John T. Willis

Friday, May 20, 2005

Psalm 66:5-7

After the Introduction in Psalm 66:1-4, summoning "all the earth" to praise Yahweh (verses 1, 4), the first main section of Psalm 66 is verses 5-12. Here the psalmist summons "all the earth" to "come and see" what Yahweh has done for the purpose of convincing them to worship the one true God, who is universal king and "rules by his might forever" (verse 7a). For convenience, we will discuss verses 5-12 in two parts. First we will consider verses 5-7:

"Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him,
who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations--
let the rebellious not exalt themselves."

1. The imperatives "come" and "see" are plural, addressing the "peoples" (verse 8a), that is, the nations of the earth, therefore, "all the earth" (verses 1, 4), as the context shows. See the similar summons in Psalm 46:8. Here a spokesman for God's chosen people Israel calls all nations to see what Yahweh has done for his people as an object lesson to the nations to enable them to see what Yahweh does and who Yahweh is, so they will forsake their gods and their false ways and turn to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the everlasting king.
2. The composer of Psalm 66 highlights three "awesome deeds" Yahweh has done for his people Israel: (a) Yahweh delivered his people from Egyptian oppression (verse 6), (b) Yahweh led his people safely for forty years in the wilderness (verses 10-12b), and (c) Yahweh gave his people the land of Canaan (verse 12c). Exodus 15:11 refers to Yahweh's deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage as "awesome" (see the same term connected with Yahweh's reign as king in Psalms 47:2; 65:5; 96:3; 99:3; 145:6).
3. The ultimate purpose of Yahweh's mighty acts (awesome deeds) in behalf of his people is to convince the nations that Yahweh alone is God. Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation Commentary Series, 1991, page 13, writes:
"While the liberation of Israel is the focus of God's activity, it is not the ultimate purpose. The deliverance of Israel is ultimately for the sake of all creation (see Exodus 9:16). The issue for God is finally not that God's name be made known in Israel but that it be declared to the entire earth. God's purpose in these events is creation-wide. What is at stake is God's mission for the world for as Exodus 9:29 and 19:5 put it, 'All the earth is God's' (cf. Exodus 8:22; 9:14)."
4. Whether non-human creation, the nations, or God's people know and acknowledge it or not, Yahweh "rules by his might forever" (verse 7a), that is, he is universal king (Jeremiah 10:7, 10), and "his eyes keep watch on the nations" (verse 7b) in loving care and in evaluating scrutiny. Hebrews 4:13 says: "And before him [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."
Let us open our eyes wide to see God's awesome deeds; then let us open our hearts wide to proclaim Yahweh's royal power to all humankind.

John Willis

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Psalm 66:1-4 (continued)

God seeks both High Church and Low Church worship. Neither trumps the other; both are quite biblical and quite appropriate depending on the circumstances leading up to and surrounding any given worship situation.
2. Yahweh's "name" (verses 2, 4) here is his character. It is a circumlocution for God himself. We worship God because of who he is, and we know who he is by what he does--in nature and in history--and what he does are "awesome deeds" (verses 3, 5; see Psalm 65:5). Therefore, we "sing the glory of his name [his glory];" we "sing praises to his name [to him]."
3. Yahweh's "awesome deeds" reveal two things about him as universal king: (1) his "glory" (splendor, magnificence, incomparability) (verse 2; see Psalms 24:7-10; 29"1-3, 9; 96:3, 7-8; 145:5, 11-12; Isaiah 6:1-5; Ezekiel 1:28; and very often); and (2) his "great power" (verse 3; see Exodus 15:2, 13; Psalms 29:1, 11; 93:1; 96:6-7).
4. The only appropriate human response to the universal king of all peoples (see Jeremiah 10:7, 10) is "worship" and "praise" (verse 4; see Psalms 47:6-7; 95:6; 98:4-5; 99:5).
Let us worship and praise our God daily for his awesome deeds of the past and of the present--in nature and in history and in our daily lives.

John Willis

Psalm 66:1-4

Like Psalm 65, Psalm 66 proclaims Yahweh as the universal king, and calls all peoples of all nations to worship and serve him. Psalm 66 begins with the call to "make a joyful noise (shout for joy) to God" (verse 1), repeating the same idea and phrase in 65:8, 12-13. The author of Psalm 66 addresses "all the earth" (verses 1, 4), declaring to peoples of all nations what Yahweh has done for his chosen people Israel ("we," "our," "us"--verses 6, 8-12), in order to motivate all human beings to worship and serve Yahweh. The thought is: Yahweh can and will do for all humankind what he has already done for his chosen people. In the last part of Psalm 66 (verses 13-20), the psalmist relates a personal experience to encourage his fellow believers (note "I," "my," "me" in every verse of this section of the psalm). "Come and see" (addressed to all nations) in verse 5 corresponds to "Come and hear" (addressed to fellow believers) in verse 16. "Bless our God, O peoples" in verse 8 corresponds to "Blessed be God" in verse 20. Hence, Psalm 66 is a closely knit psalm. The first paragraph is verses 1-4:

"Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, 'How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name."

1. Like Psalm 95:1-7, Psalm 66:1-4 is a "call to worship"--a call for all human beings to come and worship Yahweh, the universal king. The call here is not for quiet, meditative worship (which is certainly appropriate in many situations--a tendency in High Church worship), but for loud, exuberant worship. "Make a joyful noise" means literally "Shout with joy," as in Psalms 95:1-2; 98:4, 6; 100:1. There are times when worship should be loud and boisterous, when the worshipers are so excited about God's rule in their lives and in the world that they want everyone on earth and everything in nature to hear their vociferous praises (a tendency in Low Church worship). God seeks both High Church and

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Psalm 65:9-13

The composer of Psalm 65 has praised and thanked Yahweh for answering the prayers of all human beings (verses 1-4) and for his awesome deeds among humanity (verses 5-8). Now she or he concludes by praising and thanking God for sending rain and causing crops to grow so that life on earth might continue and prosper (verses 9-13):

"You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themseles with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy."

1. The Bible affirms that rain is a gift of God (verses 9a, 10a, c), not that it is the result of atmospheric conditions which are a part of the "laws of nature." The Bible declares that the reason the universe and life on earth continue with regularity and predictability is that God is "faithful." For example, Psalm 89:8-12 says:
"O Lord God of hosts,
who is mighty as you, O Lord?
Your FAITHFULNESS surrounds you.
You RULE the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you STILL them.
You crushed Rahab [the mythological sea monster] like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it--you have founded them.
The north and the south--you created them;
Tabor and Hermon [mountains in Israel] joyously praise your name."
The argument Jesus uses to convince his followers to love their enemies is that God our Father loves his enemies, and he constantly demonstrates this by doing two things: "he MAKES HIS SUN RISE on the evil and on the good, and SENDS RAIN on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45 [for the whole paragraph, see 5:43-48]). But if God does not actively make his sun rise and/or send rain, Jesus' argument will not stand up in court. Of course, one cannot PROVE EMPIRICALLY that "in Christ all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17)--nor can one disprove it. Said another way: One cannot PROVE EMPIRICALLY that it is "the laws of nature" that explain why the sun rises predictably each day or why it rains--not can one disprove it. One must accept such affirmations (or reject them) by faith.
2. The Bible affirms that God "PROVIDES the people on earth with grain" (verse 9d) and that he "BLESSES the growth" of plants on earth (verse 10d). Psalm 104:14-15 proclaims:
"You CAUSE THE GRASS TO GROW for the cattle,
and PLANTS for people to use,
to BRING FORTH FOOD from the earth,
and WINE to gladden the human heart,
OIL to make the face shine,
and BREAD to strengthen the human heart."
Again, one must accept or reject these affirmations that God works actively and continually in his world to sustain life BY FAITH. One cannot PROVE or DISPROVE them EMPIRICALLY.
3. For those who accept by faith that God continues to work in the world he created to provide the needs of all his creatures, the only appropriate response is grateful joy and praise (verses 8, 12-13). Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:3b-5:
"God created [foods] to be received with THANKSGIVING by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected provided it is received with THANKSGIVING; for it is sanctified by God's word and by prayer."
God gives abundantly; we receive. Let us praise him and thank him for his wonderful gifts which sustain us, gifts which it is so easy to expect and take for granted.

John Willis

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Psalm 65:5-8

In the first section of Psalm 65 (verses 1-4), the poet praises or thanks Yahweh for answering the prayers of all human beings. Now, in the second section (verses 5-8), the psalmist praises or thanks Yahweh for his mighty acts in history:

"By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy."

1. There is a very intimate connection between what Yahweh does in creation and his mighty acts (his "awesome deeds") among human beings. The Bible often makes this connection. For example, the composer of Psalm 33 proclaims what Yahweh does in creation in verses 6-9, then proclaims what Yahweh does among the nations in verses 10-19. Similarly, the author of Psalm 46 extols Yahweh's sovereignty over creation in verses 1-5, then extols his sovereignty over the nations in verses 6-11. The waters of chaos and the rebellious peoples of earth are both subject to Yahweh's rule (verse 7; see especially Psalm 46:10).
2. While Yahweh surely works among and through and in spite of his chosen people (note verses 1, 3-5), his presence and power permeate all humankind (note verses 2, 5, 8). Yahweh is not a local God concerned only with a select group of people; he is the universal God, concerned with the well-being of all his creatures--see especially 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
3. The expression "[Yahweh's] awesome deeds" (verse 5) automatically makes the hearer think of Yahweh's deliverance of his people from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 15:11), by which he showed himself to be "the God of our salvation" (Exodus 15:2) and "king" of the universe (Exodus 15:18). Just as Yahweh provides for all the needs of his invited guests (verse 4), he is the "hope of all the ends of the earth" (verse 5).
4. By his mighty acts in creation and in history, Yahweh demonstrates his incomparable "strength" and "might" (verse 6). The most powerful parts of creation (the mountains--verse 6; the roaring waves of the sea--verse 7) and of humanity (the ends of the earth--verses 5, 8; the peoples--verse 7) are very weak compared with Yahweh's power (see Isaiah 40:28-31; Job 26:7-14; 38:4-38).
Let us praise Yahweh each day for his awesome deeds in creation around us and among the nations of the world.

John Willis

Monday, May 16, 2005

Psalm 65:1-4

Psalm 65 is a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and praise to Yahweh for the ways he blesses all humankind. It is a community prayer, as the recurrence of the first person plural pronouns "we," "our," and "us" make clear (verses 3, 4, 5). As in all true worship, the focus of this psalm is on Yahweh, as the repetition of "you" shows ("you" appears in every verse, sometimes more than once, except verses 12 and 13). The first paragraph of this psalm (verses 1-4) praises Yahweh for answering prayers of all human beings:

"Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose
and bring near to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple."

1. There is a very real sense in which Yahweh dwells in "Zion," in his "courts," his "house," his "holy temple" (see Psalms 76:2; 78:68; 84:1-4; 132:13-14). There is also a very real sense in which Yahweh dwells in heaven (see 1 Kings 8:27-30; Psalms 14:2; 53:2). These are feeble human attempts to express a concept far beyond human comprehension.
2. One reason to praise God is that he answers prayer (verse 2). See Matthew 7:7-11; 1 John 5:14-15. Verse 3 indicates that this includes God answering prayers of sinful people that he forgive them. The Bible consistently reveals God as one who is ready and willing to forgive the sins of all human beings. See especially Psalms 103:8-14; 130:3-4.
3. When we ask God for help, it is important that we promise him that we will serve him faithfully--we make "vows" to him; and we must honor those vows (verse 1; see Psalms 22:25; 61:8; 66:13; 116:12-14), which often consists of thanksgiving offerings (see Psalm 116:17-18).
4. Yahweh is not the God of his chosen people Israel or the church alone; he is the God of "all flesh" (verses 2, 5, 8). Yahweh created all that is; and he sustains and cares for his entire creation, which, of course, includes all human beings. He is indeed the universal God.
5. Yahweh is a gracious host, who invites all people to live in his house and to eat at his banqueting table (verse 4). See Psalms 22:26; 23:5-6; 36:8; 63:5; Matthew 26:26-29.
Praise God because he hears and answers the prayers of all human beings.

John Willis