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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Psalm 33: Creating a Joyful People

Shout for joy, you upright;
praise comes well from the honest.
(Psalm 33: 1)

It’s why we’re here today: to give expression to our praise and our joy – whether or not we do that in shouting or singing or silent prayers or what have you. We’re here to express our thanks and our joy. We’re here to praise and worship the God who created the universe. We’re here to show gratitude to the God who preserves the universe. We’re here to honor the God who rules the universe. We are here to praise and worship God.

And that is good for us to do. It is right and fitting for us to praise God. In old English we would say that it is “meet” for us to worship God. It is appropriate. It is fitting. It is proper for us to do this.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. *1

We are here to praise God. We have been created to give glory to the creator and to enjoy him forever.

We are not here, in this building – in this chapel – in these pews, to make ourselves feel better. We’re not here to “be fed.” We’re not here to be refreshed or strengthened. We are here to praise God, and if we are strengthened or refreshed or encouraged in the process, well so much the better. But we are here – firstly – to bring our praise to the Creator.

We come to present ourselves to the Creator of the Universe, and to say thank you, to shout for joy in the presence of our creator.

By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made,
by the breath of his mouth all their array.
(Psalm 33: 6)

The existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger posed the question: “Why is there any Being at all – why not far rather Nothing?” Why is there something instead of nothing? *2

This question has either plagued or delighted philosophers and scientists (depending on whether you like deep, abstract, esoteric questions) for centuries. Why is there something? Why does the observable universe exist?

Sadly – the observable universe cannot answer this question for us. Scientists peering out to the farthest edges of the universe with high powered highly sensitive telescopes may be able to determine how large and how many billions of years old the universe is. They may be able to describe the birth and life and death of stars and galaxies. They may be able to calculate the movements of celestial spheres with precision to the fiftieth decimal place but astronomers and cosmologists will never be able to answer that ultimate question – Why.

The answer to that kind of transcendental question is beyond the realms of science. Don’t get me wrong here; I greatly appreciate scientists. There is much about this universe that I do not understand, and I look to scientists for that knowledge. I want to understand this beautiful world that we live. And so I ask questions: Why does the sun burn? Science can tell me that? Of what is the moon composed? Science can tell me that. How old is the planet Earth? Science can tell me that. Why are the sun and moon and earth here? Sorry. Science just can’t answer that question.

Instead I have to turn to Revelation – the information that God has revealed to us about himself – things we could not know unless they were revealed to us. The bible – one source of God’s revelation– tells us that “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” *3 The bible doesn’t get into the science of that creation; it doesn’t describe the physics or chemistry or biology or the mechanics of the creation event. But it does tell us that God created the universe, the observable universe that we can see and touch and taste and hear and smell, the universe in which we live was created by spoken word of God.

The prophet Isaiah directs us to “Lift up your eyes and look.” Who created all these thing? God did. *4

Let the whole earth fear Yahweh,
let all who dwell in the world revere him;
for, the moment he spoke, it was so,
no sooner had he commanded, than there it stood!
(Psalm 33: 8 – 9)

Psalm 33 invites us to sing a “new song.” Sing to him a new song; make sweet music for your cry of victory.” (Psalm 33:3)

There are seven places in the Old Testament that call us to sing a “new song” and, strikingly, in every case this instruction is done in the context of either redemption or creation. And those themes – of creation and redemption – are inextricably linked because that which God is ultimately concerned to create is a joyful community of the redeemed.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; he spoke and from out of nothing they came into being. He called forth light from the darkness. He separated the waters, piling them up, bottling them, *5 as it were and made the dry ground. He made the luminaries of the heavens – the sun and moon and stars. He made birds and fish and mammals and lizards and insects and invertebrates of every kind. And then he created – in own creative image – humankind, both male and female he created them. And he said that it was good; it was very good, indeed.

From the very beginning God was creating a community.

Later, he created a special community of people for himself, and he created them by redeeming them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The language of creation is used for the redemption of the people of Israel from Egypt – for the creation of the people of God.

In the desert he finds him,
in the howling expanses of the wasteland.
He protects him, rears him, guards him
as the pupil of his eye.
Like an eagle watching its nest,
hovering over its young,
he spreads out his wings to hold him;
he supports him on his pinions.
(Deuteronomy 32: 10 – 11)

Here in Deuteronomy, Moses describes the way that God found and cared for, and protected and – created the people of Israel. Moses uses two key words in this passage – “waste” and “hover” Both of these words are used only one other time in the whole of the Pentateuch – and again they are used together – in the Creation account.

“Waste” is used to describe the chaotic uninhabitable condition of the world in the beginning. “…the world was a formless void.” The words in Hebrew are the same. It was a howling uninhabitable wilderness, wasteland, void. “Hover” is the verb used to describe the Holy Spirit’s creative movement over those chaotic primordial waters. “…there was darkness over the deep, with a Divine Wind (breath/Spirit) hovering over the waters.” God was and is interested in creating a special community – the community of the redeemed.

When the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and the New Testament Apostle John *6 write about God creating a “new heavens and a new earth” they are not talking about God forming a new physical planet earth – but more importantly they are describing God creation of a new and redeemed people of God. And this is why we shout for joy, why we sing our songs of praise, why we sing new songs and make sweet music for our songs of victory. We are the new creation – the old has gone, the new has come – praise God. We are the new heavens and the earth – created and redeemed by the powerful word of God. How happy, how blessed is the people whose God is Yahweh. How happy and how blessed are the people that he has chosen has his heritage. (Psalm 33: 12) *7

The people of God is a confident people. They have no reason to fear the chaotic waters. They have no reason to be afraid of the forces in the world that lead to death and destruction. They are created and redeemed by the powerful word of God. The same God who created also preserves and protects.

What joy, there is, for the people whose God is the Lord. How happy, how blessed, how joyful are they. And why are they so confident, so happy, so blessed? Because they trust in God. Their trust and their hope is God alone. He is their rock, their shield, their cornerstone. And they know that he is firm forever. His word – his powerful creating, and redeeming word – is firm forever. The people of God know that they can trust in God. And knowing this, they do not put their confidence in the things that the rest of the world trusts for security.

A large army will not keep a king safe,
nor his strength save a warrior’s life;
it is a delusion to rely on a horse for safety,
for all its power it cannot save.
(Psalm 33: 16 – 17)

We hear a lot in the news these days about national security and the need for a strong and well equipped army. We need, we are told, the armed forces to fight the war against terrorism. We need our military to make us safe.

And this is wrong.

Without disrespect to those men and women who have served in the past, or are currently serving in the various branches of the armed forces, the military has never made anyone safe, has never given anyone freedom. No one in the Army, the Navy, the Air-Force, the Marines, or the National Guard has ever died to make us more free or more safe. Our freedom comes from God though his son, Jesus the Christ. Our safety, our security is from God. These things cannot be captured in battle; they cannot be secured by force of arms. They are given to us – like grace – by God.

No king, no president, no country, no people is kept safe by a large army. A standing military only invites conflict. It is a delusion to rely on the horse for safety. More literally, the Hebrew says that the “horse is a lie for safety.” That is, it promises security it cannot deliver. The horse, in the ancient world, was not used for transportation or farming, it was a war animal; the horse, along with the chariot, was the tank of the ancient near east. Today we could paraphrase this as “the tank is a lie for safety.” It is a delusion to rely on the war machine for safety.

Instead we trust God. We trust that his unfailing love will surround us, that his faithful love will rest upon us. This is why the people of God can sing a new song. They have been created and redeemed as God special and chosen people and they know his love.

We are waiting for Yahweh;
he is our help and our shield,
for in him our heart rejoices,
in his holy name we trust.
Yahweh, let your faithful love rest on us,
as our hope has rested in you.
(Psalm 33: 20 – 22)

*1 Westminster Shorter Catechism – question 1
*2 Martin Heidegger, What is Metaphysics, (1929)
*3 Genesis 1: 1
*4 Isaiah 40:26
*5 A literal understanding of the Hebrew in Psalm 33: 7
*6 Isaiah 64: 17, Revelation 21: 1
*7 Thanks to Tim Martin and Jeff Vaughn for some of these thoughts. See their book Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation (2007).

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