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It Takes Time

Academic Newsletter - May 2024

It takes a few years to fully toilet train a child and about 18 years before a child is ready to leave home. Compared to that, our psalms move along quickly! 

It currently takes six to nine months to perform a complete scholarly analysis of a psalm. That timing enables us to:

  1. Have a rigorous peer review process (to ensure quality and consistency).
     
  2. Regularly find that later work requires iterative revisions (we make better decisions the more we know).
     
  3. Take time to develop confidence in our interpretation. Many possibilities need to be tested and weighed. We need to wrestle with different approaches and only come to a conclusion once we have a deep and rich understanding. 

Psalm 19

Many scholars have argued Psalm 19 is really two separate psalms, one on the sky (vv. 1-6, general revelation) and one on the law (vv. 7-14, special revelation). By contrast, C.S. Lewis argued that v. 6c, nothing is hidden from his heat, is "the key phrase on which the whole poem depends."

Part of our job is determining which is most likely and why. 

Psalm 19:1-6 (NIV)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

Here is the introduction to our upcoming Overview video, which aims to boil all the scholarly analysis down to one single, coherent interpretation and then present it in a clear and compelling way:

Psalm 19 is a journey from the vast reaches of the sky to the innermost parts of the human heart, in which nothing is hidden from God.

As the sun lays bare everything on earth, so the instruction of YHWH lays bare the human heart.

The reality of the human heart would be cause for despair, were it not for YHWH's nature as rock and redeemer, which means sins can be forgiven and the heart made acceptable before YHWH.

I grew up thinking Psalm 19 is primarily about the sky declaring God's honor. I was wrong!

It's about the universal reach of God's knowledge and instruction, paralleling the universal reach of the sun... and the effect of that universal reach. It exposes the depths of the human heart, with the same results as Isaiah in Isaiah 6, who cried out when he recognized the truth, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!"

The human heart is dark and sinful, and the only hope is in the one who can purify and cleanse: the Rock and Redeemer. This is why Psalm 19 travels from the sun (from whom nothing is hidden) to God's instruction (which gives light to all) to the human heart (which needs to be enlightened, for it does not know its own sin).

With the aid of God's instruction, his child, or his servant, is warned and instructed, and can seek forgiveness and cleansing from God. It's the forgiveness and cleansing that enable David to say: Then will I be blameless. It is then that he will be acceptable to the Lord, his Rock and Redeemer.

Psalm 19:7-14 (NIV)

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Our job is to trace the logic of the Psalm:

  1. As the sun lays bare everything on earth,
  2. So the instruction of YHWH lays bare the human heart.
  3. The reality of the human heart is dark and sinful.
  4. Forgiveness may be sought from the Rock and Redeemer, and
  5. Then the psalmist can be blameless.

Psalm 19 is a prayer to become blameless, but it is a multi-step prayer. When we understand that prayer, as C.S. Lewis did, we see clearly that Psalm 19 is one psalm. It always was one psalm, but many have not had eyes to see.

It takes time together, wrestling with different ideas and possible interpretations, to finally see it. It's a bit like raising teenagers. :-)

About the author

Elizabeth Robar

CEO and Founder
Scriptura and the Layer by Layer™ projects

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