The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The heavens declare.—Better, the heavens are telling. The poet is even now gazing at the sky, not philosophising on a familiar natural phenomenon, nor is he merely enjoying beauty. Not only is his æsthetic faculty satisfied, but his spirit, his religious nature is moved. He has an immediate apprehension, an intuition of God. He is looking on the freshness of the morning, and all he sees is telling of God, bringing God before him. This constitutes the essence of the greater part of Hebrew poetry. This is the inspiration of the bard of Israel—a religious inspiration. The lower, the aesthetic perception of beauty, is ready at every moment to pass into the higher, the religious emotion. All truly great poetry partakes of this elevation—Hebrew poetry in its highest degree. Some lines from Coleridge’s “Hymn before Sunrise in the Yale of Chamouni not only supplies a modern example, but explains the moral, or rather spiritual process, involved—
“O dread and silent mount! I gazed upon thee
Till thou, still present to the bodily sense,
Did’st vanish from my thought; entranced in prayer,
I worshipped the Invisible alone.”
(See an article on “God in Nature and in History,” in The Expositor for March, 1881.)Psalm 19:1. The heavens, &c. — To magnify the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator, the psalmist begins with the works of creation, and, amidst the immensity of them, singles out those which are most conspicuous, grand, and striking, and best adapted to impress the mind of his reader with a sense of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, and to beget in him a solemn awe of, and veneration for, his matchless glories. The heavens — That is, the visible heavens, so vast and spacious, and richly adorned with stars and planets, so various and admirable in their courses or stations; so useful and powerful in their influences; declare the glory of God — His glorious being or existence, his eternal power and Godhead, as it is expressed, Romans 1:20; his infinite wisdom and goodness; all which they demonstrate, and make so visible and evident to all men of reason and consideration, that it is ridiculous to deny or doubt of them, as it is ridiculous to think of far meaner works of art, as suppose of houses, clocks, or watches, that they were made without an artist, or without a hand. The Hebrew, מספרים, mesapperim, is literally, they tell, or, preach, the glory of God. And this language of the heavens is so plain, and their characters are so legible, that all, even the most barbarous nations, that have no skill either in languages or letters, are able to understand and read what they declare. The firmament — Or, the expansion, all the vast space extending from the earth to the starry heavens, and especially the atmosphere, comprehending that fluid mixture of light, air, and vapours, which is everywhere diffused about us; and to the influences of which are owing all the beauty and fruitfulness of the earth, and all vegetable and animal life: all these by their manifold and beneficial operations, as well as by their beauty and magnificence, show his handiwork — As Creator, Preserver, and Governor. The excellence of the work discovers who was the author of it, that it did not come by chance, nor spring of itself, but was made by a Being of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness.Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:8-9, Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:17, Genesis 1:20; Genesis 6:17; Genesis 7:11, Genesis 7:19, Genesis 7:23; et soepe. The plural, however, is often retained, but without any special reason why it should be retained in one place rather than in another. Genesis 2:1, Genesis 2:4; Deuteronomy 10:14; Ezra 9:6; Psalm 2:4; Psalm 8:1, Psalm 8:3; Psalm 18:13. The original idea may have been that there was one heaven above another - one in which the sun was placed, another in which the moon was placed, then the planets, the fixed stars, etc. Above all was supposed to be the place where God dwells. The word glory here means that which constitutes the glory or honor of God - his wisdom, power, skill, faithfulness, benevolence, as seen in the starry worlds above us, the silent, but solemn movements by day and by night. The idea is, that these convey to the mind a true impression of the greatness and majesty of God. The reference here is to these heavens as they appear to the naked eye, and as they are observed by all men. It may be added that the impression is far more solemn and grand when we take into the estimate the disclosures of the modern astronomy, and when we look at the heavens, not merely by the naked eye, but through the revelations of the telescope.
And the firmament - See the note at Daniel 12:3. The word rendered firmament - רקיע râqı̂ya‛, means properly "an expanse" - that which is spread out - and is applied to the heavens as they appear to be spread out or expanded above us. The word occurs elsewhere in the following places, and is always rendered "firmament" in our common version, Genesis 1:6, Genesis 1:7 (twice), Genesis 1:8, Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:15, Genesis 1:17, Genesis 1:20; Psalm 150:1; Ezekiel 1:22-23, Ezekiel 1:25-26; Ezekiel 10:1; Daniel 12:3. The word "firmament" - that which is firm or fixed - is taken from the word used by the translators of the Septuagint, στερέωμα stereōma, from the idea that the heavens above us are a solid concave. In the Scriptures the stars are represented as placed in that expanse, so that if it should be rolled together as a tent is rolled up, they would fall down to the earth. See the note at Isaiah 34:4. The reference in the passage before us is to the heavens as they appear to be spread out over our heads, and in which the stars are fixed.
Showeth his handywork - The heavens make known the work of his hands. The idea is that God had made those heavens by his own hands, and that the firmament, thus adorned with sun, and moon, and stars, showed the wisdom and skill with which it was done. Compare Psalm 8:3.
Ps 19:1-14. After exhibiting the harmonious revelation of God's perfections made by His works and His word, the Psalmist prays for conformity to the Divine teaching.
1. the glory of God—is the sum of His perfections (Ps 24:7-10; Ro 1:20).
firmament—another word for "heavens" (Ge 1:8).
2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
"The heavens declare the glory of God." The book of nature has three leaves, heaven, earth, and sea, of which heaven is the first and the most glorious, and by its aid we are able to see the beauties of the other two. Any book without its first page would be sadly imperfect, and especially the great Natural Bible, since its first pages, the sun, moon, and stars, supply light to the rest of the volume, and are thus the keys, without which the writing which follows would be dark and undiscerned. Man walking erect was evidently made to scan the skies, and he who begins to read creation by studying the stars begins the book at the right place.
The heavens are plural for their variety, comprising the watery heavens with their clouds of countless forms, the aerial heavens with their calms and tempests, the solar heavens with all the glories of the day, and the starry heavens with all the marvels of the night; what the Heaven of heavens must be hath not entered into the heart of man, but there in chief all things are telling the glory of God. Any part of creation has more instruction in it than human mind will ever exhaust, but the celestial realm is peculiarly rich in spiritual lore. The heavens declare, or are declaring, for the continuance of their testimony is intended by the participles employed; every moment God's existence, power, wisdom, and goodness, are being sounded abroad by the heavenly heralds which shine upon us from above. He who would guess at divine sublimity should gaze upward into the starry vault; he who would imagine infinity must peer into the boundless expanse; he who desires to see divine wisdom should consider the balancing of the orbs; he who would know divine fidelity must mark the regularity of the planetary motions; and he who would attain some conceptions of divine power, greatness, and majesty, must estimate the forces of attraction, the magnitude of the fixed stars, and the brightness of the whole celestial train. It is not merely glory that the heavens declare, but the "glory of God," for they deliver to us such unanswerable arguments for a conscious, intelligent, planning, controlling, and presiding Creator, that no unprejudiced person can remain unconvinced by them. The testimony given by the heavens is no mere hint, but a plain, unmistakeable declaration; and it is a declaration of the most constant and abiding kind. Yet for all this, to what avail is the loudest declaration to a deaf man, or the clearest showing to one spiritually blind? God the Holy Ghost must illuminate us, or all the suns in the milky way never will.
"The firmament sheweth his handy-work;" not handy, in the vulgar use of that term, but hand-work. The expanse is full of the works of the Lord's skilful, creating hands; hands being attributed to the great creating Spirit to set forth his care and workmanlike action, and to meet the poor comprehension of mortals. It is humbling to find that even when the most devout and elevated minds are desirous to express their loftiest thoughts of God, they must use words and metaphors drawn from the earth. We are children, and must each confess, "I think as a child, I speak as a child." In the expanse above us God flies, as it were, his starry flag to show that the King is at home, and hangs out his escutcheon that atheists may see how he despises their denunciations of him. He who looks up to the firmament and then writes himself down an atheist, brands himself at the same moment as an idiot or a liar. Strange is it that some who love God are yet afraid to study the God-declaring book of nature; the mock-spirituality of some believers, who are too heavenly to consider the heavens, has given colour to the vaunts of infidels that nature contradicts revelation. The wisest of men are those who with pious eagerness trace the goings forth of Jehovah as well in creation as in grace; only the foolish have any fears lest the honest study of the one should injure our faith in the other. Dr. M'Cosh has well said, "We have often mourned over the attempts made to set the works of God against the Word of God, and thereby excite, propagate, and perpetuate jealousies fitted to separate parties that ought to live in closest union. In particular, we have always regretted that endeavours should have been made to depreciate nature with a view of exalting revelation; it has always appeared to us to be nothing else than the degrading of one part of God's works in the hope thereby of exalting and recommending another. Let not science and religion be reckoned as opposing citadels, frowning defiance upon each other, and their troops brandishing their armour in hostile attitude. They have too many common foes, if they would but think of it, in ignorance and prejudice, in passion and vice, under all their forms, to admit of their lawfully wasting their strength in a useless warfare with each other. Science has a foundation, and so has religion; let them unite their foundations, and the basis will be broader, and they will be two compartments of one great fabric reared to the glory of God. Let the one be the outer and the other the inner court. In the one, let all look, and admire and adore; and in the other, let those who have faith kneel, and pray, and praise. Let the one be the sanctuary where human learning may present its richest incense as an offering to God, and the other the holiest of all, separated from it by a veil now rent in twain, and in which, on a blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, we pour out the love of a reconciled heart, and hear the oracles of the living God."
"Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge." As it one day took up the story where the other left it, and each night passed over the wondrous tale to the next. The original has in it the thought of pouring out, or welling over, with speech; as though days and nights were but as a fountain flowing evermore with Jehovah's praise. Oh to drink often at the celestial well, and learn to utter the glory of God! The witnesses above cannot be slain or silenced; from their elevated seats they constantly preach the knowledge of God, unawed and unbiassed by the judgments of men. Even the changes of alternating night and day are mutely eloquent, and light and shade equally reveal the Invisible One; let the vicissitudes of our circumstances do the same, and while we bless the God of our days of joy, let us also extol him who giveth "songs in the night."
The lesson of day and night is one which it were well if all men learned. It should be among our day-thoughts and night-thoughts to remember the flight of time, the changeful character of earthly things, the brevity both of joy and sorrow, the preciousness of life, our utter powerlessness to recall the hours once flown, and the irresistible approach of eternity. Day bids us labour, night reminds us to prepare for our last home; day bids us work for God, and night invites us to rest in him; day bids us look for endless day, and night warns us to escape from everlasting night.
and the firmament showeth his handiwork; for the same persons may be called the firmament, since they that are wise are said to shine as the brightness of it, Daniel 12:3. These were like to stars in it, and were the light of the world, and declared that redemption is the work which Christ undertook, and came into this world to perform, and which he has finished; his hands have wrought it, and his own arm has brought salvation to him. The Targum interprets the heavens and the firmament, of such persons as contemplate the heavens, and look upon the firmament or air; and so do some other Jewish writers (w).<
(a) He reproaches man for his ingratitude, seeing the heavens, which are dumb creatures, set forth God's glory.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1. “The glory of the Lord” denotes (1) that visible manifestation of His Presence by which He was wont to reveal Himself to Israel, the Shechinah as it was called in later times (Exodus 16:7; Exodus 16:10; Exodus 33:22; Romans 9:4): and (2) in a wider sense, as here, the glory of God is the unique majesty of His Being as it is revealed to man, that manifestation of His Deity which the creature should recognise with reverent adoration. All creation is a revelation of God, but the heavens in their vastness, splendour, order, and mystery are the most impressive reflection of His greatness and majesty. The simplest observer can read the message; but how much more emphatic and significant has it become through the discoveries of modern astronomy!
the firmament) Lit. the expanse: the vault of heaven, spread out over the earth (Genesis 1:6 ff.; Job 37:18), proclaims what He has done and can do.
1–6. The universal revelation of God in Nature.Verse 1. - The heavens declare the glory of God; literally, the heavens are recounting the glory of God - of El, "the Mighty One" - the God of nature (see Romans 1:20). David is perhaps carrying out his declared intention (Psalm 18:49) of praising God among the heathen," and therefore takes their standpoint - the ground of nature. And the firmament showeth his handywork. (On "the firmament," see Genesis 1:6, 20.) It is the entire atmosphere enveloping the earth, in which the clouds hang and the birds move. Like the starry heavens above, this, too, "showeth," or rather, "proclaimeth," God's handiwork. Isaiah 49:8, and קנאת־עם in Isaiah 26:11; whereas the following עם comes to have a foreign application by reason of the attributive clause לא־ידעתּי (Ges. 123, 3). The Niph. נשׁמע in Psalm 18:45 is the reflexive of שׁמע, to obey (e.g., Exodus 24:7), and is therefore to be rendered: show themselves obedient ( equals Ithpa. in Daniel 7:27). לשׁמע אזן implies more than that they obeyed at the word; שׁמע means information, rumour, and שׁמע אזן is the opposite of personal observation (Job 42:5), it is therefore to be rendered: they submitted even at the tidings of my victories; and 2 Samuel 8:9. is an example of this. כּחשׁ to lie, disown, feign, and flatter, is sued here, as it is frequently, of the extorted humility which the vanquished show towards the conqueror. Psalm 18:46 completes the picture of the reason of the sons of a foreign country "putting a good face on a bad game." They faded away, i.e., they became weak and faint-hearted (Exodus 18:18), incapable of holding out against or breaking through any siege by David, and trembled, surrendering at discretion, out of their close places, i.e., out of their strongholds behind which they had shut themselves in (cf. Psalm 142:8). The signification of being alarmed, which in this instance, being found in combination with a local מן, is confined to the sense of terrified flight, is secured to the verb חרג by the Arabic ḥarija (root ḥr, of audible pressure, crowding, and the like) to be pressed, crowded, tight, or narrow, to get in a strait, and the Targumic חרנּא דמותא equals אימתא דמותא (vid., the Targums on Deuteronomy 32:25). Arab. ḥjl, to limp, halt, which is compared by Hitzig, is far removed as to the sound; and the most natural, but colourless Arab. chrj, to go out of (according to its radical meaning - cf. Arab. chrq, chr‛, etc. - : to break forth, erumpere), cannot be supported in Hebrew or Aramaic. The ירגּזוּ found in the borrowed passage in Micah, Micah 7:17, favours our rendering.
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