God of the High and Low

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Psalm 147

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On the one hand, we know that God is far above us, higher than the highest heaven. But we must also confess that He is beneath our feet, supporting us in every possible way. He is the God of the macrocosm, but He is also an infinitely skilled miniaturist, folding enormous libraries of information into trillions of cells—and that is in just one body. He is the God of general, natural revelation, in galaxies and nebulae, and He is the God who also reveals Himself in the propositions of human language, in nouns and verbs. God dwells in eternity; He lives in the highest heaven. But He also dwells with the lowly and humble (Is. 57:15). These are all contrasts for us, but not for Him.

The Text

“Praise ye the Lord: For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant; and praise is comely. The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and of great power: His understanding is infinite. The Lord lifteth up the meek: He casteth the wicked down to the ground. Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; Sing praise upon the harp unto our God . . . Praise ye the Lord” (Psalm 147:1-20).

Summary of the Text

The one thing we can say about praising the God of Heaven is that such praise is fitting (v. 1). He builds up the city where He has set His name, and He does this by gathering in the riff raff (v. 2). He heals the broken-hearted, and binds their wounds (v. 3). He knows how many stars there are, and He names each one (v. 4). The Lord is truly great; His knowledge is infinite (v. 5). He lifts up the meek, and throws down the wicked (v. 6). Sing to Him; play the harp for Him (v. 7). He fills the sky with clouds and gives rain to the earth (v. 8). He feeds all the beasts of the field; He feeds the young ravens as they cry (v. 9). He is not impressed by horse power, or by man power either (v. 10), which is probably a reference to cavalry and infantry. When people fear Him, the Lord is pleased. He is pleased by those who look to Him for mercy (v. 11). Again, praise from Jerusalem and Zion is fitting (v. 12). God has built up her defenses and given them lots of blessed children (v. 13). He gives peace along the border, and He bestows abundant crops (v. 14). The world does not run on impersonal natural law, but rather God sends forth His commandment, which runs along swiftly (v. 15). He gives us snow; He gives us rime, or hoarfrost (v. 16). He scatters ice and He brings in the freezing cold (v. 17). After giving the ice, He melts the ice (v. 18). He grants the chinook, and everything melts (v. 18). He reveals His laws to Jacob, His commandments to Israel (v. 19). He hath not dealt in this fashion with any other nation. Neither have the other nations known His judgments. Praise ye the Lord” (v. 20).

A Hallelujah Sandwich

The first and last word in this psalm is hallelujah—“praise Yah.” Each hallelujah is a piece of bread, and one goes on the top and the other one goes on the bottom. But in some circles, Christians want to sing hallelujah over and over, like it was a Hindu mantra. But in biblical terms, this is like making a bread sandwich, bread on each side and then bread in the middle. Biblical praise is modeled for us in this psalm—we have here a biblical Dagwood. There is the bread, then salami, then ham, then cheese, then onions, then prosciutto, then a different kind of cheese, and then the other piece of bread. There is substance in the middle. The bread frames the praise, but the actual praise is found in the content of what we say. And if you look carefully at this psalm, you see all different kinds of content.   

Distinction Without Separation

One of the perennial temptations that theologians have is that of thinking that the necessary distinctions they must make are distinctions that somehow create a division or separation. For example, we may distinguish the love and justice of God, but these two attributes are not separated in Him. We distinguish them for our sake, because Scripture does, but a distinction does not require separation. Here would be another example. A small child can distinguish height and breadth and depth. It is easy to distinguish them, but impossible to separate them. If you remove the height of this pulpit, you do not have a very flat pulpit, but rather no pulpit at all.

The reason for addressing this is that theologians are fond of distinguishing natural revelation and special revelation. Natural revelation is the way in which the created order reveals the majesty and nature of God. Special revelation is given to us in the words of Scripture. We distinguish them, and it is good that we do so. But look at the two together in this psalm. He speaks through the stars, through agriculture, through His providential care of ravens, and He is shouting whenever He gives us rime. But woven through all of this, He is also the one whose commandments run swiftly in the natural order (v. 15), and He reveals His laws and commandments to Israel as well (v. 19).

The World Is Not Impersonal

Too many Christians assume that the world is just the kind of impersonal place that Voltaire thought it was, only we believe that God is at the top, along with some angels, and we are down here at the bottom, with our souls tucked away under the sternum. Everything else, we think, is just atoms banging around. Or, if we are more Deistic than materialist, we think it is a cold, impersonal clock, following its pre-programmed routine. But the world is not like that at all. Christ is the one who holds all things together, not gravity (Col. 1:17-18). What we call natural law is simply God being kind to us. Most of the time the car keys are right where we left them yesterday. But the universe does not have an autonomous or independent existence apart from God. In Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Why God is Pleased with You

We are evangelical and Calvinistic enough to know that everything I am about to say is all of grace, and nothing but grace. We have not earned or deserved anything on our own. But because of Christ, and through Christ, and in Christ, what does God think of you? You have fled to Christ for mercy, and what is God’s disposition toward those who do this? This psalm is a chiasm, and the central point of it is that God does not take pleasure in the strength of man, but that He does take pleasure in those who come to Him for mercy. “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” (Psalm 147:11). But you come to Him for mercy because you sinned, and God still takes pleasure in receiving you. Through the cross, God can take pleasure in sinners coming to Him—which could not be possible otherwise. You look to Him as a God-fearing woman or man, or girl, or boy. And what is God’s response? Because of Christ, He takes pleasure in it.

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