14. Psalms of Praise /Hymns continued. (“The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.” J. Piper)

As I have studied the Psalms of Praise and others in the context of training people for cross-cultural ministry I have noticed how often the “nations” are mentioned by the psalmists.

For example:

Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. (Psalm 9:11)

Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name. (Psalm 18:49)

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28)

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

And then there is Psalm 96. Note the use of the words “all the earth”, “the nations”, “all peoples”, “families of nation”, “the world” and “all creation”:

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;  let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. 13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psalm 9 similarly says: ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you. I will sing to your name…Sing praises to the Lord…proclaim among the nations what he has done.” (Psalm 9:1,11)

The NIV Study Bible notes comment on Psalm 9:1, ‘The praise of God in the psalter is rarely a private matter between the psalmist and the Lord. It is usually a public celebration of God’s holy virtues or of his saving acts or gracious bestowal of blessings. In his praise the psalmist proclaims to the assembly God’s glorious attributes or his righteous deeds. To this is usually added a call to praise, summoning all who hear to take up the praise – to acknowledge and joyfully celebrate God’s glory, his goodness and all his righteous acts.”

Then this interesting statement:

“The aspect of praise in the psalms has rightly been called the OT anticipation of NT evangelism.”

Encouraging the people of all nations to the praise of God is still our calling as the people of God today and John’s vision in Revelation 7:9 spurs us on. He wrote:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”                        (Revelation 7:9-10 NIV)

John Piper in his book “Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions”, suggests that, “The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. ‘The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coast lands be glad’ (Psalm 97:1). ‘Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy! (Psalm 67:3-4).

He continues, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever…Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish…Missions begins and ends in worship…When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God’s true worth, the light of missions will shine to the darkest [places] on earth.”  (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions Baker Academic 1993, 2005)

Being someone who has been involved in various ways in God’s global mission most of my Christian life, no wonder the Psalms resonate with all that I am and do!

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. (Psalm 67:2) Amen.

13. Back to Psalms of Praise/Hymns.

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

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 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:

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty.

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent  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. 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

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 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.”