The Harmony Between God’s greatness And Goodness, Part 4

Grace For The Journey

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15July

Perhaps you remember this common meal-time prayer from your childhood: “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.”  A very simple prayer, but with very profound truth.  In fact, you may not have realized it, but a number of the psalms in the Bible follow that same pattern of emphasizing God’s greatness and His goodness.

These two truths

Aren’t just arbitrarily

Thrown together;

They balance each other out

And give us a well-rounded

Picture of just who God is.

Each of these concepts serves

To heighten the other and

Keep them in their proper context.

Psalm 113 is a psalm that follows this pattern.  This psalm draws both of these ideas together and reminds us . . .

That while God dwells in majestic splendor

Above the heights of heaven,

He is still concerned with

The plight of man and

Involves Himself in our lives.

For this reason, God is richly deserving of our praise!

The Responsibility To Praise God.

The psalmist issues an invitation to praise.  The psalmist begins with a call to worship or praise (verses 1-3 – “Praise the LORD!  Praise; O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD!  Blessed be the name of the LORD, from this time forth and forevermore!  From the rising of the sun to its going down the name of the LORD is to be praised.”).  And by the time the psalmist is done with verse 3 we’re thinking, “Okay, we get the point. We’re supposed to praise the Lord.”  The repetition in these verses, of course, is for the rhetorical effect of emphasis – we are supposed to react to this call, and in a very specific way.  The psalmist is calling us to praise.  But . . .

What does it mean to praise?

You’ve probably heard of a person called an “appraiser.”  I think virtually every county has an appraiser, and a lot of cities do, too.  The appraiser’s job is to declare how much your property is worth so the government can collect personal property taxes.  He “ap-PRAISES” your property; he states how much is it worth.  So . . .

When we praise God,

We are declaring

How valuable he is to us.

You may have noticed in these verses that several times the psalmist mentions praising God’s name.  This may strike you as a little strange because we don’t think of names the way Old Testament Jews did.  We use names mainly just to tell people apart, but Jews had a different concept of what a name meant.  To them . . .

A person’s name represented

Their character, their personality.

It stood for who the person was.

That’s why we see some Old Testament characters having their names changed after significant events that shaped their lives.  For example, Abraham’s names originally was Abram, but after God gave the promise that He would have many children, God changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude.”  This name was better suited to what Abram would become.

So, we see that what the psalmist is pointing to here is God’s essence, His character. He is calling us to praise God for the things that make Him God.

The reason for praise – God’s greatness.

But a big question remains unanswered in the psalm thus far:

“Why is God worthy of such praise?”

The psalmist is going to give us two answers . . .

The first of which we find in verse 4 – “The LORD is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.”  The first reason for praise is God’s greatness.  A common religious idea in Old Testament times was that deities were localized.  In other words, each nation had its own god and his power was confined to that nation.  The psalmist of course flatly rejects any such notion about Yahweh, the God of Israel, because He is high above all nations.  His power is not limited in any way and He shares His throne with no one, especially not some carved image of stone like these other nations worshiped.

God is to be praised

From every nation of the Earth

Because He is truly

The God of every nation

Of the Earth,

Whether men bow

The knee to Him or not.

But . . . not only is He above the nations, but in fact the world and the universe itself cannot contain His glory.  Solomon touched on this idea in 1 Kings 8 during his prayer of dedication for the temple.  He said in 1 Kings 8:27, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this temple which I have built?”

Herein lies the first reason for the psalmist’s call to praise, because God is so great. Mankind is dwarfed by the majesty and power of God, and . . .

Such a being who

Cannot even be contained

By the universe

Should strike fear

Into our hearts

And

Wonder into our souls.

But there is another reason why we should praise God, and it is an important balance to the first.  We should praise God not only for His greatness, but also for His goodness (verses 5-9 – “Who is like the LORD our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth?  He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the need out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes – with the princes of His people.  He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children.  Praise the LORD!”), which is His care and concern for mankind, and this is the key point of the psalm.

The psalmist dwells on this for five verses.

Not only is God great,

But He is also good,

And this is important

Because if God were only great,

He would be no better

Than all of the other

So-called “gods” out there.

Many other religions believe

In a “god” who is great,

But no other religion

Has a god who is good.

Islam certainly preaches about a god who is great and mighty and powerful, but he is not good – certainly not in the way that the Bible describes goodness.  In Islam, the will of Allah reigns supreme, and there are no restrictions on it.  He doesn’t have to be fair to you – he can literally choose to do whatever he wants.  You could serve him faithfully your whole life, and he could still condemn you to Hell simply because he chooses to do it.  That’s why martyrdom is so attractive to those who are engaged in terrorism – they feel like that sacrifice gives them a guarantee of going to Paradise.

The psalmist mentions God’s greatness again in verse 5 to set up a contrast with verse 6.  Though God cannot even be contained by the universe, the psalmist here says that God stoops down to see what is taking place.

God is concerned about what is going on

And from other passages we know

That He is working out a plan for His glory.

Now this is not a normal thing for rulers to do.  Think about all the dictators you know from history; how many of them have been concerned about the day to day affairs of their people?  Even leaders in a system of government like ours, you may find them at a hospital when the cameras are rolling, but when the TV lights go off, where are they? There are some exceptions, but most rulers lose touch with and lose concern for the individuals they rule.

Not God though!

He is concerned about people

And what goes on in their lives.

Sometimes we adults don’t pray about certain things because we feel like they are trivial matters to burden God with.  But when a child prays, what do they pray for?  Their dog who is sick, the doll that they lost.  Kids pray for every little thing you can imagine because they believe that God cares, and you know what?  He does!  God is great, but He is interested and gets involved in our lives because He cares.

Did you catch that?

Not only does He care,

He gets actively involved.

In verses 7–9, we see that He “raises the lowly up.”

God doesn’t just care about the rich and powerful,

He cares about the lowest members of society.

In ancient Israel, the three groups that the psalmist mentions, “the poor, the needy, and the barren women,” were looked down upon.  They were stigmatized by society simply because of their condition, and the status of the poor that the psalmist mentions here was one of destitution.  He makes reference here to “the ash heap,” which was essentially the town dump.  Every good-sized town would have a landfill outside the walls of the city where they would burn their trash and their human waste.  People who had nowhere else to turn would live at these landfills, begging for the scraps of food that people brought out and huddling around the fires at night to stay warm.  You can imagine that . . .

These people were not highly esteemed.

But look at God’s actions!

God, who is so great,

Looks down from above the heavens,

Sees people in absolute destitution,

And is moved with compassion

To raise them to a position of prominence.

He sees the barren woman in her grief and is moved to grant her children.  Now these examples should be taken as proverbial.  In other words, they express a general truth of life.  God doesn’t take every poor person out of their poverty, and He doesn’t give children to every barren woman.  He has His own plans which ultimately are good and perfect, even though we don’t understand them.  But . . .

This is God’s character –

To be moved with compassion

By the needs of people.

And we clearly see from this the goodness of God.

God’s goodness stands

With His greatness

To make Him

The God that He is.

These two aspects of God’s nature are not contradictory, they are complimentary.

If God were only great,

He would not be concerned about mankind,

But if He were only good,

He would not have the power

To act on His concerns.

These truths should draw out a complimentary response from us . . .

His greatness

Makes Him worthy

Of our worship and adoration,

While His goodness

Makes Him worthy

Of our love and devotion.

Can you not see clearly now why the psalmist calls for such a response of praise, and why our hearts can respond appropriately!

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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