The Glory of God in Worship

Sermon preached on Psalm 29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/2/2011 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Novato, Marin County, CA
Psalm 29

The Glory of God in Worship

Today we begin a short miniseries on worship. This series will be a trilogy – a simple three part series. Today’s message will be on “The Glory of God in Worship.” Next week will be “The Fear of God in Worship.” The last topic will be “The Grace of God in Worship.”

And so today we’ve just read a psalm about the glory of God. It’s a psalm that calls for God to be glorified. Before we dig into this psalm, I think it would be helpful actually define in broad terms what it means to glorify God. Well, the word “glorify” comes from the word glory. So to glorify something, is to give glory to something. To give glory to something then is to attribute honor and praise to something. It’s to exalt something. It’s to draw attention to its beauty and majesty. It’s to highlight its value. You can glorify something in a false way. Like false flattery. False flattery is giving glory and honor to someone who is undeserving of it. That’s glorifying someone, but the glory you are attributing to that person isn’t true glory. The glory you’re attributing to them is a lie. But not so with God. When we talk about glorifying God, we’re talking about exalting him before all with the glory that is actually his. We honor him, and praise him, for who he is. For what he’s done. For our special relationship with him. Write those down. When we think about what we are glorifying God in, think of those categories. We can glorify God for who he is, for what he’s done, and for our special relationship with him. Those three categories can give you an endless source of content for which to glorify God.

How you glorify God can be done in different ways. You can glorify him in your efforts to live godly. If that’s done in response to his majesty, it glorifies him. You can glorify him through your evangelism, telling others of his glory and his plan of salvation. Those are just two examples. But probably the most natural way to glorify God is through our public worship. It’s that aspect of glorifying God which we’ll be considering today. As we look at this psalm, we realize that it is especially calling us to glorify God in public worship. And so we’ll think about this psalm from that perspective. As we look at this psalm, we’ll see that it talks about God’s glory poetically. It gives a poetic picture of God’s glory through the context of a storm. This psalm shows how God’s glory is seen in a powerful storm, full of thunder and lightning. Evidently this has been a psalm typically read to children or even congregations during a big storm. The storm points us back to the glory of God. Let’s dig in and analyze this psalm, and think about how it calls us to glorify God in our worship.

The first section of the psalm is in verses 1-2. This is a common thing we’ll read at the Call to Worship in our Sunday service. Simply put, it’s a call to glorify God. It makes this call very poetically, using typical Hebrew repetition and parallelism. Verse 1 repeats the call twice. It uses the same command “give” twice here. Some translations use the word “ascribe”. I prefer that translation, but it’s the same idea. Give, ascribe, unto the Lord glory and strength. It’s a call to acknowledge and identify the glory of God to all. It highlights his strength here too, which is yet another thing that brings glory to God.

Verse 1 had parallelism in it, repeating the call to give glory to God. Verse 2 is now a parallel of verse 1, and it has parallelism within it as well. Verse 2 contains two calls to glorify God as well. It starts with the same call to “give.” Thus, this call to give glory to God is repeated a total of three times in the start. In verse 2, however, it says to give to God the glory that is due his name. The focus is on his name, and it connects it with God’s glory. That’s a common thing we see in Scripture. God’s glory is tied up with his name. When you hear this, you can think about God’s name, kind of like his public reputation. When it talks about his name like this, it’s talking about what people think of him. People should know God’s reputation. They should know his great and marvelous name. There’s glory that should be rightly bestowed upon God because of his name and reputation. Verse 2 calls for that to be done.

It then goes on in verse 2 to call for worship. Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness. You could also translate that last part as the glory of his holiness. His holiness, like his strength in verse 1, is part of what makes him glorious. But here the call is to worship God. In Hebrew poetry, this is set parallel with the first line of verse 2. We should see this as helping to flush out what it means to give glory to God. We give glory to God in worship. This word for worship is the idea of bowing down before God. It’s an act of submission to him, but in a religious action; bowing down before him.

And so this passage issues this call four times to glorify God. We are called to glorify him in praise and worship. Through what we say and in what we do, in our worship. Notice, then who is being called to glorify God in this way. Our translation in verse 1 says the “mighty ones.” That’s a little ambiguous. The literally wording is “sons of God.” Typically commentators understand this here as a reference to the angels in heaven. David, a human, is calling the angels to glorify God. Of course, that’s what they’ll do.

But, that doesn’t take away our responsibility. Look at verse 9. Toward the end of this psalm, it says that those in his temple say “Glory!” The people in that temple, are humans of course. Specifically, the people in that temple are the chosen people of God. They are the ones who’d be singing this psalm even. They’d be glorifying God even as they call the angels in heaven to glorify God. By extension, that means this call applies to us today. We are called to glorify God. And we too call the angels in heaven to glorify God. There’s a connection between the angelic worship of God, and what we do here in our worship services. And again, the reference to the temple shows that in this psalm, when we talk about glorifying God, we are most specifically talking today about how we glorify him in our worship service. Like how Israel in the Old Testament worshipped God in the temple and declared his glory; we now gather in the Spirit together as God’s people, and glorify him in our weekly worship services.

So that’s the first section of this psalm. It’s a call to glorify God. The second section in this psalm is verses 3-9. This is the main heart of this psalm. In this section, we see the call to glorify God put into action. David in this psalm starts by calling for the mighty ones to glorify God. He then proceeds to glorify God himself in verses 3-9. You could imagine how this could be used responsively in a worship setting too. The first two verses issued as a call to worship, then the remaining verses spoken by the congregation as a response.

But when you look at how this psalm glorifies God here, you find that it’s given with the poetic imagery of the storm. Verses 3-9 describe a storm starting out in the north western coast of Israel, around Lebanon, and coming down through the land and ending up in the southern wilderness of Kadesh. The language of this storm makes it sound powerful and violent. But it poetically puts this as the work of God. As it describes the power of the storm, it keeps giving the credit to God. Seven times it credits the voice of the Lord as being behind the storm. The one true God, he and the power of his word, is behind the storm.

If you have ever been in a big storm, you can appreciate the power of it. Think of the dangers a storm can bring. Storms keep the world alive, of course. They water the plants and animals. We’d be in trouble if the storms stopped. Yet, we know how sometimes certain storms can cause much destruction. The power of wind and rain can cause a lot of damage. Thunder bolts can start fires. Think of hurricanes and blizzards. Even if a thunder storm doesn’t do a lot of physical damage, it can really be scary. I remember how scared I was growing up when I experienced my first few thunder storms. And yet the power of the storm should point to God’s glory.

Look at how the storm progresses in this psalm. Begin in verse 3. “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; The God of glory thunders; The LORD is over many waters.” When it talks about the waters here, it likely has in mind the Mediterranean Sea. That’s because we see a geographical progression here from Lebanon in verse 6 down to Kadesh in verse 8. Lebanon is in the north on the coast. So the waters here are probably have in mind how God starts this storm over the ocean waters, and then the storm comes from the ocean and hits the land.

Verse 4. “The voice of the LORD is powerful; The voice of the LORD is full of majesty.” You can imagine sitting on the beach at Lebanon and watching the storm roll in. But verse 4 I think makes you think of more than just seeing the storm roll in. It draws you to hear the storm roll in. The repetition of the voice of the LORD calls you to hear it. It’s poetically describing in these voices the sound that comes from the storm, and crediting that as the voice of God. Sitting on the beach, you would be able to hear the thunders in the distance drawing closer and closer.

Verses 5-6. “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars, Yes, the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them also skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.” In the ancient world, Lebanon was known for its cedar. King Solomon used them to build the temple, for example. They were a symbol of strength of sorts, back then. Even today, the Lebanese flag has a big green cedar tree on it. But verse 5 describes the power of the LORD to easily break apart these sturdy trees. He splinters them with his voice! In verse 6 it mentions Sirion. That’s another name for Mount Hermon which was a mountain in this area. It says that even this mountain skips like a young wild ox. As a ox or calf bounces along, this storm bounces around this mighty mountain.

Verse 7. “The voice of the LORD divides the flames of fire.” Here the image of thunder transitions to lightning. Now the storm is over the land heading southward through Israel. Verse 8. “The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; The LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.” Again, this in the far south of Israel. So we see the storm stretching all over land. This is a pretty wide area of land for the storm to cover. Somewhat similar to the distance between San Jose and Los Angeles.

Verse 9. “The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth, And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everyone says, ‘Glory!'” That’s the final statement about the storm, using the repeated voice of the Lord refrain. Here you have the parallel with Lebanon. In Lebanon it described the destruction of the cedars and the bouncing of the mountains. Here in the wilderness of Kadesh it describes the shaking of the wilderness and the stripping of the forests bare. This is a powerful and destructive storm!

Again, the psalm credits all of this to the voice of the Lord. It’s as if the thunder is the voice of the Lord, and that the whole storm is an expression of his voice. Of course, this is poetic. Scientists can scientifically tell you how thunder and lightning and storms happen. The thunder is not per se the actual voice of the LORD, but the result of various meteorological conditions. But that’s not the point. The psalmist is painting a poetic picture. God’s power is behind this storm. It’s seen in the storm. God ultimately controls these things. And the seven-fold reference to the voice of the Lord calls us to think of things like creation. There he spoke the world into existence. There is utmost power in the voice of the LORD. All of this is attributing glory, and power, and honor unto God. All of it should give us a renewed respect for the awesomeness of God!

The final section of the psalm comes in verses 10 and 11. This is the conclusion to this psalm. It still is declaring the glory of God. Verse 10 mentions two different ways that God has sat. He sat enthroned at the Flood and he has sat enthroned as King, where he sits forever. After a storm like this, you probably would have localized flooding. That’s possibly what this has in mind when it mentions the flood. And yet this word for flood here, only occurs in the Bible here and in the Genesis narrative when it describes the Flood that destroyed the world, save Noah’s Ark. Some commentators thing that this is a reference back to that Flood, and that’s what I tend to think as well. That brings a subtle judgment theme into this psalm. The power of God can come in judgment to destroy those who oppose. That power is like the power of the storm. Like the one that caused the flood way back then, and like the others since then that cause great destruction. This power of judgment can manifest God’s glory.

And yet the psalm finished verse 10 on a more broad note. It talks about his eternal kingship. I think this is the psalm taking a step back. The storm was an illustration of a greater point. God is king over all. King over the creation. King over the whole earth. He but speaks, and his command is executed. That’s seen in all things. Again, this all glorifies God and heralds his power. And so this psalm gives us one example of God’s power and reign. It glorifies God. But I think this psalm should be seen as but an example. We should use it as a starting point of reflection. If the storm shows forth God’s glory, what else does? What songs can you sing to God of his glory? God’s glory and power can be seen in so many ways; the storm is ultimately just one example of his glorious kingship.

The final verse brings his glory closer to home. It shows how God’s glory is extended to his people. This is a wonderful contrast to the judgment theme that just came out. Verse 11 shows that God’s glory doesn’t come in judgment to his people. Rather his glory pours out upon them in blessing. Verse 11 talks of how God gives strength and peace to his people. What a contrast in light of this psalm. When the storms are raging, you are confronted with the power of the storm, and as it says here, the power of God. In the storm it doesn’t seem very peaceful. Yet God in his glory can share some of the strength of the storm with his people. And when that storm finally ends, we know it’s so peaceful. That peace too comes from God, even as he sits over the wet lands after a storm. That peace he can give to his people as well.

It is this verse 11 that brings our connection with this passage. We’ve seen God do this in our lives. Verse 11 says that God shares his glory with his people by giving them blessings of strength and peace. With the light of the New Testament we see how wonderfully God has done just that. He has shared his glory with us, resulting in strength and peace to us.

Isn’t that what we just celebrated at Christmas? The angels came down and said Glory to God on the highest! They declared that peace had come to his favored people when Jesus was born! Jesus was the glory of God. And not just that, he was glory in the highest. We’ve said today that many things glorify God. But his best, his highest, expression of his glory, is how he sent Jesus to save us. And what does Jesus bring us? He brings us peace and he brings us strength. Many verses tell us that. He gives us peace, for example, in Romans 5:1. He gives us strength, for example, in Ephesians 6:10.

Jesus comes in his strength to overcome sin and death and Satan. He comes in strength even breaking hearts harder than the cedars of Lebanon. In his strength, and by his Word, he lays bare the lies of our hearts that would make excuses for sin. He conquers us by his Word and his power. He does this that he could save us. That he could give us peace with God. Right now, he calls to each us with his voice. Jesus says, “Believe in me.” He says, “Turn from your sin and follow me.” Find forgiveness and grace and new life. Be blessed with the glory of God, Jesus Christ, giving you peace and strength.

Saints of God, the storm in this psalm was a cause for the people to look to glorify God in worship. The storm in this psalm called for the angels in heaven to turn and glorify God. How much more, ought we to glorify God? We who now have had angels come to us declaring, glory to God in the highest! We who have tasted of a glory of God greater than that found in the storm. We have tasted of the glory of God in Christ!

I’d like to think for a moment about the application of this. How does God’s amazing, awesome, glory, affect our worship? If we are called to worship God, how’s his glory affect this? Scripture tells us not to forsake this assembly. It says we ought to set aside one day in seven as holy. We gather weekly to glorify God in worship. What should this look like?

This should have real practical effects in our worship. Think about how we honor an individual. How would you honor and glorify some prestigious person who was getting some award or distinction? If there’s some important ceremony or service to honor someone either real close to you, or real important to you, you make sure you are there. You don’t miss it. You get there on time. You make preparations ahead of time. Well, the most glorious and honorable person has called for you worship weekly with God’s people. Let us make every effort, every week, to be here, to be on time, to be prepared. To show honor to God throughout the service. By staying for the entire service. I’m from Los Angeles. I always hated it when mass people would start leave an inning early from the Dodger game to miss the traffic. It was so rude. God doesn’t want you to leave the service early. Not to cook food in the kitchen. But to be here, for the entire service, start to finish. Not only is this for your blessing and benefit. But it’s for God’s glory.

There should be no greater goal for the Christian, than God’s glory. But I fear that our practical actions can communicate something different in our worship service. I plead with you to really reflect on this. How can we make God’s glory and honor made known clearly by how we act and treat this time of public worship?

One other application from this passage. The image here is that while this horrible storm is outside, the people are in the temple, worshipping. It might seem like a simplistic application, but let me point out that the rain didn’t keep them home. Troubles and trials didn’t keep them home. I think in our own circumstances, it easy to let troubles keep you from glorifying God in our worship service. But God wants us to be here. Now, yes, there may be things that prevent you from being here. But I think there’s a common temptation we have to set that bar real low. The smallest things; the smallest issues, the smallest distractions, the smallest trial, can keep us from being here. The reality is that when the trials are the biggest, that’s when we need to be here all the more. To call on God for help and strength and peace amidst the storms of life. And so my appeal to you is that when you think about staying home from church, reassess that. Ask if it’s really that good of a reason to stay home. May the call to glorify God overcome many more of the reasons why in the past we might have been tempted to take a Sunday off.

Let me close with this thought. This passage draws a connection with the worship of angels and the worship of men. I pointed to the angelic announcement in Luke’s gospel at Christ’s birth; that draws the same connection. Our worship of God parallels the heavenly worship. That in fact is our destination. Eternal glorifying of God in the heavenly places. May the pictures of heavenly worship influence our worship here. I’m sure none of us would miss it if you were given an invitation today to worship in heaven. Let us make our worship here each week a reflection of the heavenly worship. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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