"God's Two Books"
(Delivered Sunday, September 11, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I have been discovering, more and more lately, that a regular practice of studying the Bible makes me happier.
Just like anyone else, I have times when the pressures of life can get me down. Sometimes, I enter my day a little grouchy, or a little fearful, or even a little worn down. But I also have a wonderful privilege in that, as a part of my daily work, I get to engage in an intense study of the Bible. And I've been noticing, with increasing frequency, that when I lay my Bible open to study a passage - perhaps for a sermon, or for a Bible study, or even just for my own personal enrichment - I come away happier than when I began. I find that it lifts me out of my doldrums, gives me perspective, and revives my spirit.
And so, I have come to look forward to the study of God's word - digging in deep into particular passages to make application for life - as one of the most enjoyable things I get to do. I have learned to invite God's presence with Me during those times, and to ask for His help; and I have found that when I ask for that help, He always gives it. Thus, more and more, I have been coming away from those times in my Bible enriched, and revitalized, and happier!
I hope that you read the Bible regularly too. And I hope that, in the reading of God's word, you are finding that sense of enrichment and fulfillment too. That sense of enrichment and fulfillment is one reason God gave us the Scriptures. Jesus once said that He came that we might "have life", and "have it more abundantly" (John 10:10); and it's through the pages of Scripture that we meet Him and grow to know Him better. Paul wrote to his friend Timothy and said,
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
And then, he went on to explain . . .
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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (vv. 16-17).
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All of this brings me to this morning's passage. I have felt led this morning to share with you from Psalm 19. It's a psalm that was written by King David; and it tells us much about just how wonderful God's word is. My prayer is that, in studying this psalm together, those of you who do not read the Bible will begin to do so - and by doing so, will find "life abundant" through the Savior who is taught about in it. And for those of us who already study our Bibles regularly, my prayer is that this psalm will encourage us to do so with even more enthusiasm and faithfulness - and likewise enjoy even more "abundance" of life in Christ.
Before we actually get into this psalm, please allow me to give you a little theology lesson. (Please don't run away!) God, in His great mercy to us, has chosen to reveal Himself to us. And theologians classify God's self-disclosure to mankind into two categories. I feel very strongly that it will help you understand this psalm better if you know about these two categories.
The first category of God's self-disclosure is often called "general revelation". General revelation speaks of the fact that God has revealed Himself through the created world in a way that is "generally" perceivable to all people on the earth. General revelation would include the ways God has revealed Himself through the physical universe, or through the flow of history, or even through human nature and human conscience.
The Bible teaches us, for example, that God has made Himself known to all people through Creation. When it comes to the people of the world in general, Romans 1:19-20 says that "what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse . . ." The created world tells us the story of God's power, and wisdom, and divine nature. And because of this aspect of general revelation, no one will ever be able to stand before God and say, "But how could I have worshipped You? I had no way of knowing about You!" God has made Himself inexcusably 'knowable' to everyone through the things He has made. All people everywhere can see this 'revelation' of God.
The Bible also teaches us that God has made Himself known through human history. The apostle Paul once stood before the idol-worshipping people of Athens, and told them about God; saying that, "He has made from one blood [that is, from Adam] every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being . . ." (Acts 17:26-28). The story of history is truly "His-story"; and if the people of this earth were to examine human history carefully, they would discover that God is revealing Himself in it. They would certainly see the reality of sin, because the fall of man is - sadly - on vivid display throughout human history. But they would also see that God is a good and merciful God who "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44).
The Bible even teaches us that God has made Himself known through our own selves! In Psalm 139, King David worships God and writes,
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (vv. 13-16).
We can tell a great deal about God through our own existence as created beings; because He has made us in His own image. We share with our Creator the qualities of emotion, and volition, intelligence, and moral sensitivity. It would be unreasonable to see these undeniable facts about ourselves, and then believe that we are the product of a blind, impersonal, irrational force! - or what would be worse, that we are "somethings" that are the product of an ultimate "nothing". Our own existence shows us that God exists; and our own characteristics as "persons" teach us much about God's own divine "personhood".
What's more, God has even given each one of us an inescapable, internal moral testimony about Himself and His good law. Each of us carries around a 'portable preacher' in our chests, called 'the conscience'. It preaches to us through an internal sense of 'right' and 'wrong' that points to God's holy law given through Moses - which law is itself an expression of our Creator's own holy character. Paul wrote, ". . . For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them . . ." (Romans 2:14-15). We may deny this 'portable preacher' and refuse to hear it; and we may even damage it, and nearly silence it altogether through persistent and sinful hardness of heart (see Ephesians 4:19 and 1 Timothy 4:2). But no one can deny that it is there; nor that it testifies to the moral goodness of the One who made us.
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Now; that's "general revelation". It's available to all people. It's sufficient to tell us that God is there; and that He is glorious, and powerful, and good, and intelligent, and worthy to be worshiped. The truth about God revealed to all people through general revelation is sufficient grounds to make every human being in the world accountable to know about Him and worship Him. And it is sufficient to condemn everyone who rejects Him and refuses to worship Him; "because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful . . ." (Romans 1:21).
But while "general revelation" is sufficient to make everyone accountable to worship Him, or condemn anyone who rejects Him, it is NOT sufficient in what it says to tell anyone how to be saved. It isn't sufficient, for example, to tell us about our falleness in Adam; nor about God's sovereign plan for redemption; nor about the effectiveness of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross as our sinless 'Substitute'; nor about God's gracious justification of those who place their faith on Christ. General revelation doesn't tell us the things about God that we need to know in order to be redeemed by Him, and restored to fellowship with Him, and to enjoy an ongoing and growing relationship with Him. For this, we need another kind of revelation - one that tells us specifically the things that we need to know to be saved and to have an abundant life. Theologians refer to this "other kind" of revelation as "special revelation".
"Special revelation" describes those acts in which God goes beyond the "general" ways that He reveals Himself through Creation to all people; and does something unique and remarkable to reveal truth about Himself in particular ways to particular people. The Bible tells us that He has communicated Himself in this way through such things as visions (Daniel 2:19) or dreams (Matthew 2:22); or through special appearances of God (Exodus 3:6-7), or through the appearance of angels (Daniel 9:20-23). God has even often communicated Himself to His people through human 'mouth-pieces' (Ephesians 3:2) - some of whom were called only to speak; but others of whom were also moved upon by the Holy Spirit to record God's words through them in writing (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Ultimately, the greatest act of "special revelation" that God has ever performed was in sending His Son to this earth. Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds . . ." Jesus is God's greatest and most clear act of "self-disclosure", because He is presented to us as "being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person."
The Bible is another of God's greatest acts of "special revelation". It is the divinely inspired record of the acts of God's special revelation - primarily through the Jewish people, but also to all people of the world. How grateful we should be that God has revealed Himself through it! How horribly impoverished we'd be without it!
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So; if I may put it this way, God has spoken to us through two great "books". One is the "book" of the Creation; and the other is the "book" of Scripture. I've taken the time to explain these two kinds of revelation to you this morning - "general" revelation, expressed in Creation; and "special" revelation, expressed in the Scriptures - because they are both the focus of this morning's psalm. In it, we're shown the wonders and blessings of both forms of revelation; and by it, we're encouraged to allow the truth God reveals in them to transform us.
Let's look, first, at how . . .
1. GOD REVEALS HIMSELF GENERALLY IN THE "BOOK" OF CREATION (vv. 1-6).
King David writes,
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (vv. 1-4a).
What remarkable words these are! Three-thousand years before anyone even came up with the phrase "intelligent design"; David testified to it in a song!
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Look at the main affirmation he makes. It is that the heavens declare the glory of God; and that the firmament [or "sky"] shows His handiwork. In Psalm 8, David says, "O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens!" (v. 1). I believe that, as a shepherd, David spent a lot of time laying in the field, staring up at the night-time sky. He wrote, "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" (vv. 3-4). And here, in this morning's psalm, David again calls our attention to the starry heavens to see how they testify to the glory of God. They are but "the work of" God's "fingers"!
And then, look at how David expands on that main affirmation about the testimony of God through the heavens. First, he says that this testimony is continual; "Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge" (v. 2). In the original language, the declaration of God's glory through the heavens is presented as something that is going on continually. They unceasingly declare Him. The starry sky above us - that we are only now beginning to peer into the depths of through telescopes - is but one aspect of God's creation; but it is a great one, as every new discovery is proving. And through them, God testifies wondrously to the people of this world of His own glory. He is doing so continually - even as we speak.
Second, he says that this testimony is universal. He says, "There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard" (v. 3). Now, I need to tell you that, literally, those words read as follows: "No speech nor language; their voice is not heard". And so, the New American Standard translates this seemingly ambiguous phrase in this way: "There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard"; which is as if to say that the testimony of God's glory through the heavens is one that is communicated without words. But I believe that, in order to be consistent with the message of the verses that surround it, it's best to see this verse as the New King James translates it; that is, as if to say that there is no type of speech or language in the world that doesn't hear or understand the message of God's glory on display in the heavens. The limitations of human language do not bar God's self-revelation from being communicated. God speaks of Himself through the heavens in a 'universal language' that all people groups of the world can hear and understand.
And thirdly, he says that this testimony is pervasive. He says, "Their line [that is, their "sound" or "voice"] has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" (v. 4a). Because it is in the heavens above, it is testified everywhere on the face of planet earth. No one will ever be able to say, "I didn't hear about the glory of God." Everyone can see it by looking up into the sky. Paul once used this same verse to take away the excuse of any of his fellow Jews who may reject the message of the gospel; saying, "But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: 'Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world'" (Romans 10:18).
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God's self-revelation of His glory through the heavens is a testimony that is given plainly to all people the world over. It is a testimony that is continual, universal, and pervasive. And look at how David pulls out one very noteworthy example of how God testifies of Himself in the heavens:
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat (vv. 4b-6).
Everywhere a person can go, God has set a very obvious testimony of Himself in the sky - yes, even here, in Portland, Oregon! We may not see it very often; but it's there! The heat of the sun shines all across the planet. It's light is seen everywhere every day. And it's glory - like that of a glorious bridegroom breaking forth to seek his bride; or like a strong athlete rejoicing in the race - speaks a bold testimony of the glory of the One who made it.
I saw a vivid illustration of this the other day. I was driving my two sons to school; and we were out on a long stretch of road that ran along broad farm fields. It was sort of a cloudy day; but as we were driving along, one of my sons said; "Hey, you guys; look at the sun!" And as I looked toward the east, we could see a bright ray of sunshine piercing through the clouds and illuminating the field below it. And then, after I dropped my sons off at school, and drove back home, I found that I was facing the sunshine as it was breaking through the clouds and sending rays of sunshine all around me. It was beautiful; and looked for all the world like the sunshine had been hiding in the "tabernacle" that the clouds made for it (a particular specialty here in Portland), and was suddenly breaking through in glory.
Because my thoughts were on this psalm, I found myself praising God for what He had made. I offered my praise to Him, because the sun that I was seeing was only a creation of His - only His handiwork! And it moved me to marveled at how much more glorious than it He must be. And that, by the way, is what I believe to be the best way to apply the truth of what we're being told in the first part of this psalm. In it, God is calling us to pay attention to the beauty of His Creation; and to give Him thanks and praise for how glorious He is! How long has it been since you've look at the beauty of His handiwork and praised Him for it?
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Now; if all that we had was the Creation to tell us about God, we would be in very serious trouble. You see; we must always remember that, when the people of this world look at His creation, they are looking at it as people who are imperfect - ruined by the curse of sin; and they are looking at a Creation that has itself been somewhat ruined by that curse of sin. Because of Adam's sin in the garden, all his offspring - including us - come into this world in a state of falleness. They are prone to be hostile toward the God that Creation is to point to. They are prone to misinterpret the message of Creation. And sometimes, they even go so far as worship Creation itself.
Paul spoke of this in Romans 1:21-25. There, he said that ". . . although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of God into an image made like corruptible man - and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen."
This underscores for us that we need something more than the "general revelation" we receive in the first "book" of Creation. It is limited; and so are we who look at it. We need to be told how to interpret what we see, and how to know saving truths about the God that is testified to by it. We need a clearer revelation than what we can derive from Creation.
And so, the psalmist goes on to show that . . .
2. GOD REVEALS HIMSELF MORE CLEARLY IN THE "BOOK" OF SCRIPTURE (vv. 7-11).
David speaks of this second "book" when he writes;
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 (vv. 7-10).
Please notice the names that are given to the Scriptures in these words.
Second, notice the characteristics of God's word.
What a picture this presents us of God's word! How much more awesome in glory it is than even the brightly shining sun! How much more clear it is in the truth that it reveals! And thirdly, notice the results of God's word. It converts the soul; it makes wise the simple, it rejoices the heart, it enlightens the eyes, and it endures forever. No wonder David expresses its great worth when he writes;
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb (v. 10).
It's to be valued more than the most precious of material things. And when it is tasted, it is found to be sweeter than the most delightful of foods. You can keep the fading things of this world; but just give me God's clear word!
What's more, David expresses the impact he anticipates it will have in his life when he says;
Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward (v. 11).
There is both a negative advantage and a positive advantage to the Scriptures. Negatively, God's precious word keeps me from stumbling and falling into sin. It "warns" me of the dangers and pitfalls of sin. And positively, keeping true to His word will result in great benefits and blessings. I can testify to this personally. I believe that the one habit that has most kept me out of trouble and blessed my life with happiness is a daily habit of reading God's word. Many of you who love God's word can say the same!
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Some people have boasted that they don't need to read the Bible. They say that they worship God in Creation. But if we take the testimony of this psalm seriously, we have to say that their supposed "reverence" toward God is phony. This psalm teaches us that a careful and reverent study of the first "book" will make a man or woman hungry for the clearer revelation of the second "book". The more someone sees of God through His Creation, the hungrier he or she will become for the clearer truths of His word. They will desire to please and worship the Creator in truth. They will be grieved at the sin that they discover in their lives; and they will long for the transforming power of God's word to be brought into effect in them.
This, then, leads us to a final observation from this psalm;
3. THE GOD WHO REVEALS HIMSELF IN HIS FIRST "BOOK" TRANSFORMS US AS WE READ FROM HIS SECOND "BOOK" (vv. 12-14).
Notice how David expresses this. He first notes the truth about himself - in fact, the truth about everyone on earth; "Who can understand his errors?" (v. 12a). David is asking, "Who can really look at himself or herself and be objective? Who has the capability of knowing where we are right or wrong? Who has the ability to steer their own lives?" If it were all up to our own powers, we would all compare ourselves with each other; and all of us would come out looking good. We wouldn't arrive at the truth about ourselves.
This reminds us of what the prophet Jeremiah says, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). We desperately need God's clear word, in written form, to correct us and guide us. We need the word to serve as God's mirror that shows us the truth about ourselves (James 1:22-25). As the writer of Hebrews tells us, ". . . The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are made naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).
More than the shining of the sun, we need the truth of God's word to shine upon us. And so, David goes on to pray,
Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of the great transgression (vv. 12b-13).
How does this happen? Again, it's through the provision of God's second great "book", the Scriptures. "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:9-11).
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Let me share with you one more personal story. The other night, I was driving along after having spent my day studying this psalm. It was a beautiful moon-lit night; and the clouds were spotting the night sky. I was deeply impressed with the beauty of what God had made.
And as I drove along, I expressed gratitude to Him that I could not only see His handiwork, but that I could know Him well enough to thank Him and love Him for what He has made. I found that the second "book" of Scripture made me enjoy God's first "book" of Creation even more; because I knew and loved the Author of both through Christ. I'm discovering that the more I know of God through the Scriptures, the more wonder it provokes in me toward the beauty of His Creation.
David has taken us through a look at both "books". The "book" of Creation testifies to the God who is there and who deserves to be worshiped. But it doesn't tell us all that we need to know. When we see this great God who has made all things, His work of Creation tells us many things; but it doesn't tell us how to become right with Him. We need more. And so, the "book" of Scripture is given to teach us how to become right with Him. It teaches us how to be saved from our sins by the sacrifice of God's Son; and it teaches us how to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him.
I would suggest to you that a good careful look at both books, in their proper order - with the first one being interpreted by the second one - will result in the sort of prayer that David prays at the end of this psalm. May it be our own:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer (v. 14).
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