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The Testimony of Heaven and Earth

“He calls to the heavens from above and to the earth to contend with his people.”

(Psalm 50:4)

The structure of this passage is much like that of a court case. And though God is always true and none can contend against him, as he is just, he follows his own rules and guidelines. Indeed, for a capital sentence to be given, two or three witnesses must be presented (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16). And so, God furnishes witnesses as such. Here he calls to the heavens and to the earth — that which suffered in the place of Adam in Eden (Genesis 3:17), that which testifies to the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), that which still yearns for its own redemption (Romans 8:22) — and he demands that they take a stand to witness not only the faithlessness of the people of God to the covenant but also of God’s faithfulness to the covenant as well.

The remarkable thing about this is not so much that God is calling his people to task, they deserve it, but it is that he is calling his people to task again and again. How remarkably patient our God is with we who are his people! How gracious he is in every way. How merciful. God’s aim for us is a life of repentance and faithfulness; how rarely we live in such a way. Perhaps this is one more reminder indeed, to repent and walk faithfully before him lest the heavens and earth testify against us as well.

God’s Faithfulness

“To declare your chesed in the morning;

And of your trustworthiness in the night;

Upon the ten strings and upon the harp;

With the sound of the zither.”

(Psalm 92:3-4 [verses 2-3 in English])

 

Again we find an emphasis on singing praise accompanied by the sound of instruments. The reference to the “ten strings” in Hebrew is unique to the book of psalms (33:2, 92:4, 144:9) and is likely a reference not simply to a small personal shoulder harp (which might have had 5 or 7 strings), but to a larger harp requiring more skill to play. Granted, depending on the dating of this psalm, much larger harps would have been familiar items; the ancient Egyptians had 22 strings on their full-sized arched-harp. Arguably this is one more reminder that this psalm has its focus the gathered worship of God’s people where skilled musicians (levitical or otherwise) would have been present, not simply to private worship.

The additional reference to the zither seems to reinforce both the corporate setting (as multiple instruments are being mentioned) and to skillful musicians required to play it. Often this word is translated as lyre, which shouldn’t surprise us as the lyre has its origins in the zither. Again, the emphasis of music in Sabbath worship.

Yet, what is more important is not the instruments used but for what God is being praised. Here, it is his “chesed” and his trustworthiness. The word chesed I have simply left untranslated as there is not a simple word-for-word equivalent of this idea. Ultimately it refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to his people (that’s us!) despite the covenant unfaithfulness of his people (sadly, that’s us too…). This we do not deserve, but this God graciously gives to his own to his own glory and praise. As the Apostle Paul wrote, salvation is by grace, not works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Indeed, it is worth praising our God for his faithfulness and for his chesed.

And it is for this faithfulness (amongst other things) that we praise God when we gather together on the Sabbath. The sad thing is that all-too-often, the lyrics of our praises are focused heavily on the individual, not on the God who saves the individual. Loved ones, remember, it is not our goodness or our works that brings about God’s faithfulness…God is faithful despite our lack of goodness and our failures…that is the essence of Grace. As the old Fanny Crosby hymn went… “To God be the glory, great things he has done!”

And you shall remember—for you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahweh, your God, redeemed you.  Because of this, I command this thing of you today.

(Deuteronomy 15:15)

God is Truth

“And he said, ‘Blessed be Yahweh the God of my lord Abraham who has not forsaken his covenant faithfulness or his truth from over my lord. As for me, Yahweh has led me to the household of my lord’s brother.’”

(Genesis 24:27)

 

Recently I was speaking with a Christian man who had become convicted that he spent all of his time praying for the things he wanted and not enough time giving thanks to God for the things that God had given him. What a remarkably convicting statement. How often we are quick to treat God like a celestial Santa Claus wanting sweet treats and as soon as God gives us a good thing, we turn around and ask for more, like a spoiled child who takes for granted that which he does have.

Eliezer comes before the Lord in worship and then in praise for what God has done. He praises God for his dRsRj (chesed) — God’s covenant faithfulness in spite of our covenantal unfaithfulness — and for being tRmTa (emeth) — True. We have often talked about the covenantal faithfulness of God, but the second part of this declaration is also worth mentioning. God is true. He is true to his word and he is true to himself and to his character. And it is on the basis of God’s truthfulness, we find assurance within his covenantal promise. His promises will not change because he is True and therein we can rest our hope.

We live in a world that is yearning for truth. The sad thing is that those in this world tend to seek it in all of the wrong places — avoiding the one place where truth can genuinely be found. Such is our fallen nature. Yet, for we who know the God of truth, we can draw great hope from knowing that He is, has always been, and always will be true to his word and to his promise.

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 4)

“For your covenant faithfulness is better than life;

my lips will sing praises to you.”

(Psalm 63:4 {Psalm 63:3 in English Bibles})

 

Those of you who know me well know that I sound a bit like a broken record when I get to verses like this, but I would hold that these things are essential for the Christian to understand.  The Hebrew word that is found in the first part of this verse is the word ds,x, (chesed).  This word is translated in a number of ways in our English Bibles, sometimes we see it as “mercy” or “loving-kindness” and sometimes we see it as “grace” or “faithfulness.”  It is a word that carries with it many ideas, but essentially reflects God’s covenant faithfulness in the midst of his people’s covenant unfaithfulness.  And, oh, through history, how God demonstrates his ds,x, (chesed) to his people. 

And indeed, David speaks some very important words here—he says that the ds,x, (chesed) of God is better than life.  Were it not for God’s covenant faithfulness, life would not be worth living, David communicates.  Were it not for the covenant faithfulness of God this world would have been swept away in his wrath over sin.  Were it not for the covenant faithfulness of God, you and I would be condemned to the darkness of eternal judgment.  Were it not for God’s covenant faithfulness, he would have never sent his Son to redeem a people for himself—to redeem you and me.  Friends, do you see just how important this word is to us—this characteristic of God?  Do you see how we could not live without it?  Oh, how often we take God’s covenant faithfulness for granted; let us be reminded by these words of David that it is better than life itself—it is what makes life worth living!

And as a result of God’s covenant faithfulness in your life and in the lives of believers everywhere, it ought to cause your voice to sing praises to God!  The verb that David uses in the second clause is the word xb;v’ (shavach), which means to sing loud praises—to laud another.  Beloved, when you look back at your own life and you see the hand of God at work, does it not make you want to sing!  When you look back through history and you see God’s hand at work in the lives of his people, does it not make you want to praise!  Oh, how often we take the work of God for granted in our lives—oh how often we take the covenant faithfulness of God for granted—as if it were something that was our due pay for services rendered!  Beloved, our infinite praise is God’s due pay for his covenant faithfulness!  So, let us get to work—it is a precious labor to praise our God.  No, we will never repay what we owe, but though we cannot repay, shall we not try?  Shall we not praise him for who he is and for what he has done?  It is a pleasant duty and a delightful task that has been set before us, indeed.

All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King,

To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring!

Thou art the King of Israel, thou David’s royal Son,

Who in the Lord’s name comest, the King and blessed One!

-Theodulph of Orleans