Learning to Biblically Praise God
Samuel Lesson #155
November 27, 2018
“Father, what a great privilege we have to come to Your throne of grace. We have access because Jesus Christ died for our sins; He removed the veil so that we have that access that was never true in the Old Testament. We have a relationship with You that is indeed greater than any Old Testament saint. We have privileges; we have responsibilities; we have assets that You have given us in Christ that go beyond our imagination, and Father, we’re told of many of these in the Scriptures, and yet sadly because we are made of dust and we are frail, we fail to use these and to learn about them. Yet Father, in Your grace, You still deal with us, and You still lower Yourself to our level to communicate to us, to strengthen us, to encourage us as You are mindful of us.
“Father, we pray that as we study tonight, You will help us to understand these things that we study about how to praise You—what is taught, what is exemplified for us in the psalms—that Your glory may be enhanced and expanded throughout the world because of our witness. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Our topic from last time, as we continue in worship, is to talk about what it means to praise God. As I pointed out last time and a lot of situations today when somebody says, well let’s praise God. They think that means in the most superficial sense. Well, they’ll just say, “Praise God.” And that’s not what it means to praise God—to simply say, “Praise God.” In another sense, what people think is that this means they are to sing, and that’s not necessarily praising God.
Although a lot of the psalms were later set to music, they started as poetry, which was an expression in most cases of an individual situation that was then reflected upon, meditated upon, and was written according to certain forms and standards to express what was going on in the individual’s life either expressing the problems—a large part of the Psalms are called lament psalms which basically are crying out to God to deliver them focusing on the problem—then they shift in their solution as they focus on God and His grace, and they often end with a vow of praise and even a short statement of praise. So, praise runs throughout almost all of the psalms.
Then you have another large category of psalms that are called praise psalms. Sometimes we think of them as thanksgiving psalms. These are given to us as a pattern for learning how to pray, learning how to praise. As I pointed out last time, for over 2,500 years, the Psalms were the hymnbook of the Jews in the Old Testament and of the early church until the post-Reformation period into the 1600s, and they sang the words of God. And then we had the development of hymns, which tried to emulate the psalms and were rich in doctrine—the good ones were. Then sadly, in the late 20th century, we saw a shift in music and not only in the language, the lyrics, what came became to be known as praise and worship, but also in the music. And music is a language as Scott Aniol pointed out when he spoke at our Chafer Conference back in 2013. Music is a language.
Today, I had some workmen at the house. I can’t go five minutes without sneezing, but in between the sneezes, as I was working upstairs, I heard this music that they were playing downstairs—a couple of Hispanic guys who don’t have much English; one guy has more than the other one— and as I was listening, I thought that is great music. I could not understand the lyrics because they were in Spanish, but I knew from the music that it was about God, that this was solid, sound music for the worship of God. So, when I went downstairs to get some coffee, I asked one of them, “What are you listening to?” He said, “church music,” and so I was confirmed in that and it was some of the music the choir sings at the church where he goes. And, he was not shy at all about inviting me to church.
I’ve often said that, when you’re really enjoying your spiritual life and your relationship with God, you want to tell people about it, and you want to then invite people to church. And that’s exactly what he did while we were there trying to figure things out as he was speaking in somewhat broken English.
But, it’s interesting, and it was such a great example, that you just knew from the music that this elevated you. It lifted you up. It’s like the kind of music I pointed out that you will hear, and sometimes in the setting of a Gothic cathedral where the architecture both forces you to look up toward God and the music does the same thing. It didn’t have a beat. It wasn’t syncopated. It didn’t have a lot of these features today that are really designed to artificially manipulate emotions. It was elegant. So again, this is the kind of music that we should be using in church. This is the kind of music that words that are profound and doctrinally sound should be joined with.
Psalm 34 is a lengthy psalm. We studied it; you can go back and listen to the study we did on it. This was a psalm written by David when he had been captured by Abimelech in Gath, and he feigned madness and afterword God delivered him. And he says, Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” So, this is his summary statement, his topical statement as he begins the Psalm. Then we see what it really is to exhibit praise. When you see a lament psalm, it begins with a focus on the problem and the psalmist is really down. He’s facing death or being overwhelmed by his enemies or health or being defeated militarily, and he is not upbeat at all.
But, in a praise song, there is a sense of exuberance, and that’s the kind of thing that sort of pulls us out of our cultural background, because a lot of us come out of backgrounds where you just don’t say much, and you sort of keep it in, and you certainly don’t want to show any emotion in church.
But there’s a great emotion in these psalms; it’s driven by the fact that God has intervened and interceded in our life and God has done something, and so you’re excited about that. It’s the kind of thing that when I had this episode today, I came back and I picked up the phone and called a friend and said you’re not going to believe what a great illustration I just had.
We all ought to have people in our lives that when we see that God does something in our lives that we can pick up the phone and call them and talk about that. That’s what David is talking about here. “His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” This isn’t just on Sunday or once or twice a week, but that this is my mindset.
For this to happen, as we’ll see come up, you have to take time to think about what’s going on in your life. You have to really have a divine-viewpoint mental attitude where you’re looking at and responding to the circumstances in your life that change and develop from God’s perspective, and looking at them from the perspective that God is working in my life. And it may not be what you want because sometimes God blesses us with trials in order to teach us and to refine us and to strengthen our understanding of Him and the result of that is that we can praise God.
David certainly didn’t have a positive experience when he was being surrounded by Abimelech and the Philistines in a village, but he experienced God’s deliverance and rescue. That’s always at the heart of praise—that I cried out to God, and God delivered me. Not a whole lot of time is spent on what the problem was; it’s on the deliverance of God and reminding us to turn our focus toward God.
And so, praise, to be biblical, is always theocentric. It’s always God-centered. It’s not about me and my problems. It’s about God. Psalm 34:1–2, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord—that’s what praise is; it’s boasting in what God did. We are excited because God did something—the humble shall hear of it and be glad.”
“The humble” are those who are also believers and are walking with the Lord, and they’re grace-oriented, and it encourages them. That’s part of why in the congregation, there should be opportunities for people to vocalize their praise before the congregation is it encourages others and strengthens others.
Psalm 34:2b3, “The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” That’s the call to worship together and to focus on the Lord and boasting in Him, magnifying His name. And, of course, we know that when you see this phraseology of His name, that always focuses on His character. It’s thinking through the attributes of God and how they have been on display by this situation or circumstance in our life.
Then he says, Psalms 34:4, “I sought the Lord —that’s as I talked about, one element of a declarative praise is this cry to God—I sought the Lord, and He heard me.” We know because there’s a historical note at the very beginning of this psalm, we know what the circumstances were because we were over in 1 Samuel. But in the psalm, notice how much detail he gives us.
We don’t know anything about the circumstances; he just said, “He delivered me from my fears.” So, that brings it to a universal level where it can be applied to any circumstance that we’re in; maybe your fears are related to health, maybe they’re related to finances, maybe they’re related to your children, maybe they’re related to your parents, maybe they’re related to work and employment, or the national situation, or whatever it maybe. What we learn from this is whatever the fear is, God delivers us.
Psalm 116:1 expresses the completion of this whole idea, “I love the Lord because He has heard my voice and my supplications.”
The purpose for these lessons is for us to learn more about what it means to praise God and to biblically praise God.
We looked about this a little bit last time, just to review: Praise is an outburst of joy over God’s acts of intervening in our lives. We see this again and again; we see it in the Old Testament; we see it in the New Testament. Paul says to the Philippians in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” How many times— I don’t a want testimony at this point—how many times in the last week or two have we just rejoiced in God just been excited about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and what God is doing in our life?
So, the idea of praise is that we enjoy God so much we’re, so occupied with Christ and occupied with the Lord, that we talk about Him and His work spontaneously as we go through life with our friends and family. Now we exercise wisdom and common sense; we don’t do it necessarily with regard to workers, or clients, or people we work with. But with those we know, we have this spontaneity.
So, the principle is: The focus is on God, not our problems, not our health, or our financial woes, or our children, or our house problems, or car problems, or work problems, or family problems. Our focus is on how God delivers us. It’s a divine-centered mental attitude, and that keeps us focused and stable and upright.
We need to focus on what God has done and then, in the expression of it, it is teaching people about God. The purpose of praise ultimately is to encourage others in Who God is and His involvement in our life.
Last time we went to Psalm 50, and I just want to highlight a couple of things that I talked about last time. In Psalm 50:14, we have the command to, “Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.” That’s interesting because what it shows is that praising God in relation to the fact that in the Old Testament the worshiper would’ve been in a situation, he would’ve made a vow, “I will do X, Y, or Z, and I will come to the temple and praise God.”
As I pointed out last time, this wasn’t something where you just got off free. You had to come and you had to present a burnt offering, and then you had to present a sin offering, or I taught it recently as a reparation offering, and then you had to offer the peace offering. Part of the peace offering is this terminology that is used here, and this opening line, Psalm 50:14, “Offer to God thanksgiving,” obscures what we have here in the Hebrew.
The New American Standard Bible translates it, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” and that’s closer to the Hebrew because the first word of the Hebrew text is the word “sacrifice.” So, thanksgiving is a sacrifice, and under the Mosaic Law, that’s exactly what it was. You’ve got to come and you’ve got to bring at least three sacrifices, and the third sacrifice—the sacrifice of the peace offering sacrifice—was a meal that was shared with all the priests and with all the others that were there that were present. So, you are basically putting on a banquet for a lot of people.
In Texas, you would say you were just having a great big old backyard barbecue and inviting all the neighbors to come in and enjoy the benefits of God’s grace toward you.
The NET Bible translates Psalm 50:14, “Present to God a thank-offering,” and the word “offering” there misses the idea of zebah, which is a sacrifice. Literally the command is “to sacrifice” and then you have this word in the Hebrew todah, “sacrifice to God.”
Now if you’re like John, and you’ve been to Israel and a couple of the others of you have been, one of the first words you learn is “good morning” boker tov. The next thing you learn is how to say, “thank you,” and you use the word toda.
But actually, the root meaning of toda isn’t equivalent to the American concept or the English concept of saying “thank you.” It is really a much more complicated thing than that, and I’ve been spending a lot of time studying and reading about this, and it takes you to some degree beyond some of the main lexical sources that are out there, but it’s a fascinating study.
The verse that we went to last time to sort of correlate with Psalm 50 was Jeremiah 33:11, which reads: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say …”—see, the praise comes from people who are in joyful, happy, positive circumstances because of their relationship with God; not just because they happen to have good circumstances.
It’s always easy to be joyful in the midst of good circumstances, but when we’re walking with the Lord, even when we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death of Psalm 23, we still have joy. That’s what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:11, “My joy I give to you.” That joy was not lost at the Cross because we are told in Hebrews 12:1–2, that it was “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross.” So, He still had joy even in the midst of suffering.
The voice of all these people who are celebrating will say, Jeremiah 33:11, “Praise the Lord of hosts.” What you have in some of these translations—maybe the one that you have—this is the New King James that I put up on the board this week, it has, “thank the Lord,” but what is in the New King James calls it, “Praise the Lord.” I put down it in the box [see Slide 8], the Hebrew. It comes from the word yadah. The hifel stem,” which is the causative stem in the Hebrew, is hodu here, and that’s both an imperative and a masculine plural, which means it is calling to the whole group, to the congregation, to praise the Lord of hosts.
Now it’s hodu, it’s not hallal. Another way of talking about calling people to praise God is hallal, hallelu, which is the plural, hallelujah—“Y’all praise God.” Hallelujah. But this is the word, hodu, and it means “to praise or to confess.”
This is the root meaning of yadah, which is the verb here and it means “to praise or confess,” so the core meaning is really “to admit or acknowledge something.” What you’re acknowledging is what God has done in your life.
In Psalm 32, it’s also used for the confession of sin because you’re acknowledging something, you’re acknowledging your sin, you’re talking about your sin to God. And here, you’re talking about what God has done and that’s—when you talk about what God has done—that easily slips over into that idea of praise, and that can mean thanksgiving.
As I was reading a German author you’ve never heard of before by the name of Claus Westermann who was a Hebrew scholar—not biblically correct, orthodox, or conservative evangelical. He was a liberal German theologian. But like a lot of German theologians, they do excellent work in analyzing language in history and etymology and things of that nature.
He had a really good illustration. He said, we have to teach our kids about giving thanks. How many times—and you can remember when you were a kid or maybe with your kids or grandkids—have you had to teach them to say, “thank you”? It doesn’t come naturally for people to say “thank you,” and so we’ve all been in this experience where we were either teaching a kid or it happened to us and we were given a present, and all the sudden, we heard mom or dad say, “Say thank you.” So, we turn around and say, “Thank you so and so,” and it was just sort of perfunctory, and we went through the motions.
Now what expresses gratitude more—and I thought was interesting; Westermann used this illustration and it was Christmas when he wrote. It’s Christmas now and it triggered a thought in my mind what happens if you’re given just a really outstanding gift. Just take a Christmas present that is beyond your expectation or just exactly what you wanted and instead of turning to your parents, and giving them a hug and thanking them—I don’t know whether I did that or not—I think Santa Claus actually gave me the bicycle on my ninth birthday, but I jumped on that bike and I road down the street and I was telling all my buddies down the street, “Look at what my parents gave me for Christmas!”
What expresses thanks more: the kid who perfunctorily just says, “oh yeah, thank you,” or the kid that gets on the bike and goes and tells everybody how great His parents are because they gave him this gift, or how great their spouse was? That’s what praise is, and so you can see its relationship to the words, “thank you.”
As we go through the verse, Jeremiah 33:11, “[T]he voice of those who will say: ‘Praise the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His mercy endures forever—and what we will see is the idea of God’s grace, His mercy, and His lovingkindness often are the basis for praise—and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise—is one that I went back to using the New King James; I used the NIV the last time, but the sacrifice of praise really picks up on this significance of what todah referred to. It didn’t refer to thanksgiving as we think of thanksgiving; it is a reference to the sacrifice of praise. If you were going to praise God in the temple, it involved bringing the sacrifices.
This same language is picked up in Hebrews 13 talking about the church. The Church Age believers were to bring the sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of our lips. So, we have the noun form over here; it’s translated “thanksgiving” in the NIV and “thank offering” in the NASB, but it’s sacrifice of praise in the NKJV.
That’s what the idea is. It’s a todah sacrifice, and it goes beyond our comprehension. Westermann had about six pages going through various languages, arguing that in most languages, there’s no concept of “thank you” like we have in English or in German, and the English word “thank you” comes from the German word danken, which has as an original etymological sense, not “thank you” at all, but more the sense of praise.
I found all of that fascinating. We don’t need to go through that, but that’s the focal point: it’s praising someone for what they’ve done is a form of showing our gratitude for all that they provided for us.
We looked on in Psalm 50:22–23. In Psalm 50:23, the psalmist says, “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me.” God is obviously speaking, and there, it’s the same word. It’s todah. “Whoever brings a sacrifice of praise glorifies Me.” How do we glorify God? This is going to relate to something I’ll teach as we go through this tonight, it is this concept of what it means to bless God, what is it mean to glorify God. Do we add to God’s glory?
God is intrinsically glorious. He is intrinsically blessed because He has everything. He is infinite and self-sufficient. We can’t add to anything with God. So, this idea of talking about blessing God and glorifying God is really related to the idea of telling others about who God is, so that we are enhancing His reputation, and we are causing His reputation to expand throughout the human race. That’s how we bless God—we cause an expansion of His reputation on the earth, and that is the same thing with glorifying Him.
Glorifying God has to do with stressing His importance, that He is the sine qua non of life, that without which nothing, that nothing can happen. We can’t have real peace, happiness, stability, contentment, joy, success, or anything unless God is the foundation of it and at the very center of it. What Psalm 50 is saying is whoever truly praises God—and this isn’t saying praise God or just a quick quickie with God really did something great for me—this is a soul deep expression of our gratitude to God for His deliverance.
I don’t think we see much of it today because we are all, as I will point out as we go through this, we’re too busy. We don’t have time to really focus on the Lord and His grace and to take that time to do that. So, this is why the verse (Psalm 50:23) goes on to say, “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders His conduct aright ...”
See that’s somebody who has time management skills and prioritizes that relationship with God in the way they ordered their conduct. They order their time management so that God is at the center of it, and they experience the salvation of God. And this just isn’t being saved from eternal punishment of sin, but it’s being saved from the presence of sin. It’s more sanctification, the deliverance of God throughout our lives.
This is an example of declarative praise. I’ve cleaned up this slide a little bit from last time. There are two types of praise: There is declarative praise, which is giving thanks for something that God has done. This is the kind of thing that when we come together for our Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner we will have an opportunity to express what God has done for us. It’s a response to something God has done, and you can look at various examples. I’ll leave this slide up here for little while, so you can write this down: Psalm 9; Psalm 18; Psalm 30; Psalm 31:7–8, and 31:19–24 express declarative praise. Psalm 32 Psalm 40:1–12; Psalm 66:13–20, and we’ll look at that tonight; Psalm 92; Psalm 107; Psalm 116; Psalm 118, Psalm 138, and there are many others. But that gives you an idea and a bit of a pattern to see how the psalmists give praise to God, how they organized their thinking, and order their thoughts.
Descriptive praise psalms are different. They’re not driven by a circumstance in someone’s life—a cry to God and then their thanks and praise to God for His deliverance. These are psalms that focus on the character of God. They just thank God for His sovereignty, His faithful, loyal love—His chesed love—His righteousness and justice—the foundation of His throne. And they just go through the various attributes of God and thanking Him for those, and how those have been displayed in history as well as in their own life.
Psalm 122:4 states, “Where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,—that would be Israel—to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” That’s the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of the Testimony. This is from a psalm of ascent to give thanks to the name of the Lord. This is that same word we had earlier, hodu, in the text. It refers to praise and confess, to praise, to confess the essence of God, who He is and how He has been faithful to His covenant and how He has been faithful to me as an individual.
As I pointed out earlier, here’s the verse Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore by Him—that is Christ—let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God—we don’t bring an offering or sacrifice to the temple—that is the fruit of our lips,” and that’s not singing, that is what we say. That is how we describe what God has done for us, how He has interceded in our lives—“giving thanks to His name.” The word for thanks in the Greek is EUCHARISTO; we get the word eucharist from that which is another term for the communion table. It has to do with the core root there, which is CHARIS, which is grace. It is a response to the grace of God, so it expresses gratitude.
When I closed last time, I said we need to be reminded that praise in the congregation and the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is not something that gets tacked on because it’s a tradition. This is foundational to worship as it developed historically coming into its greatest fullness at the time of David, which is 1000 BC, and it was part of the praise of the people of God—Jewish up till the time of Christ, Christian after that—up until about 1600, they sang these songs. It’s the result of the command, “be filled by means of the Spirit,” in Ephesians 5:18. Then you have these participles of manner that result from a person who is being filled with the Word, by the Holy Spirit and is walking by the Spirit. In Ephesians 5:19 he speaks, “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
You have two categories here; it’s not that this is all you do is sing internally, but you sing externally, and also throughout the day. There is this song in your heart as it were, in your mind, you reflect on these things. This is why I like to sing a lot of the same hymns over and over again in the hopes that people will learn the words and memorize the words.
I know most the words to every hymn that we sing because of the years of singing them, and I can sing them when I’m driving down the highway, and I can sing here or there and they are always available and always present. This is how we exhibit our walk by means of the Spirit, and it’s expressed through what? Gratitude. That is praise. So, all of this is very much a part, a vital part, a central part, of our spiritual life.
Let’s look at another psalm. Turn to Psalm 66. This is a great praise psalm, and when we look at Psalm 66, we’ll learn a few things about what is going on in a praise psalm, and how to praise the Lord. You’ll find there’s an important verse in the middle of it. Psalm 66 is a psalm of 20 verses; we don’t know who wrote it.
It’s written to the chief musician—could be Asaph or one of the others. These guys were absolutely brilliant choir leaders, orchestra leaders. They were musicians par excellence. They were fabulous. It’s written as an individual praise, an expression of praise, and when this was sung initially the first time, it would have been articulated along with the various sacrifices and to the crowds that gathered.
Psalm 66:1, “Make a joyful shout to God—and that is a pretty solid interpretation. It is an imperative plural, so it’s talking to a group of people. We don’t know who they are in the English text right up front; who are the “all”? We have to read to the end of the verse; it says the nations, the people of the earth. So, it’s not just addressed to Israel; it is addressed to all of the nations of the earth. It is a call to worship, to make a joyful shout to the Lord. It is a command, but it is also an invitation, a request.
Sometimes people will say how or why do they have imperatives when somebody’s praying to God? Well, sometimes you have imperatives that are the “barking order” of a of a drill sergeant, and sometimes you have an imperative that is a request: “Would you please do this for me?” That would be expressed through an imperative of request.
So, it has that sense as well, that it is advice to all the nations that they should come and worship the Lord—not like the nations in Psalm 2 that are in rebellion against the Lord. So, they’re to make a joyful shout, the people of the earth. Then in Psalm 66:2, that same idea, “Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.”
This gets a little more interesting. The first word to “sing out” is in also an imperatival plural, but it says, “sing out the honor …” There is our word kavod, the glory of God, and the word kavod, has to do with something that is weighty, something that is serious, something that is important.
It emphasizes that when we talk about the glory of God, what we’re talking about is His importance to life, His centrality to everything in our life, that He is the one without whom we cannot do. He must be there at the center of everything. So we are talking about how critically important and vital God is in our day-to-day life.
The decisions we make and the problem with all of us, myself included, is if we’re not taking time during the day to think about and reflect on these things at some point during the day—in the morning when you get up, while you’re eating lunch, a time to be alone and to reflect about these things— then we can’t do this. You can’t sing out about the glory of God because you haven’t taken any time to think about how important God is to you, how God was important to the things that happened to you this morning, or what happened to you at lunch or when you were running errands, or what happened to you in the afternoon.
If you haven’t taken the time to reflect on that profoundly, then how can you sing out to show how important God’s will is to everything that happened? And so, we sing out the glory or the importance, the significance of His name.
As I’ve said already, that tells us that we’re reflecting on His essence. So, we’ve gone through the His essence many, many, many times—you know, the ten attributes of God—to think about what went on in your life this morning. How is God’s sovereignty involved? How was His righteousness or His justice involved? How was His love involved or His omniscience? His omnipotence, His power, His arm, His omnipresence, His veracity, His faithfulness, His immutability: how was that involved?
So, we’re singing out the glory of His character, His essence, His attributes and how central that is to our life. As a result of that, when we talk about Him, we are making that praise to Him glorious, we’re glorifying Him, and that elevates Him to a new level, and this praise should be addressed to God.
Psalm 66:3, “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works!’ ” This is how we praise God. Notice it doesn’t say, “Say to God, ‘Praise God.’ ” In Psalm 66:34, “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name. Selah’.”
See, there’s a development of thought that’s focusing here on His works, His power, His omnipotence, and His mighty works and how He overpowers and overcomes His enemies. So, there is an acknowledgment of God’s strength and power and the impact that this will have on His enemies. The word there that is translated “shall submit themselves to you” almost has the same thing of the sense that they will come cowering before You. They will be forcibly submitted to You.
Does that remind you of any verse in the New Testament? Philippians 2:10–11, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”—all of His enemies as well as all of those who have trusted in Him will affirm and admit and acknowledge who He is. That doesn’t mean they’re saved, because it’s too late. You don’t get a second chance. Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.” But there will come a time when all will recognize that He is in Heaven and that He is Lord.
Psalm 66:5–7 focuses on this call to the congregation. Psalm 66:5, “Come and see the works of God;—think about them, not just an academic reflection, it is to think thoroughly about what God has done—He is awesome in His doing towards the sons of men.” That is His power, how He oversees history.
Christians more than anybody should be readers of history and understanding good history that God is the One who is working out His plan and His purpose. Even when things don’t look so good, He is still working out His history. And here, of course, he’s going to talk about the history of Israel.
Psalm 66:6, “He turned the sea and the dry land;—that’s a reference back to the Exodus event—They went through the river on foot.—didn’t get wet—There we will rejoice in Him.” It’s an example of how God delivered the nation, and as a result, you can extrapolate from that, Psalm 66:7, “He rules by His power forever—that’s connecting what two attributes in the essence box? His power, His omnipotence; He rules—that’s His sovereignty—He rules by His power forever.” That’s a third attribute, His eternality.
Psalm 66:7b, “His eyes observed the nations.” Eyes there are used as a metonymy for His sight, His knowledge, and so He knows, it’s His omniscience. So, there’s a fourth attribute.
Psalm 66:7c, “Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves.” That’s calling upon the action of His justice and righteousness.
When I talk about thinking through what God has done in terms of His attributes, we might start like kindergartners just listing those attributes and putting something out to the side. As you think about this and reflect upon it more and more—look at how the psalmist puts this together—in this one verse, we have six attributes alluded to: His sovereignty, His omnipotence, His eternality, His omniscience, His righteousness, and His justice are all part of that one verse. That shows another level of applying what I’ve been saying.
In Psalm 66:8 we come to this phrase, “Oh, bless our God,” so he calls on the people of the earth to bless God. Now, how do we bless God? What does that mean? As I said earlier, God is intrinsically self-sufficient.
There’s nothing we can add to Him. We can’t take anything away from Him. We can’t add anything to Him. There is a word in theology called aseity. He is totally independent of His creation, and He is not dependent on anything, so we don’t add anything to Him.
This word that is translated “bless” is the Hebrew word, barak. There are a couple of homonyms here: There’s the name Barak which is found in Judges 4 and 5, he’s the general, and that is spelled with the BARAQ. This is a kaph, a “K”, “BRK” and you know it from the noun for blessing, berakah, of course you’ve probably pronounced it “ber-`ak-uh,” but its sounds like “bra-`hah.” That was the name of the former consul general’s wife here in Houston—“Blessing”—and so this is the idea here.
What does it mean to bless God? What does it mean to bless? Often, we have this idea that’s put forth by people that it is prosperity. God blesses Adam and Eve, and they have a lot of children. So, it has something to do with their fertility and the fertility of crops, that they are blessed and they are going to prosper. But beyond that, this has this word of expansion and enrichment. At the very core is this idea, God is going to develop within us a capacity for Him, a capacity for life and a capacity for our spiritual focus. That’s at the core.
Blessing can be used of expansion and prosperity physically, but it also applies spiritually. Ultimately, spiritually we are blessed as God builds and develops in us a capacity, but He may bless us, He may enrich our lives with children, with family, with employment, with material things. He may enrich us with good health, other things of that nature.
In fact, He may even enrich and expand us spiritually by testing us. This is what the psalmist then brings out in Psalm 66:10–11: “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs.”
Maybe you never thought about the fact that the difficulties when things didn’t go the way you wanted them to go or when you had some serious health problems or other problems, that that was just a form of God enriching your life spiritually as a test so that you could grow spiritually.
That is developed here. What happens when we talk about blessing God is that we are enriching and expanding and enhancing God’s reputation among His creatures by talking about Him.
People learn about God when we praise Him, and so, blessing God—Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu—“Blessed be our God and Father and the Ruler of the universe.” It’s that Hebrew phrase that is the background.
Paul would’ve known it, and we see it in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? It became a way of talking about praising God, but it has its roots in, if we talk about God, then we are enriching His reputation. We are expanding the knowledge of God, so that more people will know who He is, and how He will deliver them, and how He has provided for them in salvation.
In this next section, we have the vow of the psalmist, that he is going to make a vow of praise. He says in Psalm 66:13–14, “I will go into your house with burnt offerings;—that’s the first level of offering that you would bring when you go to the temple, the olah offering—I will pay you my vows,—so, he is going to bring his sacrifices, and he says—Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble.—in other words, I cried out to You, and I said if You deliver me, I will praise Your name. So he says in Psalm 66:15, “I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, with the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats.” Anybody that’s been to a barbecue place knows what that sweet aroma is like. That’s what hung over the Temple Mount with those burnt offerings that were going on day in and day out, and they announced it, that there was somebody who is bringing a sacrifice of total dedication in terms of a burnt offering. But also others with the peace offerings were going to share that meal with others.
Then we get down to the proclamation in Psalm 66:16. It simply says, “Come and hear, all you who fear God,”—those of you who are—we would put it in New Testament terms as—you who are serious about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, those of you who are serious about growing and maturing in Christ, come and learn about what God has done for me—and I will declare what He has done for my soul.”
Notice, the focus is spiritual on his life. Psalm 66:17, “I cried to Him with my mouth and He was extolled with my tongue.” Then there is a warning in Psalm 66:18—I told you this was the verse you would find it was familiar—“If I regard iniquity in my heart—the word for “regard” means “to look at.” It has that idea of self-examination that is brought out by Paul when he is rebuking the Corinthians because they have been abusing the Lord’s Table—they turned it into a bacchanalian drunken orgy. And he said you need to examine yourselves.
That’s the idea here, if I examine myself and I see sin in my life and sin in my thoughts—the Lord will not hear.” We would say I’m out of fellowship. I’ve broken fellowship with God because I’m not walking with Him by means of the Holy Spirit. I am walking according to the sin nature.
In contrast, he says in Psalm 66:19, “But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.” I prayed to God about X, Y, or Z, and God listened to me and He delivered me.
Then there is an announcement in Psalm 66:20, “Blessed be God.” It is this term again that [means] let’s praise God because of what He has done. Let us expand this particular meaning.
Allen Ross, in a comment on the meaning of this word, says,
The basic meaning of the word “bless” is to enrich in some way physically, materially, or spiritually, and the noun “blessing” can even mean a gift as in Genesis 33:11. The enrichment that comes from the Lord often includes the divine enablement to achieve the blessing, such as the initial blessing for Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.
The concept of blessing here is essentially, God is going to enrich us, so we enrich Him by talking about what He has done. He is blessed forever because His reputation is enhanced and expanded in the mind of the of the congregation. That is basically the idea of blessing the Lord.
Another passage that we’ll go to is Psalm 103. We will wrap up with this one. These are just some examples to give you an idea of how you can craft your own prayers. I’ve read some different prayers to you in the past from different people. I find that one of the reasons that we have trivial devotional books is because we have Christians who have trivial thoughts about God. They don’t spend enough time with God. They don’t think about all that He has provided for us and we don’t make time for God, other than maybe an hour on Sunday morning. If we think about our ancestors—go back about 150 to 200 years—they would spend almost all day on Sunday at church. They would spend an hour in prayer—maybe after lunch. They would have the sermon in the morning; they would have singing; they would come together; they would eat together, share a meal.
If you go to Fredericksburg, it is a great example. There they had these little Sunday houses, and the ranchers would have those in town so that they could come in on a Saturday night and they could spend the night there. They would spend all day on Sunday there in in town and at church and then they would go home in the in the evening. This is that idea that people made time; their life revolved around God.
We think about the Old Testament, and I talked about the Old Testament calendar because of the ritual that the morning and evening sacrifices were designed to remind everybody that the whole day is God’s day, every day. Saturday, the Shabbat, was to remind people that the whole week was God’s, and Shabbat was set aside specifically for that purpose.
In the month, you would have your lunar, your new moon, festivals and sacrifices. And that too would remind you that the whole month was God’s. Then every year, you went through the four spring festivals and three fall festivals. One’s actually in the summer, Pentecost, and this is all designed to teach you that the calendar, all of our life, is around God.
In Psalm 103:1 the psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” He’s talking to himself, and it’s a reminder as David writes this, to keep a focus on praising God. He is pouring himself out, focusing on the fact that in spite of whatever he had to do, He needed to remember to bless the Lord with all that was within; not as an afterthought, not as sort of a secondary feature of his life. That is what gave meaning to life. See, that’s one of the things that we see coming out of this is that in all of our lives, there’s chaos, there’s unexpected things, there is suffering, there’s disease, there’s disappointment— lots of different negatives as well as positives. That which gives meaning and definition and pulls it all together is that focus on the Lord which comes out of this particular psalm. David is calling upon himself not to forget to bless the Lord.
In Psalm 103:2, he says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits.” There’s a contrast between the second part of verse one—”all that is within me”—and the challenge to himself at the end of verse two—”forget not all of His benefits,”—because it’s easy for us to forget what God has done. It’s easy for us to just think that it’s something that we’ve done, or that we’re just too busy to think about it, so we don’t take the time.
But to bless the Lord, as I said earlier, is to talk about His character and who He is and what He has done in our lives. It’s blessing His holy name, which means we need to take time to meditate, reflect upon the uniqueness of God and His attributes. It’s more than simply knowing His name, Yahweh, bless His holy name, His unique name, His unique character. There’s no God like Yahweh. He’s not like any of us; His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is far beyond anything that we can imagine. And so, we need to take time to reflect upon Him.
In Psalm 103:3 and following, he begins to talk about how to do that, and it’s a great pattern here because he talks about all the ways in which God is involved in our lives. Ephesians 5:18 says that we are to be filled by means of the Spirit. Three verses earlier in Ephesians 5:15 Paul says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.” What he means is walk intentionally, walk in a planned conscientious manner; live out your lives according to an order of events. Think about your lives and ordering them in terms of divine priorities, “not as fools, but as wise.” What makes a person wise? Wisdom is the person who fears the Lord. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of—wisdom and—knowledge.”
Then he says with the participle which describes walking intentionally, in Ephesians 5:16, “redeeming the time.” In other words, we needed to recognize that in a 24-hour period—hopefully you’re getting seven or eight hours of sleep—and so that means that you have about 16 or 17 hours a day—you have to spend a certain amount of time at work, a certain amount of time on the road, a certain amount of time just sort of in a mind-numbed phase going and making coffee and making breakfast and getting dressed or whatever until that caffeine kicks in.
But we have to take part of that time and say, okay I need to have time in my day to think about God, and I need to have time to order that. That is part of my spiritual life. I need to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” If we don’t, we’re going to get to the end of the day and say, I just wasted time spiritually.
We have to take time as David says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” We live in a rush-rush world; we live in a world where most of us have to-do lists that are so long that we won’t get there before a third lifetime if God gave it to us.
But, that’s not what will honor God. We need to buy back that time; we need to think about having time where we’re still and we’re quiet.
I read something some years ago that in one day, the average American makes more decisions than a French peasant made in his whole life—think about that. In one day, we make more decisions than the average citizen made in probably a day or two or three. Think about all the decisions that somebody like Benjamin Franklin or George Washington made. We make more decisions than that probably in two or three years because we have so many options, so many things go on around us. It is so hectic. There’s just this rush, rush, rush, and we often let the schedule control us rather than ordering the schedule with our spiritual life at the very center.
The psalmist says in Psalm 103:3, as he focuses on God, “Who forgives all your iniquities”—that’s first because it’s at the heart of everything. God forgives us—Who heals all your diseases—the word “healing” in Scripture focuses not just on physical healing, but also on spiritual healing—Isaiah 53:5, “And by His stripes, we are healed.” It’s healing from the spiritual death of sin and also the consequences of sin.
Psalm 103:4, “Who redeems your life from destruction,—He keeps us from reaping the consequences of many of our bad decisions—Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” This is often the object of praise to God—on His chesed love, His faithfulness to us and His mercy, His compassion and grace in action. Psalm 103:5, “Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” God gives us many, many good things.
Then we go on looking at the rest of it. He says in Psalm 103:6, “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Notice how so many of God’s characteristics are part of this. Psalm 103:8, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” What does that mean, to abound in mercy?
Look at Psalm 103:10: “He has not dealt with us according to our sins.” How many of us are grateful that God does not deal with us according to our sins? You don’t raise your hand; we’re all that way. He doesn’t deal with us according to our sins. If God dealt with us according to what we deserve, we would all be in the Lake of Fire by now, every one of us.
Psalm 103:10–11, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.” What a contrast. He is so good to us.
Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” These thoughts take us back to that first statement that He is the One who forgives all of our iniquities. How does He do it? He removes it from us as far as the east is from the west. And Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
That’s what it means to praise God: To think about who He is and what He has provided for us now.
In summary, in light of what we’re going to see coming up with our Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner just four quick summations:
First of all, Thanksgiving should be directed toward God; praise is directed toward the congregation. We thank God for what He’s done, but when we talk to others, we are expanding God’s reputation by talking about who He is, what He has done and what He’s provided for us. Praise is directed toward the congregation.
Second, the focus is on God, it’s theocentric. As I said earlier, focus is on His provision, on His character, thinking about all the ways He has provided for us.
Third, the ultimate purpose in praise is to teach others, to encourage others with what God has done for us, and that He can do the same thing and will do the same kind of thing for each of us.
And just a reminder, it’s not about talking about us; it’s not about me and my problems; it’s not about detailing any of those things. If we detail anything, it’s the attributes of God and what He’s done. So, think about these. It shouldn’t take long, just a short paragraph, just something to say to reflect upon how God has been good to you in the last year and what you have learned about His faithfulness, His goodness, His love, His power, and in many different ways. This is a way to encourage the congregation and to fulfill a biblical responsibility to praise God among the people.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to reflect upon praise, what we can learn from the psalms as You teach us what it means to brag about You, to boast in You, to glorify Your essence, Your attributes, Your involvement, Your intercession, and intervention in our lives.
“Father we recognize that we are but dust, and we are frail, and we’re so thankful that You do not visit our sins upon us and that You treat us with so much mercy and so much grace.
“And Father, we pray that we might be enriched by our understanding of how You work in the lives of others in this congregation because of Your Word in our lives, and we pray this in Christ name. Amen.”