For the last 8 years my wife and I have lived in a very beautiful part of Australia. Although located on the edge of a small city the college campus is on 40 acres of farmland and we are on the edge of other farms. On one side of our property we see houses, but on the other side there are fields, cows, sheep and vegetable gardens. Then down below us is the river slowly moving towards the ocean while in the other direction there are mountains which, at times in the middle of winter, have peaks that are covered with snow.
Looking out on this scenery, or when I look up at the stars on a clear night, I often feel that I lack the right words to show my deep appreciation to God for the beauty and wonder of his creation all around me. I wonder, what do I say to adequately praise God for himself and his creation. The Psalms help.
“Claus Westermann has remarked that in ancient Israel when one was confronted with something beautiful, the typical reaction was not contemplation, nor passing judgement, but ‘praise expressing itself in speech.’ The Hebrew language offers a rich praise vocabulary…Although the Psalms are full of the special words for praise (e.g. ‘praise the Lord’), they are also replete with descriptions of who the Lord is and what He has done.” (C. Hassell Bullock An Introduction to the Old Testament – Poetic Books Moody Publishers 1979, 1988.)
A perfect example being Psalm 103:1-4
1 Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.
Bullock continues, that in this Psalm, “the language of praise dominates the opening (vv. 1-2) and the closing (vv. 20-22), whereas the main body of the hymn describes the Lord in terms of what He has done and who he is.” The psalmist has endowed “the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works. In fact the form is validated by the content.”
Another example is Psalm 104. But here the content of the praise of the initial verses are slightly different. Here the psalmist writes:
1 Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty.
2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. 4 He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.
In this psalm “the created world evokes praise from the worshipper; however it is not praise of the creation but of the creator.” (Bullock)
So it seems that often in these psalms the praise is related to the character of God as revealed in creation and/or in his acts of redemption.
Bullock says an interesting thing concerning this. He says, “Although Israel’s ancient neighbours had their creation stories too, it has been observed that in no instance was creation a central doctrine in [these] religions…This observation sets the Hebrew faith in a category by itself. The doctrine of creation is basic in the Psalms…Even when the redeeming acts of God constitute the main theme, as in Psalm 74 (vv 12-15), and the creation theme follows (vv. 16-17), the basis for the psalmist’s faith in God’s past saving acts (vv 12-15) and his plea for the future acts of redemption (vv 18-23) is precisely his creative power and work. The inability of the gods of the nations to do anything in the world (if they existed at all) is explained by the fact that they did not create it.”
e.g. Psalm 96:4-5
4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
No wonder the doctrine of Creation is so hotly debated by people without faith in these days. I think, that for many, the wonder and intricate design of the universe is an uncomfortable truth pointing to a God in whom they are not sure they are willing to believe in. But, because this doctrine is central to the teaching of the Bible (including the Psalms) and is “the validating doctrine, the legitimizing idea. It forever secures God’s place in theology and fixes him at the centre of all things.” (Bullock)
I always remember the words of a friend, who was brought up in another religion, and who had become a follower of Jesus. He said to me one day, “I never really appreciated God’s creation until I met Jesus.”
Thank God for the Psalms of praise to our Creator and Redeemer God. Psalms of praise for who he is and for what he has and is doing in the world around us. In moments when the scenery is beautiful but our words seem inadequate, we can turn to the Psalms. Or in times when we have known his work of grace in our lives and are thankful, in those times we can also turn to the Psalms and “Praise the Lord.”