Pastor Max Forsyth
Psalm 19: 1-14
Our Psalm today is one that the Christian author C.S. Lewis considered to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world. Just like one of the popular commercials on television proclaims, mere words “just don’t get any better than this.” The Psalm’s structure is simple and clear in a three fold division as C.S. Lewis describes it: “Six verses about nature, five about the Law, and four of personal prayer.” Psalm 19: 10 is the key verse to teach us something very special about the Law of God.
“The statutes of the Lord … they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold: they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.”
The first part of this verse we can understand and agree with wholeheartedly, but perhaps the metaphor in the second part escapes our understanding. It is here that we focus our lesson today. Now the ancient world had a great love for the sweetness of honey that is unrivaled in our time because we have access to so much more sugar than they ever dreamed. Thus we can appreciate the metaphor here even more. But what does it mean? In one of the great classics of literate music, C.S. Lewis notes, “In a certain tragedy of Athalie by Racine, there is a place where a chorus of Jewish girls sing an ode about the original giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. In a chorus in Act I, scene IV there is a remarkable idea. There is the phrase ‘Oh charming Law’”. What an unusual saying? What a mystery there is in this idea we are pursuing today.
Perhaps the word “charming” here is not exactly the right word? But “enchanting” – “delightful” – “beautiful”? None of these are quite right. “Sweeter than honey is the Law of God,” the Psalmist declares to us from the heart of God. We would feel comfortable in applying this to God’s mercies or to God’s visitations, or God’s attributes perhaps. But to the Law of God? We are talking about those very passages of Scripture that reveal God’s unilateral decisions about conduct, His divine judgments. As C.S. Lewis writes, we can understand that a man can and must respect the statutes of Revelation and try to obey them and assent to them in his heart. But it may be difficult for us to comprehend how these same laws and statutes are delicious or how they can exhilarate or how they can give us joy. Our fallen human condition is more apt to compare the law to a trip to the dentist than to something sweeter than honey.
The reason that David here can say that the Lord’s Law “is sweeter than honey” can be found in another passage that explains this delight. That passage is Psalm 36:6 where we read: “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.” This sense that we must appreciate is simple. It is in the hope of an older Hymn that was once popular where the phrase runs “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.” This charming delight in the sweetness of the Law is indeed simple. It is a delight in finding firmness. It is a delight of finding a solid place to stand.
A few years ago, one of our little ones was outside playing before supper. It was spring, and it had been raining for weeks. When we called him into supper he did not come. So I quickly bundled up and went out the door searching for a lost toddler. I heard him crying in the distance and hurried in that direction. And there he was, he had waded into the mud of the neighbor’s field and his feet were held fast by the clinging clay. Whenever he moved he only struggled in deeper. I could not budge him, because I had no solid place to stand either. So I went off to the barn for a large board and threw it into the muck. With the firmness of the wood for a foundation we were able to effect a happy rescue.
The Law of God is like that board for us in a slippery paganized society. When Lewis wrote the words that helped me understand this Psalm, it was 1958. And he also wrote these words in anticipation of our own day and time:
“In so far as this idea of the Law’s beauty, sweetness, or preciousness, arose from the contrast of the surrounding Paganisms, we may soon find occasion to recover it.” Lewis, C.S. Reflections on the Psalms. Page 64.
The Law of God was indeed different from the religion of David’s neighboring kingdoms. That contrast brought words of Praise from David’s heart and lips. May we briefly consider the holy teachings revealed through this Psalm. The poetic vision of Lewis in this regard, is entwined with my own experience here and in the next paragraph. In verses one to six David “thinks of the sky” and how day after day the grand vision of the universe unfolds before us. This is the message of the created order that must be understood in all times and in all languages. Behind the creation there must be a creator.
Then there is the sun in verse six. There is “the bridal joyousness of its rising, the unimaginable speed of its daily course.” And finally there is the heat of the sun. The heat that is meant here is that which is common in the tropics. It is that heat which became all too common for us in the Midwest during the summer of 1988. There were “the cloudless, blinding, tyrannous rays” of the sun “hammering the hills” and houses “searching” and warming “every hidden cranny.” We found no escape in shade of tree, porch or even night. It pierced everywhere we could hide no matter how hard we wanted to hide!
We come to the second division of this psalm. Verses seven to eleven, where the scene changes. Now it is the law that gives its light. Just as he had felt the desert sun searching out all the nooks and crannies where he could hide so he may feel the law searching out all the hiding places of the soul.
This is what we call Special Revelation from the Lord of Life!
Here is the better revelation of the Lord God Almighty. Nature may speak in eloquent silence, but there is no greater witness of God’s righteous will for us or of His love for us than we can find in the clear declaration of His law.
In His law we may find solid ground. And as verse eleven declares we have very much to learn. The contemplation and study of the law has to lead to self-examination and then to prayerful petition. So in verse twelve we pass into our third division and David’s prayer. First he asks, “Who can discern his errors?” David discovered that his sins were appalling, just as are our own. How can we know that except we lay our lives along side the commandments of law.
Our boys used to show rabbits at the fair. Now the judges all have a book published by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. This book establishes the perfect standards for each of over seventy breeds of rabbit. The judge’s responsibility is to compare this ideal with each of the rabbits being judged. It is our responsibility to compare our lives and thought to the very holy standards of God’s revealed law. What must be our reaction? There it is in the second part of verse twelve. “Forgive my hidden faults.” This is the fallen heart that we have inherited from Adam’s race. Forgive me Lord for my very sinful nature.
Then in verse thirteen David moves on to another thought. Keep me, he says, from willful sins. This is deliberate sin or willful conscious transgressions. Hold me back, Lord, or else I fall. Keep me, Lord, from sinful habits and sinful ways. Only in your holding is there safety. Only through your grace is there redemption and deliverance. Notice the last verse. There is a prayer that we should pray whenever we may speak boldly about the faith that has been given to us. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight.”
And last there is again the focus of our words, our meditations and our very lives. “O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Yes, in Him we can find what David found. We too may find what is sweeter than honey! We may find under the slippery sands of our time that precious Rock upon which we may stand, and standing there upon His words we may know the greater Person looked forward to in the Law of God. Our own Redeemer, even Jesus Christ who came to fulfill the Law of God! Amen.
Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Downer’s Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Lewis, Clive Stapleton. Reflections on The Psalms. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., 1958 )
Spurgeon, Charles Hadden. The Treasury of David ( McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.)