Ep.055: Psalm 19: The School of Words and Worlds

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

One summer, I backpacked with a friend into Kananaskis country in the Canadian Rockies. We walked through a high alpine valley with steep cliffs on left and right, and a  blue summer sky above. The valley opened onto a turquoise glacial lake, with black snow-capped mountains beyond. That view opened a window for me into a majestic creation, and into the heart of the creator. The winter that followed was difficult for me, but I was sustained by knowing that God was looking after my alpine valley in fierce blizzards, impassible snow, and relentless cold. Surely he was present also in the winter of my soul. In his time, the snow would go and the world would return to warm days and summer skies.

The poet who wrote Psalm 19 also experienced the beauty of God’s creation. He wrote,
    The heavens declare the glory of God,
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
        Night after night they display knowledge.
    There is no speech nor are there words,
        Their voice is not heard;
    Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
        And their words to the end of the world.  (v. 1-4, see footnote 1 for translation)

Yes, that captures my experience of creation. The sky, the stars, the mountains, the valleys: “they have no speech, nor are there words” yet “day after day they pour forth speech”, “their words [go] to the ends of the world.”  Their language is silence, but they speak with the voice of God.

The poet who met God in creation also met God in his word. Verse 7 says, “The torah of the Lord is perfect, giving life to the soul.” Most modern translations reduce the beautiful and evocative word torah to the plain and narrow English word law, as if legislation and lawyers and litigation are somehow at the heart of God’s life-giving words. The torah that gives life is the first five books of the Bible, telling God’s story from creation to the Promised Land. It is God’s verbal gift to the poet. It is not primarily a system of laws that tells him how to behave and threatens him with punishment if he doesn’t. God’s verbal gift includes teaching and laws and stories. In the torah, Adam and Eve found and lost the garden of Eden, Noah waited out the flood, Abraham looked for God’s country, Moses lead the slaves to the promised land.

In Psalm 19, then, the poet celebrates the God of creation who set the sun marching across the sky. He also celebrates the God of torah who told us about people he cared for, how he worked on their behalf to give them experiences and words that would lead them to freedom and community.

Let’s pray.

Our father, your creation continues year after year. We see it in the bleakness of winter and the warmth of summer, in the dying leaves of fall and the new growth of spring. The circuit of the sun and the shining stars speak to us without words. They speak to us in words we know are your language.

Our lives are stories in the theatre of creation. You made us, and we wander east of Eden, looking for food and pulling thistles and finding our way to the Promised Land.

Help us accept our place as creatures in your creation.
Help us to interpret our story by your story.
Help us receive your gift of created universe and sacred writings.
Help us listen to your voice in the silence of the cosmos and the teachings of torah.
Give us light by the burning of the sun and the radiance of your word.
Give us riches in the beauty of the night sky and in the story of your people.
Give us direction in the circuit of the sun and in the dictates of your law.

May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. (v. 14).


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Footnote 1:  Brueggemann, Walter, and William H. Bellinger, Jr. Commentary. Chapter 19. In Psalms, pp. 99-101. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
See also: Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 2009. Chapter 19. [Kobo Books edition].

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