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In Praise of...God

Series: Psalms Book 5

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Sep 23, 2012

Psalm 145:1-20

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 145. As you turn there, I would mention that this is the last of the psalms of David. We've gotten to that point in the Psalter. And it's an acrostic psalm, like seven others that we find in the Psalter. That is, each of its stanzas begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Five of the eight acrostic psalms in the Psalter are David's. He apparently really liked following the letters of the alphabet in the composition of his psalms. The five previous psalms that we've studied just prior to Psalm 145 were prayers in which the author lifted up often urgent supplications to the Lord for help in times of trouble and trial. The five psalms that follow this psalm are praises. And so it's very appropriate if you note the title of this psalm that it's called “A Song of Praise.” Now this is perhaps going to be something that catches you off guard, but did you know that this song if the only song in the Psalter with the word, “Praise” in its title. Many psalms exhort us to praise the Lord, many psalms lead us in praise to the Lord, but only this psalm has “Song of Praise” in its title. By the way, that's how Augustine defined a hymn. Augustine, the great theologian of the early church, said, “A hymn is a song of praise to God.” And it's very interesting that this psalm's praise prefaces five hallelujahs that are going to come in the psalms following.

Now you may notice in your English translation, if you have an ESV Bible and you look down to right above verse 14, you will see words either in italics or in brackets. And that's because in the standard version of the Hebrew Bible that verse is missing, but in the documents that we found at Qumran in the middle of the 20th century and in the oldest translations of the Hebrew Bible like the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, this verse appeared, and it supplies one missing letter from this acrostic psalm. If you follow the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the “nun”, the “N”, is missing in this psalm. But when we found those documents at Qumran and when we looked at the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, this verse is there. And so it's put in a bracket or in italics in order to alert you to the fact that there are some manuscripts that don't have the verse. But of course its content is completely Scriptural and could be supplied from other places.

Now this psalm prepares us for the hallelujahs ahead because of its laser beam like focus on God Himself. This psalm is in praise of God. Let's pray before we read it and hear His Word proclaimed.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that supremely Your Word is a Word from You to us about Yourself. It reveals who You are and what You’re like and what You have done and are doing and will do. It reveals Your way of salvation. It reveals Your attributes, Your character, Your providence, Your rule, Your purposes, Your Savior, Your Gospel, Your grace. And so as we give attention to You tonight, we pray that great thoughts of You will lead us to great praise of You, in Jesus' name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it from Psalm 145:

“A SONG OF PRAISE. OF DAVID.

I will extol You, my God and King, and bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You and praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of Your awesome deeds, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of Your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.

All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and all Your saints shall bless You! They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

[The LORD is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works.]

The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless His holy name forever and ever.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

In this psalm, David's praise is of God. He points us to great thoughts of God at the very beginning. He thinks about how the greatness of God compels us to praise Him generationally. He meditates upon the compassion of God and thinks about how that shows that we ought to praise Him. He reflects on the reign or the kingdom or the dominion of God and that moves him to praise. He reflects on how God takes care of those in need and who are weak and this moves him to praise. And finally he ends this psalm and all of his psalms with a resolution to praise God. I want to walk through those things with you tonight.

GREAT THOUGHTS OF GOD FUEL OUR PRAISE

First, beginning in verses 1 to 3. Here, David shows us that praise requires great thoughts of God and great thoughts of God fuel our praise. He begins this way. “I will extol You, My God and King, and bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You and praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.” That vision of God's greatness leads David to say that He is to be greatly praised. Notice the logic — great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. That means that our praise is tied to our view of who God is. If we believe that God is great, it moves us to great praise, but if our hearts have low views of Him, if we lack appreciation of His greatness, it will lead to a lack of praise and worship. Low views of God lead to low views of sin, weak motivation to service, and empty worship. William Plumer, the commentator that I've so often quoted to you in this series, says this. “Nothing has a more pernicious effect on character than low thoughts of God. Unless we have great thoughts of God, our thoughts of sin will be low, our sense of obligation feeble, and our praises dull.” And that's borne out by what David says here in verse 3. “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.” You will not greatly praise the Lord if you don't think He's great.

In connection with your great thoughts of God will flow great worship of God. John Piper recently released a little book of biographies written many years about by T. H. L. Parker about John Calvin. It's called, A Portrait of John Calvin. It's less than a hundred pages and it's one of my favorite biographies of John Calvin and he made it available free. I think you can still get it at the Desiring God website in a PDF file for free. And in his little introduction to that book, Piper says this. “Calvin continues to inspire me because of his relentless focus on the greatness of God.” Now that's a high compliment indeed for a sinful man, that he had a relentless focus on the greatness of God. Well you see that kind of a relentless focus on the greatness of God in this psalm. And that theology, a great theology of God, leads David to doxology, to praise of God, and his doxology flows from that high theology of God. So you cannot worship God as you ought until you know Him as He is. And as you become knowledgeable of who He is, it ought to move you to great praise of Him and worship. Praise requires great thoughts of God and great thoughts of God fuel praise. We see that in the very first three verses of this psalm.

A CALL ON THE GENERATIONS TO CONTINUE TO PRAISE GOD

But there's a second thing. David moves from this opening call to worship and this opening ascription of praise to God to a call on the generations to continue to praise God. Look at verses 4 to 7. “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and Your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of Your awesome deeds, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of Your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.” Do you see the antiphonal feel to that section? But it's not one part of the congregation singing it to another, it's David singing it to the next generation and the next generation singing it back. And you know the remarkable thing about this is that David has no idea how true this would be. David could not have conceived the millions, the tens of millions, the hundreds of millions, the thousands of millions in the generations to come that would join up with this antiphonal response, where David sings praise to God and meditates on the splendor of His majesty and then they speak back of His awesome deeds, especially in light of the Gospel because the Lord gave us a new song about the redemption that we have in Jesus Christ to sing. And so the greatness of God compels His praise to be passed on generationally, David says, and even internationally because frankly, we need some help. God's so great that we can't give Him the praises that He deserves. We need all the help we can get. And so we need to go to the ends of the earth with the Gospel because we need help to join in with this great song of praise. And so David shows us in verses 4 to 7 how the greatness of God compels His praise to be passed on to the next generation and to be taken up by the next generation.

And I’ll just pause briefly to say this. Young folks who are here tonight, there are people around you with gray hair who have been praising their God for decades. Soon, they will pass the baton. Will you take it up or will you go through the motions? Will you really join them in praising God? God is so great that it demands the next generation to praise Him. If the next generation will not, He will not be the loser; you will. May God continue on His praises in this congregation for a generation and generations to come. We will be the benefactors of that praise, for God's praise will always be continued.

GOD’S GOODNESS OUGHT TO BE PRAISED

Third, if you look in verses 8 and 9 you will recognize that the words that David speaks in praise of God's compassion here come almost verbatim out of Exodus 34:6. You remember that passage? It's the passage when Moses says, “Lord, reveal Yourself to me. I want to see You, Lord.” It's the passage where the Lord passes in front of Moses but He shows him only His back and He says to him almost verbatim these words. “I am God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. I am good to all and My mercy is over all that I have made.” Almost verbatim David is quoting that great scene from Moses. In other words, David is saying here that God's grace and His mercy and His forbearance and His patience and His lovingkindess and His goodness ought to be praised. When Moses asked to see what God was like, the Lord said, “This is what I'm like. I'm gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

You know it's very interesting if you look at the story of Jonah when Jonah is arguing with God in Jonah chapter 4 about the fact that he didn't want to go to Nineveh to preach the Gospel. He said to the Lord, “Lord, the reason I didn't want to go there is because I knew You were gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in love.” You see what Jonah is saying. “I didn't want to go to those pagans in Nineveh to preach because I knew You’d forgive them. I wanted to preach to my own people. I wanted them to repent, but You sent me to those pagans in Nineveh and I knew that if you sent me there they’d repent and it makes me mad because I want my own people to repent, not these Gentiles! Not these pagans up in Nineveh! I knew You were like that!”

You remember how the story ends. If you look at Jonah 4:9 the Lord comes back to Jonah and he says something very interesting that echoes actually what is said in verses 14 to 20 here in this psalm. He says, “Jonah, you know, you had compassion on that plant that I caused to grow up overnight. When it died, your heart was sad. But there are thousands of people in this city that don't know their left hand from their right and along with that many cattle, and I had compassion on them.” You see this central attribute of God, His grace, His mercy, His forbearance, His patience, His lovingkindness, His goodness, His compassion ought to be praised. No wonder John said, “God is love.” And David says if you understand that you’ll praise God for who He is — His love and His compassion.

GOD REIGNS AND SO HE MUST BE PRAISED

And then in verses 10 and 11 David says God reigns and so He must be praised. Look at what he says here. “All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and all Your saints shall bless You! They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” This is praise to God because He reigns. He has an everlasting kingdom. His kingdom will not end; it will go on forever and ever. Earthly kingdoms come and go; God's kingdom goes on. Even David's earthly kingdom would come to an end, but God's kingdom will never ever come to an end. And this moves David to praise.

My brother, Mel, and I were at a particular presentation one evening - and I hope that I'm not going to offend someone from France tonight — that was celebrating the glories of the French Revolution and the Republic. And at some point in the presentation the narrator said, “Hail to the revolution! Hail to the republic!” And my brother, Mel, wryly and much too loudly said, “Which one? Because there have been at least two French revolutions and five French Republics!” And he was slightly sarcastically asking the narrator to answer the question, “Which revolution and which republic exactly is it that we're supposed to hail here?” Well, David points out that you don't ever have to ask that question when it comes to God's kingdom. It's just God's kingdom and it's always been and it is now and it always will be. It is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the Alpha and the Omega and His kingdom will not end. His kingdom, in the beautiful words of this hymn and of the Hallelujah Chorus “is forever.”

It reminds me of another Frenchman. You remember the words of Voltaire who said, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” He said that about three hundred years ago. There's a story of a Baptist minister that was on a tour and Voltaire's chair was there and the tour guide was saying, “This is the chair where Voltaire made his famous declaration that there wouldn't be a Bible left on earth in a hundred years.” And the Baptist minister said, “You mean that chair right there is where Voltaire said that?” And the tour guide said, “Yes sir, it is.” And he leapt over the rail and he sat in the chair and he said, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun, does his successive journeys run” because His kingdom is forever. The Voltaires and the Bill Nyes come and go but His kingdom lasts forever.

GOD HELPS THE FALLEN, FEEDS HIS CREATURES, ANSWERS PRAYER, AND PROTECTS HIS OWN, AND THEREFORE SHOULD BE PRAISED

And then in verses 14 to 20, here David says that God helps the fallen, feeds His creatures, answers prayer, and protects His own, and therefore He should be praised. “The LORD is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works.” That's a verse to remember. “The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.” A friend of mine quoted those words when she heard that she’d lost her niece and her nephew. “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.” She worshiped God even in that tragedy by acknowledging that God helps the falling and He answers prayer.

And then did you think that you would get out of this psalm without David mentioning the wicked? You know we almost got there! We got all the way to the end of verse 20 — no mention of the wicked in this psalm, but you knew it was coming! Because if you’re going to praise God for protecting there's got to be somebody to protect you from. And there it is: “The LORD preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” William Plumer says, “The poor, the feeble, those who lack self-confidence, the bruised, the oppressed, the down trodden, have an unfailing friend in God.” You know what Martin Luther said about this passage? He said this. “Christ is the King of the poor, afflicted, and fallen.” And David celebrates that in this psalm.

And then he concludes with a resolution and you see that resolution in verse 21. “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD.” Yes, he goes on to call “all flesh” to bless His name, but he resolves, “My mouth will speak of the praise of the LORD” because his view of the greatness of God led him to praise because great thoughts of God fuel our praise. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, if our praise is tepid, if our blessings of You are dull, if our zeal and passion for You has waned, give us a sight of Yourself again and move us to praise, to praise You for You. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.

Would you stand and receive the Lord's benediction? And then we're going to sing the first and second stanzas of hymn number 5. The words are in your bulletin. It's a simple tune but one you may not know, so she's going to play all the way through it and then we’ll sing the first and the sixth stanzas of number 5. If you want to follow along with the music you can look at the hymnal.

Receive God's blessing. Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.

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