- All Creation Praise Him
The theme of this psalm is clear, everything in all of creation should praise the Lord! The psalmist begins by addressing the heavens and those who dwell there, the angels and heavenly hosts, but then he adds the other parts of creation – the sun, moon and stars, the highest heavens and even the waters above the heavens.
It is as if the writer is standing before God’s creation demanding that it praise God and expecting it to do so with a loud voice. Psalm 145 tells us that all of God’s works will praise him, and Jesus claimed that the rocks and stones would cry out, it is common in the bible to give a voice or human characteristics to objects in this way. We do the same when we say something like the sun smiles down on you or that the sky looks angry. In Revelation 5 we read about the angels around the throne praising God, “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!””
It is expected that this same praise will come from the highest heaven or as some translations have it ‘heavens of heavens.’ Throughout the bible heaven is used to refer to three different spheres. The first of these is what we call our atmosphere and includes the air that we breathe as well as the space that immediately surrounds the earth. Psalm 104:2 says this is where “the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches”. The second heaven is sometimes called the ‘celestial heaven’ and is the solar system that consists of the sun, moon, stars, and planets (Deuteronomy 4:19). The highest or third heaven is the dwelling place of God and the angels: “Hear from heaven, your [God’s] dwelling place” (2 Chronicles. 6:21). The idea of seven heavens is found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. In Islam and Judaism, the divine throne is said to be in or above the seventh heaven. In Hinduism, the god Brahma lives in the seventh heaven. However, none of these ideas are mentioned in the Bible. The waters above the heavens usually is understood to refer to rain clouds.
Praise should be offered because all of creation came into being at the command of God, and he also decreed that it would never pass away. There is much debate about the decay and destruction of the world and there is no question that much has been done to damage God’s creation, but it is his word that sustains it, and we can be confident that nothing will happen that is outside of his control. There may well be floods and famines, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions but the world is not spinning out of control. God is preparing it and all that it contains for the day of his appearing when he will usher in the new heavens and the new earth.
Every creature, every element and physical feature is called on to praise its maker. The highest and the lowest of all people, rulers and kings, old men and children, the wealthy and the poor together must praise him. Paul assures us that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Some will offer those words of praise as he welcomes them into their inheritance in heaven while, tragically those who have rejected him will be condemned to a Christless eternity. Like the rest of creation, you and I are being called to live a life of praise to the one who gave us life and keeps us secure until he returns.
- If God cares so much for hos creation how should that affect the way we treat it?
- How can creation praise God?
- In what ways can you praise God without speaking?
- Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
The title above comes from a song written about an event in World War II; during an attack on a naval ship the crew were in serious danger and their electric power had failed. The only way to get the ammunition they needed to the guns was to pass it by hand. As the men struggled with this task the Ships chaplain walked up and down the line calling out “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” to encourage them. Verse 6 of this Psalm seems to make a similar suggestion!
The Psalm begins with familiar call to praise the Lord. The writer encourages that a new song be sung rather than to repeat those they were familiar with. It is good to sing songs we know, especially if they have a particular significance or meaning. There are a number of hymns that come my mind from time to time, some of them I haven’t sung in church for a very long time, but I still know the words and they are important to me. But is important to have a new song to sing.
When people are asked to give a testimony of what God has down in their life, they often go back to the time when they first became a believer or an event when God has intervened significantly for them. These are good things to remember, but has God done anything recently? Is there a new song that can be sung or are we depending on past blessings to encourage our faith and thanks to God? Maybe it would be good to ask God to give you a new song and sit before him with open heart and mind until he does! These new songs were not just be used in private, they were to sung in the assembly of the godly.
The evidence of God’s presence among the people and his activity in their lives was to be demonstrated visibly. The people were to be glad, their expressions should be cheerful; smiles and not frowns; as in the days of Nehemiah their joy should be heard from a long way off (Nehemiah 12:43). They should use musical instruments and make melody and dance! Some writers, especially from long ago struggle with the idea of dancing and so translate that word as ’with pipes’ (McLaren for example). However the word used and many other references in scripture where dancing is referred to, especially in regard to worship make clear that this is what is meant. Like many things, including singing and even praying, activities such as dancing can be wrongly expressed and care must be taken to make sure the intent is to worship and honour God. What is in mind here is that our praise should be sincere, enthusiastic and visible.
We do this because just as God takes pleasure in his people and this is reflected in Zephaniah 3:17, so too we can take pleasure in him and his glory. The idea that we should be praising God on our beds may suggest that there is not enough time in the day or that praise is not restricted to public places, but in the most private and intimate of settings as well.
The writer now brings us to this unusual thought of singing the high praise of God and at the same time wielding the sword to seek vengeance. We can conclude that the praise of the righteous has the power of the two edged sword used in battle. We know that when Jesus returns he will wage war with the sword that is in his mouth (Revelation 19:11-16) and that the only offensive weapon given to us as part of the armour of God is the sword of the Spirit. There are references too to praise being used to bring about supernatural victory: “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed” (2 Chronicles20:22). So while the word of God used correctly is a weapon in our battle in the heavenly places, so too is our praise. When you stand in the battle, pick up your sword but not with fear and trepidation, but instead with praise on your lips and the devil will flee.
- Have you got a new song?
- What do you think about dancing in praise?
- Have you tried using praise as an offensive wepon?
- Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord
“This psalm is a determined, enthusiastic, uninterrupted, relentless, and unrelieved summons that will not be content until all creatures – all of life – are ‘ready and willing’ to participate in an unending song or praise that is sung without reserve or qualification.” (Brueggemann). The psalm offers no explanation, nor reason, it doesn’t present an argument or offer any teaching, it closes the collection of psalms with the insistence that in every place and with every means available, everybody must praise the Lord!
First of all the writer draws attention the sanctuary, the dwelling of God – the sacred place. Throughout the Bible the sanctuary is identified as being far more than a building or a tabernacle. Jesus makes his sanctuary among His people, the church (2 Corinthians 6:16); he makes his sanctuary in the individual believer (1 Corinthians 3:16); he serves his people in a sanctuary in the heavens (Hebrews 8:1-2); and, Jesus will be the sanctuary of God among His people (Revelation 21:22). Our praise will express our thanks for the things he has done, but perhaps more importantly for who he is. We will praise him in the church, when we are on our own and with others, we will praise him because he sits at the right hand of the father and there he daily intercedes for us, and we praise him in anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth where he will reign.
Our worship will be noisy! While the list of instruments is not intended to be comprehensive it is inclusive. The trumpet, or shofar was blown by the priests, especially to lead into battle or announce a feast; the lute and the harp were played by Levites; tambourines or timbrels were struck by women as they danced to the accompaniment of other stringed instruments and pipes, and those instruments and the loud cymbals could be played by anybody. No one was excluded from praising God, whether it was age, gender, social standing, rank or position all were invited to come. Neither musical ability nor singing talent was a prerequisite, there was no order of service to be followed. While at times of feasts and festival there were robes for the priests and Levites to wear, at other times they were not necessary. The poor and the outcast were invited, in fact everyone who had breath were to praise the Lord.
I suspect that during this extravagant worship there was no one with arms folded or their hands in their pockets. Nobody checked their watch to see if it was nearly finished because they had somewhere important to go. J.M. Boice writes: “Let’s be done with worship that is always weak and unexciting. If you cannot sing loudly and make loud music to praise the God who has redeemed you in Jesus Christ and is preparing you for heaven, perhaps it is because you do not really know God or the gospel at all. If you do know him, hallelujah.”
Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
- How extravagant is your praise?
- Are you able to shut everything else out when you praise God?
- Are you too embarrassed to be enthusiastic in prase?
We have reached the end of the ‘Book of Psalms’, however the bible contains a number of other songs or psalms that are written and spoken by others including Moses, Deborah and Hannah. Over the next week or so we will wander through those before we finish this journey and move on to other pathways..
- The Song of the sea
This song or psalm is attributed to both Moses and Miriam, his sister. It is probable that it was first sung by Moses and then in response Miriam repeated the first stanza. The Jewish community refer to it as the ‘song of the sea’ or ‘Sabbath of the song’ and customarily sing it on the seventh day of Passover which marks the date when Israel crossed the sea after leaving Egypt.
After the people of Israel fled from Eqypt with Pharoah and his army in close pursuit they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds as it is also called) and a dangerous enemy. “When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? (Chapter 14:10-11). Moses responded “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Moses did not know what was going to happen, but he had faith that God would fulfil his promise. God told Moses to raise his staff and that he would divide the waters so that they could escape. Moses did as he was told, and God kept his promise – the rest of the story is worth reading from Exodus 14.
When Moses and the people got to the other side and saw the destruction of the Egyptian army he composed and sang this song of deliverance. It is a song of redemption and victory that is prominent in the story of Israel and the pages of the Bible including Revelation 15:3. There is no reference to any human activity in this song, Moses, Aaron and Miriam are not mentioned, battle and the victory belonged to God, and him alone. Moses doesn’t write that God had strengthened him, but the God was his strength, he had become Moses’ song and his salvation all of his hope was in him.
Moses and the people with him faced impossible odds, certain defeat. They were trapped and scared, they saw no hope of deliverance and they wanted to give in. Moses did the only thing he could, he turned to God. Not long before he was a reluctant leader, he was no hero, he didn’t want to face Pharoah and he argued with God about it even suggesting his brother as an alternative. But God chose Moses and he had gone to Pharaoh, now he was in peril, the people blamed him, what could he do. Faced with these impossible circumstances God asked Moses to trust him and do the ridiculous. ‘Stand by the water and lift up your staff-stop, complaining and tell the people to go forward’.
We know the rest of the story, Moses lifted his staff, God created an escape route through the water and on the other side, Moses lifted his staff again and the following army were drowned. This is the great song of liberation, God did wondrous things and the only reasonable response was to sing his praise. An interesting point is that when Miriam responded in song the young women joined in, dancing and singing and banging their drums. In their haste to leave Egypt they made sure to pack their drums! Rabbi Rashi writes: “The righteous women of that generation were confident that the Holy One, Blessed be He, would make miracles for them, so they prepared tambourines and dances.”
When you face insurmountable odds, danger and risk on every side and God simply says “Trust me and move forward” make sure you have your drums and tambourines packed! God is your strength, he is your song and he will be your salvation, like Moses and Miriam sing a new song because he will do valiantly!
- When you face a difficult future how hard is it to put your trust is something you don’t understand?
- Moses was reluctant but eventually gave in to God, have you been reluctant to respond to God’s call on your life?
- When you are running for your life would you remember to pack your tambourine?
5.The Song of the rock
Deuteronomy 32: 1-43
As the people of Israel crossed the river on their way to the promised land Moses composed the Song of the Sea which he and Miriam sang with the people. 40 years later as the people were about to leave the wilderness and miraculously cross another river into the promised land Moses wrote another song. It is usually referred to as the Song of Moses, but the theme is about God the rock and his dealings with Israel.
One difference with this song, or psalm, is that God instructed Moses to write it and to make sure that the people learnt it (Deuteronomy 31:19). In the first verse he calls upon heaven and earth to hear what was to be written, this is probably because The Torah (the Law) required that a matter would only be established by the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Moses establishes his two witnesses against Israel to hold them accountable for their actions. In Emet HaTorah which means “The truth of the Torah” Darren Huckey writes: “in Genesis2, the Torah tells us that man is the combined product of both heaven and earth: These are the generations of the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 2:4)… Heaven and earth, therefore, are partially responsible to oversee the actions of mankind.”
The reason the song was necessary is given in Deuteronomy 31:14-22,30 Moses is about to die, and Joshua will take his place. The people will enter the promised land, but they would turn away from God to follow the false gods of other nations. God would bring disaster on them to bring them to their senses, but they would persist in their rebelliousness exposing them to severe judgment. This song, which they were to memorize was a witness to them that they had been warned and had no excuse.
The song has a number of different sections of stanzas. It begins with a description of God’s gracious treatment of Israel, and then turns to Israel’s unfaithfulness and rejection of God. The third stanza pronounces God’s judgement and then finally the grace of God is shown by him relenting and promising victory over all of Israel’s adversaries. The foolishness of the Israelites is demonstrated by the contrast between God the rock, who is perfect, immovable, permanent and always just with the ‘rocks’ they had chosen which were none of these things, but offered no hope and no deliverance. God is the Rock who is perfect, whose ways are always fair and just (vs 4), who was their salvation (vs 15), which gave birth to the nation (vs 18), and it was the Rock that had delivered them in battle (vs 30). But where was their rock when it was needed? (vs 31, 37). They were impotent, unable to deliver them or save them from God’s righteous anger.
In verses 26, 27 God, through Moses, makes a terrifying statement that he would have totally destroyed Israel, his chosen people and wipe them from human history if it were not that his reputation would be damaged. He did not want it said that he was unable to deliver his people and said that the rock in which they trusted was greater than the Rock which was the one true God. He would not relent from his judgement because of a sudden change in the people, but because the glory of his name depended on it. Of course, nothing about God’s character depends on human activity, but the way he is understood by the world is. Moses gave this song so that the people would have no excuse for their rebellion, and they would know that they deserved God’s judgement and it was only his mercy that saved them.
In 1 Corinthians 10:4 the Apostle Paul declares that the rock of salvation is Christ, and many died in the wilderness because they had rejected him. He writes in verse 11: ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.’ We too have been given the song in the form of the word of God, the Bible. We too have been wared and are without excuse and righty stand in the place of judgment. God in his mercy offers justification to us and escape from condemnation – if we accept his offer of salvation through Christ.
- Is God your rock?
- The people of Israel exchanged the mercy of God for the lies of world in which they lived, are you tempted to do the same thing?
- Was God wrong in threatening the people with Judgment?
- The Song of Deborah
After the death of Joshua there was no clear leader in Israel and as crises loomed judges emerged to deliver Israel. Most of these judges had proved themselves in battle before assuming the role of judge but Deborah was an exception. Not only is there no evidence of her being involved in battle, she was obviously a woman and described herself as a ‘mother in Israel’.
From Judges chapter 5 we know that Deborah was married, a prophetess and also performed the functions of a judge. Aside from that we nothing of her family circumstances or background and after this episode she disappears from the scene. At the time she became a judge Israel was in serious moral decline, they had done what was ‘evil in God’s eyes’ and were being oppressed by Jabin the Canaanite king who had forced them into the hills away from the fertile valleys, with his army of 900 chariots. Deborah writes that the people were afraid to walk in the highways and live in the villages until God raised her as a judge. The people had chosen false gods and there was war in the gates, but the Israelites were so poorly equipped they had nothing to defend themselves with.
It seems that God had spoken to Barak about confronting the enemy (chapter 4:6) but he had been reluctant, so Deborah challenged him, and he agreed so long as Deborah went with him. The song in chapter 5 was written after the victory and sung by Deborah and Barak to give glory to God for the triumph. Jeremy Myers writes that: “The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5 sounds a bit like a drinking song one might have heard in an Ancient Near Eastern bar frequented by fighting men.” This might be a bit overstated, but it does reveal that Deborah was not a mild or timid figure but a confident, warrior of faith who had the capacity to inspire people to fight and was not afraid of violence and its effects.
Deborah called on the people to volunteer to fight, they were the wealthy and the poor together and as they marched down the mountain to engage the enemy the remaining people cheered them on with music and singing. Not all of Israel offered themselves though, some were busy with their sheep, others with their boats while still others stayed by the shore and they were rebuked by Deborah. Those that did risked their lives as badly outnumbered and underprepared they went to face Jabin and his general Sisera. This was not a trained army, but a host of volunteers not prepared for battle, but they responded to Deborah who as God’s spokesperson had proclaimed their victory (Chapter 4:14). As they engaged their oppressors God brought a massive rainstorm which suddenly sent water rushing through the valley rendering the Canaanite chariots useless and the army was overwhelmed. Sisera however escaped on foot.
Seeking refuge, Sisera approached the tent of Jael who offered to hide him. Once he lay under a blanket Jael took a tent peg and drove it through Sisera’s head killing him and in doing so fulfilled Deborah’s prophecy that victory would be give to a woman instead of Barak because he had initially refused to lead the battle. The song ends with a cruel taunt against the mother of Sisera who was anxiously waiting for the return of her son. Deborah imagined that Sisera’s mother would comfort herself by thinking that Sisera was busy looting and raping captive women and she wished that same grief on all of God’s enemies.
This song is one of victory. The key characters are Deborah and the reluctant Barak, the person God used to bring the final triumph was a Canaanite woman living in Israel and is otherwise unheard of. God raises up unlikely people to fulfil his purposes, sometime when the recognized leaders fail to do so. God prepared and chose Deborah for the challenge he had for her, she was neither second best or a replacement. She was a woman of significance and authority and proved to be the most godly of all the judges. Jael was a woman of courage and conviction who responded when called on without hesitation. Neither woman shrunk from acts that may have been foreign to them. Even with their undoubted gifts and Barak’s military skill the battle would not have been won without God’s miraculous intervention however.
Like the characters in this song, you and I have been chosen and prepared for the challenges God presents, and when we respond in faith, he will supernaturally provide the victory even when all seems impossible. You may be a Deborah, a Barak or a Jael, but God has a purpose for you he just needs you to be ready.
- What part of this story affects you the most?
- Do you identify with any of the characters?
- Will you accept the challenge God gives you before you see the miracle he will perform?
- The song of Hannah
1 Samuel 2
The first 16 verses of 1 Samuel present Hannah as a sad and miserable person. She was the wife of Elkanah a godly man who was also married to a second wife, Peninnah. Even though Hannah was a devout woman of great faith, there was one thing missing – she could not have children. The sorrow this brought defined Hannah, despite her husband’s attempts to comfort and encourage her she could not rise above her sadness. James W. Ellis writes: “Hannah’s barrenness was more than just a personal embarrassment; it was thought of as a physical defect or “disability”, and a family burden” and so the pain of not experiencing motherhood was compounded by the social stigma she experienced. On top of that Elkanah’s second wife, who he probably married because of Hannah’s inability to have children, tormented her and “used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:6).
But something changed. One day when the family went to offer their annual sacrifice Hannah stayed behind to once more pour her heart out to God. On this occasion she was seen by the high priest who first thought she was drunk, but when she explained her need he simply answered: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” Immediately Hannah heard this ‘her face was no longer sad’ and she returned home (1 Samuel1:18). What great faith! Nothing had changed outwardly, but God had spoken through his servant and Hannah believed. She came in sorrow and misery and left rejoicing – God had heard, her life was changed, one word from God was all it took!
Chapter 2 records the song that Hannah sung in response to God’s miracle of grace. It was a new song, a song of praise. Hannah begins by asserting that she rejoices in God, not in the answers to her prayers, and she does this with her heart, her strength (horn) and her mouth. She devotes her whole being to rejoicing in and praising God. Her heart was changed, from misery to joy; from a state of despair when she would not even eat, she now had energy and renewed strength, and a mouth of bitterness and complaint became one of encouragement and confidence. This is the result of God’s salvation. Like many others Hannah declares that God is her rock, he is the only sure foundation that would never change nor fail. Her life was built on this rock and she would never be moved, not because of her strength but because of God the rock.
Now Hannah speaks about how God is the one who upsets the order of things. People who had nothing now have plenty, the winners become the losers and the losers the winners; the poor become rich, and the rich become poor. Those who lived in luxury become servants. The childless become parents and those who boast of their families suffer loss. It is God who is sovereign, it is he who decides who will live and who will die. God can and does intervene at any time so that the despised of the world will be raised to positions of honour. “The pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.” Nothing can destabilise God’s creation, it will remain while kingdoms rise and fall, political alliances fail and conspiracies and ideologies will prove to be without substance. He and he alone determines the length of our days and our future destiny, and he is the rock in whom we trust.
Sheri Cook writes: “Hannah’s song is a reminder to strive to keep a heavenly perspective on God’s power, His willingness to act on behalf of His people, and His ability to upend circumstances with His sovereign will. Above all, we should look to Him, cast ourselves upon Him, and praise Him in faith for who He declares Himself to be.”
- Hannah heard a word from God and responded in faith – it changed her life. Have you had that experience?
- Have you cried desperately to God and thought he had not heard you?
- Hannah said that her faith in God changed her emotions, gave her vitality and a mouth filled with praise – how about you?