The psalms in today’s reading make up what is called the Egyptian Hallel. They have this name because the Jews use this collection when they are celebrating the Passover, which was instituted at the beginning of the exodus from Egypt. Psalms 113-114 are recited before the Passover meal and 115-118 afterward. The Passover reading in its entirety is known as the Haggadah, the liturgical retelling of the story of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. As a part of the Passover reading these psalms lead the celebrants through a cycle of praise to their God and Savior. The first two psalms, 113 and 114, speak of God’s saving works at the time of the exodus. The first focuses the worshipers on the incredible grace of God. He is the merciful Redeemer who bends from heaven to meet the needs of His people. The second recalls Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, which is the reason for celebrating and the central act of God’s saving grace. This second psalm begins on a light and happy note, the salvation of Israel, and ends on a somber note with the earth trembling before the Almighty Lord.
After the meal, the other psalms are read. Psalm 115 is similar to a responsive reading between priest and people that includes the community’s expression of trust in the Lord, and the priest’s blessing. In Psalm 116 the celebrants declare their confidence in God and offer praise for His saving them. Psalm 117 builds on that praise and psalm 118 continues the emphasis on God’s faithfulness by celebrating the Lord’s enduring love in responsive song. The heart of psalm 118 prophetically describes God’s deliverance of a rejected person; the despised or rejected One is Jesus Christ Himself. Psalm 136 is the actual conclusion of the Passover meal, and the participants leave the meal with their hunger satisfied, their hearts filled with thankfulness, and their lips overflowing with praise to the Lord.
Today we look at psalm 115. This psalm has several parts. Verse one glorifies the Lord. Verses 3-8 compare false gods to the One True Living God. Verses 9-11 are a litany of trust in the Lord, verses 12-15 are a litany of blessing in the Lord and verses 16-18 are once again glorifying the Lord. This is a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s blessings and the gathered community gives glory to the name of the Lord who is the true source of hope and blessing. Meanwhile those who trust in idols are greatly disappointed. We see that the blessing of the Creator of the heavens and the earth extends to both the future generations and the priesthood. The Lord had given His people a great victory and they wanted to acknowledge it before their pagan neighbors and give God the glory. If their pagan neighbors had visited the returned exiles and seen their rebuilt temple they would have wondered aloud where Israel’s God was. There were no idols in the temple or in the city of Jerusalem itself. This question gave the Jews the opportunity to compare false Gods over and against the One true God.
The psalm begins with the people giving God glory and stating their belief that God will rescue them for His name’s sake. People have a natural tendency to divert to themselves the glory that is really due the Lord and this psalm redirects that glory where it belongs…to the Lord. Many would prefer to worship a god they can see, touch, hear, smell, or even taste over and against one God they cannot see. Many times people deny God’s power or presence when He does not act the way they think He should. When the question is asked by non-believers where God is, here is the answer. He is in the heavens. He has all power, authority, and knowledge. He does as He wishes, not what people expect Him to do, or think He should do. God works out His plan according to His will and not ours. He acts in His time and in the manner He chooses. God is reigning on His glorious throne, reigning as the Sovereign God of the universe.
Verses 4-11 are repeated in psalm 135:15-20. Idolatry was always Israel’s most habitual and costly sin. Their prophets and some of the psalmists ridiculed the pagan, man made gods. The Lord chastened Israel many times for her idol worship, but it often fell on deaf ears and the people continued to sin. They did not truly learn their lesson until the Babylonians carried them into exile for 70 years. For two generations the Jews saw idolatry firsthand and the kind of society it produced. Watching this cured them of idol worship. Finally, they remembered they were servants of the Living God. The idols were lifeless, and they lacked all of the attributes of God. They could do neither good nor evil but still the people worshipped them. These idols had no mouths so they could not speak to their people, make covenants, give promises, guidance, or encouragement. But our God speaks to us. The idols have no eyes. They can offer their followers no protection or oversight. But God’s eyes are on us, and we can trust Him. The idols have no ears. No matter how hard or how loud the pagans pray, their idols will not hear them. Think about the 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel with Elijah who yelled all day to no avail. Our God hears us when we cry out to Him. The idols have no noses. This may sound funny, but they could not smell incense rise to them, an odor pleasing to our God. This allows our God to be pleased with what we offer Him. The idols have no hands. The workers who made the idols have more power than the idols they call gods. But our God is able to work for us as we seek to serve Him. His fingers made the universe and His mighty arm brings salvation. The idols had no feet. The people had to carry them wherever they went. Our God not only walks with us, but He carries us when we have no strength to go on.
Idols being lifeless is bad enough but worshiping them is even worse. We tend to become like the God we worship. When we worship the Lord, He slowly transforms us to be more and more like Him. He will transform our ears to hear His truth and the cries of those in need. He gives us eyes to see His Word, the glory of the creation He has made, and those He wants us to help. We also see the path He wants us to walk. As our spiritual senses continue to grow, we become more mature in our faith and become more like Jesus. Those who worship idols lose their spiritual senses and they become deaf, blind, and unfeeling to God’s voice and the blessings He has given us. We also lose out by not noticing those God has put in our path.
In verses 9-11 the psalmist calls on those in the God-fearing community to commit their ways to the Living God. A three-fold address assures them that the Lord is their helper. The litany here encourages God’s people to trust in Him alone. First the psalmist called on Israel, then the house of Aaron, so the priests and Levites, and finally he called on all who fear the Lord. They are called to trust the Lord…why? Because the Lord is their help and their shield. These groups named here will receive the assurance of the Lord’s blessing, regardless of their social status. God’s blessings are for all people. The psalmist blesses all who trust in and fear the Lord. The Creator will care for the families of those who fear Him. The second litany focuses on God’s blessing. Not only is He the God who is trustworthy, but He desires to bless all those who trust in Him. The Lord is the creator of the heavens and the earth. We are called to worship Him and not that which He has created.
The word bless is used five times in verses 12-15. We could not live without His blessing, but it is also good for us to bless the Lord. That means we give Him all the glory, honor, and praise we can muster. It will delight His heart to receive our joyful and willing thanksgiving and obedience. The Lord’s exaltation belongs in the heavens, far above the gods of the pagan nations. The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth does as well. He has given that to us to tend and keep. This is a psalm of praise, but the psalmist does mention the dead. When we die here our voices cease to be a part of the earthly choir of praise but we, as believers get to join our voices with the heavenly choir. It is part of the work of the living to praise God. But here is the other thing. The people who worship lifeless or dead idols are also dead. We are alive in Jesus Christ and are called to praise. The psalmist ends with a final call to praise the Lord. Many of the Passover psalms end with that call…Hallelujah!!! This is the Hebrew word for praise the Lord.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W