If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 115. As we read this psalm together tonight, I want to point out several parts of the passage as we look through it.
The opening declaration of the psalm is the destination to which the psalm is going even though it is stated out front. Now how do I make that argument? Because of what it said in verse 2. In the second verse, we have a taunt from the unbelieving nations against Israel, and that is the context for this psalm. Times are hard in Israel, and the opening word of giving praise to God for victory is where the psalmist wants the people of God to get to but they’re not there now. Right now, they’re being mocked by pagans and they’re beings asked, “Where is their God?” Now the third to the eighth verses give you the first main section of the psalm. In the third to the eighth verses we have the rejoinder of the people of God to idol-makers and idol-worshipers. It's the idol-makers and idol-worshippers who are taunting the people of God in verse 2 and now a representative spokesman, priest or prophet, a leader amongst the people of God, speaking back to those idol-makers and those idol-worshipers on behalf of the people of God but with a view to encouraging the people of God because they’re discouraged.
Then, after verses 3 to 8 and this rejoinder to the idol-makers and idol-worshipers, we have an exhortation in verses 9 to 11. And the exhortation, again, is to Israel to trust in the Lord, especially to trust in the Lord for deliverance and for protection.
This is followed by verses 12 to 15, a third major section of the psalm, in which again, an exhortation is given to the people of God to look to God for the supply of blessing, but it's done in the way of benedictions pronounced — “The Lord has remembered us; He will bless us; May the Lord give you increase; May you be blessed by the Lord.” But it's just like verses 9 to 11. It's another exhortation to the people of God to trust in the Lord for His supply.
And then in verses 16 to 18, in light of the Lord's protection, in light of the Lord's provision, believers are exhorted to praise the Lord, to praise the Lord right now before our mouths are closed by the grave. And that praise leads us back to the first verse of the psalm in which the very words of the praise that are given to the Lord are stated — “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory.”
Well, let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, at the end of this Your day, the day of rest and gladness, the market day of the soul, we come to You. We come to You seeking the refreshment that only You can give. We come to You because there is no other place for us to turn but You. We come to You because Your supply is all that we want and all that we need. So supply us Your grace even in the hearing of Your Word. And grant that by the work of the Holy Spirit, we will believe and trust this Your Word, understanding it, being transformed by it, being comforted by it. All these things we ask in Jesus' name, amen.
Hear the Word of God in Psalm 115:
“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, ‘Where is your God?’ Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
The LORD has remembered us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron; He will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.
May the LORD give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!
The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth He has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down in silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Psalm 115 has a great pedigree of usage on famous occasions of victory. Many of you will know that it's not just Shakespeare's imagination in Henry V when he has the kings say, after the victory on the field of Agincourt, “Do we all holy rights, let there be sung non nobis and te deum.” Because it is in fact true that the army of the King of England knelt after the victory of Agincourt and sang, “Non nobis domine” — not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your name be the glory.
Hundreds of years later, on November 5, 1605 when the House of Lord and the House of Commons and the king and all his retinue were gathered in the houses of parliament in London, there was a Roman Catholic plot to blow up the parliament and thus to destroy the protestant rulers of Britain and to bring back Roman Catholicism. And the plot was discovered. The great Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes, and to this day, especially still in Northern Ireland, in Ulster, Guy Fawkes day is a national holiday and it's celebrated with fireworks. But the Church of England put a new collect in the Book of Common Prayer to celebrate that occasion and it is based on, you guessed it, Psalm 115. It reads like this:
“Almighty God who hast in all ages showed Thy power and mercy in the miraculous and gracious deliverance of Thy church, and in the protection of righteous and religious kings and states professing Thy holy and eternal truth from the wicked conspiracies and malicious practices of all the enemies thereof, we yield Thee our unfeigned thanks and praise for the wonderful and mighty deliverance of our gracious, sovereign king, the queen, the prince, and all the royal branches with the nobility, clergy, and commons of England, then assembled in parliament by popish treachery appointed as sheep to the slaughter, in most barbarous and savage manner beyond the example of former ages. From this unnatural conspiracy, not our merit but Thy mercy, not our foresight but Thy providence delivered us, and therefore not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name be ascribed all honor and glory in all the churches of the saints from generation to generation through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.”
And that collect stayed in the Book of Common Order for the Church of England until 1859 and was used regularly on the anniversary of that occasion.
Maybe you don't know that on the day after a lifetime of labor when the House of Commons passed the law abolishing the slave trade, William Wilberforce quietly retired to his room and meditated, because he was no longer able to see, meditated on Psalm 115. “Not to me, not to us, O Lord, but to Your name be the glory. You've done this Lord. I've spent my life battling this, but You've done this, Lord,” he was saying.
Oh, this is a song of praise that has been used many times on notable occasions of wonderful deliverances of God in which it's very clear that it's His hand that has been at work. But you may be saying to me, “Ligon, tonight that's not where I am. I'm not here tonight celebrating a great victory in my life. In fact, I find myself in the midst of a great battle and there's a great uncertainty as to its outcome and I'm discouraged and I don't know what's coming next.” And I want to tell you that I've got some good news for you, because though this psalm has been used on many notable occasions of victory, it is in fact a psalm written for people who are in the middle of a struggle, who have not yet seen the victory that they’re longing for because the announcement of the victory in verse 1 is not the context in which the song is sung. It's the goal to which the song aspires. The context in which the song is sung is the context of God's people caught in the midst of the mocking persecution of their enemies, God's people caught under weighty burdens that they wonder if they can bear. And so I want to encourage you from this song that hopes to praise God in victory but is written for people who are caught in the midst of burdens.
A REJOINDER TO IDOL-MAKERS AND IDOL-WORSHIPPERS
And I want to turn you first to the taunts of unbelievers against God's people in verse 2. There we see the context for the psalm. I don't know exactly what the historical moment is in Israel, I don't know which particular nation is burdening them, I don't know what season of their trial it is, but I know that it's some season and here's the taunt: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’’ Clearly, because of whatever the circumstances of Israel, the nations look upon Israel and Israel looks like their God has abandoned them. Israel looks like they are in a condition in which their God has not protected them and their God has not blessed them and it has drawn the mocking taunts of their unbelieving enemies. “Look where your trust in your God got you! It didn't get you very far! Where is your God?” And so the psalmist cries out and says, “Why should the nations be able to say that?”
And then he begins a protest and you see that protest in verses 3 to 8 in which he himself turns around and mocks the idols of the unbelieving nations who are taunting Israel. This also gives us another clue to the nature of the taunts of the unbelievers. They are mocking Israel because Israel doesn't have an image to worship and all the nations have their images. They have their idols. And so when they say, “Where is your God?” not only are they saying, “It doesn't look like your God is protecting you. It doesn't look like your God is blessing you.” They’re saying, “We can't even see your God. Where is He? You don't have a temple where His statue is. You don't have a grand idol before whom your people throw themselves in prostration. Look, we have our god. There he is, right there in our temple. We can see him. We can touch him. We can offer libations to him. We see him, but where is your God?”
And the psalmist turns back to the unbelieving nations and unleashes a mocking, scornful, dismembering of the whole theology of idolatry. It kind of reminds you of Isaiah 44, doesn't it, where Isaiah mocks the makers of idols who, out of the same piece of wood, make furniture, kindling, and a god. Or it reminds you of Isaiah 46 where Isaiah does a discourse on how to transport a god. This is how you transport an idol, a god, little “g” made by human hands, because those gods can't get around. They have to be transported by the human beings that made them. And you see that kind of taunt in this passage. “Our God is in the heavens. You want to know where He is? He's in the heavens!” And — notice what about Him? “He does all that He pleases.” You know the most common phrase in the Westminster Confession of Faith is, “it pleased the Lord.” It pleased the Lord; it pleased the Lord. In other words, God decided to do this because He's sovereign. And the language comes right out of this passage and others like it. He does all that He pleases. He's in the heavens; He's not an idol in a temple and He does all that He pleases.
Contrary wise, verses 4 to 7, their idols are the work of human hands. They have mouths, they have eyes, they have ears, they have noses, they have hands, they have feet, but their mouths can't speak, their eyes can't see, their ears can't hear, their noses can't smell, their hands can't feel, their feet can't walk, and they can't even make a sound in their throat. They are literally dumb idols. They can't speak!
And then this unbelievably important verse — mark it. This is one to underline in your Bibles. Verse 8 — “Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” Hear this great principle of worship my friends — you become like what you worship. You become like what you worship, and if you worship an idol which is nothing, you will become empty and vain and be brought to nothing. But if you worship God who is in the heavens who does all that He pleases, you will be growing into what it is to be the image of God because you are the only image that He allows for. He does not allow us to make any other image. He has chosen us to be His image bearers. We are to reflect the glory of His character, but if you worship an idol, you’ll become like it.
Now let's be very clear. There are not many, although there are increasingly more in our times, there are not many of our neighbors who have idol shrines in their homes. There are some, and there are more than there used to be right here in Jackson, but idolatry isn't just about carving a statue and worshiping a piece of wood or stone that can't see or hear or speak. It is about worshiping anything other than the one true God, and anything that we value more than or as much as Him or anything that we trust in for protection and blessing instead of Him is an idol. And so idolatry is just as relevant and just as contemporary as it was when this psalm was first written and first sung by the people of God. This is the taunt against the idols. This is the theology of idolatry deconstructed in verses 3 to 8.
EXHORTATION TO LOOK TO GOD
And then come two exhortations. In contrast to the idol-worshipers who look to their self-made idols for both provision and protection, for both defense and supply, the author of this psalm urges the people of God to trust in the Lord. And you can tell that this psalm must have been sung antiphonally — “O Israel, trust in the LORD!” And then the people respond, “He is their help and shield!” And then, “O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD!” And then the people response, “He is their help and shield!” “You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD!” “He is their help and shield!” What is the idea that's repeated? God is the one who protects you. He is your help and shield, not the idols, not things made by your own hands, but God is the source of your protection.
And then in verses 12 to 15, “The LORD has remembered us. He” — and notice how many times it's said — “He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron; He will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great. May the LORD give you increase, you and your children. May you be blessed by the LORD who made the heaven and earth.” In other words, not only Israel are you to look to the Lord for the supply of your protection, you are to look to the Lord as the source of your provision. He is the one who brings true blessing into your life, not an idol made by your own hands, not by something that you can manipulate. He is the source of your supply. He is the one who gives you protection. He is the one who gives you blessing.
EXHORTATION TO PRAISE
And then the psalmist turns back to the people of God, having reminded them the source of their protection and the source of their provision, and he exhorts them to praise God. You see this in verses 16 to 18. “The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth He has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!” Now verse 17 is interesting, isn't it? It reflects a standard Old Testament outlook and the Old Testament outlook is simply this — Praise God now while you’re alive; don't wait ‘til you’re in the grave where you can't. Whereas the idolatrous nations around Israel had airy-fairy hopes for the afterlife that were not grounded in reality or were not grounded in a reckoning with the justice of God in which He brings recompense for wickedness, in the Old Testament there's a strong emphasis on the finality of death. And so very often in the Old Testament you will find the Old Testament author exhorting you, as a believer, to praise God now while you can before your lips are silenced by death. It's a protest against the superstition about death so widely held in the context in which Israel lived and worked and worshiped.
But verse 18 offers a very interesting hint in the direction of the new covenant realities that are so clearly revealed in the Scripture of the New Testament. “But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.” You know, it reminds me of the final three stanzas that William Cowper wrote to the hymn, “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood.” One of those stanzas, at least, you know. The other two maybe not, because William Cowper wrote a lot of stanzas to that hymn; more than we sing. But here they are. He says this:
“E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,
For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me!
’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,
To sound in God the Father's ears no other name but Thine.”
You see what Cowper's saying? That he's going to sing of Jesus’ redeeming blood until he dies, and then when he dies, God has made him a golden harp and with that golden harp he is going to sing the name of Jesus in God's ears everlastingly. And did you hear the words of verse 18? “We will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Why? Because not unto us, not unto us, but to Your name be the glory, because though we are now under burdens, burdens that seem unbearable, yet will He put the stanza of verse 1on our lips and we will sing it. So in our burdens, let us sing it now, even as we sing of the blood of the Redeemer who spares us of our sins. And let us prepare to sing it in victory when that victory comes for it will, as surely as you breathe, and let us prepare to sing it forever.
O Lord, when the world around us dances and sings and taunts and mocks at our seeming stumbling, at our low estate, at our deep discouragement, at our befuddlement, and at our refusal to join with them in their idolatry, put this psalm not only on our lips but in our hearts. Lord, when we do not see where victory could possibly come from, remind us that then You have us exactly where You want us because then and only then can we really say, ‘Not unto us, not unto us.’ It's not until we're in the place where there's nothing that we can do and there's no hope in our own strategies that then we see that only You supply the protection, only You supply the provision, only You supply the victory, and then only can we sing this song. So give us this song to sing, no matter what. In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.