Psalm 19 is a beautiful Psalm. In its 14 verses we see three distinct movements:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
The opening verses describe what some call God’s “general revelation.” What can be seen and known about God just by looking around at nature? Paul says in Romans 1 that God’s divine nature and eternal power are clearly displayed in the creation around us. God has revealed a part of himself to the entire human race.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”
The middle verses (7-11) describe God’s “specific revelation.” The Lord had specifically revealed himself to a certain people at a certain time through a certain medium: the Law. If you wanted to know more about the one who created everything, you would then turn to the Law of Moses. God reveals his character – his love, his mercy, his compassion, his holiness, and his justice – in and through the Law.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
The Psalm closes with this prayer. The last movement brings it down to a personal level. Upon seeing God revealed through the beauty and power of creation, and after being convicted and driven by the revelation of God through the Law, the psalmist’s only response is to devote his entire being to this God. In this way, the psalmist himself is joining the ranks of creation and the Law as one through whom God reveals himself to the nations.
This brings me to 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Paul tells Timothy, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which he entrusted to me.”
The law is good if used properly. So how is the law used properly? Not in a legalistic/Pharisaical way in which the law is held over people’s heads leading to manipulation or oppression. The law is God’s special revelation to the Jews through which he made known his character. The people were then stirred in their hearts, repented of their sins, and became in themselves a revelation of God to everyone they met. Or so it was supposed to be.
We often think that Law and Gospel are somewhat opposed to each other. Law is burdensome, gospel is freeing. Law is bad, gospel is good, etc. But Paul says the law is good when used like it should be – as a way of revealing God to the nations, to those who are straying away from God, to those who have turned their back on him and gone their own way.
The whole crux of the gospel is that God has revealed himself fully and ultimately in the person of Jesus. The law was once the fullest revelation of God, but now the law has been fulfilled in Jesus.
And because of this final revelation, even the worst of sinners (of which Paul considers himself, 1 Timothy 1:15) can come to know God. That’s the good news!