Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thoughts on Ps 135 pt 2

So, it’s been a few days since my previous post. I left off noting that the second part of the psalm involves a remembrance of the great deeds of God in the history of the Israelites and how this remembrance is a reliving of for the Israelites. I begin with verse 13:
Here the psalmist goes into a declaration of God’s glory based on His actions that he has just remembered. Consider the depth of his words:
Your name, O LORD (or Yahweh,God’s covenant name), endures forever, Your renown, O LORD, throughout all the ages.
“Your name”-this is the sum total of all that God is. This is all of His holiness, righteousness, sovereignty, mercy, love, covenant faithfulness, etc. The placement of this declaration is important. It isn’t made in a vacuum. The psalmist says this after he has spoken and remembered God’s great acts of creation and redemption. This is not, “Well, I feel like God’s name is great and it will endure forever,” or “It seems like God’s name will endure forever.” It is known to last forever because of God’s actions. He has shown Himself to be good and holy and righteous and faithful by His actions. He has shown Himself to be completely consistent with His character.
In this we see that His name endures. It has lasting power. It won’t wear out or break down. God will remain consistent with Himself. he won’t change. His name endures forever. This isn’t just staying power, like a football team having endurance for the entire game. It’s not endurance like the universe. It’s not something that lasts a long time. The Roman empire endured for a long time, nearly a millennium, but it ceased to be. The island of England hasn’t been invaded for almost a millennium; it may go longer. However, God’s name endures forever. God remains steadfast. He won’t change. This is shown in the psalmist’s remembrance of God’s works. He has been consistent. He will remain so forever. This is indeed a comfort for us. God is consistent even though our world changes. his name, His character will endure!
The psalmist also says that Yahweh’s renown is through out all the ages. “Renown” could also be translated as “remembrance.” This is about God’s deeds being remembered and recognized. God has proven and shown Himself to be good and all can see that. One could say, “Your reputation precedes you.” Now, God’s reputation is so great that it will be remembered throughout the ages. This is just another way of saying forever. And yet it is more active in a sense; some translations render the last words from “generation to generation” or “throughout all generations.”
Verse 14 flows out of these two statements about Yahweh. In recalling that God’s character is unchanging the psalmist declares:
For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.
This verse captures the anticipation of worship. Worship draws to look into the future. We are assured by God’s actions in the past and can have hope in the future. God will vindicate His people, He will once more prove Himself faithful. All those who trust in God can hope and look forward to this. This anticipation is grounded in one’s remembrance of God’s past deeds. Without remembrance and recall, we have no ground for a future hope. We have no ground for hope without our contemplation of God’s past deeds. And our remembrance has no focus if it does not lead to an anticipation of the future. For if our remembrance only leaves in the present, we run the risk of thinking our current circumstances are all that there is.
This latter though is something we are especially prone to in our culture. We are so comfortable in our present state; we act like this present state is the goal of our Christian walk. We end up emphasizing only the here and now if we neglect the future hope we really do have.
But, we must see what this vindication is though. It is not our souls being freed from this material world. it isn’t spending eternity in some amorphous spiritual realm. Our vindication is God declaring us free from sin and our bodies being purged and renewed in the likeness of Christ. It is us being glorified and perfected. But it is not only us that his happens to! It is all of creation, the whole physical universe being renewed and glorified, being given a state of perfection that exceeds the Garden of Eden far and above what the Garden exceeds the current state of this world!
Why though is all of this possible? How is it that all of creation can be renewed? It is because of the second Adam, because of Christ’s death and resurrection that this is possible! All who trust in Christ are vindicated because Christ was vindicated! In His death, the sin of the whole world was placed upon Him because it pleased the Father to do so. Christ willingly accepted this even though He didn’t deserve it. And God was so pleased and appeased that He showed forth His satisfaction by raising Christ from the dead. Christ was raised and glorified by the Father and through Christ the Holy Spirit has been given to renew us and to begin to renew all of creation, just as the Father had planned. At the Final Judgment, we, all who have trusted Christ’s work for us, will be vindicated in Christ because sin death and the Devil will be cast into the Lake of Fire and all the cosmos will be renewed. This is the anticipation that worship leads to and needs. The psalmist, of course, did not know all these details, but he certainly could anticipate God’s work even when he wrote this psalm. Why? Because he could recall all of God’s past works of redemption for Israel and see that God would never be inconsistent with Himself. Vindication for God’s people would come and it would be God who would accomplish it!
We can now see why an admonition against idolatry would follow the psalmist’s remembrance and anticipation. This, however, will have to wait for part three. I think that I have written enough to consider for the time being.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thoughts on Psalm 135 pt 1

Recently, I’ve been reading Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Engaging God’s Narrative. The book begins by saying, “Worship does God’s story.” This feels like a weird definition. One expects a definition to include the word “is” in it. However, Webber sees worship as something that is action oriented, a definition that I tend to agree with. Worship is about doing something. What is the something that we do in order to do God’s story? This is done through remembrance and anticipation. We recall God’s great acts of redemption in the past and call one another to hope and look forward to what God is doing as a result of that past redemptive action. This is all done in the present, thus making real the past and the future to the worshipper and making real God’s love for the whole world before the congregation.
Webber goes on to note that worship that really worships will dwell on creation, incarnation, and re-creation. That is, it follows the flow of the Bible. In Scripture, God is recognized as creator. He is the one that made all things that exist. Mankind screwed all of that up by choosing to rebel against God. All of creation was then thrown into a fallen state. God, in His mercy, becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. God the Son enters into creation as a creature! Why would God do something like that? It is because He is going to redeem all of creation! Jesus didn’t just come to save me, He came to redeem the whole world, to fix all that is wrong in it. To do that He had to die for sin and conquer death and the devil. By His resurrection from the dead, He ensures that all of creation will be re-created and glorified. This is the overarching theme of the Bible.
However, in our modern worship, we mess everything up. We truncate worship and make it all about me, myself, and I. We only focus on what God is going to do for me and if it makes me feel good then I respond with worship. But then my worship becomes all about feeling a “liver quiver.” I want to get something out of worship, I want to feel good about myself. This is completely wrong! Worship isn’t about me! It’s about God and showing who God is!
So, how does this all relate to Psalm 135? Go get a Bible and look it up.
The psalm can be broken down into four parts:
1. A call to praise God. vv 1-4
2. A liturgical creed about all that God has and will do. vv 5-14
3. An application of the creed for life. vv16-18
4. A call to praise the God. vv 19-21
The first four verses are pretty self explanatory. They are a call to praise. It is a call for all people, the whole assembly of God, to give Him the praise that He deserves. In verses 3 and 4 we are given two statements that will be expanded up on the verses that follow. God is good and He has chosen Jacob for Himself. These are important verses to remember throughout the rest of the psalm. They tell us about God in shorthand. It is especially important to recognize the psalmist’s use of the name Jacob to speak of the people. Jacob was a cheat who ran from God and his family, yet he was chosen by God to be the father of the sons who would represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Israel has no standing before God for they are just as bad as Jacob. They are cheats and scoundrels, just as he was, yet God has chosen them as His own possession. God owns them. We should keep this in mind when we talk about God. He owns us and we literally have nothing to offer to Him. There is no good in us, nothing that should make God look upon us with love. We really only deserve His derision, yet in Christ he chooses to save us and the whole world! He chooses to take away our sin and do away with it! That is what grace is all about! We can’t do anything except trust that God is good and that He has done this!
The next verses I call a liturgical creed. It’s because they have the format that our most basic creed, the Apostles’ Creed, follows. It declares God as the one who has made everything and what He has done to redeem that creation and what God will do in the end. For the Israelite, recalling something is extremely important. It is absolutely needed in worship. Recalling means remembering something from the past so much so that it makes is present to yourself. Israel did this all the time. The people constantly remembered God’s redeeming them from the hands of Egypt even though it was generations and generations ago. Yet, they were there for their ancestors were the ones redeemed. There is a deep, deep corporate solidarity here; a corporate oneness that we ultra-individualized people of today cannot even begin to grasp (but we must begin to grasp it if our worship is to be full worship).
It begins with a recalling that the LORD is great and that He is above all gods. Because of this he can do all that He pleases throughout all of creation. God can do this because He is the creator of all things! He makes the clouds, the lightning, and the winds!
Next, the psalmist recalls to the people how God brought them out of Egypt by reminding them of the climax of the plagues that led the Pharaoh to drive them out! He also recalls the many victories of the Israelites during their time in the wilderness and their coming into the land of Canaan as their inheritance. All of this is credited to God. All of this is part of God’s redemption for the people of Israel. We do well to remember the great redemption ourselves. When we recall what God did for Israel, we remember God’s faithfulness to a people that had ignored Him for generations! We must also see that the Exodus was a type, something that God did in history that would be a marker pointing forward to Christ. The Exodus was a great thing for Israel, but it was small compared to what it pointed to in the future!
Another note about this: Sometimes people feel embarrassed about verses like 8-11, speaking of God striking down the firstborn of Egypt and his killing mighty kings. We think, “How can a God of love do something so horrible??” We forget that God said that He was going to punish the peoples of Canaan for all their sins (see Gen 15:16, God says that Abraham’s children will return to the land when the iniquities of the Amorites are fulfilled). God is a God who deals with sin and it is important to not down play what God does to sinners, to those who persist in their sin, because God is a holy God.
Finally in verse 12, the psalmist speaks of God giving the land as an inheritance to the Israelites. This is the completion of God’s redemption of them from Egypt and the beginning of their lives as a nation that is set apart before God and from all the other nations. They were to be a light to all the nations, showing that God is a God full of mercy and steadfast love, but one who will punish the sins of people who resist Him and insist on doing everything their own way.
Verses 5-12 serve as the act of remembrance that is needed for worship. They are verses that bring to life the story of God’s actions in the past to the people of the present and set the context for their anticipation. That anticipation is what I will deal with in the second part of this post.