The heavens declare the glory of God
It’s a beautifully symmetrical phrase. The first five syllables perfectly mirror the last five. In each, the stresses are on the second and fifth syllable. This is the work of the translators. And we should remember that the King James version was written to be read aloud.
Yet the poetry in the underlying Hebrew comes from a slightly different source. The whole of the first verse of Psalm 19 goes as follows:
“The heavens declare the glory of God
and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” (Psalm 19:1)
This is a terrific example of Hebrew poetry. The distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry is not rhyme or even rhythm but rather “parallelism”. Two statements are made in parallel so that they reinforce each other.
The second half of the verse answers the first. It’s a good guess that the author, King David, wrote it in a call and response format for public worship. This is how so many of the Psalms work.
So much for the poetry, what of the meaning?
Well David says that the heavens are saying something. In fact they are continuously and strenuously saying something:
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. (Psalm 19:2)
According to David, we live in an all-embracing and inescapable sermon. Creation preaches. In particular David points to the “heavenly bodies” – “the heavens”, “the firmament” and later he will narrow down his concerns to “the sun”.
What do you think of astrology? Literally it means “the word of the stars.”
As good post-enlightenment people we have a lot of respect for “astronomy” for that tells us “the law of the stars.” Yes, yes, we say, that’s a worthy discipline. We’re happy trying to discover the law of the heavenly bodies. But – dear me – let’s not imagine that those heavenly bodies are saying anything. That’s a lot of crackpot nonsense peddled by tabloid newspapers and premium rate phone services, right?
Wrong. The bible endorses a form of astrology. And Psalm 19 is a prime example. The great problem with modern astrology, as it is practised, is not the supposition that the heavenly bodies communicate truths. The big issue is in what the heavenly bodies are saying.
According to the bible, the heavens are not declaring whether I’ll be “lucky in love” this week. The heavens seem completely uninterested in my financial affairs, my career path and the number of strangers I may meet. Instead, the heavens are declaring “the glory of God.”
And what is the glory of God?
Well David gives a concrete example. He says, think of the sun:
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. 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. (Psalm 19:5-6)
The sun is like a “bridegroom” who is also “a strong man.” Psalm 45 will speak more of the Bridegroom Warrior who is Christ. The “race” which the sun runs goes from the east to the west. In the tabernacle, that was the path that the High Priest would take to go from estrangement from God and into His presence. And the sun is also the light of the world and the source of life – chasing away the darkness and bringing warmth and vitality.
Every day the sun preaches the gospel to us. Every day, the sun rises on a dark world and banishes the cold lifelessness of the earth. None of us deserve this grace. Yet the Father bestows this gift on the righteous and the wicked alike (Matthew 5:45). But as we gratefully receive this blessing we are experiencing a gospel presentation. The love of God shines out in Jesus (Hebrews 1:3) and it is as free as the sunshine.
This is what the heavens are declaring. Not some abstract glory - as though God is best known in displays of naked power. The heavens preach gospel truth. We live in one gigantic evangelistic sermon.
The reason we don’t automatically see it is that we need the Scriptures to open our eyes to what’s already there, (this is what the rest of the Psalm is all about).
But let’s close by thinking about this sermon of creation. When you look into the heavens what do you see? Empty blackness? Vast expanses? Naked power? Stars in mechanical motion? Or do you see the glory of the Radiant Bridegroom whose greatest joy is to bring light and life to the world.
We live in a gospel world, proclaiming a gospel God.
Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it!