2020-5-17 Praise Ye the Lord

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 17, 2020

“Praise Ye the Lord”
Psalm 117

We have hope, on this Lord’s Day, to return to limited in-person worship here.  We plan, according to what your Session believes is the Holy Spirit’s leading, to resume in-person worship here next Sunday, May 24, barring any further necessary limitations—and this after a ten-week hiatus occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.  This hope is cause for praise to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and it is cause for great rejoicing before Him.

Today’s we read words, in God’s Word from a heart full toward God—even as we find our hearts filling at the prospect of worshipping together once again.  We also gain encouragement for those times when praising God seems either difficult or undesirable.  Here the very Word of God, Psalm 117 (the shortest Psalm and the shortest chapter in all the Bible), read and proclaimed in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Note first this unnamed Psalmist’s exhortations, which the Holy Spirit led him to commit to print.  In a sense, we have one exhortation stated twice.  Verse one displays synonymous parallelism, in which two lines of Hebrew poetry say virtually the same thing.  The effect of such a literary device is emphasis.[1]  Now let’s look more closely at the two parallel exhortations in verse one.  God, via His inspired penman, calls all the nations to praise Him and all people to extol Him.  Hence, Scripture here invites (yea, commands) people everywhere to praise the Lord.  We are to make much, very much, of Him.  We are to ascribe and declare worth to our triune God, and we are to do such concerning His Being and concerning His works in creation and providence.  Also, we are to make our boast, our great boast, in Him alone.  Recall again what Scripture elsewhere says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31, cf. Jeremiah 9:24).

Notice that this Psalm is a general call to praise.  That is, not only are God’s current covenant people invited to praise His Name, but also those not yet within His covenant family—yet who will be in His time—receive His gracious invitation to praise Him.  Note also here an important corollary to this theorem: No people group stands excluded from His company of praising redeemed, for we see at the end of all things a great company from every tribe, people, and language, standing before the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and praising Him (cf. Revelation 7:9 ff.).

Alas, God’s covenant people, in both Testaments, tend to forget this.  The Jews of the Old Testament, intertestamental, and New Testament periods treated the Gentiles dismissively at best and cruelly at worst.  Yet the Old Testament routinely states (Isaiah 49:7, et al.) that God’s great family will include believing Jews and Gentiles.  The New Testament states that Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14).  We forget in our time too.  We, if not careful, simply dismiss the unbelieving world—at times in most blithe fashion.  Yet they too are invited to praise our God—and God will call some of them to join us on that winding, uphill, rock-strewn path that leads to Glory.  Let us, then, ever be quick and appropriate in our invitations to those outside His saving love, that they may be drawn by His Spirit to Himself for salvation—just as many of us once we drawn thus to Him.

We are to praise the Lord.  Now let’s note some grounds for such an exhortation.  We see synonymous (or nearly synonymous) parallelism once again in verse two.  First, great is God’s steadfast love toward us (Hebrew chesed).  God’s steadfast love is His loving kindness in condescending to the needs of His creatures.[2]  God’s chesed includes, but is not limited to, His redemption of us from enemies and troubles, His preservation of our lives from death, His quickening of our spiritual lives, and His redemption of us from sin.  All of these, and more, God bestows on His redeemed through His Son, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit’s power.  This steadfast love, this stubborn, flinty, will-not-let-me-go love, is great.  It is strong for us, and it prevails for us against all foes.  None can pluck us from the hand of Him Who loves us in this way.

Second, God’s faithfulness (Hebrew ’emeth [also translated in other contexts firmness or truth]) endures forever.  That is, God is reliable; He fails not.  Moreover, God is stable; He is both sturdy and changeless.  His faithfulness, moreover, endures forever.  Interestingly, there is no verb in the text which means endured.  It is supplied from context.  The Hebrew states woodenly, “…and faithfulness of the LORD to forever.”  If God’s faithfulness is to forever, it certainly endures forever.  There never was a time when God’s faithfulness was not, and there never will be a time when His faithfulness will end.  Therefore, as a conclusion to the whole of this brief Psalm, the LORD calls us once again, saying, “Praise ye the LORD.”[3]

We begin to apply today’s text by considering what I have learned, over the years, makes a great distance runner.  I have boiled the matter down to the following extended dictum: “Run when the weather is favorable, and run when it isn’t.  Run when you feel like it, and run when you don’t.”  A similar dynamic applies to the praise of God.  Praise Him for Who He is and for what He does at all times.  Ascribe to Him, and declare before Him, His matchless worth at all times.  Praise Him when you can think of a million praises—and praise Him when it is hard to think of one, due to your circumstance or other reason.  Praise Him both when it is the easiest thing to do and when it is the hardest thing to do—chiefly because of the griefs and pains you bear.  Cry out to the Lord for help to praise Him when you need it—no matter if the need be occasioned by calamity or by your inability in the moment to recall occasions for praise.  I leave you today with two occasions for praise of our great God, which occur in today’s text.  First, Great is God’s steadfast love, in Christ, to you, and, second, His faithfulness to Himself, and to you, endures forever.

AMEN.

[1] LaSor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 310.  For other form of parallelism in Hebrew poetry, see ibid, 310 ff.

 

[2] Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1906.  Reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), 339.  For any further comment on the words of the Hebrew text, see ibid, passim.

[3] Hebrew Hallelu-Yah.  Note that all the imperatives in this text are plurals, to wit, “Praise ye the LORD,” (twice) and “Extol ye Him.”