C.S. Lewis (of “Narnia”) on Psalm 19: “one of the greatest lyrics in the world…”
This regular feature focuses on next Sunday’s psalm, and – normally – on highlights from the psalms in the Daily Office Readings (DORs) for the week leading up to that upcoming Sunday. But in this case Psalm 19 is so important that I spent the whole post on it.
At this point there may be some who ask, “What, the psalms again? Why pay so much attention to the Psalms?” For the simple answer see About the psalms.
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As noted, Psalm 19 is widely considered to be a “masterpiece of poetic literature,” and C.S. Lewis (shown above) considered it to be “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” The psalm begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” For the full text see Psalm 19 – For the director.
As noted in Psalm 19 – Bible Teaching Notes, the first six verses of the psalm “speak of God’s general revelation of Himself through nature,” and in these verses “David represents the universe as a cathedral in which the sun is the preacher bearing witness to the existence and glory of God.” And as noted in Treasury of David—Psalm 19 – The Spurgeon Archive:
This song very distinctly divides itself into three parts… The creatures show God’s glory, 1-6. The word showeth his grace, 7-11. David prayeth for grace, 12-14. Thus praise and prayer are mingled, and he who here sings the work of God in the world without, pleads for a work of grace in himself within.
The International Bible Commentary (IBC, 569) said the psalmist – according to tradition, David – may have been influenced by the fact that in the “ancient Near East ‘sun’ and ‘justice’ were thought of as belonging together; e.g. Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun-god, was considered to be the upholder of justice and righteousness.” See also Shamash – Wikipedia:
The attribute most commonly associated with Shamash is justice. Just as the Sun disperses darkness, so Shamash brings wrong and injustice to light. Hammurabi attributes to Shamash the inspiration that led him to gather the existing laws and legal procedures into code…
And see also Code of Hammurabi – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, but we digress…
Getting back to Psalm 19, here’s what Wikipedia says:
The psalm considers the glory of God in creation, and moves to reflect on the character and use of “the law of the LORD.” A comparison is made between the law and the sun, which lends a degree of unity to the psalm… Like the Sun, the law is able to uncover hidden faults, and nothing can hide from it. As the Psalmist meditates on the excellencies of the law, he feels that his sins have been laid open before God’s word, and asks for forgiveness and help.
See Psalm 19 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Or as the IBC said, the first six verses are a hymn in praise of God in nature, while verses 7 through 14 are a hymn in praise of God’s law. Note that verse six ends with an ode to the sun; it “goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.”
Moving on to the law of the LORD, verse 7 said it “revives the soul” and “gives wisdom to the innocent.” Of God’s statutes verse 10 said that they are “more to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold.” Verse 11 adds, “By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.”
Verse 12 asks, “Who can tell how often he offends? Cleanse me from my secret faults.” I addressed that subject – “secret” or unknown sins – in On Ecclesiasticus (NOT “Ecclesiastes”), which cited Ecclesiasticus 5:5: “Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.” The post also discussed “Holier than thou”, along with self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
On that note, Psalm 19:13 added, “Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me.” And finally, the psalm ends with the well-known verse 14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.” Wikipedia said of this verse, and the psalm:
Verse 14 is used as part of the conclusion of the Amidah, the main daily prayer in Judaism… As the author spends time thinking about God’s demands, he realizes that his own actions and thoughts fall short of this law that he loves. The author prays to be kept from sins of ignorance as well as deliberate sins [and] that his words and thoughts be pleasing to God.
See Psalm 19 – Wikipedia, and also Amidah – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, referring to the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy recited at each of three prayer services in a typical weekday: morning, afternoon, and evening. “The prayer is recited standing with feet firmly together, and preferably while facing Jerusalem,” and ends with this concluding prayer:
My God, keep my tongue and my lips from speaking deceit, and to them that curse me let my soul be silent, and like dust to all. Open my heart in Your Torah… May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Eternal, my rock and my redeemer.
The upper image is courtesy of C. S. Lewis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) “was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist. Born in Belfast, Ireland, he held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College), 1925–54, and Cambridge University (Magdalene College), 1954–63. He is best known both for his fictional work, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain… Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends.” See also Psalm 19 – Bible Teaching Notes: “The Psalm is considered to be a masterpiece of poetic literature. C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘I take this [Psalm 19] to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.'”
As to David playing the harp, see David – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted the account of First Samuel, Chapter 16, which told of Saul, the first-ever king of Israel, being tormented by an evil spirit. In turn it was suggested that “he send for David, a young warrior famed for bravery and his lyre playing. Saul did so, and made David one of his armor-bearers. From then on, whenever ‘the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him,’” as illustrated above.
One final note: the usual post on the psalms up to December 7 would have included this:
For those who already appreciate the psalms – and rightfully so – my usual practice is to review the next Sunday’s readings on the Wednesday before, including the individual Sunday-psalm noted above, and also to review the psalms from the DORs for the week ending on the Tuesday just before that “prior Wednesday.” For example, The Lectionary psalm for Sunday, December 7, is Psalm 19, discussed further below. The Daily Office psalms are from the readings for Wednesday November 26 up to Tuesday December 2.