The Character of Scripture (1) – An Exposition of Psalm 1912 min read
If the Bible is not assessed for what it is at the very beginning, any observations that follow will be maligned. If we do not see it as revelation from God, we may forget to see Him at the center of it all. If we do not see it as a spiritual book, we may lose the full impact of it on our lives. If we do not see it as an authoritative book, we may even dare to place ourselves as judges over it, rather than the reverse. Scripture is not only a historical reality: it is a climax in its own rank. We must know why.
Scripture’s Introduction to Itself – Psalm 19
Psalm 19 has long been considered a central text about the glories of God’s revelation. It begins with God’s revelation in Creation, continues with His written Word, and ends with personal application in light of God’s wonders. The header of this psalm is “To the Music Director, A Psalm of David.” Thus, it combines both public worship and individual worship. For either, an appreciation for God’s disclosure of Himself is absolutely necessary.
The Revelation of God in Creation (1-6). David, by the Spirit, begins this psalm with a message that is unwritten and unspoken, yet unmistakably clear. “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” He observed something from God’s design that spoke to him, not as an abstract concept, but as a reality that impacted his soul. In the display of God’s glory and the work of His hands, there is univocal clarity and unending constancy, for it is “day to day” that they “pour forth speech, and… tell knowledge.”
Having said that, David brings us to a paradox: “There is no speech nor words, and their voice is not heard.” Yet without audible speech, there is a message – a line that plumbs the expanse of the heavens, and words that reach the end of the world. This message declares a singular Creator. How can silence speak so clearly? An example is given from the sun.
Though the sun was worshiped by pagan cultures, it is here depicted as a mere reflection of an ultimate glory. It is here compared to two things: (1) a bridegroom coming out of his bridal chamber (2) a strong man fulfilling his run. Both illustrate the majesty, strength, triumph, and vigor of the sun. It fulfills its circuit tirelessly and comprehensively, never yielding the power with which its rays shine so widely.
Such is the majesty of our Creator, who is El, the Strong One. His glory – the goal of all time and eternity – is constantly spoken to us in the unspoken, unwritten, yet ever widespread message of Creation.
The Revelation of God in Scripture (7-11). Though there was general revelation in Creation, it was not sufficient. Creation only teaches a man of El – God as the Strong One. Scripture is needed to teach a man of Yahweh, the Self-Existent and Eternal One – the covenant-keeping, personal God. Whereas Creation could only teach the mind of man, the Scriptures are needed to affect the soul – just as in Romans 1, it is the knowledge of God that condemns natural man, while in Romans 3 it is the believing in God and His Word that grants God-righteousness. May we never see Creation as being enough to save a man and bring him into a right standing before God. Creation only displays the glory of God, makes man accountable, and condemns him when he rebels. It is only the Scripture that has all the effects which follow.
To highlight the unsurpassed beauty of the Scriptures, this Psalm brings us to six names and characteristics of the Word of God. Just as the psalmist was struck by the glory of the heavens as it impressed his heart, so could he begin to list such wondrous traits of Scripture, perhaps reflecting on its impact in his own life.
- First, “The Law of the Lord is perfect [complete, whole, entire, sound].” In other words, Scripture is everything it needs to be, both in its composition and effects. As a general observation, this tells us the believer needs no other written rule to obey, nor does he need any other source of spiritual knowledge to have sufficient basis for belief. Anything extra-Biblical is sub-Biblical.
- Secondly, “The Testimony of the Lord is sure.” Scripture, as God’s witness of Himself, is fully dependable, whether as a foundation to build on or as a rock to find shelter on. Man’s doctrines and systems come and go, but “the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25). If the believer’s foundation is anything less than the totality of Scripture, desperation will be his.
- Third, “The Statutes of the Lord are right.” Nothing can rival the accuracy and precision of this book. It is a book rooted in truth, because it is intertwined with God Himself. It needs no authority to appeal to, for it carries its own authority. It needs no point to reference itself by, for it corresponds to true reality in and of itself. Scripture is right. Period.
- Fourth, “The Commandment of the Lord is pure.” In other words, Scripture is without defect, specifically in the eyes of the believer who learns from it and lives for it. There is nothing to detract from its attractive, God-breathed character. Just as the bride would say of her beloved, “He is altogether lovely,” so the believer says to this book, “It is wonderful in every way.”
- Fifth, “The Fear of the Lord is clean.” Here, “fear of the Lord” embodies one’s religious duties to God found in His Word, building on the appropriate response of trembling before it (Isaiah 66:2). God’s prescription for man’s duties as a worshipper is found in totality in Scripture: it will not vary, it will not err, and it cannot be improved upon. The believer will never be deficient in his worship should he wholly commit to Scripture.
- Sixth, “The Judgments of the Lord are true. They are righteous altogether.” In other words, when God speaks on an issue, He only must speak once for His statement to be dependable and unquestionable. God only speaks on the basis of His character: thus His judgments and declarations are wholly consistent.
After each of these characteristics of Scripture (except the last), there was given an active element of Scripture emphasized in light of the need which man has. Interestingly, these practical applications only came after the doctrinal understanding of the nature of God’s Word. The same will be true for us. But when we do grasp the impact of this text, we will find the Word to meet every level of need in our lives.
- Scripture is a powerful book: it revives the soul. Thus, it addresses the need of the inner man and has the power to bring life to it again. It is by the Word of God that we are saved (1 Peter 1:23). It is by the Word of God that we maintain quality of spiritual life as well. The condition of a person’s soul will always rise or fall based on his absorption of Scripture. The Word of God is perfect; thus the insufficiency of the human soul is met by it. Do you need revival of soul? Love the Book. Live the Book.
- Scripture is a practical book: it makes the simple wise. Thus, it addresses the need of the mind for wisdom. Wisdom is immensely practical, for “When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your soul; discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you.” (Proverbs 2:10-11). There is far too much simplicity of mind in this age – far too much immaturity in faculties of reason. The cause is clear: the Book has been neglected. Philosophy has never touched the brink of wisdom that is displayed in godliness. Yet far too many take man’s wisdom over God’s and relegate themselves to apparent wisdom, which in eternal perspective is but stupidity. Simple-minded, ignorant, or foolish Christianity should not exist; for Scripture makes us wise.
- Scripture is an edifying book: it rejoices the heart. Thus, it addresses the need of the heart, the seat of the will and emotions. Never does ambition rise so high, never does affection burn so fervently, and never does joy become so unspeakable than when Scripture is the heart’s meditation. How often our hearts cry when the answer to its griefs sits right before us.
- Scripture is a spiritual book: it enlightens the eyes. Thus, it addresses the need of the eyes, the receptacle of learning and perception, which is too often dark due to human folly. “The lamp of the body is the eye,” says the Lord. “Therefore, if your eye be single/sincere, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!” Our perspective changes everything. Scripture gives us God’s perspective – the only one that yields a reasonable, meaning-filled, and joyful life. It is the appreciation of and acting upon spiritual realities that make us godly (cf. 2 Kings 6:17 / Luke 24:31-32). Scripture teaches us what this perspective looks like.
- Scripture is an eternal book: it endures forever. Thus, it addresses the needs made by human inconsistency. Man is inconsistent in devotion, in doctrine, in practice, and in standard. The religion of the carnal man sways with the culture. The doctrine of the carnal man sways with new theories. The practice of the carnal man sways with his companions. Humanity desperately needs a foundation outside of itself to maintain consistency. This Book is God’s Book – rooted in the consistency of God Himself. We must define ourselves by the Word, regardless of our culture or generation. Let God be true and every man a liar – at every stage of this world’s progression.
This survey of Scripture’s traits invoked a heart-felt summation from the psalmist: “They are, more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold – sweeter also than honey from the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.”
At the thought of these traits, he could not but recognize the intrinsic value of the Scriptures. He appreciated, firstly, that they enriched him far beyond, not just mediocre gold, but fine gold in abundance. Yet how often we allow vain pursuits to stifle our joy of the Scriptures. But David appreciated, secondly, that the Word delighted him, even more than honey from its purest source. Gold will be spent, and honey will be consumed. They will have brought joy for the moment, but can anything compare to the Word which endures forever?
Nothing can compare, for it keeps from the depths of evil and lifts to the heights of reward. First, “By them, Your servant is warned.” In other words, whereas our intuition would show levity towards certain trends and actions, Scripture informs it otherwise. We cannot trust self. On the contrary, we need an objective standard outside of self that keeps our service God-ward and God-ordained. Second, “In keeping them there is great reward.” This concept of reward is both present and future. Who can estimate the present value of a Scripture-saturated life? This value is seen in its effects on the life in verses 7-9. But who can estimate the future value of keeping the Word? The possession of God’s Word is not simply a privilege; it is a stewardship. Stewardships, when handled properly, are objects of God’s delight; thus, for every faithful responder to the Word, there will be a “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord” waiting for him. That would be reward enough, but Scripture also speaks of every man having praise of God. The approval of God is found in this book. Surely that would be the greatest reward.
The Revelation of God in Application (12-14). Though Creation is broad in its proclamation of God’s glory, and though the Word is sufficient to invigorate the spiritual life, there must be direct help from God Himself to apply what is seen in the Word. It is not the revelation of God in nature that helps a person, nor the revelation of God in an unopened book: it is the revelation of God applied to the heart that changes it. Thus, in these concluding verses, we find two primary marks of God’s working on the basis of His Word.
The first mark is a consciousness of and a sensitivity toward sin. So concerned was David with the wickedness of his heart that he confessed overlooked sins – sins he may not have realized he committed. He goes further and asks God to keep him from committing flagrant, arrogant sins – sins that would evidence rebellion and would enslave their victim. Scripture makes the true worshiper feel inadequate. But this is a platform for a truer appreciation of God.
This leads to the second mark, which is an enjoyment of God. Having expressed his desire for purity, the psalmist wanted to move even further into having God’s approval in both words and thoughts – the two most comprehensive activities of a man. Such was possible, not by the strength of David’s own wicked heart, but from his trust in the Rock and the Redeemer, Whom David had experienced personally.
At the beginning of this psalm, God reveals Himself as the mighty One of Creation. In the middle, He is the God Who offers His Word as the basis of service. At the end, God Himself is investing in the lives of His servants, revealing and preserving on a personal level. If God had so much interest in revealing Himself to us, let us not doubt His interest to change us by that revelation.