Psalm 19

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The Hebrew expression commonly understood to mean “to [the] director” is rendered “to the end” in the Septuagint. Although the Hebrew word natsách is thought to designate the “leader” or “musical director,” this is uncertain.

Psalm 19 (18, LXX) is attributed to David. As a shepherd watching over the flock by day and night, he was deeply impressed by what he saw when looking up at the celestial dome.

As a man of faith, David perceived that the heavens or the skies above him testified to God’s glory or grandeur as the Creator. The celestial dome, with the sun during the day and the moon and stars during the night, proclaims the “work” of God’s “hands.”

David acknowledged that the declaration of God’s glory continued day after day and night after night. The testimony is cumulative. With the rising and setting of the sun each day, “speech” or testimony pours forth about the Creator. When the moon and the stars become visible at night, knowledge regarding him (including his power and wisdom) is revealed. (Compare Romans 1:20.)

The impressive testimony is conveyed without audible speech or words. Nevertheless, it extends to every part of the earth as if a “line” had been cast out everywhere for the purpose of measuring. (Instead of “line,” the Septuagint reads “voice,” which rendering is also found in numerous modern translations.) The “words” or message the celestial dome conveys each day and each night reaches every corner of the habitable land.

“In them,” evidently the “heavens,” God has pitched a tent for the sun. Possibly, because it disappears at night, the sun is here portrayed as going into its divinely appointed tent. Then, in the morning, it appears in all its bright splendor, much like a joyous bridegroom when leaving his chamber. Like a “strong man” or victorious warrior, the sun dispels the darkness of the night and triumphantly “runs” from the location of its rising to the place of its setting. Nothing is hidden from or escapes from its heat or warmth.

The psalmist next focuses on the law, which provides additional testimony regarding the Most High. YHWH’s law (evidently the Mosaic law; “laws,” according to a Dead Sea Psalms scroll) is perfect or flawless, adapted ideally for its purpose and the people to whom it had been given. This law turns back the “soul” or the individual. Its guidance can prompt the one straying from the right path to be corrected and thus to return to the divinely approved course. The Hebrew could also be understood to mean that the law “revives” the soul, bringing refreshment to the individual observing it. This would be because of the benefits resulting from obedience to the law.

The “testimony of YHWH” or the revelation he has provided in his law for guidance is trustworthy, making it possible for even those with limited insight or experience to conduct themselves wisely. According to the reading of the Septuagint, this testimony makes “infants” (népios) wise.

The “instructions of YHWH” or the “precepts” contained in his law are “straight” or “right.” Because following them leads to the best possible outcome and the greatest benefits for all concerned, these instructions make the “heart” or the deep inner self rejoice. The person who endeavored to live by these instructions experienced great inner joy.

The “commandment of YHWH” is “clean” or pure in every respect. It is untainted by any of the debased and obscene rituals that, in David’s time, were common among worshipers of nonexistent deities. This “commandment” (the law in its entirety) “lights up” the eyes, making it possible to see clearly the divinely approved course that should be followed.

A wholesome “fear” of or reverential regard for YHWH is “clean” or pure. It is the very opposite of the degrading terror associated with the nonexistent deities whose anger the deluded worshipers sought to appease by the abhorrent practice of child sacrifice.

The wholesome fear of YHWH, demonstrated by an obedient response to his law because of love for him, endures to time without limits or for eternity. It is an abiding reverential attitude and not a fear characterized by periodic feelings of hideous terror.

YHWH’s “judgments,” as set forth in his law, are “true,” never deviating from absolute truth. They are “righteous” in every respect, always conforming to the ultimate standard of justice. These “judgments,” from the standpoint of a person’s wanting them as a guide, are more desirable than gold (“and precious stone,” LXX) and sweeter than honey or the drippings from honeycombs. As a “servant” of YHWH, David acknowledged having been warned by these judgments, evidently in the sense that he had been made fully aware of choices that would have resulted in harm to himself and others. (According to the Septuagint, however, “your servant guards them,” that is, the judgments.) He recognized that observing these judgments, living in harmony with them, brought a “great reward.” This “reward” was the enjoyment of an approved relationship with YHWH and his favor, guidance, help, protection, and blessing.

David knew how easily one could slip into sin, failing to live uprightly according to God’s law. The question about “errors” or missteps suggests that one may fail to recognize them as transgressions. Therefore, the psalmist appealed to be cleansed or acquitted from hidden failings or wrongs that were not perceived as such.

Furthermore, he, as YHWH’s servant, wanted to be restrained from presumptuous wrongdoing, deliberate acts of disregard for divine law. He prayed not to be dominated by or to come under the control of these acts, as such subservience would have meant living a life of sin. His being kept back from presumptuous lawlessness would have resulted in his being “complete” or “blameless” (LXX), not marred by a sinful life, and innocent from great or serious transgression.

David’s heartfelt desire was that the words of his mouth, the expressions he made to others, would be acceptable to his God. His concern, however, was not limited to the spoken word. David also wanted the meditation of his “heart” or his inner self to find acceptance before the “face” of YHWH, his “rock” (“helper” [LXX], the one upon whom he could depend to provide aid, safety, and protection) and “redeemer” (the source of deliverance from dangers).


For comments about the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

In his letter to the Romans (10:18), the apostle Paul quoted the first part of Psalm 19:4(5) or 18:5 (LXX) to show that the message about the Christ had gone out everywhere. His quotation is exactly the same as the Septuagint rendering.

In the concluding portion of 19:4(5) or 18:5 of the Septuagint, the Greek reads, “in the sun he has placed his tent.” Possibly this rendering arose because the Septuagint translator did not understand “in them” to refer to the heavens.

Instead of “mighty man” or “warrior” (19:5[6]), the Septuagint (18:6) says “giant” (gígas).

The rendering of 19:13(14) or 18:14 (LXX) has a different focus in the Septuagint. “And spare your servant from strangers. If they do not lord over me, then I will be blameless and I will be purified from great sin.”

In the concluding verse, the Septuagint reads “before you,” conveying the sense of the Hebrew “before your face.”

It is noteworthy that the testimony to which the psalmist referred was perceived by non-Israelites but interpreted in polytheistic terms. In his De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), the Roman orator and writer Cicero (106-43 BCE) quoted the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE). “If,” he says, “there were men who had always lived underground in fine and well-lit houses which had been adorned with statues and paintings, and equipped with all the things which those who are considered well-to-do possess in abundance, who had, however, never come forth into the upper world, but had learned by fame and hearsay of the existence of certain divine powers and natures, and had then at some time, through the jaws of the earth being opened, been able to come forth from those hidden regions, and to pass into these parts which we inhabit,—when they had suddenly obtained a sight of the land and seas and sky, and had marked the vastness of the clouds, and the force of the winds, and had beheld the sun, and had marked not only its size and beauty, but also its power, since by diffusing light over the whole sky it caused day,—and when, again, after night had overshadowed the earth, they then perceived the whole sky studded and adorned with stars, and the change in the light of the moon as it alternately waxed and waned, and the rising and setting of all these bodies, and the fixity and unchangeableness of their courses through all eternity,—when they saw those things, they would assuredly believe both that the gods existed and that these mighty works proceeded from them.” (Book II, XXXVII, translated by Francis Brooks (London: Methuen, 1896)