Taught at Bible Study on 1/28/2022
This is one of my favorite Psalms, because it gives us a glimpse into who Yahweh is and what He does. It’s like the last part of Job where God asks him if he’s done or seen lots of amazing things (the answer’s a resounding “no”), but condensed into 16 verses. These verses are sandwiched between two sections of 3 verses each that tell us what to do because of Yahweh’s great work.
Unlike other Psalms this one doesn’t have a heading. All that means is that we don’t specifically know who wrote it or why it was written, but even this lack of information is purposeful. Knowing the particular writer and the specific situation doesn’t matter here, since this lack of information doesn’t take away from the message of the Psalm.
It’s clear that this is primarily a Psalm of praise to Yahweh, sovereign God of all creation, because it answers three questions. First, how should we praise Yahweh? Second, what makes Yahweh worthy of our praise? And Third, how should we live in light of these truths? Verses 1 through 3 answer the first question, verses 4 through 19 answer the second question, and finally verses 20 through 22 answer the third question and show the practical results of everything that just came before them.
I’m going to read out of the NET Bible. I’m going to tweak one word though, since they decided to use “LORD” instead of Yahweh. There is no reason to obscure our God’s name, unless you’re into old Masorite traditions, which we’re not. Our God is personal, He did come down to earth as a man after all, so we should call Him by His name.
Now, even though I’m just going to teach up to verse 11 today, I’ll read the entire Psalm for context.
You godly ones, shout for joy because of Yahweh!
It is appropriate for the morally upright to offer him praise.
Give thanks to Yahweh with the harp.
Sing to him to the accompaniment of a ten-stringed instrument.
Sing to him a new song.
Play skillfully as you shout out your praises to him.
For Yahweh’s decrees are just, and everything he does is fair.
He promotes equity and justice; Yahweh’s faithfulness extends throughout the earth.
By Yahweh’s decree the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all the starry hosts.
He piles up the water of the sea; he puts the oceans in storehouses.
Let the whole earth fear Yahweh.
Let all who live in the world stand in awe of him.
For he spoke, and it came into existence.
He issued the decree, and it stood firm.
Yahweh frustrates the decisions of the nations; he nullifies the plans of the peoples.
Yahweh’s decisions stand forever; his plans abide throughout the ages.
How blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people whom he has chosen to be his special possession.
Yahweh watches from heaven; he sees all people.
From the place where he lives he looks carefully at all the earth’s inhabitants.
He is the one who forms every human heart, and takes note of all their actions.
No king is delivered by his vast army; a warrior is not saved by his great might.
A horse disappoints those who trust in it for victory; despite its great strength, it cannot deliver.
Look, Yahweh takes notice of his loyal followers, those who wait for him to demonstrate his faithfulness by saving their lives from death and sustaining them during times of famine.
We wait for Yahweh; he is our deliverer and shield.
For our hearts rejoice in him, for we trust in his holy name.
May we experience your faithfulness, O Yahweh, for we wait for you.
Do you guys remember what question the first three verses of this Psalm answer? [How should we praise Yahweh?]
We see phrases like “shout for joy”, “offer him praise”, “give thanks”, “sing”, “play skilfully”, “praise”, and “make melody”. All of these words reference one activity, worshiping Yahweh in song. This can be done in one of three ways, first, by singing alone (the ESV has “Sing for joy in Yahweh” in verse 1); second, by instruments alone (the NET has “Give thanks to Yahweh with the harp” in verse 2); or third, by a combination of the two (the NET has “Sing to him to the accompaniment of a ten-stringed instrument.” in verse 2).
Before we get into that though, there’s an important thing to notice, can someone tell me what kind of people are being called to offer praise, what’s their character like? [“godly one”, “morally upright”, “righteous one”] In other words, someone who trusts and obeys Yahweh. So, even though this Psalm was not written directly to us today, it definitely applies to all Christians, since we have a new and obedient heart through the saving work of Jesus Christ that makes us righteous. Just like 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness.”
Notice two things about these songs; First, they’re focused on one person, Yahweh, not created people or things. Second, there’s joy and excitement in these verses. These songs would be out of place in a Charismatic church where the music itself, or the person singing, is the object of worship. They would also be out of place in a Roman Catholic mass where the music can be very monotonic and “shouting for joy” would break the somber mood.
The godly ones in this Psalm, and us today, naturally sing out to Yahweh, not out of obligation, but because we want to. Our songs come from the overflow of our hearts, channeled through our understanding of who God is and what He’s done. Imagine you were at church last Sunday, you sit down, John gets up, teaches, and then you leave when it’s all done. That would feel more like a conference and less like a church service, not that preaching always needs to be surrounded by music, but that does seem to be what’s natural when a group of Christians come together. Music can be a powerful expression of love and adoration, more so than mere spoken words. You’ll probably remember the songs we sang before I came up here more than what I’m saying. Music has that kind of impact.
Here’s a question that you all can be thinking about for our discussion time later. As we’ve seen, the first three verses of this Psalm mandate the corporate worship of Yahweh in song. How would you answer someone who claims that you can meet for church, but don’t have to sing during service? What other verses would you draw on to help you?
Now, can someone tell me what the first part of verse 3 says? [“Sing to him a new song”] That’s an interesting choice of words. Why a new song? Why not sing old songs? Are old songs not good anymore? … No … they’re fine. A “new song” is appropriate because God is always doing new things in the lives of His people and new songs can be created about these things. Worship is an appropriate response to Yahweh’s work in our lives, whether it be a completely new song, an old tune with new words, or a new tune to old words. Now, let’s look at some of the material the Psalmist gives as fuel, as reasons, for worshipping Yahweh.
The first reason is that “Yahweh’s decrees are just” or put another way “the word of Yahweh is right”. Meaning that whatever Yahweh does, and how He does it, is proper and upright. Yahweh’s word, in this context of Him being sovereign creator and ruler, are His eternal decrees. Genesis 8:22, after God had saved Noah and his family through the ark, shows what some of these decrees are, “While the earth continues to exist, planting time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.” These decrees are “fair” or “done in faithfulness”. Fair to whom? Faithful to whom? They are faithful to Yahweh’s character and fair to his name, since there is nothing higher to be faithful to or better to be fair about.
What’s the reason behind his just decrees, fair acts, doing what is right, and being faithful? It’s His love for “righteousness and justice” in verse 5. This love drives Yahweh’s “commitment to principles of equity and justice [and] causes him to actively promote these principles as he governs the world.”
To help his readers understand the scope of these actions, the Psalmist says “Yahweh’s faithfulness extends throughout the earth” or “the earth is full of the goodness of Yahweh” showing that He doesn’t limit his principles to one geographic area. No space on earth is devoid of Yahweh’s faithfulness. It even extends to all corners of the universe, but is most glorifying to Him when it influences the human sphere we call earth, as opposed to some nebula out in the middle of nowhere. His faithfulness, or pledge, or promise to do exactly what He said set out to do can be found in the deepest cave and highest mountain, it doesn’t fade or change, no matter where you are. This should give us comfort here, no matter our circumstances.
Verse 6 gets into details about how Yahweh’s faithfulness has been working itself out, specifics are good if you want to sing and shout about Yahweh and His deeds. We see that “by Yahweh’s decree (word) the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all the starry hosts.” Everything external to the earth was spoken, commanded, breathed out by God. Just as life was breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7) so matter was breathed out into nothingness and became what we can look up and see. It’s amazing to see the three stars when we step outside here in LA, did you know there are many more?
I’ve backpacked and hiked to many places and spent many nights out in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I remember one trip, looking up and being amazed at the sheer number of lights in the sky. All different starts, galaxies, and nebulas. Literally trillions upon trillions of miles of stuff, all created in a moment. This is creative power on a vastly different level, we humans in our most creative moods are like toddlers painting with mud, yet even this is still a pale reflection of what our God has done. We can create a galaxy in virtual reality, it takes seconds to generate and you can walk around in it … Yahweh made the real thing faster and with no glitches. I think this would be perfect song material to praise our God with. Have you had a moment like this, where you’ve seen or been amazed by something God has created? What was your response?
In verse 7 we see a perspective shift, going from things external to earth to the substance that covers most of its surface, water. But why did the Psalmist choose water? Because it’s very hard to control, many old cultures saw the ocean as impassible, frightening, and the primary example of chaos. Even today, with our big ships, we still have trouble with the ocean. There were 116 shipwrecks in 2021, we have rogue waves (which many people didn’t think even existed until one was caught on video a few years ago), most shipping companies won’t send their vessels around the tip of South America opting instead to use the Panama Canal, and Holland has spent billions of dollars to control the ocean by using computer-controlled sea walls to control flooding.
So, how does the Psalmist use water as fuel to “shout for joy because of Yahweh”? It’s because “He piles up the water of the sea (or gathers it together as a heap); he puts the oceans (the depths) in storehouses.” He has complete and total control over the chaos we call an ocean. He doesn’t need a bottle to hold the water, it obeys its creator and stays in a pile, as if it were clay or snow. When it’s not acting like a heap, it stays where God put it, into the storehouse that is the great oceanic basin that surrounds us.
Verse 8 shows us the natural response to this kind of power saying “Let the whole earth fear Yahweh. Let all who live in the world stand in awe of him.” Fear, in this context, means to demonstrate respect for Yahweh’s power and authority by worshiping him and obeying his commandments. The respect is certainly well deserved and is what should happen. Think about this in your groups, what would prevent a person from showing this fear to Yahweh? Does this block exist for Christians as well? When was the last time you remember demonstrating respect for Yahweh’s power and authority by worshiping Him?
If anyone should fear and stand in awe of Yahweh it should be us. We are ambassadors of the One who created all things, but I fear we all have grown accustomed to amazing imitations, whether through movies, computer games, or the inability to dwell deeply on some of the amazing things He has done. I’m guilty of all of that, which is why I really like this Psalm, it recalibrates my sense of what is truly amazing and turns me to our Creator.
Need more reasons to worship God? Verse 8 acted like the reason for verse 7, but it’s also the introduction to verse 9! The Psalmist notes that even the “whole earth” and “the word” from verse 8 are created things for which we can praise Him, we don’t even need to look at the stars. He says “For he spoke, and it (the whole earth) came into existence. He issued the decree, and it (the world) stood firm.” or in the terse NAS “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood firm.”
How does creation by decree help us to praise Yahweh, since we weren’t there to witness it? The Psalmist didn’t see creation being created either, he’s in the same position as us, so why bring up an event nobody witnessed as cause for praise? Because we can still see the physical result of those powerful words, which is the point of Romans 1:18-20 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.”
Verses 10 and 11 stand in contrast to one another and shift focus to God’s control over nations. These large groups of people are impossible for any one person to control. Not even authoritarian dictatorships like North Korean, China, or Russia have complete control over every aspect of their citizen’s decision making processes. In that way, controlling the nations is like trying to control the oceans. Something that’s impossible for anyone but Yahweh.
Verse 10 shows Yahweh “nullifying”, “frustrating”, “breaking”, “destroying”, or “bringing to nothing” the plans and decisions of the nations and their people. That’s an amazing thing to do, to be able to nullify whatever plans are being concocted by any nation at any time. Remember though, that this is done in the context of things that fall outside of God’s will and plan. He knows how every detail will culminate in the establishment of His eternal kingdom and is actively moving all creation to that point. We can say that history is a record of God’s just decrees and his control over nations.
Verse 11 goes to show the contrast between Yahweh’s decisions and those of nations. His decisions are never “nullified”, “frustrated”, “broken”, “destroyed”, or “brought to nothing”. They’re always accomplished, “stand forever”, and “abide throughout the ages”. Just like Yahweh reminds Israel in Isaiah 46:9-11 saying, “Remember what I accomplished in antiquity. Truly I am God, I have no peer; I am God, and there is none like me, who announces the end from the beginning and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred; who says, ‘My plan will be realized, I will accomplish what I desire;’ who summons an eagle from the east, from a distant land, one who carries out my plan. Yes, I have decreed, yes, I will bring it to pass; I have formulated a plan, yes, I will carry it out.”
Does our God still do this? Yes, without a doubt, he carries out His plan. However, some people would doubt that God has control over all things, they’ll say that He has some control, but when it comes down to specifics their high view of God lowers a bit. Their logic goes like this: God isn’t in control because; “our politicians lie to us”, “Russia is on the warpath”, “there’s a virus rampant in the streets”, “North Korea is testing missiles”, and “our freedoms are being eroded”. Therefore, we need to look to fear, voting, activism, complaining on social media, unthinking compliance, or despair as solutions. It’s almost like these things that have more control over events than God does.
This kind of response is the exact opposite of what the Psalmist is trying to get across. This Psalm is in your Bibles so that you can read through it and be reminded, in detail, with examples, why we worship Yahweh. The circumstances we are in today don’t matter, just like they didn’t matter to the Psalmist who wrote these words, God is to be worshipped regardless.
By way of practical application, I’ll leave you guys with this final question for your groups. My answer to this question is “Amazing Grace”. The question is: When your worship of Yahweh is waning and the worries of the world are getting a foothold into your life, what song will you sing to remind yourself of this Psalm and of our awesome God?