Monday, January 25, 2010

Splendor & Amazing Deeds

Tell the nations about His splendor! Tell all the nations about His amazing deeds! – Psalm 96:3 (NET)

Why? “For the Lord is great and certainly worthy of praise; He is more awesome than all gods” (96:4). Along those same lines, the Psalmist goes on to write, “For all the gods of the nations are worthless” (96:5a). What gods were those? Well, the history of religions throughout the world shows us the answer, as we see men worshiping the moon, the sun, the stars, the planets, comets and even the sky itself, ascribing divine powers and attributes, mythologies and legends, to such things. Men looked to the heavens and imagined that the things that filled their view, and even the things that filled the sky, such as lightning and thunder and even the rain itself in some cases, were there to be worshiped. In that light, we hear the Psalmist saying, “but the Lord made the sky” (96:5b). We can hear the writer mocking such ideas, and saying, “You think thunder and lightning is impressive? You think that the sun and moon are to be worshiped because of the light that they give?” His rejoinder to that is “Majestic splendor emanates from Him” (96:6a).

As we move through this Psalm, we must recognize the underlying emphasis on the covenant. The covenant, of course, was for God’s chosen people---the ones that would have this Psalm as part of their Holy writ---to be a blessing to all peoples. The telling of His splendor and the telling of His amazing deeds was partly for the purpose of dragging men away from the idolatrous worship of the creation, rather than the worship of the Creator, and to re-direct them from the ongoing self-subjugation of divine image-bearers that is evil’s distortion of God’s good, created order.

From the moment that God laid hands upon Abraham and set Him apart for His covenant purposes, God intended the message of His faithfulness to be shed abroad to all the peoples of the world. We can see that in God’s strategic positioning of Abraham, in the land of Canaan, that would enable him to interact with the peoples of the world. Abraham’s message was to be the testimony of the promises of His faithful God. Unfortunately, as time progressed, this message became isolated. This message became restricted. God’s people, those that were to be light-bearers for the purpose of the increase of God’s glory, became cities on a hill that were actually hidden, and candles that had been lit and actually placed under a basket. This happened in spite of their possession and memorization and recitation of Psalms such as this one, in which God’s all-nations plan and intention is clearly set forth.

We see it in the first verse, which exclaims to “Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (96:1b). Why was all the earth to sing? Why should the earth, the nations, do so? This was to occur because Israel would tell of what their God had done for them, in demonstration of His strength, His power, and His worthiness to receive praise. They were to “Announce every day how He delivers! (96:2b) Talk of deliverance must, of necessity, be connected to exile, subjection, imprisonment, and enslavement. It is Exodus language. Through telling their story of their deliverance from Egypt, God was to be glorified. This was to be a major component of their praises. For Israel, what could be more splendid and amazing than what He had performed for them in fulfilling His promise to rescue His people from Egypt? Because of the celebration of Passover, this story would always be fresh in their memories and ready to be told.

We can see what God intended for this world when we read, “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the nations, ascribe to the Lord splendor and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the splendor He deserves!” (96:7-8a). This could only take place if God’s people are telling “the nations about His splendor,” and informing “all the nations about His amazing deeds” (96:3). Unfortunately, just like Israel, who turned inward upon themselves and were more concerned about their place and their land and their blessings, God’s people still turn inward, becoming focused on themselves and make personal, individualistic spiritual experiences the end of the Gospel.

When the message becomes what we need to do or be or avoid in order to be good and holy people, then it is nearly impossible to tell about His splendor and His amazing deeds. If such is not happening, then people of God’s choosing that are waiting to hear the Gospel, will never come to the point at which they are able to do anything that remotely resembles the ascribing to the Lord that is the evidence that they have become people of His covenant, sharing in eternal life, as they “bring an offering and enter His courts!” (96:8b) In the telling of His splendor and deeds, all the earth would “Tremble before Him” (96:9b). It is only as we proclaim “The Lord reigns!” (96:10b), will it be confessed that “The Lord reigns!” The question presents itself at all times: are we announcing our God and telling about Him and therefore doing that which generates and brings Him praise and allegiance? Or do we go on speaking of ourselves?

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