Some of the Bible’s psalms are so popular that whenever the word “psalms” is mentioned, words like verse 1 of Psalm 23 come to mind almost immediately: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Or we might think of Psalm 14, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” Psalms 67 and 96, however, are not among those most well-known psalms.
The Psalms were written to tell about the personal experiences which the people of Israel had in their relationship with God. The book of Psalms was the Prayer-and-Praise book of the nation, and was used as a worship tool in the public and private worship of God. Some of the psalms are soaring melodies of praise and majesty; others are somber odes that tell about the dark side of life. The writers were sometimes sad and sometimes joyful, but in all their varied experiences they poured forth their hearts, their thoughts, and their feelings to God.
One of the recurring themes in the book of Psalms centers on praise to God. That truth is evident from the very name of the Book in the original Hebrew. The name Psalms means “Praises.” In the KJV of the Psalms, the word “praise,” as a noun, appears about sixty times, and as a verb, it appears more than one hundred times.
“Praise” is an act of worship by which the virtues or deeds of another are recognized and extolled. Praising God may be in song or in prayer; it may be done individually or collectively. The praise of God is the means by which we express our joy to the Lord. We are to praise God for who He is and for what He does. Psalm 150:2 says, “Praise [God] for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness.”
Praising God for what He does—is called “thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving is an expression of indebtedness to God for His mercies; it is gratitude to God for His gifts.
Praising God for who He is—is called “adoration.” Adoration is magnifying the person of God. It is an act of devotion and adoration offered to God by His creatures for His being and attributes. Praise, then, is not an indicator of our feelings, nor is it a response to our circumstances. Praise is a commitment of the will. Praise is to be a way of life even when the going is difficult. Praise is more than gratitude to God when things go well. In spite of their bleeding backs and frustrated plans, Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail demonstrated that it is possible to keep on praising God (Acts 16:22-25).
Adoration is magnifying the person of God; thanksgiving is gratitude for the gifts of God. In our praying, it is important not to omit the concept of praise. We should start out with words of adoration. The little ACTS formula is helpful—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—these should be major parts of our prayers.
There are two major sections in our lesson: First, all praise belongs to God (Psalm 67:1-5). Second, all glory belongs to God (Psalm 96:1-9).
1. All Praise Belongs to God (Psalm 67:15)
Verses 1-2 are a call for God’s blessing to be poured out upon us. These verses teach by example that it is proper to ask God for material and spiritual blessings. Verse 6 of the chapter indicates that the prayer for mercy and blessing (in this psalm) was a plea for the Lord to give sunshine and rain and good weather, so that the crops would grow and the harvest would be good.
The words in the latter part of verse 1, “Cause (thy) face to shine upon us”—mean “look upon us with Your favor and approval.” The word “Selah” (at the end of verse 1) means “to pause—to rest, and think upon the thought just expressed.”
The words in verse 2, “That thy way may be known upon the earth (and) thy saving health among all nations”—mean that when God blesses us and enriches us with His favor, people everywhere can see that we have been blessed by God’s kindness. Our prayer is that the nations of the world might come to hear and believe the gospel, and so be saved.
When Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt and God enabled the people to cross the Red Sea on dry ground, people from other nations knew that the God of Israel had done some mighty things. The news about God’s salvation (His deliverance of the Israelite people) was known by people in other lands.
And so the call in verse 3 is, “Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.” Not only should the people of Israel praise God, but people everywhere should praise Him. God sends His rains on the just and on the unjust; He has been merciful to people everywhere—and so all people should offer to God acts of devotion and adoration. Praise is the joyful response of a heart that enjoys communion with the great God of the universe.
Verse 4 continues, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah.”
Not only has God blessed Israel (the chosen nation), but God works in the history of other nations as well. The words of verse 4 have never yet been completely realized, but when Jesus reigns “where’er the sun does its successive journeys run”—then, there will be no oppression and no injustice; the nations will be glad and will sing for joy. In that day, evil will be condemned, and the righteous will be vindicated.
It’s altogether different today. For example, when the trial for the “hillside strangler” (some years ago in Los Angeles) was to take place, lawyers questioned more than 350 people before they could find the required 12 persons for the jury. After 13 months of proceedings, and hearing more than 200 witnesses, and recording 34,000 pages of testimony—a verdict was finally reached; but still there was lots of uncertainty. The arrogance and corruption and apparent untruths in trying to settle such cases are disgusting to many of us. And then, when a verdict is handed down, often there are more long costly appeals afterward. The earth will be marked by justice in that day when Jesus reigns.
The call to praise God is repeated in verse 5: “Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.” When people once see how fairly and how righteously God will rule in the earth, they will want to praise Him. We can see how important praise is when we note that our sacrifices can be an abomination (Proverbs 15:8), and our prayers can be an abomination (Proverbs 28:9)—but we never read that praise is an abomination.
2. All Glory Belongs to God (Psalm 96:1-9)
The 96th Psalm is a joyful, majestic call to worship. The words of Psalm 96 are found almost in the same order in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33. The psalm was used there to celebrate Israel’s deliverance from the Babylonian Captivity. Its fullness will be realized when Jesus comes to reign over the earth.
The psalmist says in verse 1: “O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth.” The words “sing unto the Lord a new song” are also used in Psalm 33:3, 98:1, 149:1, and again in Isaiah 42:10. The psalmist calls upon people in every corner of the world to sing praises to God; no one is to be excluded. Just as God’s care for us is new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), so our praise to Him should be ever new!
The angels sang a “new song” when they watched the Mighty Maker create the earth. What a sight that must have been! First, there was nothing—just a black void in vast space. Then, with a mighty word from God, the whole universe came into being—stars and suns and whirling planets, all moving at fantastic speeds.
Israel sang a new song while at the Red Sea. They sang the song of Moses. Pharaoh and his armies had drowned in the Sea, and the Israelites were free—delivered from torture in Egypt.
The Redeemed will sing a new song in glory. When Jesus returns, joy-bells will ring in heaven, and the words “Thou art worthy . . . for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood . . . ” (Revelation 5:9)—those words will reverberate throughout the chambers of Heaven.
Verse 2 says that we should sing unto the Lord and bless His name—and show forth His salvation from day to day. We can “show” our love for God “from day to day”—by our words and deeds, by observing the ordinances of God’s house, by what we read and how we speak, by our Sunday observance, and our weekday conduct at home and at work.
Verse 3 says that we should “declare God’s glory among the heathen, and his wonders among all people.” This is a great missionary passage. God’s people in every age are to proclaim the message of salvation far and wide. We must remember that countless millions of people live and die in darkness—as they worship their false gods. We will be held accountable if we fail to “declare God’s glory among the heathen.”
The word “glory” (verse 3) speaks of beauty, power, and honor. Glory is a quality of God’s character that emphasizes His greatness and His authority. “Glory” speaks of God’s moral beauty and His perfection of character. God’s “glory” is not a substance that normally can be seen. However, it was sometimes seen as a fire, or a dazzling light. God’s glory was manifested in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21).
God’s glory was seen at the giving of the Ten Commandments. When Sinai was “burning with fire” (Deuteronomy 5:23), the people said, “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice from the midst of the fire” (verse 24).
God’s glory was seen in Jesus when He appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration. Luke says that Peter, James, and John (though their eyes were heavy with sleep) saw His glory (Luke 9:32). When they were fully awake they were able to see the brilliant shining of God’s “glory”—a demonstration of our Lord’s inherent majesty.
In the Old Testament and the New Testament the glory of God is an expression of God’s inherent majesty, which is to be recognized and acclaimed by His people. Moses said to God, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18). And in Romans 1:23, Paul talks about those who perverted God’s glory when he says that they “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”
It is our responsibility to “declare God’s glory among the heathen” (verse 3a). And then verse 4 says, “The Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” The fact that God is “greatly” to be praised means that we cannot praise Him too much, too often, too zealously, or too joyfully.
Also, the Lord is “above all gods.” Why should we expect other nations to worship our God? Do other nations not have gods of their own? Yes, but those gods are dismissed as nonentities! Verse 5 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols; but the Lord made the heavens.” The Hebrew word for “idol” means “a no thing” — “things of nought,” “nothings” — mere images of wood and stone!
The prophet Isaiah (in chapters 40 through 44) presents a scathing indictment against idol worship, and shows the despair of those who hope in idols. Isaiah mocks the heathen who make an idol out of one part of a piece of wood, and use the other part to make a fire and cook their food. Then they fall down and worship the piece of wood not used for cooking.
In total contrast to the idols of the nations, the Lord God of Israel created the vast heavens, with all its galaxies and solar systems—and verse 6 says, “Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” Surely, as verse 4 says, “He is to be feared above all gods.”
This is a very important point, because it is a repudiation of all the other world religions. It means that Christianity is an exclusive faith. The Bible makes exclusive claims about Jesus who called himself “Jehovah” (the great “I AM”). Jesus declared that He is the only way to God (John 14:6), and His name is the only name by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). If we are not worshiping the God of the Bible exclusively, we are not worshiping the true God—and it is not correct to say that we are Christians.
And so verses 7-8 of Psalm 96 call us once again to give the Lord God Jehovah the highest level of honor and respect and obedience that one can give. The text says, “Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people; give unto the Lord glory and strength; give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.” When we assemble to worship, we are to give to the Lord—not only the praise and gratitude of our lips, but also our financial gifts for the maintenance and extension of His cause.
The “glory of God” speaks not only of His splendor as an attribute, but also of His presence as an ongoing Companion. One of the early church catechisms states that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” When God commands us to glorify Him, we are to magnify His majestic beauty, but we are also being invited to enjoy Him in the sense that He is close by and present with His people in our daily lives.
The last verse of our lesson says, “Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; fear before him, all the earth” (verse 9). The words “in the beauty of holiness”—speak primarily of God’s holiness, not ours. More literally, verse 9 says we are to worship the Lord “for the splendor of His holiness.”
On the other hand, He who is holy is of course pleased when our worship of Him is reverent and sincere—and when it comes from purity of heart. The Hebrew word translated “fear” (in verse 9)—means “to tremble.” It describes a most profound sense of awe. We should “tremble” at the thought of worshiping the holy God—and yet some can fall asleep in a church service; others think nothing of whispering to neighbors while the Word is being proclaimed. Such conduct indicates a loss of awe for the holiness of God.
The writers of the Psalms confess their sins, express their doubts, ask God for help in times of trouble, and they praise and worship Him. Their writings help God’s people find their way through the varied experiences of life. The Psalms should be read and reread, and meditated upon. Those who study them carefully will deepen their understanding of God, and will experience richer communion between the soul and its Maker.