I suppose there are as many different kinds of prayers spoken prior to eating a meal as there are families who pray. When Melanie and Joanna were young, the greatest problem we faced wasn’t in getting them to pray but in getting them to finish before the food got cold. Neither of them was able to pray for the meal collectively, but insisted on giving thanks for each individual item on the table. They thanked God for the potatoes, the fork, the milk, the salt, the napkin, the dessert, and just about anything else in sight. As time passed, we finally succeeded in getting our point across and were able once again to enjoy a hot meal!
At least one thing hasn’t changed with the passing of centuries: people in the ancient world also expressed their gratitude to God before sharing a meal together. In fact, when they prayed before the midday meal it was customary for them to recite all or part of Psalm 145. This was largely due to the statement in vv. 15-16, which reads: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
But this psalm is important for more than what it tells us about where our food comes from. It is one of the most vibrant and expressive hymns of praise to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. Not only does it provide a marvelous declaration of the majesty and incomparable greatness of God, it also instructs us on our responsibility to worship him as he deserves. Interestingly enough, this is the only psalm in the entire book that has the one word “Praise” for its title.
Let’s read it together:
“I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.”
Our approach to this psalm won’t be verse-by-verse or in recognition of some elaborate structure. I’d like simply to summarize what it is says, first, about the character of God and, second, our privilege and joy in celebrating him. So let’s begin.
David begins with God’s greatness (vv. 3, 6b), a word that is horribly overused in our day and applied to anything from deodorant to the most obnoxious professional athlete. Historically, many have taken the adjective Great and made it part of their name: Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and in our own day the comedian Jackie Gleason simply went by the title, The Great One.
I beg to differ. God alone is Great! Furthermore, his greatness is unsearchable (v. 3). No one ever has or ever will fully fathom the depths of his greatness. Not all the minds of all the ages using the most advanced scientific equipment can capture all that God is. He is utterly beyond and infinitely past finding out.
David also points to his majesty (v. 5), or better still, the glorious splendor of his majesty. There is a great light or luster or spiritual brilliance that emanates from the magnificence of his majesty. God’s majesty is blinding and breathtaking and beyond comprehension or calculation.
Ah, but he is also good (vv. 7a, 9a). Can you envision how horrific it would be if this great and powerful and awesome God were bad? Don’t take his goodness for granted, but joyfully celebrate it and declare it aloud and rest confidently in it.
Our God is also righteous (v. 7b). To say that God is righteous is not to say he conforms to human standards of right and wrong. Rather he conforms perfectly to the standards of his own perfections. But if he is wholly and holy righteous, how can unholy and unrighteous people like you and me enter his presence? The answer follows.
According to v. 8, God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Yes, God has a holy temper, but he has a very long fuse! Even those who deny and blaspheme his name are recipients of his patience and long-suffering. He permits his enemies to live, to spew forth their horrid sacrilege, all the while blessing them with food and air and earthly pleasures, affording them even more time and opportunity to repent (cf. Romans 2:4-5).
“Steadfast love” is the translation of the Hebrew word hesed, elsewhere rendered by such terms as mercy, goodness, loving kindness, loyal love, and occasionally by the word grace. Its primary emphasis is on God's covenant love, his steadfast commitment to his people.
All these qualities of character inform his deeds and give shape to his providential oversight of creation. So let’s look briefly at what this great and majestic and good and righteous and gracious and merciful and longsuffering God does.
For one thing, he works (vv. 4, 5b, 6a, 9, 12a). David goes even further and speaks of his mighty works, his wonderful works, his merciful works, and his awesome acts!
More specifically, he rules (vv. 11-13). But unlike every other ruler or potentate, God is in office for life (see Daniel 4:3, 34)! There is no transition team to move from one heavenly administration to another. There are no inaugural ceremonies (God has always been on the throne). There is no concern over the qualifications of a Vice-God should the Almighty be unable to serve out the full extent of his term. There are no tearful good-byes to the staff, no waving “so-long” from the steps of a helicopter, no cleaning out of the desk in the heavenly oval office to make way for his successor.
Among earthly kings, especially in British history, we hear of James I and James II and Charles I and Charles II and Charles III, etc. Not in the heavenly kingdom. There is no Yahweh I and Yahweh II, for God is first and last and there is no other. None preceded him and none shall succeed him.
The everlasting ruler sustains (v. 14) all he has made. We should read this verse in connection with v. 13 and “admire the unexpected contrast: he reigns in glorious majesty, yet condescends to lift up and hold up those who are apt to fall” (Spurgeon, 3:B:380). He also supplies (v. 15) food and life and satisfies the desires of his creation (v. 16).
He is altogether righteous in his dealings with us (v. 17a). Of course, that’s easy for us to believe when things are going well. But God is righteous in all his ways, not just in the circumstances that favor us. Nothing is more difficult to acknowledge when we are in trouble, or when he afflicts us, or when we feel he has been unfair.
And we must never forget that he is not only righteous but also “kind in all his works” (v. 17b). We don’t typically put those two words together, for it’s difficult to be both at the same time. We swing to one or the other extreme and are either rigid and demanding or excessively lenient and tolerant. But in God they find perfect harmony, as seen most readily in Jesus, who was simultaneously high and humble; both strong and tender; righteous, yet gracious; powerful and merciful; authoritative, yet tender; holy, yet always forgiving; just, yet compassionate; at times angry, yet also gentle; and firm, yet friendly.
Finally, he answers prayer (vv. 18-19), preserves the righteous (v. 20a), and destroys the wicked (v. 20b).
How does one respond to such a God? Needless to say, such splendor, majesty, mercy and might call for the loudest and most passionate of praise.
We are to extol him (v. 1a), which literally means “to be high.” God is high and we acknowledge and declare it so. To extol is to exalt above all others, to set as pre-eminent over every other thing. We also bless (vv. 1b, 2a, 10b) and praise (v. 2b), and commend and declare (v. 4, 6b) and meditate (v. 5) and speak (v. 6a) and pour forth praise of his abundant goodness (v. 7a).
As if that weren’t enough, we sing aloud (v. 7b) and give thanks (v. 10a) and make known (v. 12) his mighty deeds. And let’s be diligent to do it every day (v. 2a), forever and ever (vv. 1a, 2b, 21b):
"Through all eternity to thee,
A joyful song I'll raise;
But oh, eternity's too short
To utter all thy praise." (Adam Clarke; quoted in Spurgeon, 3:B:384)
A heart flooded with thoughts of the splendor of God and what he does can no more conceive of an end of praise than it can conceive of an end of God himself!
One final thought, and I close. Above all else, may our praise and honor and joyful celebration of this God be great, for “great is the Lord, and [therefore] greatly to be praised” (v. 3a). True worship must always be proportionate to the object of adoration. Great praise for a great God. "No chorus is too loud, no orchestra too large, no Psalm too lofty for the lauding of the Lord of Hosts" (Spurgeon, 3:B:376).
So much more could be said, and more will be said, as we continue our focus on worship in Psalms 147 through 150.