But before we get started, I want you to take a moment and think of a moving experience you've had in nature with the created world. Maybe that looks like seeing the sunset behind a mountain range or the sun rise on the beach in the morning. Maybe it's just simply lying on the grass and looking at the stars.
What comes to mind for me is a 2016 hunting trip I took to Colorado. I remember sitting to the side of a mountain at 12,000 feet watching the sun rise behind peaks that were 14,000 feet and just being in awe of creation (for a picture, see the image at the top of this post). I was also hoping an elk would walk out from behind the trees, and, spoiler alert, it didn't. Not that day or the next day or the day after that or all week, but in spite of that, I think back on that time incredibly fondly at least once a week, and I want to go back, not just to find an elk, but because simply being in nature sitting there and staring at what amounts to a large rock with a light behind it was very moving to me. I think we all have experiences of that sort that are somewhat like that where we have been captivated at some point in our life with the beauty that is in nature.
But the truth is we often stop there. We stop at simply appreciating nature as nature and we don't realize that we have seen a glimpse of the glory of God. That's what our text today in Psalm 19 is going to show us.
Starting in verse one, it says,
“For the music director. A psalm of David,"
It’s important for us to realize is the psalms are actually songs. The psalms, the Book of Psalms was kind of like the hymn book of ancient Israel, so while we read these, originally, most of them would have been sung or put to music. Now, I'm not going to sing it for you today, and you can thank me for it later, but that's just something important to keep in mind. We're reading these. They would've originally been sung.
In verse one, the psalmist says,
“The Heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day, they pour out speech.
Night after night, they communicate knowledge.
There is no speech.
There are no words.
Their voice is not heard.
Their message has gone out to the whole earth,
and their words to the ends of the world."
Nature testifies to the glory of God. That is incredibly abundant from this text, but it's also just obvious if we sit and stare at the sky. But there's kind of this paradox going on here. On the one hand, the psalmist said, "The Heavens declare the glory of God. They're pouring out speech. They're communicating knowledge" and yet, he goes on to say, "There is no speech. There are no words." Does he not realize those things contradict each other?
Well, this is poetry. He's capturing the heart and the mind through moving and evocative language. The truth is that there are no actual words being communicated from the stars, but what is communicated is available to everyone. Everyone has access to this form of communication. It transcends language and culture and ethnicity and time. As noted, Pastor and Theologian John Calvin said, "The nations differ from each other as to language, but the Heavens have a common language to teach all men without distinction." That's why, as we'll see a little later, Paul can say that everyone has no excuse when they don't worship God because God has made His existence clear through the created world.
But what's also interesting is the “speech.” What the Heavens are communicating, what they're saying has a two-fold emphasis. It's addressed to God: The Heavens are praising God. The second emphasis, though, is that we are recipients of that. So while they are praising God and glorying God as they were created to do, they're communicating to us. They're communicating a glimpse, a sliver of the glory of God and what that is like to us. So they communicate to God and to us.
Now, we use the phrase “the glory of God” a lot. We're saved for the glory of God, we do missions for the glory of God, we sing for the glory of God. (You may be able to eat a cheeseburger for the glory of God. Some people have debated that). But the question becomes, what is the glory of God?
This is actually something difficult to arrive at because the Bible is not a dictionary. The Bible's not a theological textbook, but when we survey all of Scripture, I think what we come to is something similar to what Pastor John Piper has said. "The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God's perfections.” The more we come to understand and appreciate and worship God in His perfections accurately as He exists, the more we will glorify God.
Five Ways Nature Communicates the Glory of God
In this text, what does it mean to say that the Heavens declare the glory of God? What is this glory that nature is communicating? I think there are at least four or five things we could pull away from that.
1. God Exists
The first is very foundational. The Heavens are communicating that God exists. There is something rather than nothing. Science shows us that the universe came into existence at a point in the past, and anything that comes into existence has to have a cause, and the universe came into existence; therefore, the universe must also have a cause. That cause can't be something in the universe. It needs to be something that's not physical, that at least initially was timeless, that's powerful and intelligent. Doesn't that start to sound a lot like God?
Things can't create themselves, so the first thing that the Heavens are proclaiming is simply that God exists.
2. God is Powerful
The second thing, as I alluded to, is that God is powerful. He created everything that exists. He holds it in His hands. We look at the ocean and think, "oh my gosh, this is a huge expanse. Who could tame it?" and yet a later psalm will us that God holds the seas in His hands. A sense of peace because He in control.
3. God is Intelligent
The third thing that I believe the natural world can tell us about the glory of God is that God is infinitely intelligent. This world is incredibly fine-tuned for life. There are many different physical constants in the physical study of the world. There are those that deal with how two things attract each other, like gravitationally. There are those that deal with electricity and magnetism and how much an electron is attracted to the nucleus of an atom. If any of these were off by a fraction of a percent, we would not be here. If the tilt of the earth of were a slight bit different, we wouldn't be here. If the earth were just a little farther from the sun or a little closer to it, we wouldn't be here.
What this shows us is God is incredibly intelligent in how He has designed this world and how He continues to sustain it moment by moment, movement by movement. Only an infinitely intelligent being could create something that is as finely tuned as this world is.
4. God is Creative
But we also see the creativity of God in nature. I mean, think about it. There are some animals out there that it's like, who would come up with that? Why does it look that way? But also, there's just this interesting way that God has designed the world to work. I mean, consider, plants get fed from stars. Isn't that crazy? The sun, a big star, feeds plants. Plants are then the lungs of our planet that create the oxygen we use to breathe. That's an incredibly creative way to design life. I think that's just a glimpse of the creative power of God.
5. God is Beautiful
But God is also seen to be beautiful. Think about on that initial scene that came to mind when I asked you to consider a moving experience you've had in nature. Think of the beauty that you have seen there and realize that this is but a glimpse of the true beauty of God, that what He has created points to Him, but it's a shadow. It's a sliver. It's a foreshadowing of what we will truly experience as the true beauty and glory of God.
We see from mature that there are just five things at least, but I would say many more, that we can understand about the glory of God without even having a Bible. In other words, you could say the universe is the theater of God's glory. It's the stage on which it plays out for us to experience and for God to be glorified because God created for His glory. Everything He created was to glorify Him, from the largest star to the smallest electron, to you and to me. We were actually created to image God, to reflect His glory and increase the realization of it on the earth. That's what we were created and designed to do.
Now, nature can't tell us everything about the glory of God. We actually need God to speak with words, and if we skip forward a lot in our Bible, we end up at Ephesians 1, which says multiple times that even our salvation was because of the glory of God, that we are saved to glorify God. He created us to glorify Him. He saved us to glorify Him, but you can't separate that from the fact that He loves us, that He loves His creation. In the same way that the Heavens worship God and speak to us, God saves us for His glory and saves us out of love for us. These are not in conflict. They are very much in harmony.
Now, you might think it sounds odd that God would create things to glorify Him. Doesn't that make Him some type of egomaniac? Well, here's what I would suggest, that there are appropriate ways to expect to be treated. For instance, if you're a parent, it is reasonable and actually good and right that you would teach your child to respect you, that that is not inappropriate because the type of relationship you have is the type of relationship that should be marked by respect from child to parent.
Now, let's extrapolate that out and say what it look like for the Creator to rightly establish order with His creation? I think this is where we sometimes go off the rails in our thinking because God is not man, but better. He's not a superman. He's not just better at everything that we're not. He is a holy different type of being. He is not a creation. He is the Almighty Creator. That's what the psalm testifying to, and so it's actually right that God has created us and expects us to glorify Him.
In fact, glorifying God is a command. Loving God is a command. It's also where we find our most intimate and fulfilling sense of happiness and joy because it's what we were created to do. When things serve their proper function, they work best. They find most peace and most joy, and so it is with us.
So far in this Psalm, David has been looking at creation in general, the Heavens. He's going to zoom in on the sun. Here's what he says.
”In the Heavens, God has pitched a tent for the sun,"
(Referring to the night where it goes to rest.)
“It is like a bridegroom,
coming from his home.
It rejoices like an athlete,
running a course.
It rises from one end of the Heavens,
and it circles to the other end.
Nothing is hidden from its heat."
Now, what's interesting here to me is that these words, aside from being poetic to us, probably don't seem all that remarkable, but in the ancient world when David wrote this, all of the surrounding nations to Israel worshiped the sun. The sun was a god, and David here is presenting the sun not as a god, while he is personifying it—he's giving it living qualities and characteristics—he's saying, "The sun actually worships the true God."
While you may worship the sun, the sun itself points to the glory of the only One and true God. This description would've radically stood out in ancient Israel. The same thing is going on in Genesis 1 where the sun isn't even given a name. It's not created first. Instead of worshiping the sun, the sun illuminates God's creation. We might not pick up on that, but that's certainly what's going on here.
The first half of the psalm is talking about creation and the glory of God in nature, but the second half is going to talk about Scripture, the Word of God. Now, when David's writing this, he's referring to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, but I think we can extrapolate this out and apply what he says to all of Scripture because all of Scripture is the Word of God.
We have a completed Bible today. They did not at that time. God continued to speak for a while longer after this was written, but God has since completed His revelation in the Bible.
Let's continue reading in verse seven.
”The instruction of the Lord in perfect,
renewing one's life.
The testimony of the Lord is trustworthy,
making the experienced wise.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
making the heart glad.
The command of the Lord is radiant,
making the eyes light up."
When I was preparing for this, I read that, and I just had to sit back and say, "Is that how I think about Scripture? Is that how my heart responds to and considers Scripture?" I will tell you, I don't like the answers I came up with there, that this is something for me to shoot for. I mean, the psalmist is telling us the Word of God does at least four things. It renews one's life. My question: Do I find life-renewing power when I go to God's Word day by day?
He says it makes the inexperienced wise. This is incredibly important today when there is a way of wisdom in the world that is not godly wisdom. There is a way of wisdom in the world that Paul in 1 Corinthians actually calls foolishness, and yet, he flips it around, and he says, "The godly form of wisdom the world actually thinks is foolishness."
If we are wise in the world's eyes, we should ask ourselves, are we actually believing godly wisdom because if the world agrees with what we call wisdom, it might actually be foolishness in God's eyes, and we know that because of what Scripture says.
The third thing the psalmist says is it makes the heart glad. Is my heart glad when I read the Bible, or do I find more joy in a Netflix series on TV? Questions we have to ask ourselves.
The fourth thing, it makes the eyes light up. It brings life. It invigorates. What brings life to you? Rhese are questions we have to grapple with and be honest with ourselves about as we read this psalm.
As we continue in verse nine,
”The fear of the Lord is pure,
The ordinances of the Lord are reliable
and altogether righteous.
They are more desirable than gold,
than an abundance of pure gold,
and sweeter than honey dripping from a honey comb.
In addition, your servant is warned by them,
and in keeping them, there is an abundant reward."
The word of God shows us the path we should walk on. It shows us what the danger is on either side, and it exhorts us. It encourages us to stay on the path of how we were designed to live because it will go best for us that way.
I think there are some parallels here between the first part of the psalm the second part, as is very common with poetry. The psalmist is saying that, just as the sun dominates the day, so too the Word of God should dominate the human heart. And just as the sun can be both warm and welcoming, it can also be terrifying in an unrelenting heat, and so to it is with the Word of God, which can be life-imparting, but also scorching and searching and purifying.
I think of Hebrews 4:12 when I read this, which says that
The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit and joint from marrow. It's able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Word is incredibly clarifying. The Word through the Work of the Spirit illuminates what is actually in our hearts. It should move us to change and repent as we will see.
Both the sun and the Word of God are indispensable. There could be no life without the sun. Our plants actually feed on star light, and there could be no true human life without the Word of God. God as made the sun for light in creation and the Word for light in the human life.
What we've just seen described here in this psalm are the two books that God has written: the Book of God's works (what He has done in nature) and the Book of God's Words (what He has written in Scripture.) We could also call the Book of God's Works general or natural revelation. He has revealed things to us in a natural way, in a created way, and also generally. There aren't a lot of specifics there. We don't know that Jesus would be born of a virgin or die on a cross. We would need something specific for that, or special, and that's where the Word of God comes in. While nature is general and natural, Scripture is special, and we could call it special revelation because we need both things to understand fully what God expects and what He has done for us.
As I was reading this psalm, it took me a few times to realize there's something really interesting going on. In the first chunk when the psalmist is talking about nature, he uses the word “God.” In the second chunk, he actually uses God's name. “God” is not God's name. God is the type of being that God is, but God is not God's name. “Yahweh,” “the Lord,” is actually the name of God.
When the psalmist is talking about general revelation, he's simply saying, "There is a God. You can know that from what's created," but when he talks about the Word of God, he's showing us that God has revealed something of Himself, His name in Scripture.
If you don't even know someone's name, that's not a very personal type of relationship, right? If I were to talk up to you and say, "Hey, Human. How are you doing today?" you might think I came out of Star Trek or something, but that's not very personal. If I came up to you and say, "Hey, Zach. How are you doing?" Well, that's a more personal type of experience because I know your name, and what the psalmist is showing you is God has revealed His own name in the Word of God. We don't get that from nature.
Now we're going to move in this psalm from the natural to the scriptural to the personal. David writes in verse 12,
”Who perceives his unintentional sins?
Cleanse me from my hidden faults.
Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins.
Don't let them rule over me.
Then I will be blameless and cleansed from blatant rebellion.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you.
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
I think this is a great model for us in prayer of what our desires and our prayers and the thoughts of our heart should be. Scripture has no concept of a godly individual who is not in the Word of God. Scripture has no concept of a godly individual for whom Jesus is not their Redeemer or their Savior, no concept of a godly person who does not repent of sin.
We might call ourselves Christian, and we might be one in name only if God is not actually moving our heart towards Him. If our heart does not beat for Him, we should check ourselves.
But an understanding of the grandeur and power of God in nature should show us what and who we are by comparison. God is big and powerful, and we are small and not. And an understanding of the holiness of God from Scripture should show us what our sin looks like on the backdrop of the illuminated holiness of God.
We understand from nature our differences. God created everything. I'm a created thing. Scripture tells us what we have actually done against that God because it also tells me what that God expects of us. Through these two revelations of nature and Scripture, and through the Work of the Spirit, we are led to repentance and hopefully a desire to live righteously.
The Scriptures show us our sin, and they also point us to a Savior. Think back on the last verse in this psalm, which talks of Jesus as Redeemer. You might be saying, "I didn't see the name Jesus there." Well, The Jesus of the New Testament is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. Jesus didn't pop into existence in the New Testament. When Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up, John tells us in his Gospel that who he saw was Jesus. Jesus of the New Testament is the Yahweh of the Old Testament.
He was Redeemer back then. He was Redeemer for David, and he is Redeemer for all those today who place their trust in him for salvation and repent of their sins. The same Redeemer, the same person, the same work just like salvation has always been through faith. As the psalmist says, “Those that do that will be cleansed of their sins and will be found blameless and acceptable to God.”
I have some high-level takeaways for us today. You might be thinking, "What does this mean for me? How can I condense these verses down and have some takeaway, something to hold on to?"
1. Nature Tells Us That A God Exists
Well, the first thing I would say is that nature tells us there is a God, and by extent, since everyone has been communicated to, everyone knows there is a God.
The second ramification of that is since everyone knows this, they are accountable when they don't worship God.
Nature communicates. Everyone knows (you might question me on that, we'll talk about it in a minute,) and hence, everyone is accountable.
Now, why do I say this? Because that's what God says. When we look at Romans 1, the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul said,
”For God's wrath is revealed from Heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness, suppress the truth."
What are they suppressing? What do they know?
Since what can be known about God is evident to them because God has shown it to them, for His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen through the creation of the world, and they have been understood.
If we ever find ourselves saying, "The existence of God, it's not very clear.” We disagree with God. If we said, "You know what, God? You didn't communicate very clearly that you're out there,” we disagree with God, if we say, "Well, my neighbor doesn't know at any level that there's a God," we disagree with God. Paul says, Since everyone knows, since everybody has been communicated to, eople are without excuse when they don't glorify God,
for although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened, claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immoral God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed reptiles, and animals."
Paul is giving a general commentary, I believe, on the human condition, but isn't it interesting how the psalmist is saying, in his day, "Don't worship the sun. The sun worships God," and Paul was saying every single person, unless they worship God, will worship some created thing. That is a statement of the human condition, but everyone knows God exists on some level.
He says, "They suppress that truth." The image here I think is one of being in a pool of water and having a volleyball and holding it under. It's an active type of activity. People are suppressing the knowledge of God because they don't want it to be true. God has communicated clearly, in nature. He says that, and we do not want to know.
General revelation in nature is enough to know God exists and hence to be condemned of sin.
2. Scripture Tells Us Who God Is
Nature is enough to know God exists, but second takeaway, Scripture tells us who God is and what He expects and what He's done.
Just as the first half of this psalm refers to God and the second half refers to Him by name, we only know of the Work of God and the true identity of God through Scripture. Scripture is necessary for people to come to salvation. The natural world is not. It's enough for them to know what they did is wrong and that they're accountable to God, but it's not enough to know how to be saved.
The same Paul who writes in Romans 1, what we just read, writes in Romans 10 that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but how are they to call on one they haven't heard of? Well, faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God, so we need to go and tell them the Word of God. Nature cannot communicate how salvation happens. Nature does not communicate that Jesus died on the cross. That is our job to go and tell, and Scripture alone gives us that message,
3. Glorifying God Is The Goal Of Life
Our third point is that glorifying God is the goal of life. First, nature tells us there is a God. Scripture tells us who He is, what He's done, what He expects, and third, glorifying God is the end goal of life. If this is the only point you get today, this is the most important one.
Genesis 1 tells us that God created us, male and female, and in His image. Now, what's an image? It's a reflection. It's a stand-in. It's a representation of the original. No, we are not gods, but we are to reflect the image and the glory of the true God, of the One who made us, to bring order out of disorder, to steward, to flourish, and also to follow God's commands. Jesus says we show our love for Him when we obey Him, when we follow His commands.
All of creation was made to glorify God. The stars are doing it. The sun is doing it. The trees are doing it.
Here's my question for us. Are we doing it?
One of the sad realities of sin and a sinful world is that nature fulfills its purpose better than we do on our own, that nature is testifying to the glory of God, and yet, all too often, we do not testify to the glory of God.
The Heavens are proclaiming it. Are we proclaiming it?
The sky tells of the work of God's hands. Am I telling of the work of God's hands?
More than the sky, I have His word. I have no excuse. I think what we find when we take a step back and look at ourselves is that, no, we're not glorifying God as we should. That is the human condition that we are responsible for. Our sin is against the God we all know exists.
That leads us to a problem doesn't it? We have sinned against this Almighty Creator God who is holy, and we're not, but I want to return to something that David said about the sun. The Lord provided a tent for the sun, a place for the sun to go and rest at night.
Now, we are so much of a more important creation than the sun. We actually are those that are created to image God. What does God do for His people for them to find rest? Well, when they place their faith in Him, He doesn't just put them in a tent. He clothes them in the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. He provides ultimate soul-satisfying rest through Jesus, the Redeemer that David talked about, so far from a tent, we get the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
Our goal should be to live for the glory of God now, realizing that we still war against sin, and we will until God glorifies and ultimately perfects us, but we should long for the day when God will complete this work and conform us to the image of Christ, when sin will not hinder us from living as we were truly designed to do.
Then we will add our voice to chorus of the stars and the universe in proclaiming the glory of God forever, and in so doing, find true, satisfying peace and joy for our souls.