I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in Psalm 19:4/5a:

Their voice goes out through all the earth ESV 19:4a
:בְּכָל־הָאָ֨רֶץ ׀ יָ֘צָ֤א קַוָּ֗ם BHS 19:5a
εἰς πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ἐξῆλθεν ὁ φθόγγος αὐτῶν LXX 18:5a (see also Rom 10:18)

(The antecedent of "their" appears to be "the heavens" (v. 1/2))

The ESV has a footnote on voice: "or measuring line."

From what I can decipher from the HALOT entry, the word קו has a basic meaning "string" or "measuring line" but there is conjecture that it should be instead קול, "voice." I’m not sure whether emendation is necessary for it to be consistent with the LXX (and the context of Rom 10), though, because "sound" is offered as another possible gloss "with MT." (If so, why emend?)

Does this text require emendation to be intelligible? And can someone help me sort out the relationship with the LXX?

  • The following verses shows that the earth is a geocentric model (where the sun goes around the earth), not heliocentric (where the earth goes around the sun).
    – bmende
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 18:57

4 Answers 4


The Targum Psalms provides some clues. The Targums were amplified translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic. That is, they provide some nuance as to how the Hebrew Scriptures were understood by Jewish scholars who translated the texts from Biblical Hebrew into Aramaic. The Targum Psalms is Late Jewish Literary Aramaic, and therefore appeared as early as the Fifth Century (Flesher & Chilton, 2011).

The passage at hand appears as follows in the Targum Psalms. Please click on the image to enlarge.

enter image description here

The nuance here is that the tent cord is a LINE of utterances. In other words, the idea is that the very heavens declare the glory of the Lord and his existence through the "lines" of the utterances of creation, which speak through silent words. These "lines" are statements (as the "lines" of these statements represent my inaudible "voice"). In other words, these lines of statements, or utterances, are the voice emanating from heaven, which communicate to man.

For example, in the Masoretic Text of the Psalm the Hebrew word here is קָו (H6957), which means cord or measuring line. This same Hebrew word appears in the following verses, where the word is translated as "line" of words, which are not understood.

Isaiah 28:10-13 (NASB)
10 “For He says,
‘Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there.’”
11 Indeed, He will speak to this people
Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,
12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,”
And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.
13 So the word of the Lord to them will be,
“Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
A little here, a little there,”
That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.

The context is the inability to understand what is communicated, which are "lines" and concepts. That is, just like Psalm 19, there are the "lines" of declarations of the glory of the Lord throughout creation, which many do not find intelligible (e.g., Psalm 14:1 speaks to one who denies the existence of God).

In conclusion, the Targum Psalms provides one provocative explanation as to why the LXX uses "voice" in its translation: that is, the Hebrew word קָו (H6957) represents not only a cord, but an actual "line" (of utterances). Such imagery appears resonant in Isaiah 28:10-13, where the same Hebrew word refers to "lines" of unintelligible statements to those who reject the rest and repose of the Lord. That is, in Psalm 19, the same rest and repose of the Lord are evident through the creation (i.e., "the tent of the sun" in Ps 19:4-5, which the Targum Psalm calls "the resting place").

In summary, the creation is an erected tent, whose "lines" are the inaudible utterances of glory from heaven. The LXX here uses the word "voice," which declares this glory. For those who reject the rest of the Lord found in the tent of creation (where even the sun finds repose), such "lines" -- or voice -- become unintelligible and/or meaningless.

Flesher, P. V. M., & Chilton, B. (2011). The Targums: A Critical Introduction. Waco: Baylor University Press, 235.


I found a couple commentators that carry the idea of a line to a sound two interesting ways. One says it is like a line of characters, a word, that goes out across the whole universe.

Ver. 4. —— “their line.” קוﬦ, “their sound.” φθόγγος, LXX. sonus, Jerom. and Vulg. And to the same effect all the ancients, except Aquila, from the Arabic sense of the word. Or, with the English Geneva, “Their line is gone forth through all the earth, and their words into the ends of the world.” Upon this the marginal note is, “The heavens are as a line of great capital letters, to show unto us God’s glory.” But the Apostle’s citation seems rather to support the Arabic sense of קוﬦ in this place. And it is to be remarked, that מליﬦ are “words spoken,” not “written words.” But, perhaps, the true rendering is, Their extension goeth forth over the whole earth, And their terminations [are] at the end of the world. (THE BOOK OF PSALMS; TRANSLATED FROM THE HEBREW: with NOTES, EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL, SAMUEL HORSLEY p223)

Possibly more believable is to imagine the cord or line symbolic of a heavenly musical instrument making a heavenly sound;

Ver. 4 (5).—3 Their line; or, Their rule, or direction, Marg. Better than either, Their sound, with the Prayer-Book Version: and so the LXX., φθόγγος; Vulg. sonus; Symm. ἧχος, confirmed by the quotation of this verse, Rom. 10:18. The primary sense is a line or chord, thence the string of a musical instrument, and thence sound, according to Simon. Lex. Heb., and Gesenius, Dathe in Phillips, &c. Hengst. retains line, i.e. a measuring line (which, he says, is the invariable sense of קו), denoting the extent of territory, and regards sound in the Versions as a comment. (COMMENTARY on THE BOOK OF PSALMS; according to the original hebrew by WILLIAM DE BURGH, D. D., p204)

On the other hand, assuming there might be a copyist mistake in the MT, the NetBible provides a clean solution:

The MT reads, “their measuring line” (קוּם, qum). The noun קַו (qav, “measuring line”) makes no sense in this context. The reading קוֹלָם(qolam, “their voice”) which is supported by the LXX, is preferable.

Note: This verse is not found inthe dead sea scrolls, so there is no additional help to be found there.

  • 2
    Surely, Biblical and Hebrew studies have progressed since the time of Horsley (died 1806) and de Burgh (died 1808). Horsley's repeated claim that the translation of q-w-m as "sound" reflects the "Arabic sense of the word" is unfounded. q-w-m does not mean "sound" in Arabic or (as far as I can see) in any Semitic language.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 14:23
  • @fdb - Uh...if you do have a better explantion from a recent author, how a line might be constured as a sound, please post. In the meantime there is certainly nothing wrong with finding good ideas from classic sources.
    – Mike
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 15:11
  • Indeed, but this is not a "good idea"; it is a blunder.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 15:19
  • fdb - well, actually am not necessarily disagreeing with you in this case, although you did not provide an alternate solution...but i looked up what the NetBible said as you did get my curiosity going and it's note seems pretty pursasive as well. I am assuming you prefer this alternate argument.
    – Mike
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 15:49
  • Mike, that last addition is sort of where the question started. I’m trying to figure out if we need to emend it קו --> קול (read RTL there) or whether there’s a meaning of קו (as written in the MT) that makes sense (+/- explains the LXX rendering).
    – Susan
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:19

Another answer to your question may be found here:(Keil & Delitzsch's OT Commentary)

Jeremiah 31:39 shows how we are to understand קו in connection with יצא. The measuring line of the heavens is gone forth into all the earth, i.e., has taken entire possession of the earth. Psalm 19:5 tells us what kind of measuring line is intended, viz., that of their heraldship: their words (from מלּה, which is more Aramaic than Hebrew, and consequently more poetic) reach to the end of the world, they fill it completely, from its extreme boundary inwards

As a comparison to the LXX, the following is quoted:

Isaiah's קו, Psalm 28:1-9 :10, is inapplicable here, because it does not mean commandment, but rule, and is there used as a word of derision, rhyming with צו. The ὁ φθόγγος αὐτῶν of the lxx (ὁ ἦχος αὐτῶν Symm.) might more readily be justified, inasmuch as קו might mean a harpstring, as being a cord in tension, and then, like τόνος (cf. τοναία), a tone or sound (Gesenius in his Lex., and Ewald), if the reading קולם does not perhaps lie at the foundation of that rendering. But the usage of the language presents with signification of a measuring line for קו when used with יצא (Aq. κανών, cf. 2 Corinthians 10:13); and this gives a new thought, whereas in the other case we should merely have a repetition of what has been already expressed in Psalm 19:4.

Therefore, the understanding, gleaned from this commentary, is that 'their words are heard from one end of the earth to the other' which is consistent with vs 5."Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race". In their commentary they note:

Therefore the morning sun is compared to a bridegroom, the desire of whose heart is satisfied, who stands as it were at the beginning of a new life, and in whose youthful countenance the joy of the wedding-day still shines. And as at its rising it is like a bridegroom, so in its rapid course (Sir. 43:5) it is like a hero (vid., on Psalm 18:34), inasmuch as it marches on its way ever anew, light-giving and triumphant, as often as it comes forth, with גּבוּרה (Judges 5:31)

This is the picture the Psalmist paints; the refreshing nature of the Torah as it speaks from ages past to ages to come, as a celebration of the eternal Word of God.


I would humbly recommend that anyone exegeting these scriptures (Psalm 19:4,5a, and Romans 10:18), should also consider reading books such as Joseph Seiss' 'The Gospel in the Stars', E W Bullinger's 'The Witness of the Stars', Ken Fleming's ' God's Voice in the Stars', or Frances Rolleston's 'Mazzaroth' (the seminal work from which these other books sprang). I have read that the premise of these writers: that God displayed the entire Gospel plan in the constellations in the heavens (as evidenced by ancient star names and their meanings, by legends (in both pagan religions and mythologies), by studies of the ancient zodiacs, and by references to the zodiac and to the constellations in the Bible ( Job 38:32,etc.) has been answered and refuted; but I have not read the refutation(-s) myself. Personally, I thought when I read these authors that they presented a very logical and well researched point of view which helped clarify certain biblical passages for me (including Psalm 19:4,5a, Romans 10:18, and others); as well as providing a very plausible explanation for the origin of the zodiac - which these writers all maintain has, in it's present secular usage been terribly perverted by Satan to his own purposes from God's original intent. However, with my nearly zero level of learning in these matters (ancient astronomy and zodiacs, etc.) I am at the mercy of the authors, so I would caution others to read these works prayerfully.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.