#40) Meditations of Psalm 115
(delivered on 30MAR2014)
(Read Psalm 115)
Not to us. We live in a world that screams, "US!" Whether it be our job success, latest toys, or life experiences, the world says to always look out for #1. The sheer number of lawsuits in the headlines proves this. We live in a world of self-entitlement where we expect to be treated the same, if not better, than everybody else. If we do something well, we want our praise. If we mess up, we want to be thanked for at least trying and giving it our best shot. To us be the praises. To us be thanks. To us be the glory!
Yet, Psalm 115 opens up with a distinctly different wording. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory. This is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;
God's glory is not to be shared with anyone. It belongs to Him alone.
“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act;
For how can My name be profaned?
And My glory I will not give to another.
From a very early age, we're taught to share with others. Yet, God is not some child being taught how to interact with other children. God is the Creator of the universe. Colossians 1:16 says all things were created by Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 115:15 states the same.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits on His holy throne.
How can we expect our Ruler to share His glory? How can we expect anything from God at all? Are we worthy enough to lay claim to even the smallest inheritance? What does Romans 3:23 say? Does it say that all have sinned but still deserve credit for their efforts? No! It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! God owes us nothing. We have zero right to claim what is not ours. By nature, we are fallen beings who deserve nothing more than death and eternal damnation. We deserve outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our God is in the heavens. He sits on His holy throne and rules over all of creation forever and ever. If all glory belongs to the Lord, it stands to reason that anything we might boast of is actually us attempting to rob God. Instead of giving honor and praise to the King, it is our attempt to play thief to the very One who gave us life. How arrogant can we be?!?!?! Yet, this is exactly what we see in verse 2. We see men taunting, "Where, now, is their God?" We can see the same in Psalm 42:10.
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Can such behavior and attitude really be excused by a holy and righteous God? Can a man go so far as to mock God and get away with it?
Then my enemy will see,
And shame will cover her who said to me,
“Where is the LORD your God?”
My eyes will look on her;
At that time she will be trampled down
Like mire of the streets.
If we plan to go before God with such great audacity, be prepared to pay the price. Such a man may see death sooner rather than later.
“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—
The question that begs to be asked is, "Is this really fair?" Would a loving God really care if we mess up? Won't He forgive somebody in His love so long as that person tries to be good? After all, if we have already fallen short of the glory of God, shouldn't such behavior be expected? To this I respond with questions of my own. Is it fair that we take God for granted in times of peace? Is it fair that we neglect to thank the very One who blesses us day after day? Even more so, is it fair that the Father would send His Son to die a brutal death on the cross so that guilty men could be reconciled to Him to spend eternity basking in God's glory in heaven? No, fairness is hardly the question at all. Verse 3 very plainly states that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
The sovereignty of God is as much a part of His glory as any of His other attributes. God doesn't need to consult man before acting.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
In His sovereignty, He created the angels, even those who fell. In His sovereignty, He created man and even decreed the Fall. In His sovereignty, He ordained to send His Son in a beautiful plan of redemption. Christ was no mere afterthought. Every last detail of life is because of God's sovereign rule from the throne. In a sermon on Matthew 20:15, Charles Spurgeon stated:
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God's Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation -- the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands -- the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne.
Arthur W. Pink said that:
Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things "after the counsel of His own will".
It is not in spite of all of this truth that we give God glory but BECAUSE of it. (read Psalm 115:1) While God is righteous, holy, just, jealous, and wrathful, He is also love. It is because of God's goodness, faithfulness, and truth that we proclaim His name to the masses and declare of His goodness. Our God is so vastly different than any other god (lowercase g). He is true. He is all knowing. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is unchanging. He is holy. He is patient. He is good. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is faithful. He is loving. But most of all, He is alive.
(read Psalm 115:4-7)
In those verses, we see a clear distinction between our God and the idols worshiped by the world. There could've been any number of ways in which to describe the idols but we see a very specific description being used. Ears that do not hear. Noses that do not smell. Hands that do not feel. Feet that cannot walk. Throats that remain silent. Imagine how insulting this would've been to the one who worshiped such an idol. After all, we don't take too kindly when we hear people blaspheming our God. Honestly, I can fully understand how one would be insulted. That being said, I care more about not insulting God than insulting man. The Scripture is plain. I love the passage in 1 Kings 18 where we see the prophet Elijah challenging the worshipers of Baal. In verses 25-29, it says:
1 Kings 18:25-29
So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.
The ESV actually translates verse 27 as "Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself..." When we look at this, we see some serious smack talk. While Elijah meant all of it as a taunt, to those worshiping Baal, it wouldn't have been too far off from a very real possibility. In some ancient texts, Baal was known as one who would travel and fight wars. He was even reported as dying and coming back to life, hence the need to be awakened. Chances are, Elijah's taunts would've gone right over their heads. Nevertheless, he mocked them with a purpose. He mocked them to show that there was no voice and no god to pay attention to them. Yet, they continued to plea for their god to answer them. They leapt around and began cutting themselves in an attempt to get Baal to answer. What happened next is amazing!
1 Kings 18:30-39
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.”
God answered Elijah upon his first request. Not only did God accomplish what Baal could not but He accomplished even more, whereas the Baal worshipers simply had to get him to consume the meat, Elijah had them completely drench the sacrifice in water before it was his turn. No, our God is far more powerful than a little water.
Romans 1:21-23 says:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Mankind made idols in every fashion you could think of including images of other men. I'm reminded of when I lived in Japan. In Kamakura, there was a giant statue of Buddha. Further down the street, there was a temple with a golden Buddha. As you walked through the gardens, you could see little statues that were dressed in various articles of clothing. These statues represented the lost children of the individual worshipers. They would go and dress these statues in winter to keep them warm. It was sad on many different levels. I remember another temple where people were fighting to get close to the Buddha idol. They wanted to drop their money into the giant box in front of the statue. You had people in the back who were literally throwing money to the front hoping to be able to give to the idol. As I looked upon the Buddha statues, you could see they came in a variety of forms ranging from a peaceful chubby guy to a fiery warrior to a demon. However, they all had one thing in common: they were all depicting a man. They had reduced God to nothing more than an image of a man. We see verse 4 of our text tells us that all who make them become like them. What does this mean? The idol is empty. It's useless. It has no voice. It's dead. All who worship idols become just like them. Idols may be made in the image of whatever form man concocts but man is ultimately just as dead as the idol they create. They have eyes but cannot see God. They have ears but cannot hear the gospel of Christ. They have noses but cannot smell the fragrant aroma of Christ's sacrifice. They have hands that will never be cleansed. They have feet but do not run after God. They have throats but do not praise God. Then again, verse 17 of our text tells us as much (read Psalm 115:17).
Many Christians read through these texts and wonder how a man could worship something he made with his own hands. The Scriptures address this same concern.
Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”
It almost sounds silly, doesn't it? Yet we see this taking place all the time. It may not look like what that passage is depicting but we see idolatry all the time in the form of worshiping celebrities. It may be in the form of wealth. Perhaps it looks like a desire to be in control of all things at all times. Yes, idols exist today and they are just as dead and powerless as they were back then. Why then do we fall before them time and time again?
“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
‘I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no God besides Me.
‘Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it;
Yes, let him recount it to Me in order,
From the time that I established the ancient nation.
And let them declare to them the things that are coming
And the events that are going to take place.
‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid;
Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it?
And you are My witnesses.
Is there any God besides Me,
Or is there any other Rock?
I know of none.’”
I ask again, why do we repeatedly turn to the vices of this fleeting world? Ask yourself if there is anything you place before God. Ask if there is anything you maybe run to with more excitement that you get at the thought of being able to come before the very presence of God in worship. I'm not saying it's wrong to enjoy other things. I'm not saying you have to move into one of the rooms at the church to ensure you never miss a meeting, service, or opportunity. In fact, it's very possible to be doing everything the "textbook Christian" should be doing and still be wrong. A couple weeks ago, the pastor covered Philippians 1:9-11. It says:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
I've seen people who appear to be as Godly as they come and it turned out to be the case. I've also seen people who turned out to be cleverly disguised. Though it appeared both were giving glory to God, one was just a wolf out to seek his own glory and attempting to lure as many Christians away as he could. True knowledge. Discernment. Increased love. Approving of excellent things. Being sincere and blameless. Having the fruit of righteousness. This declares how the Christian should live. That being said, I would urge such a person to constantly check themselves as it's easy to become haughty and prideful. However, as the passage says, it all has a purpose. It's meant to bring all glory and praise to God. When those feelings of pride may begin to sneak in, I've found Roman 9:22-26 helps snap things back into perspective.
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea,
“I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’
AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’”
“AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’
THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”
As I began before, I'm simply asking you to quietly ponder if there is anything that excites you more than the opportunity to worship with other believers in the presence of God. There is only one God and He is alive! He has called us out of darkness and into the Light. He has removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. He has given us sight to see. He has given us ears to hear. He hears our prayers and answers them in the form of His grace. He preserves our hearts and keeps us in Him when we would so easily drift away otherwise. He planned, orchestrated, and carried out His redemptive story in Christ. He has saved us from eternity past, continues to save us from ourselves as we follow in obedience, and will one day save us from all forms of suffering and sorrow. Our God is alive and is worthy of our praise. Not to us, not to us, but to His name give glory! The Reformers held to a Latin phrase as should we all: "Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone!" Let us be as the psalmist as we say:
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.