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Winter Quarter: Honoring God
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 8, 2019
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: I Chronicles 16:7-36
Key Verse: I Chronicles 16:8
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.”
Aim and Goal of the Lesson
To learn to appreciate and understand the depth, height, and depth of what it means to praise the Lord.
Historical, Geographical, Theological, and Experiential Background for I Chronicles 16: 7-36
Last week’s lesson was a narrative related to bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The themes on the importance of embracing the sacred, of our preparation and our participation in worship, were woven into the fabric of the lesson. (Reread the introduction to last week’s lesson). The Ark is now in its sacred place in Jerusalem and the worship of God has begun.
Last week’s lesson also addressed the importance of music in worship. The psalms were a very integral part of worship, and the book of Psalms was what we might call, “The Hebrew Hymn Book.” David has appointed some of the Levites to lead in worship. These appointments usually were related to music. Some were chosen to play particular instruments, and he appointed two priests, Benaiah and Jahaziel, to blow trumpets at regular intervals before the ark. However, the instruments alone were incomplete without the words of the psalms.
When one of my churches celebrated its fiftieth year in ministry, our talented minister of music commissioned a choral anthem just for that occasion. Today it remains a sacred song for that church. David commissioned a psalm by Asaph especially for celebrating the arrival of the ark. Many psalms in the book of Psalms are attributed to talented Asaph. It is interesting to note that David could write beautiful psalms himself. Who could write a more beautiful psalm than Psalm 23? This particular psalm in I Chronicles 16 is not in the collection of psalms in the biblical canon, however, it does contain segments and expressions found in other psalms. David believed in utilizing the gifts and graces of the Israelite congregation. The more people who can participate in worship the better! This psalm was not to be offered as a solo or sung by a select choir; it was composed for all the musicians and the people of Israel to sing together! We can once again read of David’s meticulous preparation for the worship of the Lord that day. Again, preparation does not necessarily remove spontaneity, but a lack of preparation can remove flow, continuity, and meaning.
The psalm in our text is beautiful and full of meaning. We will read and seek to understand the wonder and majesty of its parts.
Theological, historical, and experiential reflection on I Chronicles 16:8-12, 28-36
I Chronicles 16:8
The psalm opens with an evangelistic imperative that resounds throughout the Bible. God desires that all the nations of the earth should hear the name of Israel’s God and what God has done. Worship services are opportunities for the Christian family to gather and experience edification and empowerment. We are empowered and edified to go forth into the world and share the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ. The worship service is to fill the believing congregation with a joy and enthusiasm that must be shared the world. We will address the importance of sharing God’s name in verse 10.
Do you feel your worship services are more about helping those attending to feel better about their life, or do you sense an encouragement to take the good news to the world? Can it be both? What occurs in the worship service that helps you feel empowered, and what most helps you to feel called to go into the world to share the gospel of Jesus?
I Chronicles 16:9
Asaph tells us to sing praise! As a young Christian I remember wondering why God needed us to tell him how great he is. As I grew in my faith I realized we are asked to praise not because God needs to hear how great he is, but rather because we need to remind ourselves of his greatness.
It helps us to truly worship the Lord when we recognize and “say” how great and good God really is! The greater God becomes to us, the humbler we become in worship and life. So, sing praise to him! As the verse shifts to the goodness and power of God, we once again hear the evangelistic imperative. Early in the Old Testament era, the surrounding polytheistic nations believed the gods who performed the most powerful acts were the greater gods. Asaph knows there is only one God, who is great, good, and mighty. Thus, he encourages us to “Tell the world of his wonderful acts!” Tell the world that Israel’s God is more powerful than all others. For all others are powerless, lifeless idols of wood and stone, yet Israel’s God has proven his greatness. Asaph wants the congregation to sing of “what God has done!” Again, the world needs to hear what we, the faith community, truly and deeply believe and know.
When you hear the exhortation to praise God, what do you believe you are being asked to do? Do you believe you really understand what it means to praise God and why we should praise him? If you were composing a psalm that included the great things God has done in your life what are some of the things you would list?
I Chronicles 16:10a
Here we are told to “glory in his holy name.” First, let’s understand what is meant by “God’s name.” In the Old and Testaments, when one performed an act in a person’s name it meant to act “within the parameters of that person’s character.” When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are asked to pray “as Jesus would pray.” God’s name in the Psalms is also referring to his entire nature. It isn’t just referring to the title or name attributed to the Lord. To do anything in God’s name is to do it as God’s nature desires we do it. In the Ten Commandments we are commanded not to take the Lord’s name in vain. This commandment is not just implying that we should not use God’s name or title in unholy speech. It also means that we do not use the Lord’s holy name for purposes that contradict and violate God’s character. Thus, if we promise something in God’s name and violate that promise we have taken the name of God in vain. We are to glory in the nature, the character, and the heart of who God is. Asking that we “glory” in God’s name is certainly consistent with our need to understand that God’s name is related to his character.
While in theology school I had to do a meticulous word study of the word “glory.” This means that I examined every single case in which the word was used and examined its meaning in that particular context. The one common thread was that glory usually referred to “the nature and character of God.” In Colossians 1:27 Paul writes, “Christ in you is the hope of glory.” He is stating that it is the indwelling Christ who gives us the hope that we too can live and walk in that same nature and character. Thus, when the psalm asks that we glory in the name of God, we are encouraged to ascribe to God what we know of his true nature and character.
When you read a biblical passage that emphasizes the “name of God,” what do you usually assume it means? How does the requirement to “not take the Lord’s name in vain” take on greater meaning for you when you understand what the Old Testament means by “name?” How would you “glory in God’s name?” How does praying in the name of Jesus change the nature of your prayers?
I Chronicles 16:10b
Now that the psalmist has exhorted us to give God the glory due his name and to tell the world of his greatness, the worshipper is encouraged to personally seek our great, powerful Lord. We are to seek the Lord “with our heart.” In biblical writing, the heart is understood as the seat of our innermost affections. The prescientific Hebrews recognized that without the heart a person could not live. It was the organ that pumped blood through the body, and they believed one’s life “was in the blood.” Therefore, spiritually, when we seek to love and worship God it must be done from the heart. The heart that knows and loves God is spiritually alive! God’s life flows throughout our entire being! Therefore, we are not being asked to seek God in a shallow or lackadaisical manner. We are to seek God with all we are. Let us rejoice as we seek God, for he desires to be found
. Asaph emphasizes what is known throughout Scripture: God reveals himself to us. Christianity is a faith of revelation. That is, we believe God has chosen by his love to reveal himself to us in the most fitting time, in a way we can best understand. God is not hiding from us, but desires that we find him! The Lord wants us to know him, to know his glory and name. Read Hebrews 1:1-3.
What do you think Hebrews 1:1-3 means? How do you seek God with your heart in your daily life? How intentional are we in seeking God? How is Jesus Christ the ultimate revelation of God’s name and glory?
I Chronicles 16: 11
The world of David and the Israelites was hostile. Tribes attacked tribes, nations warred with nations, and empires sought to conquer the world. Military might was of great importance. However, David understood that military might was not enough to sustain life, and especially to provide meaning and substance to life. Social justice was just as important. It was imperative that Israel seek to live with one another justly, take care of those in need, and deal justly with the world. Unity was also important for strength. Divided nations possess a short life span. David understood that the totality of Israel’s strength had to come from God. Only God could bind them together in love, empower them to respect the sacred, and teach them to live in justice. Only God’s preservation of Israel could protect them against much larger nations with advanced weaponry. Thus, the psalmist writes, “Look to the Lord for strength.” Asaph reminds us to “seek his face always.” The phrase “to seek his face” is always used to denote creating and sustaining a familiarity
with God. Nothing in life grants more power, substance, and purpose than possessing a knowledge of God. The word “face” is not to be taken literally. After all, God cannot be confined to a human body, and even when God granted us a vision of his presence we were not allowed to look. Remember, the Jewish people believed you could not look upon the presence of God, or even speak the name of God without God’s permission to do so. When Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple, high and lifted up, the prophet’s first words were “Woe is me.” (Isa. 6) When Moses was allowed to personally commune with God atop Sinai he asked just to see “God’s back,” for he knew he could not look upon God’s face without serious consequence. Remember, there was a distinct barrier between the realm of the divine and the temporal. God could be present in our world, but we could only enter God’s realm with invitation. Yet, God invites us to seek him, and reveals himself in a manner that we can understand. Read Isaiah’s beautiful invitation of grace, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” For the people of God, the Lord is always near, and allows us to always find him when we seek him with our hearts. In I Cor. 13 Paul proclaims that though there is much we will never fully understand, but there is coming a day when we shall see “face to face.” For those who seek God in life, Rev. 22:4 promises “we will see his face.”
When you need strength to face adversity where do you turn? Is our first response one of panic as we hurriedly seek a solution, or do we first pray for guidance? How do you seek God’s face in your daily walk with Christ? Can you recall a time when seeking God in prayer brought clarity in a time of confusion? Where do we see God’s face in life?
I Chronicles 16:12
Memory is a dear and precious gift. As we remember a person, we can see their face, hear their voice, and recall the moments we spent with them. It allows us to continually embrace those we love after their passing. Memory is a great teacher. We can recall what actions brought benefit and which ones brought pain. Life is a journey of stepping stones. What we learned yesterday is now a step upon which we will build today’s knowledge. We should not be surprised that memory is a very important asset and remembering a very important action in the Bible. Israel created songs, told inspired stories, wrote sacred texts, and built altars that they might always remember the wonderful works of God. Read the first chapter of Joshua. As the people at last cross the Jordon and enter into the Promised Land they are told to return to the dry riverbed. Each tribe was to choose a stone from the bed of the river and carry it into Canaan. They were then called to place those stones atop one another to construct an altar. The narrative reads that the altar was to remind Israel of their journey with God into a place of promise, and also was to be used to teach that story to all ensuing generations.
I believe it is still important to teach current generations our songs of faith, to share with them how God has worked in our church, and to use symbols to remind them of God’s love and goodness. Each time I enter a sanctuary for worship I will always gaze upon the cross on the altar, listen to the words of the hymns, and remind myself that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, a community that not even the gates of hell can prevail against its existence. In worship we are reminded of the miraculous. Our conversion was a miraculous moment of grace. The ability to worship God and call upon his name is a miraculous act of grace. The love we share in worship and life is itself miraculous. We could extend this list, each person adding special moments when the miraculous love of God has sustained and given life. In worship we are reminded of God’s judgements. For us, this means that great sense of right and wrong we have learned through the church. For years in worship we have learned how God expects us to treat each other, to care for all people, to confront and change injustice, and to personally live a morally upright life.
Do you spend time in worship remembering all that God has done for you and for the church of which you are an important part? Can you remember the teachers and preachers who helped you form your moral life? What symbols in your church most remind you of what God has done? What is a hymn you have remembered from childhood that is especially meaningful?
I Chronicles 16:28-29
Now Asaph turns our attention to the need for all the world and creation to praise and worship God. Praise and worship need to fill the heavens and the earth! To “ascribe” means to “put something in its proper place.” Asaph is asking that in worship the proper place for adoration, praise and glorification is upon the presence of God. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name!” As a pastor for 40 years I can honestly and passionately say I do not want such glory and adoration upon me! It doesn’t belong to the pastor, choir, or any individual engaged in worship. This does not mean we cannot appreciate and thank those God uses as instruments. People do need to hear on occasion that what they do is important and effectual. However, anyone can become tempted to desire adoration. It doesn’t belong to us! Let all the earth ascribe it to God! He alone is worthy of all honor and praise! Psalm 48 is a beautiful psalm of praise, especially as that praise flows from the holy city of Jerusalem. Its opening verse reads, “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God . . .”
As we worship God, glorifying his holy name, we are to bring an offering unto the Lord. I am afraid the time of offering in worship has become rather “disconnected” from the flow and meaning of worship. Giving is as much a part of worship as the hymns and prayers. In worship we remind ourselves of God’s greatness and all that he lovingly has done for us. The theology of grace includes an understanding of our “response” to that grace. God has loved us, and we respond with love. God has given as an expression of divine love and care, we respond with offerings and giving that expresses our love and care for Christ and his church. Giving to God is a holy act of worship!
I admit that I love words. I love their beauty and power. The psalmist wants us to worship in the light of God’s presence. However, he uses the poetic word “splendor.” This term means far more than the simple word “light.” It infers “brilliance.” Splendor is that brilliant, holy light that drives us to our spiritual knees, aware that we are in the presence of God.
How do we in worship ascribe all praise unto God? Is there any act or behavior that distracts from this holy act of praise? Does our worship allow the secular world to realize we worship the One who is creator, sustainer, and lover of all the world and its people? Does our worship reflect the values of the culture, or does it draw the attention of the culture toward the One who is greater, higher and eternal? Is the time of offering in your church an opportunity to respond to God’s goodness and love in Christ? What can be done to help the time of giving become an act of worship in harmony with the other spiritual dynamics of the service? How can we contemplate and meditate upon the fact that when we engage in worship we are invited into the realm of the eternal? In what part of the worship service do you most sense the presence of the eternal?
I Chronicles 16: 30-31
To tremble is to be in a state of utter reverence unto God. In Proverbs the phrase, “the fear of the Lord” is frequently used. This is not a destructive fear, but rather the natural response when one stands in the presence of the eternal. This reverent fear does not drive us away, but rather drives us to our knees. A day is coming, according to Scripture, when all the earth will tremble before God. For the Old Testament people, few realities are more stable than the earth itself and the heavens above. God created both and sustains them. The earth rotates in perfect tension around the sun. The moon and all the surrounding planets move in perfect gravitational tension as well. The earth offers its seasons of planting, growing, harvesting and resting without fail. It is filled with an array of color and so many expressions of beauty the poets still cannot adequately capture the beauty of what God has made. I am one who loves gazing into a night sky. I stand amazed at the order and beauty of creation. I look into a night sky because I need a sense of wonder and humility in my life. I believe we all do. Creation itself proclaims the glory of God. Read Psalm 19, which opens with the powerful word of praise, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Yes, let us tremble before the One who made heaven and earth.
However, even the Old Testament people are aware that even the earth can become unstable. It can tremble, shake, and cause destruction. Yet, even its times of instability point us to an unshakable kingdom, an indestructible reality. Hebrews 12:28 reads,
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
If the world God gave us offers stability, how much more do we have assurance and confidence in life knowing he has placed the unshakable within us! Yes, “the Lord reigns!”
How important is it for you to seek God in creation? Is this seeking a vital part of your spiritual life? What does creation say to you about God? Do you feel confident in life that the eternal life given you through Christ is unshakable and indestructible? Can you recall a time when everything about you seemed to quake, but your faith anchored and sustained you?
I Chronicles 16: 32-34
After calling the entire earth to praise and glorify God, Asaph closes the psalm by reminding God’s people of the specific facets of creation that touch their life, and offer praise to their maker. First, he addresses the sea. For David and his people, the sea certainly represents the fish that feed them and the water they need for life. However, the sea also represents mystery. There were depths in the sea the Israelites could not reach and could not experience. The same was true for the breadth of the sea. How far does the sea that crashes upon the coast extend? Does it have an end? Mystery is a vital, important part of faith. It is not important to know everything, for there is knowledge we cannot handle. Even now we struggle ethically with what we know, like genetic engineering, and just how far artificial intelligence will take us and what ethical dilemmas will arise. Mystery is that facet of life that keeps us seeking and praying.
Secondly, Asaph notes the jubilant fields! The fields represent the bread of life. The fields provide game for hunting, wheat and grains for eating. As the stalks of grain dance in the wind they do appear to dance before God in joy. As the fields dance before the Lord, may we dance as well! We offer praise to God for the bread we eat. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray remember he included, “Give this day our daily bread.”
Finally, the trees, like the grain, appear to dance in the wind. They even make their own music as the leaves rustle. The trees shade us from the heat, provide a place of rest on a journey, and house the birds of the air. For Asaph, they appear to clap in praise, ready to welcome God’s coming. He will come in righteous judgement. However, in verse 34 we quickly hear that the judgement God brings is not based on anger or condemnation. Asaph writes, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.” The creator God who comes in judgement does so in goodness and love!
Do you look daily for God in creation? Do you see expressions of his power, order, and care? What is your favorite natural setting for communing with God?
I Chronicles 16: 35-36
As cited above, many believe Ezra is the author of Chronicles. He is the scribe who brought reform and adherence to Jewish law to the returning exiles. Therefore, he would not want to omit verses 35-36. Here the psalm turns to a cry for salvation. Israel had fallen and been taken exile into Persia. They understood the power other nations held over them when they failed to obey God, and they knew the feeling of being disconnected from one another. Thus, Asaph prays that the Savior God will gather his people and protect them from surrounding nations. Therefore, in verse 36 the people are to offer an Amen to the prayer. It is not always a negative to remember the consequences of disobedience. After singing a psalm exalting the Lord for his goodness and love, it can be helpful to remember what life is like when we neglect to recognize and fail to worship him. Life is better and meaningful with God! Let the people say Amen!
Advent season is upon us. What a great time of year to praise God for his goodness. As we seek his face, let us remember that he has shown us his face in a way we could understand: we saw the face of God in the Christ child. Advent is filled with its songs of praise and wonder. We become more aware of colors, aromas, beauty, and love. We actually love the act of giving! Asaph’s psalm calls us to seek, know and worship the Lord of Advent and Christmas!
Almighty God, how touched we are that you would come to us in Christ. The movement of those tiny hands and feet were the movement of hope and life in the world. The cry of the blessed infant was the cry calling up to look upward. The innocence of the Christ-child reminds us of his suffering that we might regain our own innocence. May we worship your holy name, and worship you in truth as the Lord of all splendor. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.