Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thoughts on Psalm 135 pt 3

So, I come, I believe to the conclusions of my thoughts on Psalm 135 and it’s relationship to worship.
Previously, I dealt with the form being one of remembrance and anticipation, such that these two things make present the past and future to the worshipper. I also broke down the psalm into its parts and looked at them, I guess, somewhat devotionally and gave comments on the psalm. I reach the final part after some more reflection.
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!
Here the psalmist turns his attention to the idols that are all around Israel. He describes them as being the mere creations of men’s hands. What I find so riveting about these verses is that they follow up all that the psalmist has said about God. He has spoken in detail about God’s actions in the world and His redemption accomplished for the sake of His people Israel. In verse 5, he says that the LORD is above all gods and that the LORD does as He pleases throughout all of creation. God is in absolute control of all of reality, He is beholden to no one! He has also redeemed the people of Israel from the nations. He struck down the firstborn of Egypt(vv8-9) and the kings that were in the land of Canaan (vv 10-11). He has given the land as a heritage or an inheritance to the people. These are the actions of God in the past. They are recalled with joy for they are the mighty deeds of our God and they are just as true for the current psalmist as they were for the generation that saw God doing such great works.
In verses 13-14, the psalmist anticipates God’s renown and His vindication of the people. He is sure of God’s work based on all that God has already done for His people. He has the faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks about in the eleventh chapter of his letter.
Following these words of remembrance and anticipation, the psalmist gives what I referred to as an application of the previous liturgical creed. In a sense, he sets up a comparison between the idols and God. The God of Israel is alive and active in all that He does. He accomplishes His purposes and does all that He pleases. The idols, however, can do nothing. They are created by men, made of the elements that the true God created. They don’t speak, see, or hear. They have no life in them (nor is there any breath (ruach, the word that speaks of the breath of life) in their mouths). They are the exact opposite of the great God of Israel.
The psalmist also says that all who make them will become like them, as will all those who put their trust in them! This is a severe warning and a saddening reality for us to face. Those who follow after idols will become like them. They will have no life in them, they will be left hardened in their hearts as they reject the true God. There is not much else to say in that regard! We are faced with a choice: Seek the true and living God or become like the idols that we create and worship.
This brings the psalmist to his final call to the people of Israel:
O house of Israel, bless the LORD! O house of Aaron, bless the LORD! O house of Levi, bless the LORD! You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD! Blessed be the LORD from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem! Praise the LORD!
(Psa 135:19-21)
He calls upon all of the house of Israel to bless the LORD. Some translations translate “bless” as “praise.” However, the word that the psalmist uses is not the same word that he used at the beginning of this psalm. In the first verses he used the Hebrew word halal, which means “praise.” Here, though, he uses barak, which means “bless.” It is a different word, so it doesn’t just mean “praise.” So, what difference does that make? It means that the psalmist is calling for something more than praising the Lord here. He wants them to bless the Lord. But, what does that mean here? The word barak can also mean “kneel.” So, here, he is calling for kneeling and worshipping God, committing oneself wholly to the Lord. This makes sense because of what he said about the idols. The comparison of them to Yahweh should lead one to worship Yahweh alone. It means that we should lay down ourselves to God, give up what we want (which is why we often turn to idols in the first place) and take up what God wants. He is the only one who deserves our kneeling and our worship!
So, what does God want of us? This answer I think comes out of the Gospel text that I read for evening prayer tonight.
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)
The psalmist is calling on us to follow God. We are called to deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow Christ. That is our duty. Why though? Because Christ died for us. He took our sins upon Himself to redeem us and to give us new life in Him. Our worship is shaped by what Christ has done for us. He has made us free so that we can follow Him and Him alone.
We are called to give up our idols, lest we become like them. If we pursue these idols, we will have no life in us; we will become deaf, dumb, and blind, completely unresponsive to the Gospel call that is given to us! Let this not happen to us! May we ever deny ourselves, bear our crosses and follow Christ, no matter where that may lead!
I close with the two prayers, one from the ‘79 BCP and the other from An Anglican Prayer Book:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft the love of your Name in our hearts, increase in us true piety and devotion, nourish us with all that is good, and by your great mercy keep us faithful; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.