A psalm of national worship
"Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy." (verses 1-3)
The unknown psalmist opens this national hymn with an invitation to worship. To whom does he address this invitation? To the righteous, to the upright. What does it mean to be righteous? It means to be in right standing before God, and to be upright is to live righteously. There has never been born a man, save One, who could claim this from his own merit. We have all done wrong things and no one who has done wrong is in right standing with God. Who then, can rejoice in the LORD? Who can sing this worship song?
God has a righteousness that He offers to mankind as a gift; an imputed right standing with God. To "impute" means to attribute something to another persons's character. In other words, God offers people complete forgiveness and pardon from their wrongdoings without any good works, effort, or cost on their part. He makes men righteous enough to be with Him, the perfect God, through faith in His mercy. He offers "perfection" as a gift to those who know they aren't perfect.
It doesn't make us act perfect, but it gives us a perfect standing in the eyes of God. One day, when we die, He will also give us a perfect body. Then we will be complete and perfect in practice. For the ancient Israelite, this imputed righteousness was accomplished by faith in the Messiah who would one day come, and for us today it is accomplished by faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who did already come some two thousand years ago.
Those who have received righteousness from God are thus invited to rejoice in His goodness to them, and what a wonderful reason to rejoice is that! Specifically, it is an invitation to all Israelites to worship the God of their nation: Yahweh, the One true and living God. He calls their praises "beautiful," for so they are when arisen out of a thankful heart.
I have read this passage before and felt disappointed that I could not do what the psalmist says here, for I cannot sing well, compose music, nor play an instrument of however many strings skillfully! I can shout for joy, though, and I believe that the beauty of the worship to the ears of God in found, not in the quality of sound, but in the heart that it is born from.
Yet, I believe that here the psalmist is simply encouraging the temple worship leaders to join in the act of worship by playing skillfully and joyfully. Sometimes it can be hard to focus on the Lord while playing an instrument or leading in song (I have been told), as there are so many other factors besides the words to focus on. The psalmist reminds them that they too can enter into worship as they pour out their hearts through their hands.
"For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." (verses 4-9)
There is truth. It is not relative. There is a right and a wrong, a good and an evil in this world. From the very beginning, God is One who has defined truth, because He IS truth. It says in John 1:1-4, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men."
It also says in Genesis 1:1-4, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. "
God, who existed eternally before the creation of this universe, set an order in place through His spoken Word. That order is known as right and wrong. "He loves righteousness and justice." He loves what is good. The very first thing He created was light, because light reveals truth. God wants mankind to know and understand truth.
By His spoken Word, God created everything that exists... "by the breath of His mouth." I love how emphatically the psalmist writes, "For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." I can't improve upon that, nor does it need explanation. There is infinite power in His Word. God spoke the universe into existence. This is the God of Israel.
I love our national anthems (I'm a dual citizen), and get emotional when I sing them. I have a healthy national pride in both of my countries of earthly citizenship. But oh, imagine being an Israelite! To have a country founded by God Himself, and worship hymns for national anthems! There is no God like our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Truly, when God told Abraham that through his Seed all the nations of the world would be blessed, He was speaking of all of those who would come to know and love the Living God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our God!
"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance." (verses 10-12)
As the current situation in the middle east continues, these words gain immediate significance. The modern "counsel of the nations" to Israel is to allow themselves to be annihilated by their attackers, and all efforts to defend themselves are hailed by the the rest of the world as "war crimes." Yet, Israel need not worry. The LORD Himself will bring their counsels to nothing and their plans to no effect.
God has ordained Israel to exist and He will ensure that they do. His counsel and His plans will stand, to all generations... even ours. Israel, even in modern Judaism and atheism, are still God's chosen people, and He will uphold His promise to preserve them. God never lies.
At the time of this writing, however, Israel did worship the LORD collectively. "Blessed," or exceedingly happy, is the nation who has the true and living God as their country's Diety, who were chosen by Him for Himself. Israel alone holds this distinction.
Canada and America, true, were founded upon Deism and Judeo-Christian values, and throughout their history, they have been nations in which Christianity has thrived and born great fruit. Yet, North America was not chosen by God in the same way as Israel. There is no nation under the sun that was founded by God Himself, except Israel.
As the psalmist writes and the people sing, a spirit of healthy national patriotism arises, as the children of Israel reflect that they are a nation whose origin was divine and whose promises of endurance are divine. Without knowing the future of their nation, they could with conviction prophesy that theirs was a nation that would endure to the end of time... as it has.
There has never in history been a people who have been displaced for hundreds of years, let alone thousands, that have rejoined to again become a nation, except Israel. None but the Israelites have maintained national identity, culture, and religion for millennia, while their nation was scattered across the globe. Truly, these are people held up by God himself, for the current existence of Israel is otherwise inexplicable.
"The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works." (verses 13-15)
God is still picking out a special people for Himself today, a people for His own inheritance. He is not looking within national boundaries, nor even within specific cultures. He is not focused merely on one continent, nor on one people group. He is looking everywhere, all the time, searching, searching, searching. What is He searching for?“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)
God is searching for individuals whose hearts are seeking for Him. He is not searching out the strong, the wise, or even the moral. He looks at their hearts. He looks at their actions. And He reads their souls. What is He looking for?
He is looking for people who see their need for a powerful God that He can show Himself strong on behalf of. In short, He is looking for people who want to be saved by Him!
While He chose Israel as His own special earthly nation, He yet receives all who come to Him to be saved, and makes them His own special heavenly nation. I have no earthly promise of a national homeland that will be preserved from enemies, but I have promises just as real of a heavenly country of which I am now a citizen. Both are real. One is physical and the other spiritual, and both belong to God.
"No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine." (verses 16-19)
Speaking of all who "hope in His mercy," whether Jew or Gentile (everyone who is not a Jew), the psalmist offers up a contrast. Some people trust in armies, with their great numbers, valiant warriors, and powerful horses to deliver them from death, but that is vanity. Even a mighty king cannot escape death by the power of his nation's military.
Those, however, who trust in the living GOD, look to Him not only to save the body from danger and death, but the soul from damnation. He can indeed heal our sicknesses, provide for our needs, and protect us from our enemies, but ultimately we all will die in this body sooner or later. Only He can deliver our souls from eternal death. How great is that salvation!
"Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, just as we hope in You." (verses 20-22)
The hymn ends with collective worship, as the tense moves from third person to first person plural: we, us, our. Israel as a whole is represented in these words. The soul of every Israelite is waiting upon the LORD for He is their "help" and "shield", or in other words, their "Department of Defence;" they have an army and weapons, to be sure, but their hope is not in their strength of arms, as the psalmist previously stated. Their trust is in "His holy name." A person's "name" is their reputation or their known character. God has proven His own name faithful and we can trust in Him.
The song concludes with a prayer for God to display His mercy in His dealings with their nation, and with a final vote of confidence by the people: "We hope in You." They are saying that in regards to matters of trust, they are placing all their eggs in one basket: God's faithfulness to them.
God keeps His promises. We can count on that with our life.