The following essay was written by our friend Turk Hill. I made some changes.

 

The concept of revelation is captured beautifully in Psalm 19. It is a lovely poem praising God as the creator of the universe who gave the Jewish people commandments to help them and the rest of the world. Thomas Aquinas (died in 1274) differentiated a vocal and a natural revelation. The Torah is a vocal revelation while Psalm 19 is a natural revelation.

Here is an English translation of the beginning:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky shows His handy work. Day after day speaks, and night after night shows knowledge, without speech or language, with no voice or sound. Their message travels throughout the earth, and their words to the world’s very end.”

The first part praises God as the Creator of nature, and the second for giving commands.

According to the Psalm, nature is not a product of chance. It’s like stumbling upon a majestic castle in the desert. The sheer grandeur of it suggests that someone built it. We can use another analogy. When we see a watch, we have evidence of the existence of a watchmaker, and in like manner, the creation is evidence of the existence of a Creator. Everything that we see, touch, and eat is His creation. God is revealed through nature; we can infer things about God by studying science. It is like trying to understand something about a great painter from their paintings. We can get an inkling of what they want to convey. For example, I never met Vincent van Gogh. Still, we learn from his paintings that he likes vibrant swirling colors, and that he is more interested in conveying a mood than portraying images accurately.

All that God created is the best. Nature is perfect. An Aramaic translation of the Bible translates the Bible’s first word, bereishith, “in the beginning,” as b’chachmah, “with wisdom,” meaning that God created the world with wisdom. The wisdom of God is reflected in the flawless structure of the universe.

This is also the view of Maimonides. All we can know about God is by looking at what God created. Maimonides learned that God is revealed in nature from Exodus 33:18-33. In these verses, Moses requests God to tell him about Himself. God said he would pass by Moses. Moses will not see Him as He passes but will see where he passed. Maimonides states that what Moses saw is what God did. People glimpse His wisdom when contemplating His tremendous and wondrous creations.

According to Maimonides, Abraham discovered God through reason. Maimonides felt that Abraham and the patriarchs did not have the Torah. Nonetheless, Abraham deduced the right ideas of God by studying nature. We, like Abraham, may find some things about God by studying His creations⁠—nature – by studying the sciences.

The testimony of nature is constant. 

According to the Psalm, one day and night is sufficient to bear testimony of the glory of God. But when we see the sun and moon performing their daily revolutions, “day after day” and “night after night,” we have an even brighter long-lasting testimony. This cycle of days denotes a system of laws. And if there is a law, there must be a lawgiver. Furthermore, the testimony is distributed “through all the earth.” In Deuteronomy 32:1, Moses exclaims that heaven and earth testify as two witnesses to the greatness of God. As Psalm 19 affirms, this testimony is witnessed constantly. It is revealed every day and every night.[1]

Revelation is universal

In the world, there are several hundred languages. Scarcely any two nations speak the same language. In contrast, the heavens speak a single language. They preach to all countries and all people in the visible language of creation. There are no language barriers. No problem with translation. Ibn Ezra states that “the writing of the heavens is read in all places” and “intelligent people worldwide understand it.” God communicates through Nature. Amazingly, God does this without speaking a single word. Creation “speaking” is a metaphor because this is a non-verbal communication. It reveals God’s glory for all to see.

The sun imparts God’s wisdom.

Verse 7 of Psalm 19 talks about the sun’s movement – “His going forth is from the end of the heaven in a circuit to the ends of it, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Nothing hidden means God’s revelation through nature may be experienced by everyone everywhere. There is no running away from the sun. The sun shines an equal quantity of light worldwide to all creation.

Summary 

Thus, I am fascinated by God’s revelation in nature. The laws of nature reveal God to us. This idea is beautifully expressed in Psalm 19. The Psalm is great. The Christian theologian C. S. Lewis extolled Psalm 19 as “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” Indeed, the 19th Psalm is so significant that it is sometimes read daily in the Sabbath liturgy. Some communities even recite it before the Shema and prayers. They see God through the divine creation of nature. All people can contemplate the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator displayed in the creation. Thus, both nature and the Torah are paths to God.

[1] Each day brings to light more and more of the Divine wisdom in Creation (the rabbi Malbim, 1809-1879). The non-Jew Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who attacked the Bible, also praised the 19th Psalm.