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.


  1. hey - I know you're probably focused more on Ps. 135 than on Webber, but if you're interested I've read a lot (all?) of Webber and wrote a long chapter on him, John Frame (RTS), and Marva Dawn (Lutheran) in my dissertation.

  2. Nice. I initially didn't care much for Webber when I read the beginning of his book Ancient-Future Evangelism. It kind of annoyed me when he blamed infant baptism for all of the problems in the ancient church. That and his history of infant baptism was lacking. But after I got past that issue, I enjoyed the rest of his book. He had a lot of good ideas for making evangelism and discipleship more organic for the church that isn't used to doing those things.
    CBD has a set of Webber's resources on clearance for 4.99/book right now. It's a multivolume set on worship from various aspects. I couldn't believe that they were normally 49.99 each! Anyway...I'll have to look up what you said. Thanks!


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