We Are the Servants of the Lord

The last four Hallel psalms, 115—118, were sung after the Passover meal was eaten. That means this psalm was sung by our Lord and the disciples at the time of the Last Supper. It’s an anonymous psalm, but many scholars think the writer was one of the Remnant that returned to Israel following the Babylonian captivity.

As we read this beautiful psalm, it’s obvious that the author had a passion for God above all else. His concern was not for himself or even for the welfare of his people, but for the vindication and glory of God. This is something modern Christians would do well take note of because it is a rare thing these days. Many of our hymns proclaim our feelings about God, but little of God’s glory. Many believers are in danger of putting their welfare before the glory God.

1. The scoffing of unbelievers, verses 1, 2

Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?”

As the psalm begins, the nation of Israel has assumed a very humble place. They hadn’t always been humble, but 70 years of captivity in Babylon had the desired effect of putting the people of Israel in the position of having to depend wholly upon the Lord. The Lord had allowed Judah, the remaining part of Israel, to be taken into captivity because of their rebelliousness, and now, when they are allowed to return home, they have been broken and made to realize there is no hope and no future in trusting any god above Yahweh.

And what did the returning remnant find when they finally made it home? Jerusalem was destroyed and the once-great Temple lay in ruins. The nations surrounding Jerusalem watched as God’s once-proud people walked back into what remained of their once-glorious city, scoffing at them and making fun of their God. But notice how the people begin to address God in their adversity: it was His glory that was at stake as the heathen nations scoffed, “Where is their God?”

The people could have cried out to God from the depths of their misery; bitterly complaining about the fact that they had been forced to spend 70 years in a foreign land, and finally, after all that time, they got to come home to…what? Piles and piles of rubble! Imagine how disheartened they people must have been; the sheer disappointment of realizing the years of hard work ahead of them, of having to literally start over.

But these were God’s people, first and foremost. They had learned to trust in God. During their exile, who did they have draw close to? Who never left them? Yahweh was their God, and though they had failed Him in the past, He never failed them. So when outsiders made fun of Yahweh because of their pitiful state, what could they do but be concerned about God’s glory and honor?

The present condition of the Jews—in complete poverty and virtually homeless—cast doubt on the power of Israel’s God. Because Yahweh could not be seen or touched, idolatrous nations cast aspersions on Him. on account of His people.

2. The powerlessness of Idols, verses 3—8

The answer to the question raised in verse two is:

Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

What a magnificent statement of God’s sovereignty! His will is sovereign; here is powerful lesson every believer needs to learn! God does not have to answer to us or anybody for the things He does. He is completely sovereign; He can do what He wants, when He wants, and to whom He wants.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect! But the only people who can discern God’s will are those whose minds have been renewed. Unbelievers will always mock a believer who is living according God’s will because the unbeliever cannot grasp the will of God in any way.

Even though God is in heaven, notice how they think of Him: He is “their” God. This indicates that though He be in heaven, He is still with them and acting for them as He sees fit. God is free to act at any time, but He is also free to wait, and delay acting. Sometimes we may wonder why He apparently takes His time acting and doing good things, but we can be sure that when God seems to procrastinate, it’s good for us.

Those scoffing heathens, don’t have a God to worship like Yahweh:

But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. (verses 4—7)

As much as God’s people trusted in God and had confidence in Him, they had a seriously opposite view of idols. The psalmist’s words drip with scorn and satire. Whereas Yahweh had the creative powers, the idols had to be created by man. What good can a god be if he had to be created by a man? These man-made gods are necessarily limited in power because they are made by a man, who himself is limited in power and knowledge.

Did you know we have these kinds of man-made idols all over the place today? Anything we trust more than God is an idol. What are you trusting in? Your pension plan to provide for your needs? That was created and is maintained by human beings. Are you trusting in the government to keep you safe or meet your needs? The government is made up of human beings (we think). Are you trusting in science to keep the earth habitable? Scientists are fallible human beings who change their minds every decade or so and, depending on who’s supplying their grant money, will say anything expedient. Are you trusting in your doctor to keep you healthy? Ever think about trusting the Great Physician? Whenever we trust anybody or anything more than God, we have an idol problem!

The idols that the psalmist wrote about look like humans, but they are really inhuman. They have all the “human parts,” but none of those parts work! What a stark contrast to God! Our God speaks and acts, yet He is not a man. All these idols are worthless and those who worship them are literally wasting their time. This reminds us of the Lord’s stinging words in Jeremiah 2:5—

This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.

It’s sad but true, but a person becomes what they worship.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:21—22)

The further away from God one gets, the more foolish they become, illustrated by verse 8 of our psalm:

Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

What an odd thing to consider! Those artisans and skilled workmen who made those idols, and those who worship them eventually become just like them—useless and worthless, good for nothing. The one who is far from God creates gods in his own image, then becomes like them. That’s the same effect our “idols” have on us today, whether those idols are pleasure, money, education, or power. We become as powerless, untrustworthy, and worthless as our idols.

3. Trust God only, verses 9—13

But how different is “the religion of revelation!” With a refrain repeated three times, God’s people are urged to trust only in Him:

[H]e is their help and shield. (verses 9. 10, 11)

Notice the three groups of people who are to trust in God:

  • All you Israelites. This is self-explanatory; all Jews are to trust in God, regardless of their age or sex or station in life.
  • House of Aaron. This refers to the religious elite; the priests. It may seem strange that “men of God” need to be encouraged to trust in God, but it is very easy to slack off and get lazy, and begin trusting in man-made rules and regulations for worship.
  • You who fear him. This probably refers to Gentiles who had converted to Judaism.

If we are busy trusting in God, we won’t be tempted to engage in any kind of false worship. The answer to the problems of atheism, materialism, immorality, and all the things that plague human beings that draw us away from God is simple: trust in God. From the lowliest to greatest, the answer to all of life’s questions is: trust in God.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

The three-fold call to “trust in the Lord” by the three groups of people is followed by a three-fold blessing:

The LORD remembers us and will bless us: He will bless his people Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron, he will bless those who fear the LORD—small and great alike. (verses 12, 13)

What a comfort: The Lord remembers us! Though we may experience affliction, adversity, and times of testing, God remembers those with whom He has made a covenant.

4. The promised blessing, verses 14—18

Verse 14 may not seem like a big deal to us, but to the remnant of Jews returning home, this promised blessing was powerful:

May the LORD cause you to flourish, both you and your children.

More than ever before, the Jews at this time needed to “be fruitful and multiply!” God promised this would happen; that in the midst of the rubble that was once their homes, these faithful people would increase in number and build a future. This promise of great numbers ought to be an encouragement to any Christian group or church not to worry about “small numbers,” but to trust in God.

May you be blessed by the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind. (verses 15, 16)

Unlike those dumb idols of human beings, Yahweh is the God who created everything! And even though the heavenly realms have been preserved for God, He has given dominion of the earth to all mankind. But why have we been given dominion of the earth? The answer is found in verse 18:

It is we who extol the LORD, both now and forevermore.

As John Calvin wrote,

The abundance of the earth belongs also to the brutal tribes; but the Holy Spirit declares that all things were created principally for the use of men, that they might recognize God as their father.

While the heathen nations all around Israel worshiped nature, God’s people use nature to worship God. Indeed, we see God in the majesty of His creation.

Those who do not worship God are literally dead; it is we who know God and who worship Him who are fully alive!

It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to the place of silence. (verse 17)

They may look alive, but unbelievers are already dead. They are as dead as the gods they worship.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

What a glorious privilege it is, to worship the God who created all there is!  We are able to depend on He who is utterly dependable.  He never lets His children down.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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