Psalm 19:10-11: Better than Gold

More desirable than gold, even much refined gold. Sweeter than honey, even virgin honey [from] a honeycomb. — Psalm 19:10 [Heb. verse 11] my translation

The word of ʏʜᴡʜ is of greater worth than the best of the best earthly delights. Gold is much sought after for its rarity, its beauty, and its incorruptibility. A small amount of gold represents a large amount of wealth. Yet, the word of ʏʜᴡʜ is more to be desired than even great quantities of "refined gold" (פַּז, phaz) that is to say, the purest gold that can be bought.

If gold represents the greatest of earthly material delights, then honey represents the physical pleasures. In all cultures, good honey is an expensive, delightful treat. But for the ancient reader, who had not nearly so many artifical confections to choose from, it was a rare treat indeed. But the word of ʏʜᴡʜ proffers a higher and greater delight even than honey, even the best honey — the "virgin honey" which flows smoothly from the young honeycomb.[1][2]

Also your servant is warned by them [and] in carefully observing them there is much reward. — verse 11 [Heb. verse 12] my translation

Here, and also in verse 13 [Heb. 14] David calls himself "your servant" that is, the servant of ʏʜᴡʜ. The Hebrew word used here, עֶבֶד (ʿe-ved), has a feudal flavor, referring to one who has obligations to a lord. It can refer to the lowest class of servant (which we might translate "peasant", or "slave") but it is also used high ranking government officials.[3] Either way, it is clear that we should, like David, think of ourselves as the servants of ʏʜᴡʜ, to whom we owe loyalty and obedience. Throughout scripture, service to ʏʜᴡʜ is essentially the same thing as respect for and obedience to the word of ʏʜᴡʜ, when done sincerely with faith.

The word of ʏʜᴡʜ is of great value to the servant of ʏʜᴡʜ, because "he is warned by them". From the next few verses, it is clear that the thing we are warned against are sins or moral failings, which would ensnare us and dominate our lives. Also, there is "much reward" for those who "carefully observe" the word of ʏʜᴡʜ. The Hebrew word for reward, עֵקֶב (ʿē-qev) refers here to the end result of diligent keeping of the word of ʏʜᴡʜ, and can be translated "result" or even "wages".[4] David wrote this Psalm as one under the Mosaic law, and so this would have included the blessings on health, family, business, and the nation as promised by the law. As church-age believers who are not under the law[5] we cannot always expect such earthly blessings in this life. Still, we are blessed with "every spiritual blessing" in Christ[6], and we enjoy a righteousness and inward peace that is of greater worth than any wealth the world could offer[7]. With the saints of all ages, we look for rewards in "a better country"[8], and we "sow to the Spirit" expecting to reap eternal benefits[9].

End Notes

[1] According to HALOT, דְּבַשׁ (dᵉvash) is the general word for honey, referring to honey from bees, or possibly in some cases to a syrup boiled down from dates or grapes. נֹפֶת (nō-fet) however, refers more specifically to "virgin" or "extracted" honey. Virgin honey is "honey that flows freely from the uncapped comb at ordinary temperature and is produced usually by a young colony" (“Virgin honey.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Nov. 2022.)

[2] The Hebrew word צוּפִים (ṣū-fịm) is translated as "and the honeycomb" (for example, KJV) or something like "and the droppings of the honeycomb" (for example, ASV) in Tyndale derivatives and some modern translations (for example, NASB, ESV). Some modern translations give "of" or "from the honeycomb" (NIV, CEV, ISV, NET Bible). It seems to me that the latter option is preferable because there is no waw between וְנֹפֶת and צוּפִים, and it better parallels the structure of the first half of the verse. Admittedly though, נֹפֶת is not in the construct state, as would be expected.

[3] The first listed sense of עֶבֶד in HALOT is "slave (villein)". See "villein" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary ( Accessed 17 December 2022). The second sense refers to those who have a similar subjection to military or political leaders. And the third sense refers to a "dependent" or "liege", "holding various positions of trust", such as a "minister", "adviser", or "official". HALOT indicates that when describing the relationship between God and man, either the first or third sense is meant.

[4] See HALOT.

[5] Romans 7:1-6; also see Romans 6:14 and Hebrews 10:1.

[6] Ephesians 1:3.

[7] 1 Timothy 6:6-9.

[8] Hebrews 11:16.

[9] Galatians 6:7-9.

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