The second half of Psalm 19 describes The perfection of God’s word. The first six verses of the Psalm described God’s continuous silent revelation of his existence and attributes to the whole world. Despite the testimony of creation, not all people recognize the God of creation and fail to give him his proper glory. He therefore has revealed himself more specifically in his Law. This is a written revelation, and like creation, it is a constant and steady witness to God’s existence and attributes. While creation reveals the creator God is powerful, the Torah reveals he is fair and just in all his commandments and these commandments are good for those who follow them.
God’s perfect revelation is described with six different terms: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and judgments. All four give the impression that “comprehensive emphasis that all of the words of the Lord are beneficial” (Ross, EBC, 182). Testimony is covenant language and is a retelling of God’s saving acts (HALOT). This is not a written document, like the Torah, but a testimony to what God has done for his covenant people. Precepts and commandments are the individual elements of the Torah. Precepts are the “procedures” for how the Law works (פִּקּוּדִים, only in the plural in the Hebrew Bible, exclusively in the Psalms, 21x in Psalm 119).
Describing God’s Word
Each of these six descriptions of the perfection of God’s word are adjectival phrases to highlight the reliability of God’s revelation.
- Perfect or blameless is a word (תָּמִים) which refers to the perfection of sacrificial animals: they are to be without fault (Exod 12:5, for example). It can have the sense of complete, there is nothing left out of the Law or nothing which is incomplete.
- Sure (nifel participle of אמן) has the sense of enduring or permanent. A thing which is enduring is reliable, always there at all times in the sense of being faithful and reliable. The word is translated “steadfast” in some of the Psalms.
- Upright or straight (יָשָׁר) is a common word used to describe something which is morally correct (a straight path, for example), or a person who is living a morally correct life. The phrase “upright in heart” is used in the Psalms frequently.
- Pure is a rare word in the Hebrew Bible (בַּר II), although it is used in Ps 24:4, a person with a pure heart may ascend the holy hill of the Lord.
- The fear of the Lord is “clean,” a word which refers to ceremonial cleanliness (טָהוֹר)
- The Hebrew word for “true” (אֱמֶת) is common, but covers far more than the English word. Something which is faithful and trustworthy is true, perhaps the analogy of an arrow which hits its target, the “aim was true.” The word is frequently associated with God’s character. Psalm 31:5, for example, describes God as a “faithful God.”
Encountering God’s Word
Following this portrait of the perfection of God’s word, God’s revelation is described by six phrases. The first four are the results of an encounter with the word of the Lord; the final two are further characteristic of God’s revelation. Syntactically, these are all participles with an object.
- Reviving the soul. The verb can be refresh, restore, etc. (the common שׁוב in the hifel). When one is aligned with the word of God properly, then ones inner person is restored to where it originally belonged.
- Making wise the simple. The simple are in experienced people who do not know how to get through life. God’s word can give them the categories of thought that help them to understand how to live life to the fullest.
- Making the heart rejoice. The heart is a person’s inner being, what they are at their inner core. God’s word provides and enlivening of the soul, a strange happiness despite circumstances.
- Enlightening the eyes. The ESV follows many modern commentators who take the verb often translated as “warned” as cognate to “illuminate,” this is probably correct, since in the context the sun has been mentioned. The word of God shed light on everything, and light exposes things which are hidden. To read tiny writing, you need light at just the right angle to make out the letters. So to the word of God brings to light aspects of our lives which need to be addressed, but also shed light on how to live out a godly life.
- Enduring forever. That God’s word endures forever is repeated often in the Bible, Jesus said not even the smallest mark or letter will pass away. But what does an eternally enduring word of God mean? Like the general revelation of creation, God’s propositional truth claims are always true. For example, God declares he exists in creation, and in the special revelation of the Bible God reveals creation is good and humans have become estranged from God because of sin. This is true and that truth will endure forever (science will not prove humans are not in rebellion against God, for example).
- They are entirely righteous. There is nothing about God’s special revelation which is not just and fair.
Even though creation is constantly pouring forth speech, it is not enough to fully reveal God. It is only through the special revelation of God’s word one can fully encounter God.