Knowing About vs. Knowing God (Psalm 19)


“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” – Psalm 19:1-2, ESV


On December 25, 2021 NASA launched the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a state of the art telescope with the capability of seeing farther into the universe than mankind has ever been able to see before. This new telescope is on track to replace the renowned Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in operation since the 1990’s. On July 12, 2022 just a few short months after the JWST was launched into space, NASA publicly released a selection of images taken by the telescope. If you have not yet seen the images taken from the JWST, they are well worth your time. These images are breathtaking, and capture the universe on full display. Words cannot describe the beauty and grandeur that these images invoke. One question is raised at the sight of such images: do they prove the existence of a creator? For many, the answer to that question is a resounding YES! Yet for some, they are not so sure. This is what David discusses in Psalm 19, to which we now turn our attention.

There are many people today who believe it is impossible to prove the existence of God, and no doubt they make a good argument. Yet the fact that one cannot “put God in a test tube” as it were, does not mean that he does not exist. The only thing that it proves is that God cannot be studied like other forms of matter, because he is of a different substance. He is, in fact, wholly other. For this reason, we cannot know about God unless he reveals himself to us. 

Do you remember the Dr. Suess story Horton Hears A Who? This classic story about an elephant who discovers an entire civilization that exists on a speck of dust helps to bring some clarity to the subject at hand. While the story is written from Horton’s perspective, let’s look at the story from the perspective of the citizens of Whoville. How do they come to know that Horton exists? They are perfectly content with their lives, unaware of their looming destruction, until one day they hear someone talking. They cannot see him, only hear him. In short, Horton reveals himself to the citizens of Whoville, but to believe in Horton they must put their faith in his existence and that he can help save them from destruction. Like any good illustration, the story is not an exact parallel (i.e. Horton is not the creator of Whoville, he merely discovers it), but I hope you get the point. We, like the citizens of Whoville, cannot know that God exists unless he reveals himself to us. The good news is, he has revealed himself in two ways: general revelation and special revelation.

General Revelation

David begins Psalm 19 with the emphatic statement that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (v. 1). The world around us reveals to us the existence of God. The evidence of his handiwork is seen throughout the universe. For the first time in history, human beings are able to see the “cosmic cliffs” of the Carina Nebula declare the glory of God. David reminds us that “day to day [all of creation] pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (v. 2). In other words, the world around us reveals to us something about God. What knowledge about God does the universe reveal? Let’s look at three ways briefly. First, the universe reveals that God is infinitely bigger than creation and is wholly other. The human mind cannot fathom the enormity of the universe, as the photos from the JWST remind us. In fact, there is evidence that the universe is expanding, which means that God is not bound by the space and time universe, but is outside of it. Second, the universe reveals the beauty of God’s creativity. Whether it be the beauty of the Carina Nebula or the Grand Canyon, the universe in which we live is beautiful. Third, the universe reveals that God has ordered the world. A glance under a microscope indicates such. The inner workings of a cell, loudly proclaim the glory of God. Yet even beauty and order of the universe fall short in revealing the most important details we need to know about God.

Special Revelation

The first six verses of Psalm 19 discuss what is known as the general revelation of God. Yet notice that in verse seven the tone changes. David goes from talking about knowing about God in creation to knowing him via his written word. He spends the next three verses sharing six ways the word of God supersedes what we can know about God from creation. (1) His law is perfect, and it can revive the soul. (2) His testimony is certain, making one wise. (3) His precepts are right, making our hearts rejoice. (4) His commandments are pure, and bring enlightenment. (5) The fear of the Lord is clean, and is everlasting. (6) His rules are true and all together righteous.

Notice that David uses six different words to describe God’s word. This shows the depth and breadth of God’s special revelation. Notice also something that can be easily missed in English translations. How many times does David mention God in the first six verses? If you answered, once, you are correct. He refers to God only in verse one, using the Hebrew word El, a generic name for God. How many times does David refer to God in the rest of the psalm? If you answered, seven, you would be correct again. Yet notice the word used in these verses. The English renders this word LORD, when it refers to the Hebrew YHWH, which is the covenant name for God in the Old Testament. This shift in language indicates that while we can know some thing’s about God in creation, we can only know him more intimately through his word.

Yet our study would be incomplete if we stopped where Psalm 19 stops. The full revelation of God was ultimately revealed when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The person and work of Jesus reveals more fully to us the heart of God. His death and resurrection make it possible for us to know God and walk in fellowship with him. We can know about God by looking up at the night sky, but we can only know God through Jesus Christ. The beautiful thing about knowing God through Jesus is that we can enjoy his creation more fully. We begin to see his fingerprints in all of creation. Experiencing a sunset or noticing the intricacies of a monarch butterfly become an opportunities to praise our Creator. Then we, like David, can pray “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (v. 14).


Hymn of Worship


Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory.


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