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The Heavens and the Firmament

The Heavens and the Firmament

Tomorrow, a big event. A total solar eclipse, able to be seen right here in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

It will be, I understand, the first total solar eclipse to be seen in the continental U.S. since 1979. It will be the first one to go coast-to-coast - it will go along a 70-mile-wide swath from Oregon to South Carolina - since 1918.

Are you going to watch it? Of course, special glasses are needed, and we should not dally if we want to see it. I have read the totality will reach Oregon at 10:16 a.m. Pacific Time and will end in South Carolina at 2:49 p.m. Eastern Time. That is just an hour and 33 minutes to cross the country. That translates to just over a minute - 1 minute, 24 seconds - that we will see the total eclipse tomorrow, which will begin at 1:02-and-a-half tomorrow afternoon. 

The eclipse process starts at 11:37 tomorrow morning. It will take a while to reach the total eclipse stage. But tomorrow, a big event.

As I anticipate the eclipse, there is a Bible passage that comes to my mind. It is Psalm 19, which begins with the words, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament [the sky] proclaims His handiwork.”

Concerning God’s glory and handiwork, let’s think about all we see in the sky - the heavens and firmament above us, including what we will see tomorrow. 

For instance, we know who created the sun and the moon. That information is given in the Book of Genesis. God created the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night. At the end of the day the sun and moon were created, God said it is good.

Think of this as well. God not only created the sun and moon, He then put them on the paths each one takes. The sun and moon are right where they need to be for the best benefit of the people God creates. More on that later. Plus, in an example of God’s sense of order in the universe, the paths of the sun and moon are steady. They never vary, which is why it is known there will be an eclipse tomorrow, and where, and when at each point along the path, and that the next total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. will be April 8, 2024, from Texas through Maine, and that the next coast to coast one will be August 12, 2045, that one from California through Florida.

The sun and moon do not exist haphazardly. God created them and put them where they are. He gave them the paths they have. All that shows God’s handiwork. It shows His glory. The glory of His creativity, His attention to detail, His steadiness, His sense of order. 

Tomorrow, when we observe the solar eclipse, let’s remember it tells of God - His glory and His handiwork. Let’s celebrate God tomorrow.

But of course, there are other things besides the sun and moon - more on them in a bit - but there is more than the sun and the moon in the heavens and firmament that can be seen. 

I am thinking of stars. 

Of course, the light of the city keeps us, in the city, from seeing any but the brightest of the stars. But they are there.

Where are they? According to the Bible, they are right where God put them, which is another example of God’s creativity, attention to detail, and steadiness. I say steadiness because the stars follow the same paths now that they did when God formed them.

One of the groups of stars - one of the constellations - I can still see in the city is Orion, which disappears during the summer because the paths of the stars in that constellation are farther south, but each winter I can look to the south, and there is Orion. All seven stars in that constellation have followed the same paths since the universe was created. How amazing is that? The stars, too, are examples of God’s glory and handiwork.

And how about this? The sun, the moon, the stars we see in the sky are far, far away. Thinking of stars, I understand it takes many, many light years for us to see them. Isn’t it amazing that the star light we will see tonight started its journey to us a long, long time ago? What does that tell us about the glory of God? It declares His power.

The sun, the moon, the stars - the main bodies in the heavens and the firmament - all tell us about God. However, as verse 3 reminds us, the telling is not in words. They do not speak with actual voices. They provide a silent witness of Him. They silently tell of God’s glory and handiwork - His creativity, His attention to detail, His steadiness, His order, His power, His care for people.

For instance, it is the sun that is needed to grow crops so we can have food to eat. In addition, the sun affects our moods. 

Can we remember times of prolonged cloudiness? It seems the moods of people kind of droop during such times. That can easily happen during winter months. 

Remember how people’s moods seem to lift when the sun is seen again? In winter, it can still be cold, but the sun brightens people’s moods.

And back to the heavens and the firmament showing God’s power, how about this? The universe is huge, as in unending. Actually, I cannot comprehend that. I just have to take it as fact. But the vastness of space is a silent way of announcing the expanse of God’s love.

Back to the sun, as it relates to God’s care, when the sun rises, it is, for most of us, a silent call to start the business of the day. The rising sun tells us it is time to get to whatever work we do and be productive. When the sun sets, there is a desire for rest. Hopefully we can, at the end of each day, think back over what was done through the day. Hopefully we can feel good about what was accomplished. But the setting sun is a call to rest.

The heavens are telling the glory of God. The firmament proclaims His handiwork. How is the telling done? Verse 3 says it is done silently. Verse 5 records it is done happily and joyfully. As happy as “a bridegroom leaving his chamber,” richly dressed and adorned, happy to be involved in the activities of the day, and “like a strong man who runs his course with joy.” The heavens and firmament enjoy being obedient. They are glad to stay in touch with God’s people.

The heavens are telling the glory of God. The firmament proclaims His handiwork. Though without words, that happens “day to day.” Verse 2. Even at night that happens. Therefore, as we view what is above us, including tonight’s stars and tomorrow’s solar eclipse, let’s think about God. Let’s be thankful to God. That is the challenge in the first six verses of Psalm 19. 

Let’s continue in Psalm 19 because it is not only what is above us that should remind us about God. Let’s think about what is in verses 7 through 9, which tell us of God’s word. Various ways of describing His word and the wonderful benefits for those who read, learn, know, and obey what He teaches through His word.

“The law of the LORD [the word of God] is perfect.”

Perfect means free from flaw, which means there is nothing wrong with any of God’s law. His law might require us to go against our human nature. It might cause us to get away from what is comfortable for us to do naturally. But the law of the LORD is perfect. All His word is for our good.

The reward? If we follow His word, our souls will be revived. A freshness will be able to come into our faith. 

“The testimony of the LORD [testimony refers to signs that show Him, including the heavens that tell His glory and the firmament that proclaims His handiwork] is sure.” We can rely on Him. We can be confident in His creative power and in His steadfastness and in the fact He loves all people everywhere.

The testimony of the LORD is sure. It is dependable. The reward? If we will follow His testimony, we will be made wise.

The wording is that the testimony of the LORD will make “wise the simple.” The word “simple” is not an insult. It is a reminder that compared to God, we are small. We are not all-present or all-knowing or all-powerful.  God is. Compared to Him, we are very simple. 

“The precepts of the LORD [His proclamations and His teachings of what we are to do, like pray and study and worship and serve] are right.” They will set us right with God.

The result of obeying the LORD’s precepts? The reward? “Rejoicing” in our hearts.

At a wedding I officiated a number of years ago, there was, of course, a flower girl. She was three or four years old.

At the Friday evening rehearsal, the flower girl, though cute in appearance, was a terror as she ran and screamed and did her best to disrupt what we were trying to do.

The girl was not from a family I knew, so I did little to correct the situation, and she did a little better during the wedding on Saturday. But I noticed that as the girl misbehaved, she kept looking around, seeming to be waiting for someone to tell her what to do and how to act. I tried to do that about her flower girl duties, but it seemed she was so frustrated, she misbehaved.

Frustration can happen in life in general, too, except we have the precepts and the testimony and the law of the LORD. As the Psalm continues, we also have the LORD’s “commandment” and “ordinances,” all of which tell us how to live. If we will know and obey all the LORD gives us in the ways of teachings and directions, we do not have to misbehave. We can be revived. We can be wise. We can rejoice. We can be enlightened. We can be glad we know what to do. 

Therefore, fear the LORD, which means to be in awe of God. So much in awe you are willing to be obedient to His law, His testimony, His precepts, His commandment, His ordinances. 

“The fear of the LORD is clean.” It is uncontaminated with worldly things. Our fear is to endure forever. The need to respect the LORD will never change.

The law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandment, the fear, the ordinances of the LORD are perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. That is how wonderful they are.

In fact - verse 10 - they are more wonderful - they are to be desired more - than gold. “Much fine gold,” as it is worded. 

It is of course nice to be financially comfortable, but the word of God is nicer and more valuable than that. Why? Well, the price of gold can drop, and gold can be stolen, but the word of God is sure. No one can take it away. You can always depend on it. That is what makes it so valuable.

Still verse 10. The word of God is “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Honey represents the sweetest of treats, but if you get too close to the source of honey, you might be stung. That is unpleasant. And of course the sensation of the sweetness will fade. But not so the word of God. It will stay pure and clean and fresh forever. That is something else that makes it so very valuable.

There is a challenge in verse 11. Be warned by the word of God. Be warned about what is right to do, about what to avoid, about how to be prepared for both good times and difficult times. Be warned to get on the right road of life if that is needed. Be warned to stay on the right road of living if you are already on it.

Do that because, in keeping God’s word, there is great reward. As described earlier, the reward of revival of our souls, of wisdom, of rejoicing, of enlightenment, of endurance, of righteousness.

The heavens and the firmament tell of God’s glory and proclaim His handiwork. The word of God teaches us how we are to live. There are rewards for knowing and obeying the word of God. As we see Him in nature and as we learn His word, we are to be reminded just how great God is.

However, as Psalm 19 continues, there is something that can interfere with a good relationship with God. That something is sin, which David, the author of the Psalm, addresses in the last three verses of the Psalm. 

Verse 12. David acknowledges that sometimes we do not know ourselves as well as we think we do. He asks, “But who can discern his errors?” He adds the prayer, “Clear me from hidden faults.” Hidden means we may not know all we do wrong, but God does. Hence the prayer.

Verse 13. “Keep me also from presumptuous sins.” That refers to anything we do that we know is wrong, but we do it anyway just because we want to. Keep me from such sins, David prayed. “Let them not have dominion over me.” He added that was the only way “I can be blameless, innocent of great transgression.”

And verse 14. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart [let both what I say and what I feel] be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD.” 

That was David’s prayer. a prayer he was confident would be answered, evident in his description of God, who he called “my rock and my redeemer” - his strength and his salvation.

*       *       *       *       *

Look to the heavens, including the sun and the moon, including how they will interact tomorrow during the total solar eclipse. Look also at the stars. They all tell of God’s handiwork and His glory.

Look to the Bible and learn God’s word, knowing that obeying Him will provide great rewards.

Then pray to be forgiven for hidden sins and presumptuous sins, relying on God for pure words and pure feelings.

Those are the teachings of Psalm 19. Let’s know them and obey them tomorrow and today and always.

The closing song is a chorus based on the last verse of Psalm 19. It is Rock of My Salvation.

You are the Rock of my salvation,

You are the strength of my life.

You are my hope and my inspiration,

Lord, unto You will I cry.

I believe in You, believe in You,

for Your faithful love to me.

You have been my help in time of need.

Lord, unto You will I cleave.

You are the Rock of my salvation,

You are the strength of my life.

You are my hope and my inspiration,

Lord, unto You will I cry.

I believe in You, believe in You,

for Your faithful love to me.

You have been my help in time of need.

Lord, unto You will I cleave.

You are the Rock of my salvation,

You are the strength of my life.

Lord, help us enjoy tomorrow’s eclipse. Help us to see it, not just as an act of nature, but a telling of You - Your glory and handiwork, Your power, Your creativity, Your order, Your steadiness.

Not just tomorrow, but all the time, help us to enjoy Your law, Your testimony, Your precepts, Your commandment, Your ordinances, all of which teach us how You want us to live. Help us to fear You - to be so impressed by You - to be so in awe of You - that we will strive to not only know You and Your teachings, but have the desire to obey You. We know how to act. Help us to act in ways that honor You.

Thank You for the reminder to pray for ourselves so we can be forgiven for and hopefully in the future avoid both hidden sins and presumptuous sins. Help our words and feelings to be acceptable to You.

Lord, You want to be our rock and our redeemer. Help us to accept You as both those things. Thank You. Amen.