A Psalm of Disclosure

A Psalm of Disclosure

Mar 26, 2017

Passage: Psalm 19

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: The Psalms

Detail:

Psalm 19 (A Psalm of Self Disclosure)

Well we are in our series in the Psalms and I'm loving this series because we get a behind the scenes look at how godly men communicate with God. When we introduced this series we said that human emotion is a big part of what we see in the Psalms. We see men dealing with depression, we see anger, we see sadness, we see praise.

But another thing we see in the Psalms is really theology about God and man. Today we come to Psalm 19.

C.S. Lewis said of this Psalm.

Lewis wasn't given to hyperbole or over-usage of superlatives. And yet here he uses two. That's pretty high commendation.

C.S. Lewis had a very circuitous route to God. He studied and wandered a lot in his pursuit of the truth. And perhaps that is one of the reasons he loved this Psalm because this Psalm is all about how we come to understanding who God is and once we understand, how do we respond to him appropriately.

Psalm 19 is going to answer for us two questions:

  1. How do I know God?
  2. How should I respond to Him?

So let's start by thinking about that first part. How do we know God? Now this is by no means simple. Get beyond the four walls of this church and you will find serious disagreement on this question. Don't oversimplify this problem or you will loose your audience almost instantly. There are very real problems in trying to understand God. We all get the same evidence but we come to very different conclusions.

And let's illustrate this problem by imaging you are an archaeologist. And you are digging around in an ancient city and you come across this Mosaic floor.

Now what is this? What was the story behind this? How did this get here?

Mosaic floors are a dime a dozen in Israel but this particular one was very, very unique. This particular floor was of particular interest to me. It was discovered in Caesarea Maritima which is the beautiful coastal city that I had been to many times and I loved the beach. Well as it turns out, beneath the beach I loved so much was this giant hippodrome. And so when I went back a few years ago, this whole portion of the city was uncovered. It was super impressive. And in one part of this newly uncovered section this mosaic was discovered. And what made this one so unique was that each room in the building had a different floor covering. There was one that was totally floral and then another very geometrical and symmetrical and another with animals all over it. And this type of a house with different floor in every room was one of kind. They had never found anything like this in all of Israel or the surrounding countries. And they were baffled by it. Most houses, if hey have flooring it was continuous. Why would every room be different? And so different?

Now what's the story behind this? What was going on here?

  • Was this a really eccentric lady who was bucking the trends of here day?
  • Was this some kind of eclectic worship center that catered to different religions?
  • Was this a museum of sorts?

Do you see the problem? It's just a piece of evidence but the evidence needs interpretation. And that is much how we enter into this world. We are just born in the middle of this pile of uninterpreted evidence. This museum of artifacts without any labels on them.

We are just tossed into this stream of confusing events. How did I get here? Where am I going? What does it all mean? And what you see all around you is interesting, even amazing, but it doesn't really help too much in answering your most fundamental questions of purpose, origin, meaning.

Flying birds are amazing, the sun is pretty powerful, eyes that see in color and brains that can take all that information and map it into a three dimensional model is complex, galaxies are far away. True. I mean it's all amazing and interesting, but what does it all mean? Just like the archaeological figurine, whatever evidence we point to in the universe is just evidence. What does it mean? It needs interpretation. And you will find wildly different ways of interpreting that evidence as you flip through the pages of history or as you circle the globe.

So today what we are going to do is watch the path that David takes in interpreting the evidence he sees. David actually comes up with some answers; he doesn't end up confused. And we will discover how he did it. We are going to read Psalm 19 right now and here's what you will observe. There is a progression. David moves from observing the creation (what theologians call general revelation) to the listening to the actual words of God (what theologians call special revelation) and then to the response that David has as he realizes who God is.
Let's begin by a simple reading of the text.

Now let's just observe this text for a moment. When we are taught to study our Bible's one of the skills we are told to cultivate is this skill of observation. Here's a few things we can observe about this text.

It seems to break down into two halves. Did you see it? You can tell this from a couple of things.

  1. First and most obvious of all the theme changes. In the first half we have the Psalmist praising God for how he reveals himself in creation. In the second half we have the theme of how God reveals himself in his word.

  1. You also can see these two halves in just the sentence length. In the first half you have long sentences. In the second half you have short sentences.

  1. You can also see this in the names for God that David choses. In the first have the name of God is El which comes from a Hebrew root for power. Usually that word is attached to something else like - El Shaddai or Elohim. But sometimes it's just short. El. So when he's talking about the heavens he uses the word El. But then in the second have the Psalm he switches to YHWH. This is the personal name God gave to Moses. So when he's speaking about God's revelation to us in Scripture he uses the personal name of God. He chose to reveal himself to Moses with this name. And in a similar way, he chooses to reveal himself in Scripture to us.

So you can see that the Psalm is broken logically in half. But how are they related? I think we can see here two ideas.

So let's take a look at what David says here in this first section.

How can I know God? David starts by cranking his neck upward. Maybe he's recalling his days as a shepherd where he was waiting for the morning. Maybe he's recalling more recent experiences as he's running from Saul in the desert. He's spent plenty of time in the open air at night. I can imagine him on a particularly clear, cold night looking up and seeing the sky is just brilliant, dazzling splendor. We've all had experiences like this where the brightness and clarity of the night sky just takes your breath away.

And what does David say?

He says, the heavens "declare;" they are saying something. They are speaking. The obvious question is what are they declaring?

David is acknowledging what logic would force any observer to conclude. The source that created those stars is powerful. Evolutionists would agree with this, Muslims, Hindus, Mormans. Everybody agrees, personal or impersonal; whatever that creative force, it's very powerful. The heavens are declaring. The evidence is pointing to something.

There are two things that everybody concludes when they look at the heavens.

  1. We are small. Our entire planet is a forgotten piece of dust captured by the laws of it's environment. We are invisible nothingness.
  2. Our life is vapor. Our entire existence from birth to death doesn't even represent a single heartbeat of a star or a galaxy. Take just the sun as an evidence of this. There is so much energy in the sun. It's really hard for me to get my mind around the fact that the sun has enough energy to burn another 5 billion years.

And the natural reaction is to marvel. If there is a God who made this, he must be 1. powerful and 2. eternal. By contrast I am small and my life is vapor. That is what the heavens are declaring.

Romans 1 probably describes this better than any other place in the Bible. In this passage Paul is making the point that God has revealed certain things about himself to all men. Even a totally isolated non-Christian can know some truth about God.

What is obvious about God, is what can be seen in the skies, namely that God is eternal and that he is powerful (ie. he has a divine nature). He's God, he's different than you.

That is the obvious message of general revelation written in gaint letters in the sky. And he says nobody can escape it. Every time you feel the heat of the sun you will remember that it's eternal and you are not. You will be forced to reckon with it's created nature. Nobody escapes it's heat.

Speaking of not being able to escape the sun's heat, I can't help but take this moment to ask you to join me in listening to the declarative nature of a particular astronomical phenomena. Mark on your calendars August 21st and if you want to join me, I will be somewhere in central Idaho watching the once in a lifetime viewing of the total solar eclipse.

I remember being totally fascinated by these phenomena as a kid because I thought, are you telling me that the size of the moon is literally the exact same size as the sun, just big enough to cover it. That's a crazy coincidence. It thrilled me just to think of it so I remember going to the library because there wasn't any internet at that time and finding some book on solar phenomena and looking up when the next one would be in my area and being totally bummed because the next one wasn't scheduled to hit Idaho until I was basically dead, you know, like 40 years old.

Well, I survived and now I get to watch yet another way in which the heavens declare the glory of God in this special way. The Psalmist continues:

The Psalmist continues that day after day the heavens "pours forth" revelation about who God is. It can't be plugged and it's source seems bottomless. The image is of a spring that just gushes forth water totally unconscious of the eyes of men. You might ignore it for a day, a week, a month, a year, it doesn't matter or care. Whenever you care to turn your eye, there it will be gushing forth revelation about it's creator. It's a beautiful image!

But then we get to verse three. Which seems to undo everything verse two just said.

What is this saying? It seems like David switches to the opposite of what he just gone done saying. First he says, speech is pouring forth and now he says there is no speech and there are no words and the voice isn't being heard. What could he possibly means? This was one of my Hebrew professor's favorite Psalms. He was very good at Hebrew and I remember him teaching on this Psalm and the key here is properly understanding the second part of the verse. He said it's better translated, "Whose sound goes unheard" or "without their voice being heard." So the idea is that the words are being spoken but it's not being heard. It's like an unknown language. You hear it, but you don't. You know it's saying something but what is it saying. You need someone to unlock the mystery for you to have understanding.

Looking at the universe is much like listening to a foreign language. It looks really interesting, but I can't understand it. What does it mean? Looking at the universe is like uncovering that archaeological artifact. You know there is a story and it's an interesting story for sure and it would all make sense if someone could just give you the key.

The heavens are loudly declaring, but what they are saying is not obvious to everyone. There are plenty of people who study the heavens their entire life and don't come to theistic conclusions. The story of mankind is a story of trying to decode what the heavens are declaring! What does all this mean? Where did we come from? I need more information that just the heavens? How can I interpret this amazing spectacle before me?

So that's the first part of the Psalm. To summarize. David says, God's glory, namely his eternal power and divine nature, are on display for everyone to see. It's obvious. Everyone who sees the heavens, knows some things about God but not all things. The heavens do not give us complete information.

There are so many questions we still have. Who is this God? Is it Allah? Krishna? Is it Buddha? Is it Zeus? The voice goes out but there's not understanding. How can we know God?

That's where part two comes in.

Do you see what David is saying here? He's saying, listen, I was lost. I had no idea who this God was and what he was like?

  • Was he demanding?
  • Was he irritable?
  • Was he fickle?

I knew he was powerful. That much was obvious. I knew he must be eternal. But that's not very much to go on. There are so many things you could have been, most of which terrified me.

Put yourself in the position of a genuine seeker in the days of David. I want to know God but how do I approach him? Do I have to slaughter a bull? That didn't work, maybe he wants me to slaughter my child? Horrible loss and I still feel like I don't know. God is still silent to me.

All around you are people who are worshiping Molech and their horrible sacrificial system and Dagon and there are Ashertoth polls and temple prostitutes and the Egyptian gods and goddesses and the rules and temple rites are horrible. And you just want to know God. Where is he? Who is he?

But then I saw your law. Then I read your book. And you see the emotional response David has for the law of God. It's honey to him. It's beautiful to him. The Law of the Lord is perfect.

When God revealed himself to me, it all made sense. Your word became the interpretive key to help me understand reality. Now it all makes sense. It was the key I needed to make sense of the whole thing.

You see that is what the Bible is like. It's the key that unlocks the mystery. It interprets the world for us. C.S. Lewis has a great section on this in his book Mere Christianity.

Now what David is saying in this chapter is that God's Word becomes to us that missing chapter, that explanatory teacher, that key that unlocks the mystery. When we put it in that first position, everything else makes sense! When we put on those glasses, the whole thing snaps into focus.

The Bible is the needed optical correction to stop the vertigo. If you've been living your whole life without any kind of mooring, this sort of optical correction becomes to you a sort of lifeline!

The Word of God is like that explanatory sentence that snaps the whole thing into focus. Do you remember that archaeological mystery I told you at the beginning. Here was this discovery where every room was different. What's the story? There are so many possible explanations, but it only happened one way. What's the answer?

Well the mystery was solved. As they continued the excavations, they finally made it to front room and the whole thing made sense. In letters on the floor it said, "Welcome to our Flooring store." Our version of that is Cost Less Carpet center on Chinden and instead of siding the building they have a patchwork of all their flooring samples. That little sign in the front door was the key that opened the whole thing up.

God's word is like that one sentence explanation that unlocks the whole thing.

Do you hear the kinds of words David uses to describe the law of God?

  • The law enlightens. It was all confusing and dark before but your law enlightens me and now I understand. Now I can see.
  • God's word is sure. Before, nothing was sure. Everything was a question. Your guess was as good as mine. But finally I have a point of reference.
  • God' word is right. I can actually say, this is right and this is wrong because again, we now have a standard, an absolute against which we can measure things.

And what's David's emotional reaction to this. He delights in them! He desires them. It's like honey to him. Why? Because finally he has something he can grab onto that's true. It's not all relative. It's not just matters of opinion. Finally he can know who God is. He can know what God is like. He can know what is good for him. He understands purpose and meaning. He knows how he was made.

David's reaction to the law of God is not like our normal reaction in our post-modern, post-Christian culture. What we are going to see is joy and delight in God's law. When David thinks about the law of God his emotional reaction is delight.

And I think for American's that is a very tough concept. When we use the word law we instantly shudder.

  • We hate the idea of being constrained by a law.
  • Laws feel oppressive. I don't love things that oppress me.
  • When we hear the word law, it sounds in our ears hard, unbending, cold, merciless. How could I love something like that?
  • Law limits freedom so we typically don't like the idea of being shackled by something that limits our freedom.

To add to these ideas we are NT Christians and of course we love grace. The NT is all about Grace.

  • Grace feels like the opposite of law.
  • Grace feels warm, soft, inviting.
  • Grace and freedom seem to go hand and hand. I can love that

So when we read Psalms like Psalm 19 or Psalm 119, and we see what positive terms are used to describe the law how do we process it? Are we backward in our thinking or is David backward in his thinking because he's simply pre-NT? What's the right way to think about this?

What you have to appreciate is that every law reveals the character and nature of the lawgiver and not only that but tells you something about how you were designed to best function to be ultimately fulfilled.

As a parent you might tell your kids, don't leave your room a mess. The law tells you something. It tells you that the parents like order and that the best thing for the kids is to not learn habits of messiness. As soon as I told my kids this concept they began delighting in my laws.

The laws of God are designed to protect you, to create something beautiful. Anyone who travels to a third world country immediately appreciates the laws that we have against throwing trash out the window. The law, while perhaps feeling restrictive, is in fact a source of wonderful life. It creates the necessary social restrictions so that we can experience the joy of a clean society. The laws allows us to experience how we were created.

So when we started this message we said that Psalm 19 was all about how we come to an understanding of who God is and once we understand, it's a Psalm about how we should respond to him appropriately. We saw that their is a progression. First you crank your head up and see the galaxies and then you put your head down and you read his word. Putting those two things together, that's how you come up with the Christian worldview.

Well this last part of the Psalm is all about the appropriate response given God's self-disclosure. This information about God requires something of you.

What's the proper response here? I think if you were to sum it up in one word it would be: Surrender.

Think about the context here, this prayer is such a great prayer.

Given what we know about how powerful God is as He reveal himself in the sun, moon, stars galaxies, and given the fact that His law is perfect, given the fact that His path cannot be improved upon, given the fact that the path to joy, the path of reward is in listening to what he says is right,

Please Lord keep me from presumptuous sins. Now that is fascinating. Think about this idea of being presumptuous.

You might say to someone, "I hope I'm not being presumptuous here, but do you mind if I give you some advice?" What are you saying. Your recognizing that there are limits to what is appropriate for you to say. There are places you can go where, if you open your mouth, your opinion becomes inappropriate. You've crossed some line and have begun to think too highly of yourself. You are assume your voice has significance in the situation be because you simply don't have the experience or the rapport or the expertise or the qualifications, the reality is you don't have anything to offer. You can't actually reach in there and contribute meaningfully to the conversation.

It would presumptuous for example for me to walk into the Pentagon and speak with authority on what should be done in North Korea.

So when David says, keep me from presumptuous sins, that's exactly the idea. Keep me from thinking I somehow know better than you! That I have a perspective that is beyond yours. That I am in the position to give advice to you on how to run this world. You made the world, certainly you can run it. David says, "Who can discern his errors?" Implied answer, nobody. Who is in he position to judge God on his decisions? Nobody.

I always think of this concept when I watch Olympic diving. These divers go off and do all these flips and twists and every one of them seems to stick it perfectly and sometimes the judges get all excited and gives 9s and 10s. Other times they give 6s and 7s. I don't have the experience or eye to judge this sport. It would be high presumptuous of me to comment here.

And David says, save me from that kind of presumptuous thinking, where I, a mere mortal of 40 years who by nature of my fundamental weakness has to sleep half my life, who has heavy biases, who is fraught with sinful preconceptions, who has lived most of my life in one city, in one language who

Does this remind you a bit of Job 38 where God dresses down Job. Come on Job, act like the man you say you are: If you are so smart and big and powerful. Where were you when I created the world? Oh I see, you didn't exist I see.

Should you instruct me? Should you tell me how I ought to run the world I created?

David says, acquit me of hidden faults. What faults my those be? Please forgive me for those times when I conform on the outside, but inside I'm questioning you or arguing or complaining.

Notice that David said if I avoid these kinds of thoughts I will be free of GREAT transgression. Which implied that to act presumptuously is GREAT transgression. It is among the most serious sins in all the Bible to put yourself in the place of God and say, God I know what's best not you. Now don't think it's not okay to ask why! God loves to give answers to why questions. It's good to ask why. It's okay to ask. It's not okay to tell. It's not okay to question his wisdom, to tell God that you know best. That's why God as so angry at the children of Israel when the complained. This was a presumptuous sin. Giving advice to God on how he should be running the show.

So the attitude that David closes with here is the attitude of surrender. God thank you for revealing yourself in the heavens, but even more excellently in your Word. I want to surrender to you.

Now we are going to close with a hymn from Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts wrote 750 hymns. He wasn't trying to make records with these things. He was trying enforce truth, to use the tool of music to place truth in the mind and heart. This hymn was written to enforce the truth of Psalm 19.