“the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:8b, ESV)
The day that I am writing this is in the time of the counting of the Omer and in just a short while, we will have arrived at Shavuot, the day that it is believed that God gave the commandments from Mt Sinai to the people of Israel.
It is wonderful that the part of Psalm 19 that I am looking at today is focused on “the commandment of the Lord”.
What does this word commandment really convey to us? What does it mean that it is pure, and how does it enlighten the eyes?
The Hebrew word for commandment here is “mitzvah” and if we were to look at a handful of verses where the word is used, you should get a fairly good idea of what it conveys….
““Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord 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 Lord 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)
“Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” (Deuteronomy 8:5–6, ESV)
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, ESV)
“Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” (Judges 2:17, ESV)
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;” (Proverbs 2:1–2, ESV)
“My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,” (Proverbs 6:20–23, ESV)
At a top level, the word seems to be pretty strait forward. It is used in the sense of a father’s instruction to his son, or a king to his servants, and when we put it in perspective of the words of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, then we see a structure for a culture where we are ruled by God’s instruction and in that, he desires that we walk in obedience to those instructions. What is very important to see, especially in light of Deut 30:11-14 is that they are not very difficult for us, and it would seem that the Lord provides all the means and ability to accomplish His instruction. If you continue to pour through the many verses that contain this word you will also notice that God desires to bless those who walk in obedience to His commands, and yet as in the Garden of Eden, rebellion against his instruction brings forth discipline. Again, the perfect model of a father-son relationship.
So, what does it mean that God’s instructions are pure? The Hebrew word here is “bar” and at it’s root has the sense of being pure, radiant, bright, and clean. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament speaks of the Arabic variation of the word having the sense of reverent, dutiful, devoted, kind, charitable, virtuous, and good. It also mentions that in Akkadian the verb form has the meaning of “to glitter” and as an adjective, the word means pure, as in a pure metal with no contaminates. Looking through the Psalms and Proverbs the adjective also has the sense of something pure or a quality of moral purity.
The next word to consider is the word “enlightening” which has at its root the Hebrew word “or” which is the same word used for light. This word has variations that are translated as shine, give light, brighten, Glorious, shining brighter and brighter, and simply give light. The word can also mean “to become light”.
Finally, we must think about the word for “eyes”. It is the Hebrew word “ayin” and I really like what the Theological Wordbook provides as an opening to its explanation of this word…
More than the eye itself is implied by this word. Occasionally it represents the whole process of seeing and by extension, of understanding and obedience (Jer 5:21). However, in the ot it is the ear which is generally used in this figurative way. The eye is used to express knowledge, character, attitude, inclination, opinion, passion, and response. The eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of man.
So, a good way to think about this verse is that God’s instruction is so perfect and pure that as we gaze upon its beauty, it will give us understanding, help us walk a life of obedience, it has an impact on our character, attitude, inclination, passions and ultimately, if the eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of a man, then God’s instructions should reveal when our thoughts are not where they need to be and bring us to a place of repentance.
Let us gaze diligently at the beauty of God’s instruction and let it transform our lives into lives that are full of understanding, and a desire to walk in humble obedience to our God.
 Schultz, C. (1999). 1612 עִין. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 662). Chicago: Moody Press.