NOTES ON
PSALM 19

AND
THE HEAVENS ARE TELLING

from HAYDN, THE CREATION

Summary,     Discussion,     Hebrew Poetry,     Further thoughts,    

The words of The Heavens Are Telling are based upon Psalm 19, with some variation.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
The wonder of His work, The wonder of His work displays the firmament.

The day that is coming speaks it the day,
The night that is gone to following night.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
The wonder of His work, The wonder of His work displays the firmament.

In all the lands resounds the word,
Never unperceived, Ever understood.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
The wonder of His work, The wonder of His work displays the firmament.

 (Grammatical note: In English and more especially in German, the verb should be the second item in the clause. "The firmament displays His handiwork" is reversed for emphasis; the object phrase "The wonder of His work" is more important in the context of the music and the idea that Joseph Haydn wished to convey.)

Summary    The words,     Discussion,     Hebrew Poetry,     Further thoughts,    

The main points are as follows:

The Psalm is geocentric in its outlook.

The Psalm portrays the sun (especially amongst heavenly bodies) as representing the word of God in its various forms (Law, Precepts, etc) See Psalm 119 as a further exposition of the various forms of the word of God.

"And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof" is the source of Haydn’s "Never unperceived, ever understood."

Discussion    The words,     Summary,     Hebrew Poetry,     Further thoughts,    

Haydn not the same as the Bible; but he has an evident Christian faith and spiritual perception.

The general tone of the whole of Scripture is geocentric. Some may see this as man-centred, on the basis of God’s purpose for the church.

In Psalm 19, we have God’s interpretation of the natural order. That is, that the sun represents to the earth the word of God gone out to all mankind, "so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) (General revelation.)

The alternative interpretation of the sun as representing Christ around whom the earth and the rest of the universe revolve is flawed.

a)    It is not scientifically correct if our sun is a star towards the edge of a galaxy amongst millions of galaxies in the universe;

b)    It is not Biblical when Psalm 19 places such a clear interpretation on the sun;

c)    It is most seriously erroneous in putting God (at least one person of the trinity) within the physical universe, when He is, in His being, totally outside it. In theological terms, He is transcendent. This is a most serious error of philosophy and of theology.

On this last point, the transcendence of God does not exclude the possibility of His intervention and activity within the created universe. It means that He is not created. But God’s intervention is shown most remarkably in the incarnation, ‘O Logos sarx egeneto. (The Word became flesh.)

Does Psalm 19 actually equate the sun with God’s word? There are two apparently distinct sections, a creation hymn in the first 6 verses, and a meditation on the Law of the Lord in the last 8 verses.

Hebrew Poetry   The words,     Summary,     Discussion,     Further thoughts,    

The form of Hebrew poetry (and the feature which makes it translatable) is called ‘parallelism’. In a typical verse, (for example, Psalm 19, v. 2) we see the shape

A, B, C; A*, B*, C*.

A – "Day unto day," A* - "Night unto night."

B – "uttereth", B* - "sheweth."

C – "speech," C* - "knowledge."

The scale of this parallelism varies from the small scale of halves of the same sentence to halves of the whole Psalm. The same idea may be repeated, or its opposite may be the second half of the parallel, as in Psalm 1. There is also progression, where the second part is a step further than the first pasrt. And another aspect of Hebrew teaching method also may be found, that the exposition of the first list of ideas runs in reverse order, and may not even deal with the first items on the list at all. The Sermon On The Mount is an example of this Midrash form; Matt 5:11-12 are the exposition of v. 10, 13-26 of v.9, 27-48 of v.8, etc.

Returning to Psalm 19, the word of God in the forms of vv. 7-9 picks up the end idea of vv 1-6, the sun whose heat reaches to all. (Some heat penetrates the clouds. Also, it is necessary to life – "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds form the mouth of God.") But all the ideas of vv. 1-6 speak of the word, the lights of heaven, day and night, speak of "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path. (Psalm 119, 106) The plain sense is to see the sun and the lights of heaven as speaking of the word of God provided in various forms to illuminate all mankind. "I would not have you ignorant" is not simply a New Testament statement, it is the plan of God from the beginning. (This is not exhaustive, in that other symbols are required to give us a more complete representation of God’s word.) (Mirror, Fire, Hammer, Light, Lamp, Bread, Rain, Dew, Silver.)

Let us now look further at Psalm 19. One line of study is the various words for God’s word: Law of the Lord; Testimony of the Lord; statutes of the Lord; Commandment of the Lord; Fear of the Lord; Judgements of the Lord.

Two points, all these are, "of the Lord," and all are declarations, the word of God is spoken to make it effective. The second line of study is the effect of God’s word, primarily purity of heart, word and deed. (In this psalm the fear of the Lord is the inward work of the word of God in the heart to produce a permanent purity of motive responding to the spoken word after that has ceased.)

Verses 10 and 11 speak of the value of the word of God in terms of present desirability and future reward.

The final three verses come back to the issue of the heart, and express the writer’s desire before God for inward purity. This is a desire awakened by hearing the word of God which is "Never unperceived, ever understood." It is as inescapable and as necessary as the light and heat of the sun and other heavenly bodies.

God is always concerned that His word brings results. "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it." (Isaiah 55:11)

Psalm 119 is a good next step for the study of the word of God.

I have deliberately refrained from typing "The Word of God". Logos (one of the New Testament words for "word" and that used by John for the eternal Christ) is not in the Psalm. The words of God here are specific and many declarations from God, of which the law, the Torah, recorded in the five books of Moses, is the prime.

And to return to Haydn. In the context of his oratorio, "The heavens are telling the glory of God" is a hymn of praise and thanks for that part of creation. The lines, "In all the lands resounds the word, Never unperceived, ever understood," are not necessary to that purpose. But to leave them out would be to leave out this most profound truth about the word of God thus illustrated by His creation.

R J Higginson, B.Sc., B.D. 23 May 1999  Copyright

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