Posted On January 17, 2015

Psalm 19 has been on the Top 40 charts for a couple thousand years. Understandably. It’s a classic. It’s short, but loaded with theological goodies (vv. 1-2, 13), great imagery (vv. 4-6), and zippy one-liners (vv. 9b-10, 14). But if you’re like me, you breeze past these rich passages in a bleary morning state during devotionals. So we often need an exercise in sitting with the depth of a passage to be nourished, instead of rushing along. Psalm 19 is the perfect place to start.

Psalm 19 has three sections.

1. Psalm 19:1-6: The psalmist lyricizes creation with fabulous imagery, depicting the cycle of each day as a “strong man” running his course (v. 5).
2. Psalm 19:7-10: The topic switches to God’s law (tôrāh), which along with God’s judicial features is perfect, sure, right, pure, and so on.
3. Psalm 19:11-14: The psalmist moves toward application, exhorting the reader to keep the law, asking that God remove temptation, and praying for mercy.

Biblical themes are strewn through it all. Which almost makes it easy to totally miss the most surprising and important message of Psalm 19: the law gives life.

Timeout: What?

Okay, it’s only a small part of the psalm, but that is what I am going to zoom in on. The kicker comes in verse 7, all too easy to overlook in our familiarity. It says: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (ESV).

Hang on. Paul says the law that was intended to bring life actually brings death (Rom. 7:10). And we know, as card-carrying Protestants, that Paul is usually right (and the Old Testament is usually confusing). Right? Even more jarring to theologically Reformed ears, the King James Version says that the law “converts” the soul. What’s going on here? The law most certainly does not revive—give life to—the soul. Only the gospel does that. Right?

Don’t throw out your copy of Calvin’s Institutes just yet (or ever, for that matter). The phrase can be translated in other ways. The word translated as “reviving” (měšîbat) basically means “to cause to return.” So the NASB says that the law “restores” the soul, and the NIV says it “refreshes” the soul. Obviously we’re dealing with something that doesn’t neatly fit into a single English word.

The question, then, is: cause to return to where, and from where? From spiritual death to life? From disobedience to obedience? Or something else? The Hebrew word for soul here (nepeš) can also mean different things, depending on context: life, person, soul, inner being. But in terse poetry, context is just what we lack.

Continue Reading

Related Posts

Pastor, Are You Prepared to Shepherd Your Flock through Dementia?

Pastor, Are You Prepared to Shepherd Your Flock through Dementia?

A Common Challenge The tragedy of dementia is common and will become more so in the future. It is estimated that over 30% of the average church congregation will die with some form of dementia. That represents an enormous challenge in pastoral ministry. I would...

Impacting change in Delhi

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Praesent ac nibh vestibulum, laoreet ipsum quis, vestibulum nisi. Curabitur non mi et turpis pharetra vulputate.

Pride Goes Before a Fall

Pride Goes Before a Fall

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18) The word “pride” has been bantered around quite a bit of late, specifically in relation to the recent SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Social media has been awash with “support pride”...

The Sovereignty of God in the Midst of the Chaos of Our World

The Sovereignty of God in the Midst of the Chaos of Our World

Whether it’s on social media, the radio, or on TV, events like police officers being shot, Black Lives Matter, and terrorist attacks seemingly dominate our daily news. Every person is created by God in His image and likeness and worthy of dignity and respect. As...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Reddit
Share
Email
Buffer
Tweet