I’m currently rehearsing with the Nashville Symphony Chorus to prepare a wonderful Oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn called “Elijah”. Because of that, I’ve been living much in my private devotions in 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2 which chronicles the ministry of this great prophet. One scene that
I’m particularly taken by is found in Chpt. 18 in the “showdown” (if you will) between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. I found this post I wrote almost exactly three years ago in which I referred to that scene in a post out of Ps. 22 dealing with the whole idea of God “inhabiting” our praise. I added a few thoughts to it. Enjoy!
“God inhabits the praises of Israel”. What does that verse (Psalm 22:3) actually mean? Does it mean that God’s presence is produced by our praise? Does it mean that it is God Who generates our praise? (It the word “inhabit” used only in the King James Version, by the way.)
First of all, context is everything! Let’s look at the verses leading into this commonly-used verse:
1 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
3 Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4 In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
5 To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
Ps 22:1-5 NASU (Bold mine)
We can see upon looking at this text that this is immediately a Psalm written by David in the midst of great trial and can certainly speak to any believer also under times of despair. But there is also another far greater application of this Psalm. It is an amazing prophesy of Christ on the cross—so much so, that, according to John MacArthur, in the early church, some referred to it as the “Fifth Gospel”.
With that in mind, it is extremely important to read it from a God-centered perspective. The Psalmist begins with a statement that is from his perspective. It might be paraphrased something like this “Where are you at, God? It seems as though you have left me!” (Of course, we know that when Christ declared the opening line of this Psalm it was because God had left Him—which was possibly the most terrible aspect of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement!)
The second verse continues on in that the Psalmist is waiting on a response. “God, I am calling on You day and night and yet it is as if You are not hearing me!” But it is the beginning of the third verse that begins to teach us what the end of verse 3 really is saying: it is the word “Yet”.
Even though I might be prone to think that God is centered on what I do and how much I call (and we ARE commanded and exorted to call on the Lord—don’t get me wrong) to get His attention, it’s not about that. Even though I might conversely believe that all that I am doing is NOT getting His attention, the scriptures remind me that, in spite of that, YET “You are holy”! God is not like man! God is in a category all by His glorious Self. God does not think like I do! Isn’t that wonderful news?
He continues, and this phrase in which we are focusing gives proper context: God is in charge of it all. He is in charge of praise, He is in charge of circumstance, He is in charge of solutions. God is sovereign!!
Secondly, we see from the translation above, that the word usually referred to as “inhabits” in the King James Version (which I underlined) is the Hebrew word “yashab” which means “enthroned” or “seated upon”. The implications for this word mean that God rules over and evaluates and administrates. Therefore, the context of that verse (Ps. 22:3) is pointing to God as the object of praises, the generator of praises, the basis of praises, and the judge of all praises. It does not mean that God is generated BY praises.
There is a massive and all-important difference. If you believe that God’s presence is generated BY praises, then you might, even though well-intentioned, be much closer to spiritism than you are to biblical worship. I realize that is a very strong statement. (And it most certainly points to the importance of proper translations!) It was the prophets of Baal who led worship with this mindset in the stand-off with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:20-40). They believed that is was getting their false god’s attention and creating their god’s presence that was the key to their success. That’s why they would cry louder and louder and even cut themselves until their blood gushed out (v. 28). Talk about manipulation!
However, if you recognize that praises come FROM God and are produced BY God and it is His grace that creates in us a regenerate heart through which (by faith) we express those praises, then you are much more in line with the proper context of this verse and all of scripture. Any view of worship that sets God up as the one dependent upon the worshiper is a dangerous one and does not stand up to overwhelming teachings in scripture to the contrary. Notice that Elijah was let by the word of the Lord in what his worship (1 Kings 18:31, 36). The prophets of Baal were led by their own devices in their worship.
To say it again, biblical worship is a response to God’s action and word in getting to us. Pagan and false-religion worship is rooted in man’s schemes and devices and creations to get to God. On Mt. Carmel the prophets of Baal cut themselves to get their god’s attention. On Mt. Calvary God cut His Son to get our attention.
To stay in balance and avoid quietism (“Let go and let God”) and fatalism (“Why do anything?”) we still must still do something (“What says the scriptures?”). But our obedience to the scriptures to make petitions, to make requests, and to declare His praises must have God’s sovereignty and supremacy in full view. Perish the thought that in a church service, we are inviting God to join us! God is the initiator (the “Alpha”) and the completer (the “Omega”) of worship. Brother Music Minister, make sure that you clarify this in your music ministry!