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October 31 lesson: Praise God for His Greatness

October 14, 2021
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Praise God for His Greatness

Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 2: Called to Praise God

Sunday school lesson for the week of October 31, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard


Background Scripture: Psalms 147-150
Key Scripture (NIV): “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 150:6

Lesson Aims
  1.  To help us comprehend that all things will end in praise unto God.
  2. To help us comprehend our individual redemption and collective redemption.
  3. To help us comprehend God’s nearness and greatness.
  4. To help us appreciate all instruments of praise.
  5. To help us realize the meaning of a “new song” in our faith journey.
Introduction

These psalms stand in the last section of the book of Psalms. They are collectively known as the “praise conclusion.” There is no greater thought to close the Psalter than to praise God for his goodness. The psalms have addressed Israel’s exodus from Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, their period of judges and kings, and their exile. Most believe these psalms were written as praise to God for the rebuilding of the temple.

The temple had been David’s dream, and his son Solomon made it a reality. Constructed of the best cedars and stone, draped in magnificent colors, and decorated with costly metals such as gold, the temple represented a reality more stately and beautiful than anything else in Jewish life. Surrounding nations erected lush palaces for their kings; Israel built a magnificent temple for their God, who was worshipped as “King of Kings.”

It can prove difficult for us to emotionally, and even spiritually, identify with Israel’s love and need for their temple. God could be encountered in the temple through rituals, rites, prayers, the singing of psalms, and scripture. The temple unified the people around their faith. Israel had a historical faith, a redemptive history. In the temple they remembered, praised, prayed, and sang together. The greatness of the temple reminded them from where they had come and gave them confidence in their future. Most of all, it reminded them that the God of their yesterday was the God of their future.

Solomon spent great funds, sparing little expense to build his temple. I cannot even imagine the spirit and feeling Israel expressed at its opening. Likewise, I cannot fathom the emotions of Israel when the temple was razed to the ground by the Babylonians. The destruction of the temple left them to wonder, “Are we still a nation and a people under God?” “Has our sin brought about the destruction?” “Does God still care for us?” Those were indeed dark days for Israel. Then, the temple was rebuilt. Read Ezra and Nehemiah to sense the hope birthed in Israel through the restoration of the walls and temple.

The reconstruction of the temple represented the resurrection of the old and the blessed future to come. The people were overjoyed. Their hearts longed to worship the Lord in his holy temple. The temple reminded them they remained the people of God. God had not forsaken them! The psalms in our lesson are expressions of a renewed Israel. A light has dawned in their darkness, and hope is dispelling doubt.

One of the beautiful, inferred messages from these last psalms is: When all is said and done, after all the struggles, adversities, and triumphs, God reigns! God is lord over all, and we are the Lord’s redeemed people! There is always light to come in the darkness. There is always something to be learned in struggle. There is always a reminder we belong to someone bigger and greater than ourselves.

Can you recall the time of praise after struggle? Can you share a time when you thought, “No matter what comes, I am God’s and all is in the hands of God? What reminds you of the sacred in life? How do you believe you would feel should you lose these reminders? In what ways would your life change? What symbols help remind you that all will be well in the end?

Messages from Psalm 149-150

Praise the Lord Together!

“Praise the Lord” is a plural command. It is a call for all of Israel to praise God. Psalm 149 opens with this call to praise, and the end of Psalm 150 ends with the beautiful proclamation, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” All of creation is called to praise the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer! Once again, we are reminded that God has not only saved the individual, the Lord has saved the nation! Such texts are not intended to diminish the beauty and importance of one’s individual relationship with the Lord. However, they do remind us that as the redeemed, we are grafted into a family. Each of us is unique, and our gifts and graces are employed by God in his redemption of the world. However, together we are more powerful. We reflect not only God’s power to save us from our sin, we express God’s power to remove the obstacles that divide and destroy. Our togetherness proclaims to the world that the divisions that divide others cannot divide us. Today, as the Church, we are the redeemed community. Our unity is a great witness to the world that living in harmony is possible and fulfilling through Christ. Thus, let US praise the Lord!

Do you think the Church today emphasizes individual redemption, the redeemed community, or both? How do you believe the Church can best do both? Do we believe in the connection and interconnection of all living beings? How do you think understanding this interconnection improves life? Embracing God’s desire to redeem all, what responsibility do we have toward one another and toward all living things?

Praise the Lord in His sanctuary!

As we have addressed in other Sunday school lessons, Israel’s identification of the temple as the place God’s dwells is important when reading the psalms. The temple provided a means for them to understand God’s presence, nearness and greatness. Though we seek to “believe without seeing,” possessing tangible expressions of God can enrich our faith. Our church sanctuaries are helpful and inspiring. We would all feel diminished without such expression. However, we must always remember that God is above, over and beyond any human construct. God cannot be bound in wood and stone. Psalm 150 opens with the call for us to worship God in his sanctuary. However, it is the next line that enriches the first: “Praise him in his mighty heavens.” The second line in this couplet perceives God, not just in the sanctuary, but in his mighty heavens.

We can infer from the wording that Israel still understands God in a more “confined” manner. God is in his mighty heavens, thus, God lives “within” the heavens. However, they are “God’s heavens.” As stated earlier, God transcends all, and thus exists “beyond” the heavens. What we understand from this wording is that Israel’s collective thought cannot yet grasp God’s full transcendence. Still, the important message within the couplet is that God is near, and God is over all. The imagery of the psalmist reveals the worldview of Israel. The world was yet flat, covered by a dome. The surface of the dome was the heavens, and God dwelled there. Still, in their thinking, God is great and over all. There existed no known reality beyond the dome. For the psalmist, God is up in the heavens and in his sanctuary. God is above us, and with us. Science today has enlightened us to the magnitude of the cosmos. Thus, our understanding of God’s presence and greatness is far greater. Had the psalmist been inspired to write today, the imagery would prove different, yet the message would be the same.

As Christians today, our redemption means that God has redeemed us in Christ, and indwells us through the Holy Spirit. God is near to us, and God is in us. And yet, God exist in majesty and greatness above all human constructs.

How great is God in our thinking? Is it possible to so personalize God that we neglect the Lord’s majesty and greatness? Can the inverse be true? Can you offer suggestions as to how we might be reminded of God’s greatness? Is your understanding of grace enriched upon considering the Lord who is over and beyond all has chosen to love you?

Let us praise God with music and dance!

The prior Sunday school lessons address the wonder of music and dance in the worship of God. Again, in Judaism, one worshipped God with their entire being. Our stillness, quietness, and reverence are employed in the worship of the Lord. The act of kneeling is used in the worship of God. Still, the human heart longs to express its joy and gratitude to God in unrestrained worship. There are few vehicles better in expressing one’s heart than music and dance. Note the many instruments mentioned in both psalms. These do not comprise an exhaustive list. These were the instruments known to Israel. Every musical instrument can be employed for the worship of God! For many years the keyboard and organ served as our major instruments of praise. Through the years the Church has added a multitude of instruments to this list. Any instrument played unto the Lord can send our spirits soaring into the transcendent.

Likewise, dance was a vital vehicle for the expression of Israel’s praise. If one’s heart could soar to the heavens, the feet could certainly dance here. Though no longer a major expression of praise in the western church, we can understand the need to express our faith and joy without restraint.

In the first lesson of the Fall quarter, I cited the great Sydney Lanier. Lanier wrote, “Music is love in search of a word.” In our faith, that love has found its word in the Logos, the Word made flesh! This remarkable gift is worthy of all praise!

What instrument(s) in worship most deeply move(s) you? Can you recall your introduction to a new instrument in worship? How did it affect you? What is your reaction to dance as a means to worship? If you are uncomfortable, can you identify the cause of the discomfort? Is there anything that restrains you in the worship of God? Do you think it is possible to worship in “order,” and yet without restraint? How can both occur?

Let us sing a new song!

The psalms in our text point to the arrival of a new day. Many believe these psalms relate to the reconstruction of Solomon’s temple after the exile. If so, then the idea of a new day is certainly applicable. Israel not only witnessed their temple’s destruction in 586/87 B.C., they were taken exile into Babylon. The exile involved a painful separation within Israel. Some were left behind and others were taken into Babylon, a nation of radically different values and cultural expectations. Most upsetting was Babylon’s worship of pagan gods.

Cyrus the Great, king of the Achaemenid Empire, ended Israel’s exile, allowing them to return home and rebuild their temple. Consequently, many believed Cyrus just might be the Messiah. It has been years since Israel had experienced such kindness. We can only imagine the joy of Israel upon hearing the decree of Cyrus. Indeed, it was a new day, a new day that placed a new song in the heart of Israel.

It was also a new day in God’s revelation of his goodness and love toward Israel. In Psalm 149:2, the psalmist calls for Israel to delight in God their creator. Then, in verse 4, the writer informs us that “God delights in his people.” Naturally, most psalms call us to delight in God for redeeming us. Yet, now we hear an amazing expression of grace. The God in whom we delight, delights in us!

The Hebrew word for “delight” means “to take pleasure in.” The word also offers a picture of a plant being bent toward the sun. In Christian theology, we understand that we are constantly being drawn toward God, even as the world draws us in the opposite direction. However, the draw of God is stronger for the humble. Now, the inspired psalmist leaves the reader in awe, for it is God who is bending. God is bending toward us. I once heard someone describe the crucifixion of Jesus as “stooping grace.” That is, God has stooped to touch humanity. The eternal is touching the finite. Of course, these are word pictures, but they do reveal the wonder of what God has done in Christ. God had long been understood as the one who desired that we delight in him; now Israel is beginning to understand that God has delighted in them.

The phrase “crowns the humble” in Hebrew means that God has “beautified” the humble. God is so delighted in his humble people that he beautifies them!

In Jesus Christ, God has revealed his great delight in us. Through the love and grace of Jesus he has “beautified us.” This is indeed a new song!

There is always a new song. God is not finished revealing to us how deeply we are loved. Life will continue to reveal Jesus to us and through us. Each step of our journey leads us into greater understanding of God’s delight in us through Christ. Thus, we will always sing a new song.

When you hear that God delights in you, what is your initial feeling? What is your understanding of God’s delight in you? How has God revealed his delight for you in your life? Does God’s delight change your perspective of yourself? Does it change your perception of others? Do you understand God’s delight for you through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection? What is, or should be your response to God?

Prayer

Almighty God, we bow in wonder and awe before your great presence. We so often feel unworthy to praise you, yet you delight in us through Jesus. We pray for the ability to see ourselves and others through your delight. Help us to recognize every new expression of your love in life, that we always have a new song in our heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at craigrikard169@yahoo.com.

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