Psalm 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
One of the most amazing thoughts to consider is the fact that the universe, life and humanity are designed to communicate and reveal information. The patterns we see in the cosmos, in the biosphere of the more than 5 million species of our planet and the 7 plus billion people on our planet speak of design and The Divine Designer. This post represents what will hopefully be a series of posts that explore Psalm 19:1-6 in a verse by verse study through what is called the doctrine of “General Revelation”. The goal is to see the glory of God in the general revelation of creation spoken of through God’s special revelation of Himself in The Bible.
Distinguishing between general, special and fullness of revelation
When we speak of how God reveals Himself or makes Himself known, we use the term “revelation” in one of three ways: general, special and fullness of revelation. First, general revelation refers to how God makes Himself known in creation and the conscience. Secondly, special revelation speaks of the self-disclosure of His will in the Bible. Then thirdly, God fully reveals Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. All three ideas are interrelated, with Jesus Christ being the central person of special revelation and the ruler who holds all things together in general revelation. (Luke 24:44-47; Colossians 1:16-20).
With that brief introduction let us dive right into Psalm 19:1. We will first briefly explore the Hebrew text underlying our English translations, with the goal to understand what David was thinking as He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We will then consider the ramifications of Psalm 19:1 in light of understanding the latest information from the world of astronomical research. We will then draw some conclusions that aim to apply these insights to understanding how we can glorify and praise the glorious God of general and special revelation, fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
Briefly exploring the text of Psalm 19:1 and its implications
The Hebrew text of Psalm 19:1, and the Psalm within which it occurs is part of a collection of Psalms in the book of Psalms that are deemed “Torah Psalms”. Psalms such as Psalm 19 and 119 feature God’s Law or “Torah” and how God’s book is truly amazing in it parts and whole. Included in the endnotes of today’s post is a pronounciation guide of the Hebrew text of Psalm 19:1 for those readers interested in seeing what the text sounds like.1 Below is a fresh translation of Psalm 19:1 that attempts to capture the glory of God being revealed in general revelation: “The heavens are reciting God’s Glory like (someone would) out of a book and the things made by His hand are being revealed in the stretched universe.”
This verse (the Hebrew text divides our English verse 1 into two verses) indicates that visible universe’s activities point to God’s glory through the discoveries of all of its laws, movements and progressions in space and time. God’s glory is the visible manifestation of all of God’s goodness, being and attributes. (compare Exodus 33:18-20; 34:6-7; John 1:14-18; Romans 1:18-20; 11:33-36) This design feature of the universe of expressing the glory of God can be likened to a person reading about such glory in a book. The term “the heavens” in the Hebrew text is in the plural, and is the same exact term we see in Genesis 1:1 (i.e “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth). This indicates at bare minimum the universe (2nd heaven) as seen in the sky (the first heaven). Both “heavens” together function in stereo to visually depict to human beings the glory of the very God who made them and their orderly arrangement.
The word in the Hebrew text translated “recite” or as it is in the NASB “telling” derives from the root idea from whence we get other words such as “book” and “scribe”. Quite literally the universe around us is full of information that is imprinted into the subatomic level, the vast stretches of galaxies and galaxy clusters composed of those galaxies composed of hundreds of billions of stars.
A spiral galaxy from Spitzer Telescope
As David was writing this Psalm, his pen would had been writing these very words from right to left in Hebrew. Hebrew, like any language, is composed of grammatical components like prefixes, suffixes, nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs – the building blocks of sentences. Sentences in turn make up paragraphs and paragraphs are linked together to form narratives to tell a story or if arranged in parallel form – poetry to evoke strong emotion. God’s creation is structured quite similarly. Its constituent parts (moons, planets, stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters) are arranged in paragraphs of superclusters and the vast stretches of space to tell the story and evoke strong emotion about God’s glory. The universe is so designed to point to the glory of the One that created it. In other words, God has woven into the very fabric of creation information that tells human beings that there is a glorious God who made it all.
Restating the glory of God for everyone to hear and see
In the Jewish temple of the Old Testament or synagogue of Jesus’ day, Psalms such as this would had been “recited aloud” by a trained reader called a “cantor”. Such an activity of reading aloud the Hebrew text is what we call “cantillation”. Here in Psalm 19:1 (or 19:1-2 in the Hebrew text), God is saying through David’s writing that the universe has been so designed to function like a cantor. In the details and structure of the created order, we note the reciting aloud of the text of creation by way of the mathematical formulas of gravitation, the atomic processes inside stars and the chemical signitures we can read in the light of those stars.
The next phrase of Psalm 19:1 – “the things made by His hand are revealed in the stretched universe”, speaks of the vast universe quite literally being a stretched canopy or membrane within which every astronomical body moves and functions.2
Seventeen times in the scriptures we find reference to God’s “stretching of space” and astronomical confirmation of the universe’s stretching or expansion has only been known since the 1920’s by the observations of Edwin Hubble and his measurements of light in the movements of galaxies.
Edwin Hubble discovered the universe’s expansion
The simplest way to describe Hubble’s idea of the universe’s expansion and the movement of galaxies is to think of pennies taped to an inflated balloon. As the balloon increases in size, the pennies move farther apart from one another in relationship to the stretching of the balloon’s inflation between them. God spoke the universe into existence. Having created all things, God chose to regulate the size and progression of space and time through the stretching of space in between the astronomical bodies, much like the balloon illustration pictured below.
If anyone has ever taken any course in astronomy, read astronomy books or watched movies which refer to astronomy, there are usually those big long chalkboards with long complicated mathematical formulas filling every square inch of the slate. God is the Great mathematician who has encoded into every square inch of creation His “recipe for creation”, a small portion of which our finite minds can barely comprehend.
Those formulas were discovered by mathematicians working in concert with observational astronomers in figuring out the grammar and language of the cosmos. To realize that King David was writing about such things (not the formulas but the ideas of Divine order and Design in the universe) in 1000 b.c is truly amazing to think about. Psalm 19:1 is designed to get the reader to look up and agree with the testimony of General revelation that the God who made all things is worthy of all praise and all glory.
Endnotes: 1. If the reader would like, they can read aloud the supplied English pronounciation to get a feel for what the text would sound like when read aloud. This idea of “reciting aloud” is a big part of David’s big idea in describing the glory of God being revealed in Psalm 19:1 (Psalm 19:1-2 in the Hebrew text):
לַמְנַצֵּ֗חַ מִזְמֹ֥ור לְדָוִֽד׃
“La-me-na-tse-kah miz-mor le-david”
“for the choir director, a melody of David”
2 הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם מְֽסַפְּרִ֥ים כְּבֹֽוד־אֵ֑ל וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דָ֗יו מַגִּ֥יד הָרָקִֽיעַ׃
“Ha-sham-meem me-sap-pe-rim ce-vod-el oo-ma-a-she ya-dow ma-gid ha-ra-qee-ah”
2. Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity enabled us to understand that our universe is not just “space” and not just “time” but a combination of “space/time” that functions like a rubber sheet wherein the masses of various objects can affect the progress of time and behavior of space itself.