Psalm 19:9: Enduring Truth

The fear of ʏʜᴡʜ is clean enduring forever. The judgments of ʏʜᴡʜ are truth. They are altogether right. (Psalm 19:9 [Heb. verse 10])

The "fear of ʏʜᴡʜ" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה, yir-ʾat ʏʜᴡʜ) literally means to tremble before ʏʜᴡʜ.[1] But in practical terms the fear of ʏʜᴡʜ translates to faith in ʏʜᴡʜ and obedience to his word. In Exodus 14:31, the fear of ʏʜᴡʜ is set parallel to believing in ʏʜᴡʜ and his prophet:

Israel saw the great power that the Lᴏʀᴅ used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lᴏʀᴅ, and they believed in the Lᴏʀᴅ and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14:31, ESV).

In Deuteronomy 6:2, the fear of ʏʜᴡʜ is equated to keeping his law:

Now this is the commandment—the statues and the rules—that the Lᴏʀᴅ your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long (Deuteronomy 6:1-2, ESV).

In Joshua 22:25, the fear of ʏʜᴡʜ is tied to the proper of worship of ʏʜᴡʜ. And in Joshua 24:14, it is a choice to serve only ʏʜᴡʜ and not other gods.

Now therefore fear the Lᴏʀᴅ and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lᴏʀᴅ (Joshua 24:14, ESV).

The fear of ʏʜᴡʜ is "clean", a translation of the word טְהוֹרָה (ṭᵉhō-RĀH), one form of the word טָהוֹר. The word has several different possible meanings, but should be understood here as referring to that which is morally or ethically clean.[2] Religion or philosophy that is morally corrupt and degraded ultimately fades away from significance or is burned away in judgment. But the fear of ʏʜᴡʜ, as a belief of the heart, and as a way of life, endures for all time, even beyond the limits of mortal life and of this present fallen world.

The word translated "judgments" is מִשְׁפָּטִים (mish-pā-ṭịm). It is a legal word, refering to the judgments or decisions of ʏʜᴡʜ in legal controversies or disputes.[3] The judgments of ʏʜᴡʜ are truth, the Hebrew word (אֱמֶת, ĕmet). English translations generally render it as an adjective, such as "true", but more precisely it is a noun. The judgments of ʏʜᴡʜ are "truth" in that they faithfully communicate reality[4] giving a clear, just, and right perspective on people and their concerns.

Often our perspective on ourselves, our concerns, and our culture is clouded by our sinful desires, our limited perspective, or even satanic teaching that seeks to deceive. So it is critical that we learn to see ourselves and our culture the way that God see them. We do this by looking to the word of ʏʜᴡʜ, which contains his "judgments" and give clarity concerning us and our affairs. The judgments of ʏʜᴡʜ can be trusted, for they are "altogether right".

End Notes

[1] HALOT gives "to fear God, to tremble for, to honour".

[2] HALOT classifies this instance under "ethically clean". HALOT gives two other senses for the word: (1) pure, as in pure gold, and (2) ceremonially clean. The latter sense does not apply since there is not a context here of ritual ceremony or sacrifice. Regarding sense (1), one naturally wonders if this might be another comparison between the word of God and the purity of refined gold. However, of the many examples given in HALOT of this sense, all of them but four are a literal reference to gold. Of the remaining four examples, two are an implied reference to literal gold, and the other two are a reference to literal incense (pure incense). So, since gold is not mentioned in this verse, I'm inclined to agree this is not the sense meant here.

[3] See HALOT.

[4] Regarding אֱמֶת: HALOT gives "truth" for this instance. Other senses listed are "trustworthiness", constancy", and "faithfulness". Also there is sense "as gen. after construct = true", but that does not apply to Ps 19:10. Most English translations (e.g., ESV, NASB, KJV) render it as the adjective "true". NIV gives "firm", while NET Bible gives "trustworthy". Summarizing, it seems to me that the basic meaning here is the judgments are "truth" since they faithfully communicate reality. Compare the "truthful witness" in Jeremiah 42:5 and "truthful lips" in Proverbs 12:19.

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