving, as this word is used, Ruth 4:15 Psalm 23:3 Lamentations 1:11,16. Heb. restoring or bringing back the soul, which was drooping and even going out of the body, through grievous troubles of the outward man, and terrors of the mind and conscience.
The testimony of the Lord, i.e. his law, so called because it is a witness between God and man, what God requires of man, and what upon the performance of tllat condition he will do for man. Is sure, Heb. faithful or true, which is most excellent, and proper, and necessary in a witness· It will not mislead or deceive any man that trusteth to it or followeth it; but will certainly and infallibly bring him to happiness.
Making wise unto salvation, as is expressed, 2 Timothy 3:15; which is the only true wisdom.
The simple: this is added either,
1. By way of commendation, or as a qualification of the person whom God’s word will make wise; he must be humble, and foolish, and little in his own eyes, and willing to be taught: see Matthew 11:25 1 Corinthians 1:25, &c. For God resisteth the proud and scornful, and will not give this wisdom to them. Or rather,
2. By way of contempt, which seems most agreeable both to the use of the words, Proverbs 1:4 9:6 14:15 22:3, and to the scope of the place, which is to set forth the excellency and efficacy of God’s law in the general, without any restriction to this or that sort of men. So it may note the weak and foolish, even persons of the lowest capacities, and such as are apt to mistake and are easily seduced, as the word implies· And yet these, if they will hearken to the instructions of God’s word, shall become wise, when those who profess themselves wise shall, by leaning to their own understanding, and despising or neglecting the directions of God’s word, become and prove themselves to be fools, Romans 1:22. But this is not spoken exclusively, as if no men of better abilities were thus made wise; but by way of amplification, to show the usefulness of God’s word to men of all sorts and sizes.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.Statutes, another word signifying the same thing with law and testimonies, are right; both in themselves, as being free from crookedness or error; and in their effect, as guiding and directing men in the right and ready way to eternal happiness: which also reflects upon that knowledge of divine things, which men have by the light of nature and works of God, or by the doctrines of the philosophers or others, that wanted or neglected the light of God’s word wherein there is a great deal of darkness, and uncertainty, and error, and danger. Rejoicing the heart; partly by that clear and certain knowledge of divine things which it gives, for knowledge is pleasant to the soul, Proverbs 2:10; and partly by the discoveries of God’s love and grace to sinful men, in offers and promises of mercy therein contained. The commandment of the Lord, i.e. all his commands. Is pure; without the least mixture of error, or injustice, or deceit; which cannot be said of human laws. Enlightening the eyes, to wit, of the mind, with an evident and complete manifestation of God’s will and man’s duty; both which the works of nature and all the writings of men discover but darkly and imperfectly.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.The fear of the Lord; by which he understands not the grace of God’s fear, as this phrase is commonly taken; nor the whole worship of God, as it is taken Psalm 34:9,11 Mt 15:9; but the law and word of God, which is the only thing that is here commended, and which is meant by all the other parallel titles of his testimony, and statutes, and commandments, and judgments, and consequently by this of his fear, which is as it were hemmed in within them. And this may well be so called by a usual metonymy, because it is both the object, and the rule, and the cause of this grace of holy fear, as God himself is called fear for the like reason, Genesis 31:53, and in the Hebrew, Psalm 76:1. Clean, i.e. sincere, not adulterated with any mixture of vanity, or falsehood, or vice; not requiring nor allowing any uncleanness or wickedness, as the religion of the Gentiles did.
Enduring for ever; constant and unchangeable, the same for substance in all the ages of the church and the world: which is most true, both of the moral law, and of the doctrine of God’s grace and mercy to sinful and miserable man; which two are the principal parts of that law, of which he here speaks, as is evident from the whole context. For as for the difference between the Old and the New Testament, that lies only in circumstantial, and ceremonial, or ritual things, which are not here intended; and that alteration also was foretold in the Old Testament, and consequently the accomplishment of it did not destroy, but confirm, the certainty and constancy of God’s word. This also is opposed to human laws, wherein there are and ought to be manifold changes, according to the difference of times, and people, and circumstances.
The judgments of the Lord, i.e. God’s laws, frequently called his judgments, because they are the declarations of his righteous will, and as it were his legal or judicial sentence by which he expects that men should govern themselves, and by which he will judge them at the last day.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.Than much fine gold; than gold of the best quality, and in the greatest quantity.
Sweeter also than honey; which was most sweet in those Eastern countries.
The honeycomb; than that honey which the bees have most diligently wrought in their combs, and which freely flows from them; which is sweeter than the rest.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.Thy servant; I thy servant, though a king and a prophet, and of some repute for wisdom and knowledge, yet I am daily taught by them.
Warned, or, enlightened, as Daniel 12:3; or clearly admonished, as this word signifies, Exodus 18:20 2 Kings 6:10 Ecclesiastes 4:13 Ezekiel 3:17, &c.; Ezekiel 33:3,9. It is a faithful and excellent monitor to show me my duty in all conditions and to preserve me from falling into sin, and danger, and mischief.
In keeping of them; to those that make it their great design and care to conform their whole lives to them. For he speaks not of a legal and perfect keeping of them, which no man attaineth to in this life, Ecclesiastes 7:20 Galatians 3:10-12 1Jo 1:8; but of doing it in an evangelical sense, with the allowances which God through Christ makes for human infirmities. There is great reward in this life, and especially in the next.
Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.Who can understand? this may be here added, either,
1. As a further proof of the excellency and necessity of God’s law, because men’s errors are so many and hard to be discovered and prevented, that they indispensably need such a friend and counsellot as the law is, to give them the true knowledge of themselves and of their sins. Or,
2. As a just and sorrowful censure of himself, upon the consideration of the exact purity of God’s law, and the comparing of his life with it. Thy law, O Lord, is holy, and just, and good. But I am a poor sinful wretch, falling infinitely short of it, and condemned by it. Or,
3. As a signification of the insufficiency of God’s law, strictly so called, for the healing and saving of men’s souls, and of the necessity of further supplies of the gospel and grace of God; whereby the eyes of their minds may be enlightened to see that light which shines in God’s law, and their hearts may be renewed to yield universal obedience to it, for which therefore he prays in the following words. And withal, he implies that he did not expect that reward which he last mentioned as a just recompence to his obedience, which he confesseth to need a pardon more than to deserve a reward, but only as an effect of God’s grace and goodness.
His errors; either,
1. His sins of ignorance, of which this word is used, Leviticus 4:2,22,27 Ec 5:6. Or rather,
2. His sins in general, (which afterwards he divides into secret and presumptuous sins,) or all deviations from God’s law, which are thus called, 1 Samuel 26:21 Psalm 119:67,118 Heb 9:7 Jam 5:20. The sense is, I cannot comprehend the numbers, or the several kinds, or all the heinous aggravations of my sins.
Cleanse thou me; both by justification, or the pardon of my sins, through the blood of thy Son, which is to be shed for me; and by sanctification through thy Holy Spirit, co-working in and with thy word, to the further renovation of my heart and life for these are the two ways of cleansing sinners most frequently mentioned both in the Old and New Testament: though the first may seem to be principally, if not only, intended, because he speaks of his past sins, which could be cleansed no other way but by remission.
From secret faults, i.e. from the guilt of such sins as were secret, either,
1. From others; such as none knows but God and my own conscience: or,
2. From myself; such as I never observed, or did not discern the evil of. Pardon my unknown sins, of which I never repented particularly, as I should have done.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.Keep back, or restrain, or withdraw; which word is emphatical, and signifies man’s natural and great proneness even to the worst of sins, and the necessity of God’s grace, as a bridle, to keep men from rushing upon them. Having begged pardon for his former errors, he now begs grace to keep him from relapses for the time to come.
From presumptuous sins; from known and evident sins, such as are committed against knowledge and deliberation with design, and resolution, and eagerness, with resistance against the checks of conscience, and the motions of God’s Spirit, and with contempt both of God’s commands and judgments, and so with pride and insolency, which this word signifies. See Exodus 21:14. And such a sin was that of David’s in the matter of Uriah, to which he seems to have an eye, and prayeth to be kept from such miscarriages.
Let them not have dominion over me; if I be at any time tempted to any such sins, Lord, let them not prevail over me; and if I do fall into them, let me speedily rise again, and not willingly give up myself to the customary practice of them.
Then shall I be upright; that will be an evidence of my sincerity, and I shall have this comfort, that although I am not absolutely perfect, but encompassed with many infirmities, yet I am an upright person, and such as thou wilt accept.
I shall be innocent; thou wilt hold me for innocent. Or, I shall be cleansed, or kept pure, as this word primarily signifies.
From the great transgression, i.e. from the guilt of such presumptuous sins, which are indeed very great transgressions, and such as, if accompanied with obstinacy and impenitency, thou wilt not pardon. But as for other sins of ignorance or infirmity, thou wilt graciously remit them for thy covenant’s sake, made with me in and through thy Christ. Otherwise, from much transgression, or from innumerable sins, which usually follow the commission of one presumptuous sin, as David found by his own sad experience.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.Having prayed that God would keep him from sinful actions, he now prays that God would govern and sanctify his words and thoughts, wherein he had many ways offended, as he here implies, and oft in this book confesseth and bewaileth. And this he the rather doth, because this caution was very necessary to preserve him from presumptuous sins, which have their first rise in the thoughts, and thence proceed to words and expressions, before they break forth into actions.
Be acceptable in thy sight, i.e. be really good and holy, and so well-pleasing to thee.
My strength: O thou who hast hitherto strengthened me, both against my temporal and spiritual enemies, and whose gracious powerful assistance is absolutely necessary to keep me from my own corrupt inclinations, and from all temptations to sinful thoughts, and words, and actions.
My redeemer: this expression seems to be added emphatically, and with special respect to Christ, who was certainly much in David’s eyes, to whom alone this word Goel can here properly belong, as may appear See Poole "Job 19:25", to which I refer the reader, and by whose blood and Spirit alone David could and did expect the blessings and graces for which he here prayeth.