The abrupt change in rhythm, and apparently in thought, at Psalm 19:7 of this poem suggests a compilation from two originally distinct pieces. This view, it is true, is not supported by any ancient texts or versions, and, among modern scholars, there are some of eminence who still maintain the original unity. They urge that the psalm merely repeats what is the fundamental principle of the Theocracy, which is expressly testified by the Old Testament from the earliest times—the identity of the God of Revelation with the Creator of the universe. But this gives a very imperfect, and hardly a correct, explanation of the psalm. For the second part does not treat the moral law as a revelation of God to man, but as a revelation to man of his duties, and implies that man continually needs forgiveness for lapsing from the road of right. It would be truer to the spirit of the Old Testament to urge that a poet, thrown by the contemplation of the glory of the heavens into a state of religious emotion, naturally passes on to the Law where he has had prepared for him a guide and help in his religion. But for the original separation of the two pieces, the versification, the tone, the poetic feeling all plead. It was, however, an inspired moment when they were united, and thus made to suggest the deep truth that man’s obedience to the Divine will, though it cannot be so unswerving as that of the heavens, but is inconstant, and often fails, yet is of a higher order, and is fruitful of yet higher and nobler praise than all the evidence of power and majesty in the outward works of God. The glory of conscious above that of unconscious obedience did not definitely present itself, perhaps, to the mind of him who completed the poem, but it is latent there. The sun leaping forth from his eastern tent to flame through his glorious day, knows nothing of the self-questionings and fears felt by God’s human servant trying to do His will. It is only by a bold metaphor that Wordsworth can connect the idea of duty with the law which “preserves the stars from wrong.” More in harmony with the feeling suggested by the psalm is the answer put by another poet into the mouth of nature to console the human soul ashamed of its “struggling task’d morality” in view of the serene service of earth and sky—
“‘Ah! child,’ she cried, ‘that strife Divine,
Whence was it, for it is not mine?
There is no effort on my brow;
I do not strive, I do not weep;
I rush with the swift spheres, and glow
In joy, and when I will, I sleep.’ ”
The Davidic authorship of the first part of the psalm is hardly to be questioned.
“O dread and silent mount! I gazed upon thee
Till thou, still present to the bodily sense,
Did’st vanish from my thought; entranced in prayer,
I worshipped the Invisible alone.”
(See an article on “God in Nature and in History,” in The Expositor for March, 1881.)
Sheweth.—Literally, breathes out; perhaps with reference to the cool evening breeze, so welcome in the East. (See Song of Solomon 2:17, Note.) Notice that it is not here the heavens that are telling (as in Psalm 19:1) the tale of God’s glory to man, or “to the listening earth,” as in Addison’s well- known hymn, but day tells its successor day, and night whispers to night, so handing on, as if from parent to son, the great news.
“What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball,
What though no real voice or sound
Amidst their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice
And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing as they shine
The hand that made us is Divine.”
The use which St. Paul makes of these words (Romans 10:18) is as natural as striking. The march of truth has always been compared to the spread of light. But the allegorical interpretation based on the quotation, making the heavens a figure of the Church and the sun of the Gospel, loses the force and beauty of the Apostle’s application.
In them hath . . .—This clause is not only rightly joined to Psalm 19:4, but concludes a stanza: the relative in the next verse of the Authorised Version mars the true construction.
A tabernacle.—The tent-chamber into which the sun retired after his day’s journey, and from which he started in the morn, Aurora, or dawn (according to Grecian mythology) drawing back the curtains for his departure, was naturally a conception common to all nations. That the phenomena of sunset should engage the poet’s attention before those of sunrise was inevitable in a race who reckoned “the evening and the morning were the first day.” The LXX. and Vulg. completely spoil the picture by rendering “he hath pitched his tent in the sun.”
Chamber.—Heb., chuphah, a marriage chamber or bed (Joel 2:16). In later Hebrew the canopy carried over the wedded pair, or even the marriage itself.
Rejoiceth.—Literally, leaps for joy.
A race.—Better, his race, i.e., his daily course or journey.
The law . . . . the testimony.—These are collective terms embracing, under different regards, the whole body of statutes and precepts in the Jewish code. The law, tôrah, means in its primary use “instruction,” and therefore is used of prophecy (Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 8:16), but here undoubtedly bears its common and more limited sense. Testimony, from a root meaning “to repeat,” suggests the solemn earnestness and insistence of the Divine commands.
The description “perfect” and “sure” suggests the lofty ideal prescribed by the Law, and the reliance which the Hebrew might place upon it as a rule of conduct. The word “simple” is generally used in a bad sense, but here has its primary meaning, “open,” “ingenuous,” “impressible,” easily led either towards folly or wisdom.
“Stern Lawgiver, yet thou dost wear
The Godhead’s most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face.
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads.”
WORDSWORTH’S Ode to Duty.
‘Enlightening the eyes.—Not here as in Psalm 13:3 (see Note) physically, but morally (comp. Psalm 119:105); the whole nature of one who lives in the light of truth is illuminated.
Who can understand.—In the original the abruptness of the question is very marked and significant. Errors who marks? From unconscious ones clear me, i.e., pronounce me innocent, not cleanse, as in Authorised Version.
The great transgression.—Rather, a great transgression, though even without the article it is possible the particular sin of idolatry is intended.