Read the Passage: Psalm 19
General Revelation (19:1–6)
The Bible speaks of the concept of natural or general revelation as being manifest via three different means: the natural world (cf. Rom. 1:18–20), the conscience of man (cf. Rom. 2:14–15), and the history of mankind (cf. Acts 14:15–17; 17:24–27). Psalm 19:1–6 is an important passage, for it testifies to the reality of the knowledge of God that is manifest in the created order. This psalm was written by David to be “given to the chief musician,” who was a man named Asaph. Observe that this same superscription is found preceding thirty-nine of David’s psalms. Lest we think general revelation is imaginary or only quasi-revelation, in Ps. 19:1–2 David writes that God discloses Himself in the heavens and firmament, both day and night. That which God reveals is His glory, handiwork, speech, and knowledge. Note that Paul later describes this revelation as “truth” (Rom. 1:19) that may be “known” (Rom. 1:19) and “understood” (Rom. 1:20).
In Ps. 19:3–4 David writes of the exhaustive nature of general revelation, as there is no one who lacks access to such revelation and no place where this revelation is not present. Indeed, general revelation is comprehensive in its scope. This is why Paul can conclude at Rom. 1:20 that all men are “without excuse.” Note that the term “line” in Ps. 19:4 can be translated “writing,” “sound,” “call,” or “voice.” Regardless of the chosen translation, the concept here is one of effective communication. In Ps. 19:5–6 David illustrates general revelation with the sun, as he notes its brightness or form, pattern or course, and heat or pervasiveness. In a similar way, God’s glory is bright, His ways are unchanging, and He is omniscient. Note that many religions, in both the biblical era and today, deify the created order, or parts of it (such as the sun) and worship the creation. This is to confuse the Creator with the creation.
Special Revelation (19:7–11)
Beginning in Ps. 19:7 David moves his discussion from general to special revelation. In Ps. 19:7–9, using poetic parallelism, David gives six different words to refer to the Bible, six different terms to describe Scripture, and six different effects of the Word of God upon mankind. First, the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; second, the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; third, the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; fourth, the commands of the Lord are pure, enlightening the eyes; fifth, the fear of the Lord is clear, enduring forever; and sixth, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. The Bible is not the agent that produces these magnificent effects in the life of God’s people, as if it has autonomous power or is a fictional book of magic; rather, Scripture is the instrument God uses to reveal Himself and to build His kingdom.
The nature and effect of both general and special, as is described in this psalm, are glorious. Clearly, however, special revelation is superior, for it does more than reveal God’s existence and nature. Indeed, special revelation communicates the gospel, instructs men how to be restored into fellowship with God, trains men in their walk with God, and describes the overall benefits of salvation. Therefore, as David writes is Ps. 19:10–11, we are to yearn for Scripture as for gold or honey, for “in keeping them there is much reward” (Ps. 19:11). This reward ought not to be equated with material health, wealth, and happiness; rather, the reward of life lived well for God is the reception of the effects of God’s Word detailed in Ps. 19:9–10. In light of both general and special revelation, then, David’s earlier conclusion in Ps. 14:1 is fair, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Personal Application (19:12–14)
After reflecting about God’s revelation for eleven verses, in Ps. 19:12–14 David applies this revelation to himself. In light of his exposure to God, David is left undone, asking, “Who can understand his errors?” (Ps. 19:12). The implied answer to this rhetorical question is that no one can comprehend the depth of their own sin. The more revelation we receive, the more aware of our own sin we become. Consequently, David concludes this psalm by making four requests of God. First, he asks that God would forgive him of his sins, even his secret faults (cf. Ps. 19:12b). Second, David asks God to prevent him from sinning, even when he wanted to sin (cf. Ps. 19:13a). Third, he asks that God would not let him be mastered by sin (cf. Ps. 19:13b). Fourth, and finally, David prays that his words and thoughts would be acceptable in God’s sight (cf. Ps. 19:14).
- What is general revelation? How does general revelation differ from special revelation? Have you experienced the effects of general revelation in the past?
- Can someone be saved through general revelation or is special revelation needed? What specific knowledge is needed for salvation?
- Why do many religions confuse the creation with the Creator, worshiping that which was made rather than the Maker of all things?
- Which of the terms David uses to describe the Bible is most dear to you? Which of the effects of Scripture mentioned in this psalm is most prized by you?
- Has Scripture had the effect on you that David describes in this passage? Why do many believers seem to undervalue the Bible?