Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “praise

Continual Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a North American holiday celebrated in November. It’s a day of feasting, family and football that began as a day of giving thanks for a successful harvest. The Thanksgiving meal often includes seasonal dishes such as roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

The healing of Namaan in 2 Kings 5 is an example of thanksgiving in the Bible. Namaan was a commander in the Syrian army who was healed of an incurable skin disease like leprosy when he followed instructions given by the prophet Elisha. It’s an illustration of the gospel (good news about Jesus). The disease is like sin (our main problem). The healing is like having one’s sin forgiven and peace with God. Namaan received God’s blessing even though he was a Gentile and not an Israelite. He changed from being an enemy of Israel to worshipping their God. The good news about Jesus is that sinners can have their sins forgiven and live forever with God.

It’s interesting to see Namaan’s response to being healed. The Bible says,
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God [Elisha]. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant” (2 Sam. 5:15NIV)

Namaan acknowledged the one true God. And offered Elisha a gift that he refuses. Elisha didn’t want to accept payment for what God had done. Also, it illustrates that salvation is free. Then Namaan asked for some soil from Israel that he could take back to Syria to use when he sacrificed to the God of Israel. In ancient times each nation had their own gods and maybe it was thought that a deity could be worshipped only on the soil of the nation to which it was bound. Or maybe the soil was used to make an earthen altar as the Israelites were commanded (Ex. 20:24). Anyhow, it showed his allegiance to the God of Israel.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. He offered thanks and praise to the God who delivered him from a major problem. Namaan was grateful and thankful. Do we as believers regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

There are other examples in the New Testament of Gentiles (non-Jews) praising God. When Jesus healed ten lepers, one returned “praising God on a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15-16). He was a Samaritan. And Cornelius and his family praised God after they believed in Peter’s message about the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 10:34-46).

Like Namaan’s sacrifices to the God of Israel, believers are to offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for them through Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us [believers] continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips [words] that openly profess His name” (Heb. 13:15). And believers are to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:18). Do we praise God regularly, or only occasionally? It’s a personal sacrifice to praise God in difficult times. Paul and Silas praised God when they were imprisoned (Acts 16:23-25). Their praise wasn’t limited by their circumstances. Do we praise God when we don’t feel like praising Him?

Believers are commanded to praise God “continually”, “always”, “for everything” and “in all circumstances”. Not just once a year.  Have we praised God today?

Written, July 2019

Also see: A major problem


Who should praise God?

Psalm 148

In the Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, “heaven and nature sing” at the coming of the King (Jesus Christ). But how can nature sing?

The final five psalms in the book of psalms (146-150) have a theme of praise. Each of them begin and end with “Praise the Lord”. In this post on Psalm 148 we see that all creation (nature) praises God.

Psalm 148 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 148 says,

 “1 Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights above.
Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His heavenly hosts [angels].
Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you shining stars.
Praise Him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies [clouds].

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for at His command they were created,
and He established them for ever and ever—
He issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do His bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for His name alone is exalted;
His splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.

Praise the Lord.”

The psalm is framed with “Praise the Lord”, which is like a refrain (chorus). The key words in the psalm are “praise” (13 times) and “all” (10 times). It’s an inclusive song of praise as it includes everyone.

The key feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. The first section gives examples of praise “from the heavens” (v.1-4). While another section gives examples of praise “from the earth” (v.7-12). These verses say who is praising God.

The other verses (v.5-6, 13-14) give the reasons for the praising. Who are they praising? The Lord who created everything at His command (Ps. 148:5).

Context

The psalm was probably written when there was a king in Judah (Appendix). It seems to be a time when the Israelites were a distinct nation and not in disarray. It’s written to Jews who were probably living in Judah.

Praise from the heavens – v.1-4

The heavens are described as “the heights above” the earth. From this section we see that the psalmist uses the term “heaven” to describe the atmosphere, the universe, and the abode of angels. This is consistent with the rest of scripture.

Who is praising God from the heavens? The angels (v.2). The universe of the sun, moon and stars (probably including the planets) (v.3). And the clouds (v.4).

Angels are God’s invisible agents. They praised God at Christ’s birth (Lk. 2:13-14). They continually praise God’s holiness and eternity (Rev. 4:6-8). And after they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb [Christ], who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:11-12).

The universe of sun, moon and stars can praise God because He made it immensely huge to demonstrate His massive power. From the Bible we know that the cosmic world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of the big-bang. God “stretched it out” when He created it. So it was created to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive.

Praise from the earth – v.7-12

In ancient times, the other part of the universe was called the “earth” or the “land” – either English translation of the Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) is appropriate depending on the context. In this passage it includes the ocean, the atmosphere, the landscape, vegetation, animals and people. It seems  unusual to include the atmosphere as part of the earth as elsewhere in the Bible, the sky (atmosphere) is included as part of the heavens. But of course events in the atmosphere can have a significant impact on the earth and its inhabitants.

Who is praising God from the earth? The marine life and the ocean depths (v.7), lightning, hail, clouds, and strong winds (v.8), mountains, hills and trees (v.9), animals (v.10), rulers (v.11), and people (v.12).

The landscape can praise God because He sculpted it during the flood in Noah’s day, rearranging the surface of the earth by laying down thick layers of sedimentary rock, and then displacing, distorting and eroding them by lifting up parts to form mountains and causing other parts to descend to form the floor of oceans. And there was also horizon movement that formed continents (continental drift). Then volcanoes formed more mountains. After this, ice carved out glaciers in the ice age.

The atmosphere of clouds and storms can praise God because in the beginning He made the gases that comprise it. And He made the laws that govern it’s motion across the earth (the winds) and the laws that control the water cycle (clouds, lighting, hail, and snow).

The plants, animals and ecosystems of the earth can praise God because He created them to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive. From the Bible we know that the biological world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of evolution.

Together the heavens and the earth describe everything in the universe. Every created thing is invited to praise the Lord. Nature is to praise God.

A person went to a restaurant. They sat down and admired the décor, including the lighting and the paintings on the wall. They were pleased with the table settings; the delicious smell of the food; the well-dressed waiters; and how efficiently the restaurant was being run. But they didn’t have a meal, which is the main reason to visit the restaurant! Many enjoy the décor of the universe, but they don’t enjoy the God who made it. Our purpose is to offer thanks and praise to God (v.11-12). To miss out on this it to miss everything.

Why praise God? – v.5-6, 13-14

There is praise from the heavens because God created them (v.5) and their existence is secure (v.6). Verse 6 probably refers to the boundaries or limits God placed on all creation. The laws of nature are constant and reliable. (God’s moral laws are also constant and reliable.) It’s predictable (rather than chaotic) and science is possible.

There is praise from the earth because God’s splendor is above the splendor of the universe (v.13). He is greater than His creation. He is unique. And God is praised because “He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?]”. This figure of speech can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a king (Appendix). It also shows God’s saving power (He saved faithful Israelites) and could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ.

Personification

Personification is a figure of speech in which a non-human thing is given human attributes.

In this psalm animals (great sea creatures, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds), topographical features (ocean depths, mountains, hills), meteorological parameters (clouds, lightning, hail, snow, stormy winds), celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars), and trees (fruit trees, cedars) praise God. This is an example of personification that covers all the main spheres of God’s creation. Of course, angels and people also praise God (v.2, 12).

Personification of nature occurs in 15 psalms (19, 50, 65, 66, 69, 76, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 121, 145, 148, and 150). This includes four nature psalms (19, 65, 104, and 148). Two other nature psalms don’t have personification (8, 29).

The Bible says that the heavens (sun, moon and stars) show God’s glory to us by fulfilling their God-given roles (Ps. 19:1-4a). Extending this principle to the rest of creation – each part of God’s creation shows God’s glory to us by fulfilling its God-given role (Job 26:14). By their order, complexity (intricacy), fine-tuning, power and splendor, each part of creation (nature) alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

When will they praise?

Obviously not all nations and peoples praised God when this psalm was written. And not all nations and peoples praise God today. Maybe this psalm looks ahead to Christ’s return to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Certainly in a coming day everyone will praise the Lord when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

Meanwhile, all creation praises God by being what He’s made them to be. Similarly we can praise God by being who He’s made us to be, where He’s put us and by doing what He’s given us to do.

Discussion

What has changed since Psalm 148 was written? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God.

And at the end of the psalm it alludes to God’s care for His people (v.14). At that time it was Hebrews living in the kingdom of Israel or Judea. Today it’s salvation of believers through Jesus Christ.

But in future God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11). And at the end of time, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” will praise God (Rev. 5:13).

Why not join the rest of creation and choose to praise God while you can? Don’t be shown-up by the rest of creation!

What else can we learn from Psalm 148? The folly of worshipping nature instead of the true God by attributing creative powers to nature. That’s worshipping creatures instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The psalmist says that nature praises and worships God! So we should do likewise (v.11-12).

Conclusion

In Psalm 148 everything in the cosmic world, the atmospheric world, the oceanographic world, the topographic world, and the biological world praises God. This means that all creation praises the Creator. They can do this by expressing their order, complexity, fine-tuning, power and splendor, which alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

Let’s do this voluntarily now before it’s compelling.

Appendix: What does “horn” mean in Psalm 148:14?

The Hebrew word qeren (Strongs #7161) is translated “horn”. It occurs 13 times in the book of Psalms. The 12 occurrences of this word outside Psalm 148 mean:
– the physical horns of the altar (118:27)
– A symbol of a Davidic king (132:17)
– A symbol of strength (18:2; 22:21; 75:4, 5, 10twice; 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9). In ancient times the horn of the wild ox was frequently a metaphor for military strength. If an ox is charging, you want to stay away from its horns!

Psalm 148:14 says, “And He [God] has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.” (NIV)

In this context, “horn” couldn’t mean the horns of the altar.

Could “horn” symbolize a Davidic king? Yes, because the horn is established by God as in 132:17.

Could “horn” symbolize strength? Yes, because the NIV text note says, “Horn here symbolizes strength”. And the NET translation notes say:
Hebrew: “and He lifted up a horn for His people.” The horn of an ox underlies the metaphor (see Dt. 33:17; 1 Ki. 22:11; Ps. 92:10). The horn of the wild ox is frequently a metaphor for military strength; the idiom “exalt/lift up the horn” signifies military victory (see 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 75:10; 89:17, 24; 92:10; Lam. 2:17). Another option is to take the “horn” as a symbol for the Davidic king, through whom the Lord gives His people military victory.

And the NET version of Psalm 148:14 is:
“He has made His people victorious,
and given all His loyal followers reason to praise – the Israelites, the people who are close to Him.”

So “horn” can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a monarch. In each case, God was protecting the nation of Israel. As the Jews were weak after going into exile in 586BC, this implies that this psalm was probably written before this date. So I disagree with the academic view that Psalm 148 is postexilic because of its location near the end of the book of Psalms.

This figure of speech also shows God’s saving power for His people – He provided leadership and strength to the nation of Israel. And, with hindsight, it could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ, a descendant of king David (Lk. 1:69). Today God’s saving power is shown when someone is forgiven from their sin, rebellion and indifference toward God by trusting in what Jesus has done for them. They then have a special relationship with God.

Written, June 2019


Three reasons to praise God

Psalm 65

Telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is worse than saying nothing at all. Other blunders are to offer praise for something that’s unimportant and praising the wrong person. These are all wrong reasons to praise someone.

When do you praise of God? What reminds you of Him? When David was the king of Israel in about 1,000BC, the nation depended on agricultural production for food and many resources. So David praised God for lush pastures, flocks of sheep and bountiful harvests.

In this post we see that David had three main reasons to praise God. But did you know that these reasons have now been superseded?

Psalm 65 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 65 says,

1 Praise awaits you, our [Israel’s] God, in Zion [Jerusalem];
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

You answer us [Israel] with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth [or land]
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth [or land] is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

The psalm begins with God being praised and ends with creation (nature) being joyful. In fact, the songs of joy are widespread – extending from the east to the west (v.8).

The key words in the psalm are “you” (14 times) and “your” (7 times). It’s all about God.

Context

This harvest song may have been sung during a harvest festival like the Festival of Tabernacles. It gives three main reasons to praise God, which can all be related to a harvest. The Israelites are gathered near the tabernacle or the temple (v.1, 4). All the men of Israel were to attend three festivals a year in Jerusalem (Ex. 23:17; Dt. 16:16-17).

What about us? When do we gather together to praise God corporately with other Christians?

The three reasons for the Israelites to praise God are.

God answers prayer – v.1-4

David says that God answers prayer (v.2, 5). But what did they pray for? Maybe for a good harvest (v.9-13). And for forgiveness of their sins (v.3).

What about us? Do we have confidence that God will answer our prayers when they are in accordance with His will?

God’s power over creation – v.5-8

David acknowledges God’s role in forming the large-scale landscape of the earth. Mountains are massive examples of God’s power. As most of these mountains are composed of sedimentary rock, they were uplifted by huge tectonic forces in the recessive stage of Noah’s flood. Then the huge volume of flood runoff sculpted the earth’s topography.

The evidence of mountain ranges and large-scale erosion is visible across the globe. Last month I visited central Australia where the mountains are mainly comprised of sedimentary rock layers that have been severely deformed and eroded.

What about us? Do we recognize God’s power, strength and wisdom in designing and creating the universe? Or do we say it made itself via a big bang and evolution?

God’s care of creation – v.9-13

David says that at this time the earth was well-watered (v.9-10) and they had good harvests (9-13). He calls this an act of God. So God didn’t create the world at the beginning of time and then leave it to its own devices. Instead He continued to sustain it.

What about us? Do we thank God when we experience the benefits of a harvest? Do we thank Him for the food we eat (Mt. 15:36; Acts 27:35)?

Discussion

Israel didn’t always have bountiful harvests like those described in Psalm 65. For example, when they followed false prophets and idols instead of the true God the harvest was feeble because of drought and famine (Jer. 23:9-15). This punishment for disobedience was promised in the law given to Moses (Dt. 28:22-24).

What has changed since David wrote Psalm 65? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God. Now they can praise God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit because of all they have done (Eph. 1:3-14). And they can praise God because of His mercy in sending Jesus to be their Savior (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They can praise God because eternal life through Jesus is secure (Heb. 12:28). And believers can praise God for the “living hope”, an eternal inheritance in heaven, they have through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pt. 1:3-7). So the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16).

Christ’s sacrificial vicarious death is the main reason for praise in heaven (Rev. 5:6-12). And at the end of time, everyone will praise Jesus for being “obedient to death” (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:5-11). But God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11).

Conclusion

The Israelites praised God for three main reasons – because He answered their prayers, because His power was shown in the universe He created, and because His care was shown in how He continued to sustain them and the creation. And today God answers a believer’s prayer, and is still a great Creator (Rom. 1:20) and a great Sustainer of creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). So we can still praise God for these same reasons.

But the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). And this will also be the main reason to praise God at the end of time and in eternity.

Written, June 2019


When to praise God

Emotions are a powerful part of our lives. But do we control our emotions or do our emotions control us? For example, do we only praise God when we feel like it?

Job was a wealthy man with a large family who lived before the time of Moses. One day four separate disasters wiped out all his possessions and children. His oxen, donkeys and camels were stolen and his sheep were killed by lightning. This was a total loss because there was no insurance in those days. And his children died when a house collapsed on them in a severe storm.

How did Job respond to these calamities? He would have been devastated and stricken with grief and loss. Did he stop trusting in God in such trying circumstances?

The Bible says, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-22NIV).

Job mourned for those who died. He expressed his grief. But he didn’t follow his feelings. He didn’t rebel against God in anger, give up on God, grumble and complain, or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he fell to the ground and praised and worshipped God. Job still trusted God in difficult times (Job 2:10). The Hebrew word shachah (Strongs #7812) translated “worship” means to bow down in homage. Although he was tested and tempted to respond emotionally, Job choose to keep praising and worshiping God. God was more valuable to him than family and possessions.

Then He recognized that God controlled his life; including the good (his previous prosperity) and the bad (his loss of possessions and children). Indeed the book of Job shows us that God rules Satan. There are no accidents or surprises (to God) in His universe. So Job praises God instead of blaming or rejecting Him. He doesn’t sin by accusing God of wrongdoing.

The Bible says that trials are inevitable in our lives, but they have the benefit of producing Christian character, perseverance and endurance (Jas. 1:2-12). Paul shows that acceptance is the godly response to trials – “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you” ( 2 Cor. 12:9).

How do our circumstances and feelings affect our Christian life? Do we only read the Bible, pray, and go to church when it is convenient or when we feel like it? What will we decide to do? How will we choose to spend our time? Let’s keep reading the Bible, praying, and going to church regularly whatever our circumstances and feelings.

When we remember “that in all things [good and bad] God works for the good of those who love Him [believers]” (Rom. 8:28) and that nothing can separate believers from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39), we can praise and worship God in all circumstances and situations.

Written, May 2019


Awesome power

Psalm 29

Hurricanes bring strong winds, heavy rains, floods, storm surges and even tornadoes (Appendix A). Hurricane Michael which struck the coast of Florida in October 2018 was the third-strongest hurricane in continental U.S. history. It’s landfall pressure was 919mb, which was slightly stronger than the 920mb of Hurricane Katrina that flooded New Orleans in August 2005. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest tropical cyclone season on record with a damage total of at least $US300 billion and over 3,300 estimated deaths.

When do you think of God? What reminds you of Him? A thunderstorm reminded David of God’s awesome power.

Psalm 29 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 29 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings [angels],
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters [Mediterranean Sea];
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion [Mount Hermon] like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh [near the Orontes River in Syria].
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks (Appendix B)
and strips the forests bare.
And in His temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to His people;
the Lord blesses His people with peace.

The Psalm has three sections:
– Introduction, which is a call to praise the Lord  (v.1-2)
– God’s awesome power is like a mighty storm (v.3-9)
– Conclusion, that God gives His people strength and peace in the storms of life  (v.10-11).

It’s a Jewish poem that was sung. The key-word in the psalm is “the Lord”, which occurs 18 times. And there is repetition and parallelism.
Repetition: In v.4 “the voice of the Lord” is repeated.
Parallelism: In v.4 there is parallelism between “powerful” and “majestic”. Both describe the voice of the Lord, and the second word adds to the first.

Call to praise

The song begins with a call to praise where angels are urged to praise God because of His glory, strength and holiness. As God’s name represents His character, they also praise God because of His character. This shows that the praise of humans is not sufficient to acknowledge God’s awesome power.

Next, David likens the strength and power of the Lord to a mighty thunderstorm.

God’s awesome power

This section describes the cause (or reason) for the praise. God’s power is depicted in a metaphor as a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm comes from over the Mediterranean Sea and moves across northern Israel (v.3), to the mountains of Lebanon  (v.5-6), until it passes into the Syrian desert (v.8). God’s awesome power is not only visible in creation (nature), it is also audible in thunder. David also wrote, “God thunders with a mighty [powerful] voice” (Ps. 68:33).

“The voice of the Lord” is mentioned seven times, referring to thunder (v.3-4, 8), lightning (v.7), and the strong wind (v.5-6, 9) of the storm. Here God’s presence is depicted in a metaphor and personification as His voice.

Creation (nature) is called God’s temple (v.9).  In view of His awesome power, all creation (nature) shouts His praise (v.9). It’s like in Psalm 150 that says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Ps. 150:6).

Did you know that insurance companies agree with David when they call storms an act of God! Storms are outside our control. We cannot stop them. And we cannot adequately prepare everyone for them. Storms have more power than any human creation. But they are under God’s control. Although we can explain these storms today from a meteorological perspective, they are still under God’s complete control. God is sovereign – everything is under His control.

Strength and peace

God’s great power was shown in the biblical flood, which involved much greater power than a hurricane. The flood’s duration was for a year compared to a few days and it’s extent was global compared to regional. And the flood involved geological and volcanic activity as well as meteorological activity compared to only meteorological activity. That’s why Solomon says that God reigns over all creation (nature).

Finally, the God who has strength (v.1), gives strength to His people (v.11a). And He blesses His people with peace (v.11b). This is comforting to those who feel weak or are going through troubles.

Conclusion

God has awesome power because He controls all the forces of nature. Other demonstrations of God’s power are His creation of the universe, Jesus’ miracles and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s comforting to know that everything is under God’s control.

Appendix A: Hurricanes

Hurricanes are large rotating tropical storms with winds in excess of 120 km/hr (74 mph) that form above the Atlantic Ocean. They are known as typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. For a storm to gain enough energy to develop into a hurricane, the temperature of surface waters needs to rise above 26⁰ C (79⁰ F). Meteorologists classify the strength of a hurricane using the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It consists of five categories, based on wind strength: 1 is the weakest and 5 is strongest, with winds exceeding 250 km/hr (156 mph).

Its center is a cloud-free, relatively calm area called the eye. The eye is surrounded by the much more active eye wall, a ring of thunderstorms where the hurricane’s winds are the strongest and rains are the heaviest. Spiral bands of clouds, rain, and more thunderstorms extend out from the eye wall like a pinwheel on top of a rotating funnel. These rain bands can stretch for hundreds of miles and sometimes contain tornadoes.

Did you know that the winds that blow around these severe tropical storms rotate in a clockwise direction in the southern hemisphere and an anti-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere? This is caused by the rotation of the earth and is called the Coriolis Effect. Because we are within a rotating coordinate system, objects moving long distances appear to deviate towards the left in the southern hemisphere and towards the right in the northern hemisphere. This inertial force is called the Coriolis force. It’s zero at the equator. The magnitude of the Coriolis force is proportional to the speed of the object and the sine of the latitude. This force is a bit like the centrifugal force that you feel in a roller coaster ride when the roller coaster goes sideways or across a hill or valley.

Hurricane winds can uproot trees, and storm surges can carry salt water up inland rivers, harming or killing plants and animals that cannot tolerate salt. High tides can easily wipe out sensitive sea turtle and bird nests along shorelines. Violent wave action kills many fish. Coastal waters that typically nourish seagrass beds—home to crabs and fish—can grow clouded and toxic with sediments and pollutants. The drop in air pressure resulting from a hurricane often disorients manatees (sea cows) and dolphins. On the other hand, sharks can detect the drop and safely head for deeper waters. Whereas some birds detect the pressure shift and escape in advance of storms or safely weather them on the ground, others can be thrown far off course or get trapped in the eye of a hurricane. But some frogs and toads breed more in heavy rainfall; and some plants use the wind to spread their seeds.

Appendix B: Verse 9a

According to the NET Bible this line is, “The Lord’s shout bends the large trees”. The Hebrew version states that it bends “the deer”. “Preserving this reading, some translate the preceding verb, “causes [the deer] to give premature birth” (cf. NEB, NASB). But the Polel of חוּל/חִיל (khul/khil) means “give birth,” not “cause to give birth,” and the statement “the Lord’s shout gives birth to deer” is absurd. In light of the parallelism (note “forests” in the next line) and v. 5, it is preferable to emend אַיָּלוֹת (ʾayyalot, “deer”) to אֵילוֹת (ʾelot, “large trees”) understanding the latter as an alternate form of the usual plural form אַיָּלִים (ʾayyalim).”

Written, April 2019


Responding to external problems

What keeps you awake at night? According to the World Economic Forum, the biggest risks facing our world in 2019 are climate change, natural disasters, large-scale conflicts and cyber attacks. And many people struggle with poverty. David wrote many psalms in the Bible and it seems as though he spent many sleepless nights. One of the biggest problems he faced was that king Saul wanted to kill him. During this time period, David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life. Also, the Philistines were a perennial enemy of Israel and David faced them in battles. The best known of these is his victory over Goliath.

25 of the psalms are prayers by David for God’s help against his enemies. But most of these (84%) end up praising God and with an assurance that God has heard his prayer and will answer it (see Appendix). And only 8% have no praise or assurance. For example, in Psalm 54 David prays for deliverance from enemies (Saul’s supporters) who are trying to kill him (v.1-5NIV). The Ziphites betrayed David by revealing his location to Saul (1 Sam. 23:19-20). So David writes:

Save me (from enemies), O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.
Arrogant foes are attacking me;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
people without regard for God.
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.
Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.

David is in a desperate situation. But he knows that God can help him. So he doesn’t cry out in despair or give up in self-pity. The psalm ends with praise and thanksgiving because he is confident that his prayer has been heard (v. 6-7).

I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.
You have delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

The promise to praise the Lord is written from the perspective that God has already answered the prayer (David has been delivered from his enemies), even if the actual answer has not yet come. The freewill offering is a voluntary expression of thanksgiving.

We all have external things, circumstances or people that can cause us anxiety and worry. Like work, or education, or family, or relationships, or social media, or peer pressure, or even the weather. How do we respond to such external problems? Let’s be like David and not be ruled by our external circumstances. He was a man of prayer and praise. Then our external circumstances won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God.

The psalms were songs the Jews used for corporate worship. Can we block out our external problems from Sunday morning? Today we sang “Here I am to worship”. Are we always here to worship or do these things take us away? Is anything else more important than worshipping God?

Appendix: Psalms by David when he prays for deliverance from enemies

Psalm 3 Deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance when he flees from his son Absalom.
Ends with confidence in God (v.8).

Psalm 5 Morning prayer – for deliverance from enemies
Prays for help from evil enemies.
Ends expecting God’s blessing (v.11-12).

Psalm 7 The cry of the oppressed
A plea for deliverance from a Benjamite who probably supported Saul. And a plea for justice.
Ends in thanksgiving (v.17).

Psalm 12 Protection from the wicked
Prays that the poor and needy will be protected from the wicked.
Ends in assurance (v.7-8).

Psalm 17 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for safety and protection from wicked enemies.
Ends believing he will be vindicated (v.15).

Psalm 18 Praise for deliverance from enemies
Praise after being delivered from Saul and other enemies.
Ends with praise for deliverance (v.46-50).

Psalm 22 Plea for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies and from intense suffering.
Ends with praise for deliverance (v.22-31).

Psalm 27 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with confidence (v.13-14).

Psalm 31 Prayer and praise for deliverance
Prays for deliverance from deep distress because of his enemies.
Ends with praise for deliverance (v.19-24).

Psalm 34 Deliverance
Praise for deliverance from Abimeleck.
Ends with God answering prayers for deliverance (v.15-22).

Psalm 35 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with praise (v.27-28).

Psalm 54 God is my helper
Prays for deliverance from enemies (Saul’s supporters) who are trying to kill him.
Ends with praise and thanksgiving (v. 6-7).

Psalm 55 Cast your cares on the Lord
Prays for deliverance from a betrayer.
Ends with assurance that his prayer has been heard and will be answered (v.22-23).

Psalm 56 God is for me
Prays for deliverance from enemies – when the Philistines seized him at Gath.
Ends in thanksgiving (v,12-13).

Psalm 57 In the shadow of your wings
Prays for deliverance from enemies – when he had fled from Saul into the cave.
Ends with praise (v.7-11).

Psalm 59 The God who goes before us
Prays for deliverance from enemies – when Saul sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.
Ends with praise (v.16-17).

Psalm 60 Prayer for help after suffering defeat
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with confidence in God (v.12).

Psalm 69 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends with praise for restoration (v.34-36).

Psalm 70 Prayer for urgent help
Prays for deliverance from those wanting to kill him.
The second last verse has praise for deliverance (v.4).

Psalm 86 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Praises God in the middle of the psalm (v. 8-10).

Psalm 109 Prayer for judgment of enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Ends in praise (v. 30-31).

Psalm 140 Prayer for deliverance from evil doers
Prays for deliverance from evil doers.
Ends with praise due to his confidence in God (v.12-13).

Psalm 141 Prayer for deliverance from evil doers
Prays for deliverance from evil doers.
Has no praise.

Psalm 142 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Has no praise.

Psalm 144 Prayer for deliverance from enemies
Prays for deliverance from enemies.
Praises God in the middle of the psalm (v. 9-10).

84% (21/25) of these psalms end with confidence in God (praise or joy) and assurance that the prayer will be or has been heard.  8% (2/25) expressed such confidence and assurance in the middle of the psalm. The remaining 8% (2/25) lacked any confidence and assurance.

Posted, January 2019

Also see: Responding to personal problems
Prayer and praise in times of trouble


Responding to personal problems

chemotherapy 3 400pxMy parents in-law are going through tough times with weakness because of chemotherapy and confusion because of dementia. We can all experience such internal problems, which can be physical or mental. After all, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33NIV).

Twelve of the psalms are prayers for God’s help for illness or depression (See Appendix; Ps 6, 13, 16, 30, 38, 41, 42, 43, 71, 88, 102, 116). In these lament psalms the psalmist brings their problems to God. But most of them (83%) end with praise to God. For example, Psalm 13 describes David’s suffering:

1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts [he was depressed]
and day after day have sorrow in my heart [soul, spirit]?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes [restore me], or I will sleep in death [he feared death],
and my enemy [perhaps Saul] will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

He feels as though God is distant, that God has forgotten him, and that God is inactive in not punishing evil. And he suffered the constant humiliation of being on the losing side. But it ends with David’s joy as he anticipates God’s love and deliverance:

5But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for He has been good to me.

He is confident in God’s protection because of his past experience that God has been good to him. He feels assured that the prayer will be or has been heard.

How do we respond to personal problems? Let’s be like David and not be ruled by our personal circumstances. He was a man of prayer and praise who remembered God’s love and God’s deliverance. When we look to God to help us see beyond our troubles, they won’t dominate our perspective. Then our personal  circumstances won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God. And our feelings won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God. So let’s remember God’s love and God’s salvation in all situations.

The Jews had to travel to Jerusalem three times a year for corporate praise and worship (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16-17). We don’t have to travel that far, but the pattern set for corporate praise and worship in the New Testament for the Christian church is weekly. Let’s attend church regularly so we can offer praise and worship to God together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And don’t stay away because of our feelings or personal problems. It’s only through God that we can see these in proper perspective.

Appendix: Twelve Psalms on God’s help for illness or depression

Psalm 6 Double trouble – Illness and enemies
By David.
David was weak and in agony due to illness. He prays for deliverance.
Ends with confidence that his prayer has been heard (v.8-10).

Psalm 13 How long will I suffer?
By David.
David was depressed. He prays for deliverance.
Because he anticipated deliverance, he finishes with an expression of confidence that he will be delivered (v.5-6).

Psalm 16 Trust in God when facing death
By David.
David continues to trust God when facing death.
Finishes with joy (v.9-11).

Psalm 30 A song of healing
By David.
A song for the dedication of the temple. David prays and praises for healing.
Finishes with praise (v.11-12).
“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
    that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (v.11-12)

Psalm 38 Prayer for deliverance from illness and enemies
By David.
David prays for deliverance from serious illness. Has no positive statements.

Psalm 41 Prayer for deliverance from illness
By David.
David prays for deliverance from illness.
Finishes with a doxology (v.13).

Psalm 42 Prayer and praise for the downcast
By the Sons of Korah.
Prays for deliverance from depression.
Ends in praise (v.11b).

Psalm 43 Prayer and praise for the downcast
Author unknown.
Prays for deliverance from depression.
Ends in praise (v.5b).

Psalm 71 Prayer for help in old age
Author unknown.
Prayer for help in old age.
Ends in praise v.22-24).

Psalm 88 Prayer for deliverance from constant suffering
By Ethan
Prayer for deliverance from constant suffering, near death. “Lord, you are the one who saves me” is the only positive statement (v.1).

Psalm 102 The prayer of one dying in the prime of life
Author afflicted and weak.
The prayer of one dying in the prime of life.
Gives reasons to praise the Lord (v. 25-27).

Psalm 116 Praise for deliverance from death
Author unknown.
Prayer for deliverance from death.
Ends in praise (v.12-19).

83% (10/12) of these psalms end with confidence in God (praise or joy) and assurance that the prayer will be or has been heard. The remaining 17% (2/12) lacked any such confidence and assurance.

Written, January 2019

Also see: Responding to external problems
Prayer and praise in times of trouble