Is There a God

| Psalms 19:1-6; 111:7-10

Week of December 8, 2019

The Point:  God has given us ways to know He exists.

Natural Revelation:  Psalm 19:1-6.

[1] To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. [2] Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. [3] There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. [4] Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, [5] which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. [6] Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.  [ESV]

“The Revelation of God in Nature [1-6]. This psalm contains a profound (and moving) statement of the doctrine of divine revelation. And like the Bible’s teaching elsewhere on this subject, it divides this revelation into two main categories: general revelation, which refers to the revelation of God in nature, and special revelation, in this case the revelation of God in Scripture. General revelation is the term theologians most often use to refer to the revelation of God in nature, which is where Psalm 19 begins. Here in verse 1, the psalmist is thinking of the stars, which are visible by night, and the sun, which he will introduce specifically in verses 4b-6. His teaching is that the heavens, which contain these created objects, witness to the existence of their Creator. But more than that, they also witness to His glory. The stars and the sun are so glorious that the one who made them must be more glorious still. Clearly, this is a limited revelation. Glory has no moral element. That is, it does not testify to God’s moral qualities – attributes like justice, mercy, love, wrath, goodness, grace, compassion. But the creation certainly testifies to God’s existence and power. Indeed, this is exactly what the apostle Paul writes in Romans 1, in a passage that probably has this psalm in mind, even though it is not directly quoted. In Romans Paul says, For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse [1:20]. This is the meaning of glory in Psalm 19 – a revelation of God’s existence and power so great that it should lead every human being on the face of the earth to seek God out, to thank Him for bringing him or her into existence, and to worship Him. But that is what we do not do. What Paul says in Romans is that, apart from God’s special intervention in our lives to save us, all human beings actually suppress the truth of God’s general revelation, either denying His existence altogether or else erecting a lesser god, an idol, in the true God’s place. As a result of this, the wrath of God has been revealed against us and our truth-suppressing cultures. The Nature of This Testimony. It is not only the fact of general revelation that we find in Psalm 19. That would be significant enough, coming as it does in this relatively early stage of the biblical revelation. However, in addition to the mere truth of general revelation, we also have some profound statements about its nature and extent. Verses 2 and 3 say three things about it. First, general revelation is continuous. The psalmist says of the heavens that day to day pours out speech and of the skies that night to night reveals knowledge. In other words, they are not an intermittent revelation, as if God were to send a prophet one year and then let many silent years go by before sending another. The skies reveal the glory of God every single night of the week, every week of the year, year after year, and they have done this since their creation. There has never been a moment in the history of the human race when the heavens were not testifying to us about God. Second, general revelation is abundant. In the words of the psalm, it pours out speech. This is stronger in the Hebrew text than it appears to be in English, for the image is literally of a gushing spring that copiously pours forth the sweet, refreshing waters of revelation. This is true in two ways, though I am not certain in what sense David meant the statement. First, every individual part of nature testifies to its Creator, so that whatever part you happen to be looking at will pour forth knowledge. If you look at the stars, they testify to a God of great power who made them. If you study the human body, you will find that the body testifies to an all-wise Creator. The petals of a flower, a blade of grass, a snowflake, the intricacies of the atom, the nature of light, physical laws like gravitational attraction, the second law of thermodynamics, or relativity – all testify abundantly to a divine mind that lies behind them. Moreover, this is quite plain. We should almost say self-evident. The witness lies on the surface. It does not require extensive technical investigation to see it. As Paul says in the corresponding passage in Romans 1, For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them [19]. However, there is a second way in which the heavens pour forth abundant revelation. Whenever we do investigate them by scientific or other means, we soon find the testimony of nature even stronger than we at first surmised. In other words, the existence of a creator is not a facile but erroneous judgment naively made by the uneducated, a judgment quickly disproved as soon as one looks into the evidence carefully. On the contrary, the more one looks, the more the heavens gush forth knowledge. Third, general revelation is universal. It is known everywhere. Psalm 19 says of the skies and heavens, There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world [3-4]. This is the basis for the universal ascription of guilt to humanity by Paul in Romans 1. For although everyone in every land and of every human language has heard this general revelation – no one is exempt from it – none have of themselves followed up on it in order to seek the true God out and worship Him. Instead they suppress the knowledge of the true God and make idols of a lesser god more to their liking. It is because of this general revelation that God is just in punishing the heathen as well as those who, having the special revelation, also sin against their greater light. The Glory of the Sun [4b-6]. As David describes the sun in verses 4b-6, from his perspective it is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. A tent for the sun is probably to be understood as the darkness into which the sun retreats each night and from which it emerges boldly each new day. David compares the sun to a vigorous young man in two aspects: like a bridegroom leaving his chamber and like a strong man, runs its course with joy. In each case, the image conveys the ideas of youthful strength, energy, and physical joy. Naturally, David did not know all we know about the sun. Yet strangely, though knowing less about the sun than ourselves, David nevertheless praised God more. He knew that the sun is God’s handiwork and that it displays His glory. C. S. Lewis has rightly pointed out that the key line in this description is the last, which says that there is nothing hidden from its heat. The line links the witness of the physical creation to the witness of the Word, for the Scriptures are likewise penetrating, warming, and lifegiving, while also searching, testing, and purifying.” [Boice, vol. 1, pp. 160-167].

Faithfulness of God:  Psalm 111:7-10.

[7] The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; [8] they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. [9] He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! [10] The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!  [ESV]

“Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem in which the first words of each of its twenty-two lines (minus the hallelujah of verse 1) begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 112 is also an acrostic poem, following a pattern identical to Psalm 111; in fact, the two psalms are an obviously matched pair. The first is an acrostic poem about God; the second is an acrostic poem about the godly man. The specific verbal contents of the two psalms match even more than the patterns, for what is said about God in the first of these psalms is affirmed of the godly man in the second, which is a way of saying, “You will become like the god you worship. If you worship a false god or idol, you will become like your false god. But if you worship the true God of the bible, you will become strong, gracious, compassionate, righteous, generous, just, and steadfast, as He is.” The theme of this psalm is praising God. In verse 1 the psalmist announces that he is going to praise God himself. He wants other people to do so too, and the bulk of the psalm gives them specific reasons and instructions for doing so. He is not asking others to do something he himself is not doing. If we want other people to praise God, we must praise God first.  If we want them to love God, we must love Him too. If we wants others to serve God, we must serve Him. We must set an example. The writer next declares that he is going to praise God with all his heart. If God is known at all, He must be known as One who is utterly worthy of our very highest praise. So let’s do away with halfhearted worship. Instead, let’s determine to praise God with all our heart. Finally in this introduction the writer promises to praise God in the company of the upright, in the congregation. The praise involved is public. That is, it is not merely the praise of private devotion but of open public testimony. The way the psalmist praises God has important bearing on how we worship God. It tells us that we should set an example by doing it, that we should worship intensely and with our whole heart, and that we should worship God publicly and identify publicly with the Christian assembly. God’s Provisions for His People [5-8]. The psalmist’s remembrance of God’s works continues in verses 5-8, but there is a change. The verbs in this section are plain past tenses which means that they refer to specific incidents from Israel’s history. Praise of God for His general works in creation [2-4] has turned into praise of God for His specific saving works on behalf of the Jewish people. In this context food in verse 5 is the manna God provided during the years of Israel’s desert wandering. Covenant is the covenant established at Mount Sinai. The works of verse 6 are those of the exodus from Egypt. Giving them the inheritance of the nations refers to the conquest of Canaan. Verses 7 and 8 highlight the giving of God’s law. These are past events, but they continue, which is why various translations use the present tense in these verses. God provides our food on a daily basis. As Christians we enjoy a better and more enduring covenant than the one the psalmist is referring to [Heb. 7:22; 9:15]. Our exodus is the deliverance from sin; the conquest of Canaan is our promised eternal inheritance. Lastly, the law is a permanent possession with present promises, demands, and implications: his precepts … are established forever and ever [7-8]. When we consider how good God has been to us and continues to be, can we not say with the psalmist, I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart [1]. The Lord’s Salvation [9]. We have a similar parallel between God’s past and present saving work in verse 9, which refers specifically to redemption from Egypt. But how can we read verse 9 without thinking of the redemption from sin and its power that Jesus has achieved for us by His death on the cross? We cannot, for He is the one who has become for us righteousness, holiness and redemption [1 Cor. 1:30]. “Redemption” is a term borrowed from the ancient world of business, just as “propitiation” is borrowed from the language of religion and “justification” from the ancient world of law. Redemption refers to buying something in the marketplace and also to buying it out of the marketplace so it will not have to be sold there again. This means little if we think of it in regard to mere objects, but it means a great deal if we think of it in regard to people, especially slaves. To redeem a slave was to buy the slave out of the slave market so that he or she might be set free. This is what Jesus did for us. In Romans 8:2, Paul writes that he was a slave to sin and death once, but Jesus had freed him from that slavery, as He has all who have been saved by Him. In this psalm the adjectives used to describe the works of God soon pass over into describing God Himself. We see this in verses 5-9. Here the works of God are called faithful, just, trustworthy [7]; established, faithfulness, uprightness [8]. These words even more aptly describe God Himself, and the section ends with holy and awesome is his name [9]. A Practical Conclusion [10]. Psalm 111 has been a practical psalm exhorting us to praise God for His general and specific works: those seen in nature, in the salvation history of His people, and in redemption. So we are not surprised to find that this practical psalm also has a practical conclusion [10]. The first part of this verse is the theme of the Bible’s wisdom literature, found in various places: Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13. Where does wisdom come from? How may it be found? The answer is in this verse. It says we must begin with reverence for God (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), and it adds we must know God’s Word, the Bible, since it is only those who practice it have a good understanding. Fear for God. The word translated beginning means “the starting point” or “the first principle.” In other words, fear or reverence for God is the bedrock requirement if a man or woman would be wise. This is where we go astray. Rather than bowing before God so that we might acknowledge Him and thus begin our reflections on life and its purpose from this foundation and vantage point, we turn our backs on God and pursue our own “wisdom” instead. True wisdom begins with acknowledging or reverently bowing before God as God, and it progresses by getting to know God well, which includes not only our coming to know who He is but also learning that His thoughts and ways are infinitely above and beyond ours. Knowing the Bible. It is only in the bible and by a careful study of the Bible that God can be known and wisdom acquired. How foolish, then, that we do not take time to study the bible carefully. No people ever rise higher than their idea of God, and conversely, a loss of the sense of God’s high and awesome character always involves a loss of a people’s moral values and even what we commonly call humanity. We are startled by the disregard for human life that has overtaken large segments of the western world, but what do we expect when countries like ours openly turn their back upon God? We deplore the breakdown of moral standards, but what do we expect when we have focused our worship services on ourselves and our own often trivial needs rather than on God? Our view of God affects what we are and do, which is why this last verse prepares us for the teaching in the next psalm.” [Boice, vol. 3, pp. 906-912].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Define general or natural revelation. What is the meaning of glory in 19:1-6? How is general revelation different from special revelation? Why is special revelation needed for salvation?
  2. The theme of Psalm 111 is expressed in both the opening and closing lines: Praise the Lord! His praise endures forever! List all the things for which the psalmist praises God. In your list separate what God does (His works) from whom He is (His character). Spend time this week meditating on your list. It should cause you to breakout in praises to your God.
  3. What is the practical conclusion to Psalm 111 (verse 10)? How do we practice the fear of the Lord in our daily Christian walk?
  4. Boice writes: “No people ever rise higher than their idea of God, and conversely, a loss of the sense of God’s high and awesome character always involves a loss of a people’s moral values and even what we commonly call humanity.” Do you agree with his statement? Do you see the truth of this statement in our world today?

References:

Psalms, vol. 1, 3, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, vol. 1, 2, Allan Harman, Mentor.

A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, 3, Allen Ross, Kregel.