Sermon: The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Fourteen)
Psalm 19: The Law Is Not Done Away
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 10-Jun-95; 73 minutes
What we have seen in the last two messages in this series has been a fairly lengthy listing of the wonderful benefits that accrue to us as a result of Christ's actions to institute the New Covenant through His will—through His testament—and His subsequent death.
What is written in the New Testament regarding the Covenants emphasizes these benefits. When I say "Covenants" I am talking about what is written primarily in the New Testament, and most of all in the writings of the apostle Paul. This is done in order to draw attention to the number of differences between the Old Covenant and the New.
However, at the very beginning of this sermon, I want to remind every one of us that law is still a major part of the New Covenant, as Hebrews 8 clearly shows. The law of God is going to be written in our hearts! A concern is how this is going to be accomplished. How is it going to be written in our hearts?
What God emphasizes is that the New Covenant, through the work of Jesus Christ, provides the means for those of us making the covenant to have the law written in our hearts. This does not happen by magic, and obedience is still required, as the New Testament clearly shows. Obedience to what? To laws? Rules? What term should we use? How about an entire way of life that includes laws? It is through obedience—coupled with forgiveness, the receipt of God's Spirit, Christ's continual intercession, and access to God's presence—that the writing of God's laws on our hearts is accomplished.
Some would lead you to believe that all one has to do is accept Jesus Christ and presto-change-o, with no exercise of faith, or setting of will, or disciplining of oneself, a person automatically begins to be like Christ, to show the image of God in the way that he lives his life and in the attitudes that he shows.
Consider this: In the light of this approach that some people take, do not you think it is strange that the Bible makes so much of Christ's sinless life? Or of Paul's exclaiming that he beat his body—that he disciplined himself lest he found that he was a castaway? That he urged people to put off the old man, and to put on the new man? Do you not think that there are works involved in doing those things? Does that sound like a presto-change-o situation, when some of our most respected leaders of the past have written such things?
Answer this: (Maybe you know a positive answer to this; I do not.) Do you know any game on earth that is played without rules? Is business conducted without ethics or procedures? Do governments operate without protocols?
How does one know how to live one's life after accepting Christ unless directions are given somewhere on how to do this? Does He put silent impulses into His regenerated children's minds? If that is so, from your own experience, how is it that Christians think so differently on so many things involving conduct—even in some cases as to whether some action is actually sin? Or whether a certain attitude in a given situation, maybe a pressure situation, is right or wrong?
If God just puts impulses into people's minds, if He whispers into people's ears, why do we not all think exactly the same? Is there supposed to be some mystical connection between the Christian and God, so that the Christian knows God's perspective on all issues of conduct and attitude?
If that is so, why are we then exhorted to grow in the grace and the knowledge (not knowledge about, but the knowledge) of Jesus Christ—in other words, Christ's knowledge? Why does the Bible say, "Till we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"? Why does the Bible call us children—implying that we have a lot to learn? Why did Christ tell us to become perfect—that is, mature? And why did Paul, in Philippians, say that he was not yet perfect?
We need guidance as to how to live right now! I am not talking about in the Kingdom of God. We need guidance about how to live right now, and how to be best prepared either for Christ's return or our death, whichever comes first. This is where the law of God comes into the picture of His purpose.
Now that we have spent the time for a number of sermons that we have preceding this, I feel that we are almost in a position to look more closely at some individual laws and their New Covenant application. I said "almost" because I feel that there is one more thing—one more principle, one more very important area—of which we have to take care before doing that.
As members of the Church of God, our tendency in the past, whenever we have been trying to discover what has been made obsolete with the coming of the New Covenant, has been to zero in on a specific verse or context. Though there is value in doing this, it is a very narrow and dangerous way to approach this extremely vital subject.
As we have been seeing, the New Covenant and the laws that are part and parcel of it are not a device designed by God merely to save people. Yes, it is designed by God to save people, but more importantly, it is designed to save people prepared to live and function in God's Kingdom—that is, in God's Family.
We are going to begin the body of this sermon in what I feel is both, at one and the same time, a statement of fact and a command—the most difficult command in all of the Bible to fulfill. As soon as I give you the verse, you are going to know it, but I am going to read it anyway.
Matthew 4:4 But He [Jesus] answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone...
That is a statement of fact and it is implying a command.
Matthew 4:4 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word [that proceeds out of the mouth of God.']
There is the hard part! It is going to provide the foundation for the remainder of this sermon. Did you notice? "Man shall live by part of the Word of God." You know that it does NOT say that, but do you know why I said "part"? It is because there are people who tell you that parts of the Bible are done away. How can you live by every word of God if parts are done away, if commandments have been set aside?
You would NEVER fulfill that scripture. That is something that is so obvious. Yet, how do you get around something like that—a plain, clear statement implying a command?
Matthew 4:4 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'
Also implied there—actually, it is stronger than implied—is that the source of the bread is more important than the bread itself. "From where does the bread come?" is what He is saying. Of course, the bread is what feeds our spirit. What are the implications if it comes from God? If it comes from another source? The source of the bread is very important.
So effective has Satan been with his ploy that some parts of the Bible are done away that there are some Protestant groups that pay no attention at all to the Old Testament. There is at least one fairly large Protestant group that has sects, or denominations, within or under its umbrella that believe only the words of Paul. They not only do away with the Old Testament, but they do away with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and they only will follow the words of Paul.
I read one time of another group that would only believe the words that are written in red in some Bibles—that is, the words of Christ. Even such a renowned scholar as Thomas Jefferson took his blue pencil and went through the Bible and scratched out every portion that he thought no longer applied to himself, or other people. He created his own version of the Bible. Such power we men have, to do those things!
We have to be careful about this "done away" thing, because the effect of Satan's campaign against us may not appear immediately, but it WILL have a negative effect on all except those who totally reject this diabolical ploy.
I think you will admit that, even though you know you should live by EVERY WORD of God, there are parts of the Bible in which you have little interest and you have a very difficult time studying into them. How about "the begets"? It is very difficult. I know that I have difficulty with that. Why do I want to read somebody's genealogy? However, it is something that we have to discipline ourselves to do. We may not know it right now, but either that was extremely important at some time in the past, or it is yet going to be extremely important some time in the future—and maybe in sorting things out in regard of the Kingdom of God. It is part of the Book up to which we are to live.
I think the key to this is to not fall prey to this attitude, and to have a different attitude toward God's Word. Therefore, what we are going to do at the beginning of this is to see what God's Word says about itself. We are going to be using some scriptures that are memory scriptures, but we need to look at it in this light in regard to this "done away" approach that has been taken.
II Timothy 3:15-17 And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, [listen to this:] which are able to make you wise unto salvation though faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
This is the Bible—the Word of God—talking about itself. Timothy, from a child, has known the Holy Scriptures, and we all know that the Holy Scriptures at the time that this was written was the Old Testament—the very part of the Bible that some people do not want to read at all.
Did you see what Paul said? "They are able to make you, Timothy, wise to salvation."Timothy was an evangelist, a high ranking minister in the Body of Jesus Christ; and even though he was a minister, he needed them as much as anybody.
Even if the New Testament were somehow lost, we could get by on the Old Testament. There would be no problem at all in putting together the things necessary for salvation. What? You mean to tell me there is grace in the Old Testament? Oh, you had better believe there is grace in the Old Testament. There is no "trinity" there, though. No, we do not need the "trinity" to be wise to salvation. That is how much God thought of that.
The subject here now includes the New Testament, but when Paul wrote this his purpose was towards the Old Testament. Scripture's purpose is to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. You mean that is in the Old Testament? That salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is in the Old Testament? You had better believe it.
How do you think those people had their sins forgiven? When they repented, they were forgiven by God looking forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Those people who asked for forgiveness were looking forward in faith to that; it had not yet occurred. Salvation is by grace through faith, and God forgave their sins on the basis of something that had not yet occurred, but it was as good as done in God's eyes. It was as good as done in Abraham's eyes when he repented—and Jacob's and Isaac's whenever they repented, and Joseph's when he repented, and David's when he repented. Oh, yes, there is grace back there; there is faith in Jesus Christ back there, as well.
Without the Old Testament, we will NOT be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. As we are going to see in the next couple verses, it is there that God has given powerful examples to teach you and me—examples of how we ought to live, examples of what our attitude ought to be, examples of obedience, examples of disobedience.
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime [again, we are talking about the Old Testament] were written for our learning, that we [Christians] through patience and comfort of the scriptures [Old Testament] might have hope.
You mean there is hope in the Old Testament? Yes, the Old Testament gives us vision. It gives us reason that our lives should be lifted and we should be motivated to go towards a great, great goal. However, I wonder if you really caught what that verse said. What that verse is telling us is that God specifically, on purpose (thinking about the church) caused these things to be written down! They were written for our—the church's—learning.
God inspired Moses. He inspired Samuel. He inspired David. He inspired Ezra, and He inspired Isaiah, and so forth. He caused them, inspired them to write down the specific things that they did. This thing was not put together in a helter-skelter, haphazard way at all. This thing was designed—from Genesis 1 all the way through Malachi 4:6—with you and me in mind—and men want to throw it out? Throw out all those examples of Sabbath-keeping; holy day keeping, all of those examples of Israel going into captivity because they broke the Sabbath, and because they committed idolatry? Come on now.
What are these people doing? They are calling God into account that He wrote down things that are useless for the Christian. Oh, no! They were written on purpose—for you and me.
I Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples [or types]...
The "them" were the children of Israel going through the wilderness.
The words are changed a little bit from Romans 15:4, but the sense is the same. Again, Paul is implying very strongly that they were specific incidents that were purposely written down, only this time he changed it a little bit. In Romans 15:5, the idea is that we might have hope. In I Corinthians 10, he is telling us that these things are written down so that they might be a deterrent to sin.
Wait a minute. A deterrent to sin? What is sin? Sin is the transgression of THE LAW. You mean God does not want us to disobey that law? I thought it was done away. Hardly!
In addition to this, the Old Testament shows many of the people's requirements. It shows how God dealt with them. It shows how the Israelites reacted, either as a body or as individuals. The Old Testament is just chock-full of practical instruction for people of all ages, because God Himself never changes.
I am going to show you a real bell ringer here. To me, this almost raises the hair on the back of my head in regard to this subject.
I Corinthians 9:8-9 Say I these things as a man? Or says not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses...
Wait a minute. The law of Moses is done away. Why is Paul quoting the law of Moses to a Gentile, New Covenant church? Why is he quoting that as his authority if it is done away?
I Corinthians 9:9-10 For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn." Does God take care for oxen? Or says he it altogether for our sakes [Christians' sakes]?
Do you mean to tell me that the law of Moses was written down for Christians' sakes? Yes! Certainly, it benefited them back there, but you put this together with those scriptures we just used—Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:11—and you put this one right next to them, and we understand that these things were purposefully written down for the Christians! He says, "No doubt this was written for our sakes."
I Corinthians 9:10 For our sakes, no doubt, that is written: that he that plows should plow in hope; and that he that threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.
Here Paul plucks out an individual law within the law of Moses to show the New Testament church application—from a law that is "done away"—in order to provide authority and proof to the New Testament Christian that the church is responsible for providing for the ministry. That certainly does not look to me as though Paul thought everything out of the law of Moses was done away.
Let us look at another one. It is the same kind of situation, but it is a little bit broader. We are going to go back to the book of Malachi. The consensus opinion among the scholars is that this was the last book written prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. In Malachi 4:4 appears a very interesting statement. It is even more interesting within its context, because its context is the end time. Surely, brethren, you believe that we are in the end time.
In Malachi 3:26, He talks about sparing His people. Sparing them from what?
Malachi 4:1 For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root or branch.
That certainly looks like the Lake of Fire. In verse 2 the time element shifts back to an earlier time, but not a time earlier than ours. It is after this period of time in which we are living right now, but it is earlier than the time in the first verse.
Malachi 4:2 But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness [Jesus Christ] arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
He is talking about the return of Christ. We are getting very close to our time. In the context of this end time, look at verse 4. Look at what He says to these people living at the return of Christ.
Malachi 4:4 Remember you the law of Moses My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
That is pretty powerful! Remember the law of Moses at the time of Christ's return. I thought that was done away. Is He just telling the Jews to remember that? No, that is something for His people—the Christians—because we just read in Romans 15 and I Corinthians 10 that all of these things were written with the church in mind—those upon whom the ends of the ages are come. God's concern is for you and me.
Malachi wrote this around 430 BC About 400 years later, Paul, living under the New Covenant, certainly did not hesitate to use the law of Moses as his authority for proving something to the New Testament church.
Next we will look at Matthew 5. If anybody ought to know about the law of God, it certainly ought to be the Boss. It ought to be the One who gave the law in the first place.
Matthew 5:17-20 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
I have read articles written by Church of God connections attempting to explain their way around this very clear statement. What Jesus is saying, in plain language, is that His teaching does NOT contradict the Old Covenant law; rather, it is the ultimate fulfillment of the spiritual intent of it. Even in the smallest matter, the smallest statement—the jot and the tittle—that law must be fulfilled.
Notice where this statement appears. When Matthew wrote this, he put it immediately after Jesus' exhortation to "let your good works shine before men." Let your light so shine. So what if your works are good? What are you supposed to do? Hide them?
Then comes a statement regarding law. Is there any connection between good works and the keeping of the law? I will tell you, you would have to be pretty obstinate to believe there is no connection between the two. It is so obvious that He is connecting good works with law-keeping.
Then, to make it even stronger, in verse 20 He mentions righteousness. What is the Bible's definition of righteousness? Psalm 119:172 says, "All Your commandments are righteousness." Thus, sandwiched right between righteousness and letting your light shine comes an explanation that He did not come to do away with the law; He has come to fill it to the full, to make us understand the ultimate applications of that law—its spiritual intent.
I have a question: Is it possible to keep the law in its spirit without also keeping it in the letter? I have never figured out a way that can be done. Maybe you can tell me. I do not see how you can keep a law in the spirit and not also keep it in the letter.
We are going to go back to Psalm 119. We are not going to be spending a great deal of time in this, but just to present a concept from it. It is rather interesting that the longest psalm is Psalm 119. It is a giant of 176 verses. Some people have even committed it to memory. (Not this man, though.)
It is interesting because it has no particular theme in the sense of having a plot unfold from beginning to end; there is no real story line that goes through it. Instead, it is, from beginning to end, a paean of praise to the law of God. It is actually a meditation on the law's practical benefits to the godly. When I say "law," I mean law in its broadest sense.
Nobody knows exactly who the author is of this psalm. The three biblical characters that seem to be most commonly suggested are David, Jeremiah, or Joseph. There is a problem, though, because the language does not fit the time when any of those men lived. It fits a time more around that of Ezra, Nehemiah, or Malachi. It really is not all that important, but just an interesting aside.
The psalm is a meditation on the practical benefits of the law of God to the godly. As I said, law is used here in its broadest sense. Each of the eight words that are used within it—words like law, commandment, testimony, decrees, and judgments—are actually synonyms for the Word of God, for Scripture. However, it is still THE LAW that serves as the vehicle, the focus, through which the psalmist offers his praise.
When you read this (at another time), you will notice that he is not just speaking of the Ten Commandments; and that just proves what I just said to you. I want you to listen now to a quote that I am going to give you from Albert Barnes. He was a conservative Protestant of the last century; and he wrote a tremendous commentary, a very long and full commentary, entitled Barnes' Notes. It is a very fine commentary, by the way.
I want to give you what he says about this psalm in the tail end of an explanation as to who he felt to be the author or authors of this psalm.
The psalm is so applicable to the people of God at all times, so fitted to strengthen the mind in trial, so adapted to guide, comfort, and support the soul, and so true in regard to the influence and value of the law of God, that it is not needful to know when it was composed, or who its author was. It is sufficient to know that it was composed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and is a repository of truths which will be of inestimable value in all ages of the world.
Did you catch what he said in two places there? It is for the people of God at all times, and it is of inestimable value in all ages. Question, then: If the law of God is done away, why is such a psalm even provided by God, a psalm that will instruct us, guide us, comfort us, and lift our spirits in a time of trial? Why even have such a psalm if such influence and value and instruction no longer apply? It would be nothing but a vanity.
The truth is that it is NOT a vanity, because its instruction regarding the law of God still applies, regardless of the age in which one lives. That is because the law of God is eternal. It is spiritual. It is holy. It does not just pass away. It defines the character of God!
Brethren, it is so dangerous to approach God's Word as if something is done away. It shows an attitude of consciously ignoring the Giver. To me, it shows an underlying attitude of pride that one is above the need of the instruction that our very Creator is giving.
It is interesting that, as I was preparing this, I could see that the same attitude was revealed by Satan in the Garden of Eden. He came to Eve and he said, "You do not need to worry about that. It has been done away. You can ignore that instruction."What were they really ignoring? They were ignoring the Giver of the instruction! Their judgment was that the Giver of that instruction was not trustworthy; they did not believe Him. Thus, it was a rejection of God. They chose to believe Satan because he convinced them that they did not have to worry about that. It was "done away."
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.
We are familiar with that. It is another scripture that we may not have totally committed to memory, yet it is there in our minds and we very quickly recognize it. We are going to concentrate on verses 7 through 14.
Psalm 19:7-14 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is Your servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse You me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
There is clearly similarity between Psalm 19 and Psalm 119; there is also dissimilarity. The similarity, again, is that the law of God is the focus for extolling all of the Word of God. The dissimilarity is that Psalm 19 is both more concise (after all, Psalm 119 is 176 verses) and it is more specific, more to the point.
The author of this is clearly David. He uses law, statutes, precepts, commandments, fear, and ordinances as a part of the means by which he is going to teach us something. You might wonder why fear is included. It is because fear represents the specific attitude required to begin making the best use of the law of God. Remember the proverb that says that the fear (that is, the deep and abiding respect tinged with terror) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In addition, remember that wisdom is right application. If fear is not present, we will not even start to build towards faith, hope, and love. It is something to get us jump-started, to get us going. It is a respect tinged with terror, as I said.
The psalm itself is divided into three sections, and the first section—the one that begins with "The heavens declare the glory of God"—concerns the revelation of the Creator God in His Creation. The second part, beginning with verse 7, is the revelation of the Covenant God in His Word, most specifically in His law. The third is the last couple of verses, and it is the response to these first two by the man of faith.
In verse one, "The heavens declare the glory of God," [the word] God there is not Elohim; God there is in the singular. It is El. In verse 7, Lord is YHWH. Thus, we have the same Being—El and YHWH. However, the author is saying (and here is part of the point) that, though the creation reveals the majesty and the power of the One who created, the law of God reveals in a much clearer, more comprehensive way the specifics of the nature, character, and purpose of that One. It is, therefore, of far more practical help to the created—us.
Thus, he makes a comparison. He says, "Hey, here is the creation. It is great. It is good. However, it does not even begin to teach you as the law of God does." The specifics that we need about how to live are in the law of God. Both are needed, but the revelation of the law takes one far beyond the nature of the creation.
In verse 7, the word law is used, and the word here is torah. Torah appears in the Bible either specifically (to indicate one law, or one body of law) or broadly (to mean instruction, teaching, or even doctrine). In this psalm, it is used broadly to indicate all the teaching of YHWH that has been communicated to guide mankind. Here, torah means revealed truth. To David, it was everything that had been written up to that point. It refers to revealed truth as contrasted to how God may be known by His creation.
The next important word is perfect. The verse says, "The law of the LORD is perfect."This one is very interesting. It means "complete"; it means "whole"; it means that nothing can be added to it that will make it any better as a guide to conduct. However, there is an unspoken negative side to this: if anything is taken away, the law becomes less than perfect. It is no longer complete.
What about people saying that things are done away? Are they taking away something from a perfect, revealed truth? I have to believe that they are, and they make it less than perfect, less than whole, less than complete. They are taking away some of the recipe.
The verse says that the law it converts the soul. It means that it revives; it restores; it heals. Within its conduct—talking about the conduct of life—it means that it turns a person from sin. It turns a person from trouble. It delivers from death to holiness of life.
Again, think about a comparison between the opening parts of the psalm and this: Whereas creation gives mankind a knowledge of the existence of God, His revealed truth bears directly on the conduct of life, thus turning a man from the error of his ways. It leads him to pursue a life of holiness. What he is saying is that it is not scientific truth that converts men but revealed truth. By placing torah first, it is probable that David intended that we understand this to be the primary purpose of ALL of God's revelation: to convert, to restore, to heal, to be a guide to a person's life!
It is not stating either that the law of God itself or that the man on his own is able to do this; rather, that without it—that is, without torah—a man flounders helplessly, in confusion as to how to live.
The next phrase is the testimonies of the Lord. Testimonies here means, in Hebrew, exactly the same thing that testimonies does in English; that is, "that to which witness is borne." A witness tells what he knows, and that is his testimony. In this case, God is the witness, telling us in His Word what He knows; and what He knows is absolute!
It is interesting that, in regard to this, the Ten Commandments are quite a number of times called "the testimony of the LORD." We might speculate as to why, and I think that I know why: because He delegated the giving of them to no one. He gave the testimony Himself and in person. It is His testimony! That application of testimony —where the Ten Commandments are called "the testimony of the LORD"—is narrow.
However, in Psalm 19, testimony refers to ALL of God's revelation. God's testimony cannot be broken by cross-examination. That is the point. It is absolute. It is not vacillating. It is not unsettled. It is not uncertain. It is established and absolutely firm.
Simple—which is tied to that—can mean "easily seduced," "prejudiced," or "inexperienced." Within the context of the psalm, it is referring to those who are in need of spiritual guidance; inexperienced is probably the correct translation. Belief makes them people of true conviction. That is what the testimonies of God do, because they are absolute. His witness cannot be broken in any way. People who believe the testimonies of God become people of conviction, because they know that God's Word can be trusted and they will bet their lives on it.
In verse 8, statutes means "mandates," "precepts," "rules." It comes from a root that means "engraved" or "permanent." Here the word is used in a narrower sense than the two previous ones. It means "something appointed by authority." Rules, or statutes, are given to guide. In this regard, it is interesting that the holy days are referred to as statutes in the Bible. Tithing is a statute. It is something appointed by an authority, and it is given to guide.
Tied to this is the word right, and this is somewhat interesting. It means "equal." It means "just." It means "proper." The idea of the whole phrase is that the rules are not merely arbitrary appointments made by someone of authority; rather, they are equal and fair in themselves. What the author, David, is doing is challenging us to think of any rules, any statutes, any guidance that can be given by anybody that even comes close to matching what is given by God as being fair and proper. That is why they produce rejoicing as people experience obedience to them.
Think about this time, this age in which we live. I know that you surely must be aware of Federal laws already on the books (and more in the process of development in Congress) that are gradually isolating the perceived enemies of the government, of which we will undoubtedly be numbered. Are they fair? Are they equitable? Are they proper? Are you really an enemy of the government? Do those laws—along with the anticipation of their execution and of even more stringent laws to come out of the minds of men—bring joy to your life, as they close in on you and threaten your liberty to do what we are doing at this very moment?
How many laws have been enacted that bring advantages to special interest groups and discomfort and hardship to all the rest? We will never know. That is the point that David is making. God's statutes are fair—always. There is not one iota of meanness in them; love drips and saturates every aspect of every one of them.
Commandment is another word that is used very frequently as a title of the law of God. Like statutes, it has a narrower application than the first two. They are free from imperfection, from stain, or any kind of a corrupt tendency. That is why it says, "The commandment of the LORD is pure."
That causes me to ask a question. This being so—if they are pure, if they are fair, if they rejoice, and if they convert—why in the world would God want to do away with a perfect guide for life? Is this not part of His Word? Is it not "just extraneous," and we are reading something that "no longer applies" to you and me? The thought begins to boggle your mind!
The word pure gives the sense of brightness along with the sense of cleanness. That leads right to the next benefit: "enlightening the eyes." The commandments give light so that we know where to walk, how to walk without bumping into or falling over obstacles in the path of our life, or going off the path all together, or never even finding it in the first place.
Psalm 19:9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.
This is in here for a second reason. The first one is that it is the one that jump-starts us and gets us going. [This second one] is that the revelation of God tends to produce the proper respect for God. It is not soiled. It is not filthy. It is not profane. It is not common.
In the New Testament, the word profane is found in Hebrews 12, where it says that Esau was a profane person. That word means "far from the temple"; that is, far from the place of purity. The place of purity—God's dwelling place—demands that we be pure. What he is saying, in effect, is that the law of God cleans us up! The intention here is to instruct us in that which leads to a clean heart. It means that there is NOTHING in God's revelation that tends to corrupt morals or attitudes; rather, it cleanses us in order to make us holy, in order to make us acceptable.
The response of the man of faith, in verse 14, [is] "Let the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer." It brings to mind Ephesians 5, where we are washed by the water of His Word so that we are able to be presented to God without blemish. God's law (along with the Spirit of God) cleans us up as we keep it. In addition, it endures forever. His revelation is eternal. What it is now, it will always be. What it is teaching now, it will continue to teach forever.
Then [comes] the word judgments. It means "what God has determined to be right and best." What appears in God's revelation is in God's judgment—the way He evaluates things—right and best for man.
There are in the Bible, of course, individual judgments made in situations where no previous revelation covers the circumstance. An example of this is in Numbers 27, with Zelophehad's daughters. They came to Moses with a question to which he did not know the answer. In those cases, God rendered a judgment to cover the circumstance. However, those judgments were always based on laws that had been revealed but for which men did not have the right understanding to see the right application. Therefore, God made a judgment.
Regardless of whether one is looking at this in its broadest sense or in the sense of a single judgment, they are still right and true. What it means, then, is that the judgments are a correct representation of reality. They are entirely in accord with truth.
Let me put that in other words. God does not give answers to our situations merely on the basis of the fact that He has the authority to do as He pleases, but He gives answers that are ALWAYS true and fair on the basis of what is right and true in that circumstance for all concerned—not just for you and me.
What he is saying in this verse in regard to judgment is that God's administration of His government is always righteous, always exactly as it should be. In this there is great confidence for those who believe Him. It is the kind of statement that gives rise to "all things work together for good to those who love God and who are the called according to His purpose," because God can always be trusted that His judgment will be correct.
Psalm 19:11 Moreover by them is Your servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Warned means "illuminated"; by them we are illuminated. Today we might say that God's Word—His law—throws light on the subject. It keeps us informed so that we might see our duties plainly, and that we might see the consequences of disobedience equally plainly. The act of keeping them will produce good things.
Psalm 19:12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse You me from secret faults.
Errors means "wanderings," "strayings." It means "to do wrong, to transgress." Errors are departures from the laws of God. This is important because anybody who has little or no understanding of the holiness of God can be elated by his own goodness. The more one knows of God, the more one sees God through the perspective of His holy law, he can only be impressed with his own depravity!
This is why Isaiah, when he got a glimpse of God in person, said, in effect, "Woe is me! I am a dead man!" In other words, "I am as good as dead!" He meant, "I am so filthy that I cannot stand to be in the presence of this One."
In the New Testament, Peter got a little glimpse of the Creator God and he covered himself up. He knelt down, and he said to Jesus, "Get out of here. I am a sinful man." He was humbled by what he saw revealed in the Person, and in the acts, of Jesus Christ.
This leads to why the law must be preached: It must be preached that a person might see himself as he really is, not as he vainly imagines himself to be in his own estimation. How can that be done? How can a person be brought to conviction of sin if some of the laws of God are done away? Pride would rule the day, even as it does now. Nobody would ever be humbled that he might walk before God. How could God lead a person to repentance? How could he ever receive God's Spirit and be created in His image?
"Who can understand his errors?" David said. Who can number the sins of his life? How many unholy thoughts have you had? How many words have you spoken that never should have been said? There are two Beings who know, and They do not forget. Nothing has escaped Their observation. Nothing has leaped from Their memories. It is in Their power at any moment to crush us with guilt and to cover us with shame and confusion. Our hope is that, in Their mercy, They do not have to do it to humble us.
David said, "Show me my secret sins." He meant "God, show me privately things of which I am not even aware."He was asking that so he could be pure, so he could be cleaned up, so he could be more like the One whom he was worshipping. He wanted to be cleansed, but he felt that he could not be cleansed until he understood where these sins were. This was said with a sense of understanding that, even though he did not know they were there—he was unaware of them; that is why he was asking that they be revealed to him—he knew that they were polluting him and that they had to come out.
It is like just so much plaque in our arteries. We can eat junk food all our lives and seemingly get away with it. However, all the while, secretly, silently, that plaque is building up inside those arteries; and one of these days it is going to choke the life off. That is the way David was thinking of this. "Show me, so that I can get rid of this, and it will unplug me and I will be clean."
Knowledge of the creation will NOT do that! Knowledge of the revelation of God, knowledge of the law of God—this instrument that people say is "done away"—will clean a person up—with the help of God's Spirit—from the inside out. "And then,"David said, "I will be free of transgression."Then he does not have to be concerned about misrepresenting God in any way. You can tell from this psalm that David deeply loved God and His revelation through His law. He closes with a request that God reveal even more of his imperfection in order for him to be able to do even more.
There are indeed duties that God commanded in former ages that are no longer required of us, but that still does NOT mean that the principles—the spirit—of those things are no longer required of us. As we move through this series, we will see that, far from doing away with them, Jesus, in His magnification of the law, makes more personal and binding than ever the spirit of the very laws men say are done away. If the spiritof something lives on, how can a person say that that something is done away? It is impossible.