Explore the Bible Series
September 27, 2009
Background Passage: Psalms135:1-21
Lesson Passage: Psalm 135:1-18
Last Sunday, as my wife and I drove place our place of worship, we passed a church as it prepared for the day’s activities. A large sign, positioned on the church parking lot, announced that this was “Fun Day”, a clearly play on words to replace “Sunday.” Men in tee-shirts and shorts directed traffic, and workers prepared for volleyball games, an out-door concert, and plenty of food and drinks. I don’t know if they planned time for congregational singing, prayer, the reading of Scripture, or the ministry of the word. My heart sank as we crept through the neighborhood, barely able to progress down the street, a street choked with crowds arriving for “Fun Day.” By that evening, I noticed that the crowds had dissipated in plenty of time to catch the Cowboys game on television (perhaps in person—Jerry Jones opened a new, $1 billion stadium, on Sunday). I wonder how different, in kind, were the activities at the church and the festivities at the ball park.
Frankly, I have not done much better with my approach to worship. Too often, in my own ministry, I have sought to transform worship into a seminary lecture. The music, prayers, and Scripture readings simply served as a preliminary “warm-up” for the sermon, in my way of thinking. Preaching became the center of “worship”, at least as I practiced my faith. Sometimes I think preaching took on idolatrous proportions to me. Whether it’s dunking-booths and volleyball courts or learned “seminary lectures”, perhaps all American evangelicals need to re-think the nature of worship.
Worship is an internal disposition that has external expression. The external expression is important, but only as it gives vent to the godly passions of the regenerate heart. For many years (more than thirty), I ransacked the Bible and other Christian writings to adjust my expression of worship to fit the ecclesiastic patterns of godly, admirable leaders: dozens of books on preaching, the ordinances, pastor’s guide’s, etc. In the process, I grew increasingly narrow and prickly about the forms of worship (I still think these are important), but sometimes I lost God in the process. One might say I, “tithed mint, dill, and cummin… but neglected the weightier matters of the law.”
The Psalms serve as great remedy for worship gone awry. For instance, Psalm 135 highlights several essential elements of worship, essential elements that require constant watchfulness. This Psalm defies easy structural analysis, and whatever outline we propose will prove inadequate. The hymn, however, does divide into three major sections.
1. Verses 1-14 focus attention on the exuberant adoration of God.
2. Verses 15-18 provide a helpful, challenging warning against the dangers of idolatry.
3. Verses 19-21 return to the theme of joyful worship and provide a fitting, concluding summary of the hymn,
Scholars do not know the author of this Psalm, and determining the date of composition proves difficult as well. It seems that the references to idol worship would indicate a time prior to the Babylonian Exile.
I. Praise the Lord (vv. 1-14)
A. The object of worship (“the Lord” translates the Hebrew word Yah, God’s covenant name). The Psalmist briefly describes the character of the Lord.
1. “the Lord is good” (v. 3a): “Good” means pleasant, delightful.
2. “for it (his name) is pleasant” (v. 3b): Again, this word denotes pleasantness, loveliness, desire.
3. “the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself” (v. 4): All of God’s dealings with his people stands on the foundation of the divine covenant with the Patriarchs.
4. “the Lord is great” (v. 5): “Great” comes from the Hebrew word for heavy. It reflects the weight, significance . Note the comparison the Psalmist makes with other gods: light, vain, weighless, without significance.
5. “whatever the Lord pleases, he does” (vv. 6-7): Unlike the false gods of the idolaters, the Lord exercises his sovereign prerogative over all things. Verses 7-13 give examples of the Lord’s sovereignty over the earth and the nations of the world.
6. “the Lord will judge his people” (v. 14): This verse underscores Jehovah’s justice and righteousness. He will have compassion on and vindicate his people.
B. The nature of worship
1. “praise the Lord” (vv. 1-3): The Lord merits honor, celebration, exuberance, and glory. It entails energetic, enthusiastic demonstration (has the connotation of shouting) of glory in the Lord’s name.
2. “sing praises to his name” (v. 3b): This phrase means believers must give musical, verbal expression of their praise.
C. The practitioners of worship
1. “servants of the Lord” (v. 1b): “Servants” signifies the lowliest of slaves, those who, without question or hesitation, carry out the commands of a master.
2. “who stand in the house of the Lord” (v. 2a): “The house of the Lord” reflects the public worship of God, in the Temple. They gather in collective praise of the Lord.
II. The Foolhardiness of Idol Worship (vv. 15-18)
A. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the works of human hands” (vv. 15-17): Foolish men construct gods of their own design, images made from silver, gold, stone, or wood. They have mouths, but cannot speak. They have eyes, but cannot see; ears, but cannot hear.
B. “Those who make them become like them” (v. 18): Idolaters make gods in their own image, and, in turn, become like the images they fashion: vain, contemptible, senseless, and powerless.
III. The Psalmist concluded this hymn with a final, persuasive call to praise. He conceived of worshippers as a household, a family engaged in ceaseless admiration. In particular, the spiritual leaders (the House of Levi) has special responsibility to direct God’s people to proper worship. Fear (reverence) should accompany the cheerful, ecstasy of all true worship. Those who thus worship the Lord will abide in a place of peace and security (denoted by the reference to Zion and Jerusalem).