The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.
The Meaning of the Text
Broadly speaking, the Psalm runs from revelation to salvation. David begins with natural revelation: in verses 1–4a he indicates that the heavens declare the glory of God, and in verses 4b–6 he illustrates this thesis with the sun. He then considers supernatural revelation in the form of Yahweh’s word: his law, testimony, precepts, commandment, rules, and (interestingly) the fear of him. These, he declares, are better than gold and sweeter than honey; they warn and reward.
He then turns toward salvation: he admits he cannot see his own sins clearly, recognizes the need for innocence even of hidden failings, and pleads for salvation from willful sins. Concluding, he pleads that he might be acceptable to Yahweh.
Yahweh’s self-revelation is undeniable and gloriously good, and salvation from the guilt and power of sin are to be found only in him.
The text is dense with links to the rest of the Psalms. Unsurprisingly, verses 7–11 all echo more or less directly statements throughout Psalm 119’s extended meditation on the value of Yahweh’s scriptures. Psalm 78:5 picks up verse 7’s reference to “testimony” and points it back toward the covenant given at Sinai (and see below). Psalm 50 draws on similar heavens imagery (see especially verses 1, 4, and 6) as it emphasizes the righteous judgment of God—a theme hinted at by way of contrast with Yahweh’s deliverance from guilt in this Psalm. Psalms 111 and 103 both use similar language to verse 8, speaking of the trustworthiness of God’s precepts—the latter, like Psalm 78, tying that back to God’s covenant with his people.
Unsurprisingly, given the Psalm’s emphasis on God’s word, intertextual links are plentiful as well. The opening of Psalm seems a deliberate reference to the language of creation: the sky above (“the expanse”) that God created in Genesis 1:6 proclaims who made it. “Testimony” in verse 7 calls back to Exodus 25’s command to put God’s laws in the ark of the covenant. Verses 12–13 clearly allude to Numbers 15:22–31, where God emphasizes the need for covering even sins of ignorance and strikingly condemns those who sin “with a high hand.” Proverbs 1 picks up David’s notes of wisdom for the simple and the value of the fear of Yahweh. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both use the language of “eating” God’s word. Jeremiah calls it a delight and a joy (Jeremiah 15:16, c.f. Psalm 19:8, 10), while Ezekiel picks up the honey language of verse 8 explicitly (see Ezekiel 3:1–3).
Paul quotes verse 4 directly in Romans 10:18, holding Israel accountable for God’s revelation to them. He also bases the condemnation of the wicked on nature’s testimony (Romans 1:19–21) and notes the goodness of the law (Romans 7:7–12). John uses the same language as Jeremiah and Ezekiel of a scroll sweet like honey to taste, though in his usage, the scroll turns bitter in his stomach.
The Significance of the Text
Like David, we ought to respond to God’s self-revelation in dependence and faith. God’s self-revelation in the books of nature and Scripture are not merely for fact-gathering. The former should lead us to awe at his glory and thus to worship. The latter is the means he has appointed for our salvation: in his word we find life, enlightenment, wisdom, and joy. Like David, we should pray to Yahweh to be kept blameless—held guiltless for the sins we commit unknowing, and delivered from the power of the sin to which we have been enslaved, knowing exactly what we are doing. As New Testament believers, we see know exactly how God accomplishes that salvation; we trust in Christ who fulfilled the law that David loved.