The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts 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 rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)
Look at the language David uses here in the above verses. He rejoices in the Law. He loves it! “The commandment of the Law is pure, enlightening the eyes,” he sings. “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”
In four verses, he drives home this point:
The Law is good! The Law is good! The Law is good! The Law is GOOD!
Why? Because the Law reveals the absolutely perfect character and commands of God. The Law tells us in greater detail than creation can ever hope to who God is, what he has done, and what he requires of His people.
The Law of God should cause us to rejoice.
Remember, David is specifically singing of the Law in this Psalm—he’s singing of the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
So you know that that means? He’s rejoicing over the stories of Noah and his family surviving the flood, Abraham and his family finding a home in the promised land, and the epic story of God’s rescuing Israel from slavery in the Exodus. But he’s also rejoicing over long genealogies, laws regulating the minutiae of life as God’s covenant people. What you can wear, what you can eat, how you are to worship…
What does he say about all of this?
They’re more to be desired than gold. They’re sweeter than honey…
But here’s the thing:
The Law that David’s rejoicing over? It condemns him. Every time David reads it, he can see how far short he’s falling. How far from the mark he is. “Moreover, by them is your servant warned,” David sings, “in keeping them there is great reward.”
David brings us to an important truth—one that, if we’re not careful, we too easily miss. The Law, he says, warns us: It tells us where we are falling short of God’s perfect requirements. It brings conviction.
It brings condemnation.
Just as nothing is hidden from the heat of the sun, nothing is hidden from the light of the Law.
There is absolutely nothing that his hidden from the Law’s gaze. When you consider the ten commandments—There is one God, have no others; make for yourselves no graven images; do not take the Lord’s name in vain; keep the Sabbath holy; honor your mother and father that it may go well for you; don’t murder; do not commit adultery; don’t steal; don’t lie; don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff…
Let’s be honest, we all wilt under the heat of those ten, don’t we? And then Jesus cranks up the heat when he says that it’s not about externals, but about the disposition of your heart. You may not be cheating on our spouse actively, but if you’re holding onto fantasies, you’re as bad as an adulterer. You may not be going around killing people, but if you even hate someone, it’s as bad as killing them…
This is bad news, isn’t it?
And so we’re caught in this tension–we know the Law is good. Why? Because it reveals God’s perfect character and commands. Yet, it warns us of our failure to keep the Law—David loves the Law even as it condemns him in his sin.
This is where we can get into trouble when we read the Psalms, if we’re not careful. We have to remember: the Law is good, but it cannot do more than it is intended to do. The Law is good, but it cannot save—it’s not intended to do such a thing. So whenever we try to use rule keeping as a measure of our standing before God, we’re in trouble. The law scours our souls, shining light on every dark corner. The Law reveals our sin, but has not the power to free us from bondage to it.