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Psalms: Chapter 19

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For the leader. A psalm of David.

1 2The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims His handiwork. 3Day to day makes utterance, night to night speaks out. 4There is no utterance, there are no words, a‐ With Septuagint, Symmachus, and Vulgate; or “their sound is not heard.” whose sound goes unheard. ‐a With Septuagint, Symmachus, and Vulgate; or “their sound is not heard.” 5Their voice b Cf. Septuagint, Symmachus, and Vulgate; Arabic qawwah, “to shout.” carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world. He placed in them c Viz., the heavens. a tent for the sun, 6who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber, like a hero, eager to run his course. 7His rising‐place is at one end of heaven, and his circuit reaches the other; nothing escapes his heat. 8The teaching of the LORD is perfect, renewing life; the decrees of the LORD are enduring, making the simple wise; 9The precepts of the LORD are just, rejoicing the heart; the instruction of the LORD is lucid, making the eyes light up. 10The fear of the LORD is pure, abiding forever; the judgments of the LORD are true, righteous altogether, 11more desirable than gold, than much fine gold; sweeter than honey, than drippings of the comb. 12Your servant pays them heed; in obeying them there is much reward. 13Who can be aware of errors? Clear me of unperceived guilt, 14and from d‐ Or “arrogant men”; cf. Ps. 119.51 . willful sins ‐d Or “arrogant men”; cf. Ps. 119.51 . keep Your servant; let them not dominate me; then shall I be blameless and clear of grave offense. 15May the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart e for leb as a source of speech, see note to Eccl. 5.1 . be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Notes:

a‐a With Septuagint, Symmachus, and Vulgate; or “their sound is not heard.”

b Cf. Septuagint, Symmachus, and Vulgate; Arabic qawwah, “to shout.”

c Viz., the heavens.

d‐d Or “arrogant men”; cf. Ps. 119.51 .

e for leb as a source of speech, see note to Eccl. 5.1 .

Text Commentary view alone

Ps. 19 :

This psalm is recited as part of the preliminary morning service on Saturday and at festivals. It divides neatly into three sections: Vv. 2–7 are a hymn, focusing on creation, specifically on the sun; vv. 8–11 are a hymn focusing on torah; and vv. 12–15 , which are connected to the immediately preceding section (see v. 12 , them), are a petition to be saved from sin, and for prayers to be heard. Many scholars believe that either two psalms have been combined (vv. 2–7 and 8–15 ), or that a later psalmist who composed vv. 8–15 incorporated the earlier vv. 2–7 , which have a different topic, style, and poetic structure. Vv. 8–15 , but not 2–7 , show significant connections to wisdom ideas and vocabulary (see below). The difference between vv. 2–7 and 8–15 was realized already by the medieval Jewish interpreters, who suggested various ways that creation, the sun, and torah may be connected. The discovery of ancient Near Eastern texts, where justice is often part of the sun god's realm (so, e.g., Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun god), has offered a new way of understanding the psalm as a unity. Some modern scholars have understood the poem as a whole as focused on God's revelation in heaven and on the earth (Radak is similar), while others have noted that torah is associated with light (e.g., Prov. 6.23 ), allowing the two sections to function together.

2–7 :

The absence of God's personal name (“YHVH”; LORD in NJPS) here suggests to some that this section may have been adapted from a non‐Israelite hymn praising the sun.

2–4 :

The cosmos praises God; the creation testifies to God's greatness. It is unclear if the sound is metaphorical, or if some Israelites believed in the music of the spheres, an idea later associated with Pythagoras. An Ugaritic epic speaks of “Speech of tree and whisper of stone, converse of heaven with earth” (ANET, p. 136 ). An alternative rendering of v. 4 , “their sound is not heard,” means that the celestial bodies “speak” soundlessly; they convey their message simply by their being.

5–7 :

The sun was typically associated with a major deity in the ancient Near East. Cylinder seals with winged sundisks have been found in Israel, and 2 Kings 23.11 and other sources offer evidence for solar worship in ancient Israel.

6–7 :

The sun, shining and eager, traverses the sky.

8–11 :

This section is suffused with wisdom terminology, including simple, wise, fear of the Lord, and wisdom or torah being compared to gold (of great value, and in this case, also the color of the sun). The highly stylized, repetitive form of vv. 8–10 is very striking, though in Heb, v. 10 is slightly different in structure from the previous vv.; v. 11 concludes this section by breaking the structure altogether. Heb “torah” is here translated as instruction, on the assumption that this psalm was written before the Torah was canonized; traditional Jewish interpretation, which assumes that this is a Davidic composition from the period after a Mosaic Torah, understands “torah” as the Torah.

13 :

In Heb, unperceived guilt (“nistarot”) plays with v. 7 , “escapes” (“nistar”), lending additional unity to the psalm. (See similarly v. 9 , “light up,” which as Rashi points out [v. 8 ], connects back to the sun.)

15 :

This v. is reused as part of the conclusion of the “‘Amidah,” the main daily prayer. In its original context, it is unclear if the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart refer to the immediately preceding vv., asking forgiveness from sins, or if this entire psalm served as an introduction to a larger liturgical complex.

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