Psalm 138: Before the “gods”
July 13, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
There are many reasons and causes for giving praise to God. Most commonly, we think of the “attributes” of God, or what it is that makes God to be God, such as his love or his holiness or his omniscience or his omnipotence. That, of course, is a good way of bringing ourselves back from the self-orientated insanity of the human condition. We note what it is about God that makes him God, both his unique attributes and the attributes that we have to some small degree (such as “love”), but that he possesses by definition and in his very essence.
Such an approach to praise appropriately sees ourselves as we really are, and yet at the same time, from such a humble state, lifts us into the glory of praise of the One who is glorious above all. But there are other ways to begin to see just how worthy of praise God is. And one of those is outlined in this psalm. Essentially, what David is doing here is noting how great God is (how much God is God) by comparing and contrasting him to other competing claims to greatness. He is singing and praising God before the “gods” (138:1), that is, before the rulers, the great ones, the billionaires, and the celebrities.
Let’s think of the most powerful person we can—the most famous man, the most beautiful woman, the most terrifying tyrant, or the most impressive ruler. And let us contrast that with who God is! God is still very much God! He has “unfailing love and faithfulness” (138:2). His word (his “solemn decree”) “surpasses your fame” (138:2). The Bible is even greater than its reputation!
What is more, prayer to God shows God to be most extraordinarily God: “When I called, you answered me” (138:3). When we are in right relationship with God, he also gives us courage: “you greatly emboldened me” (138:3). Yes, comparing God to the impressive “gods” does not in any way diminish the “God-ness” of God, but instead magnifies God as most gloriously God. In fact, far from God being a wish-fulfillment of our own projection of the massiveness of humans around us in their impressiveness (as Freud believed), God is so different, so much greater, so much more glorious, that comparing him to the “gods” shows us how much God really is God. In this way, “May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord” (138:4-5). What is there that a powerful king can praise as greatly above him? Answer: The Lord.
But David also contrasts God, not only to these high and lifted up humans, but also to the way that God deals with the weak. How great is our God! “Though the Lord is exalted; he looks kindly on the lowly” (138:6). What is more, even when we are personally in “trouble” (138:7), the Lord will “vindicate” us (138:8), for his love “endures forever” and he will not “abandon” the work of his hands. God’s greatness is not shown merely by being more powerful than the “gods,” but also by being infinitely more compassionate and faithful—even to the lowly and those in trouble.
This principle of finding reasons to praise God by contrasting him with what is most impressive in our own experience is an important one. It is the very reverse of the so-called “God of the gaps” criticism of some apologetic defenses of the existence of God. We are not looking for a little space left over from the advance of human knowledge and saying that, in that space which we do not currently understand, “There is god.” No! We contrast all human knowledge, all human power—man walking on the moon; the theory of relativity; the space craft and nuclear power; the multi-billionaires; the conglomerate corporations of unimaginable wealth and power; the armed forces of the most powerful nations in the world—we compare those, and then we look at God. Nothing! Nothing by comparison! Mightier, mightier, by far is our Lord God—and so much more compassionate and loving than any of these so-called “gods.” Let the “kings” praise him. Let his people praise him! May we all bow down before him and praise his name!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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