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In an age of many “praise choruses,” people are tempted to think that our generation is especially rich in praise. Surely we know more about praise that our stuffy parents and grandparents in their somber suits and staid services, busily singing their old-fashioned hymns.
It does not help clarity of thought on these matters to evaluate in stereotypes. Despite the suspicions of some older people, not all contemporary expressions of praise are frivolous and shallow; despite the suspicions of some young people, not all forms of praise from an earlier generation are to be abandoned in favor of the immediate and the contemporary.
But there are two elements expressed in the praise of Psalm 66 that are almost never heard today, and that badly need to be reincorporated both into our praise and into our thinking.
The first is found in 66:8-12. There the psalmist begins by inviting the peoples of the world to listen in on the people of God as they praise him because “he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” Then the psalmist directly addresses God, and mentions the context in which the Lord God preserved them: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (66:10 -12).
This is stunning. The psalmist thanks God for testing his covenant people, for refining them under the pressure of some extraordinarily difficult circumstances and for sustaining them through that experience. This is the response of perceptive, godly faith. It is not heard on the lips of those who thank God only when they escape trial or are feeling happy.
The second connects the psalmist’s desperate cry with righteousness: “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer” (66:17-19, emphasis added). this is not to say that the Lord answers us because we have merited his favor by our righteous endeavor. Rather, because we have entered into a personal and covenantal relationship with God, we owe him our allegiance, our faith, our obedience. If instead we nurture sin in our inmost being, and then turn to God for help, why should he not respond with the judgment and chastisement that we urgently deserve? He may turn away, and sovereignly let sin take its ugly course.
Our generation desperately needs to connect praise with righteousness, worship with obedience, and the Lord’s response with a clean heart.
The short paragraph 1 Peter 2:13–17 is filled with moral admonitions found elsewhere in the New Testament. In today’s meditation I shall briefly clarify the main points and observe the supporting themes around the paragraph.
First, like Paul in Romans 13, Peter tells his readers to submit to every properly constituted human authority, and to do so “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet. 2:13–14). Implicitly, Peter acknowledges that such human authorities were set up by God, and their proper function (or at least one of them) is to foster justice. Second, it is always God’s will that Christians by doing good “should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). Behavior stamped by courtesy, respect, and integrity is not itself preaching the Gospel, but it wins a hearing for the Gospel, simultaneously preparing a way for it and authorizing it. Third, our freedom from the law-covenant must never become an excuse for licentiousness: “live as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). Finally, it is always right and good to show proper respect to everyone. Everyone is made in the image of God. But what “proper” means may take on different overtones with different ranks: “Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).
The surrounding verses provide support for this outlook. (a) Christians are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” their very existence designed to declare the praise of the One who called them “out of darkness and into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The transformation of Christians’ conduct is the attestation that they really do belong to God (1 Pet. 2:10, 25). (b) This also means that we no longer belong to the world. Here we live “as aliens and strangers” (1 Pet. 2:11). If we do not think in those terms, but are frankly comfortable with the world and its ways, we ought to question whether or not we really belong to the “people belonging to God.” This is the assumption Peter makes when he writes, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12). (c) If any of this involves hardship or suffering—as it especially did in the case of slaves who belonged to cruel and unjust masters—we can never forget that we follow a Master who himself suffered most unjustly. No moral value attaches to suffering what we deserve; we show ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ when we suffer unjustly and endure it faithfully. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
24:1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, 3 and he took up his discourse and said,
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,1
4 the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down with his eyes uncovered:
5 How lovely are your tents, O Jacob,
your encampments, O Israel!
6 Like palm groves2 that stretch afar,
like gardens beside a river,
like aloes that the LORD has planted,
like cedar trees beside the waters.
7 Water shall flow from his buckets,
and his seed shall be in many waters;
his king shall be higher than Agag,
and his kingdom shall be exalted.
8 God brings him out of Egypt
and is for him like the horns of the wild ox;
he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries,
and shall break their bones in pieces
and pierce them through with his arrows.
9 He crouched, he lay down like a lion
and like a lioness; who will rouse him up?
Blessed are those who bless you,
and cursed are those who curse you.”
10 And Balak's anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. And Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them these three times. 11 Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, ‘I will certainly honor you,’ but the LORD has held you back from honor.” 12 And Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, 13 ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the LORD speaks, that will I speak’? 14 And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.”
15 And he took up his discourse and said,
“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead3 of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!”
20 Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said,
“Amalek was the first among the nations,
but its end is utter destruction.”
21 And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said,
“Enduring is your dwelling place,
and your nest is set in the rock.
22 Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned
when Asshur takes you away captive.”
23 And he took up his discourse and said,
“Alas, who shall live when God does this?
24 But ships shall come from Kittim
and shall afflict Asshur and Eber;
and he too shall come to utter destruction.”
25 Then Balaam rose and went back to his place. And Balak also went his way.
66:1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
4 All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Selah
5 Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
6 He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in him,
7 who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah
8 Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.
13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on1 my tongue.2
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!
67:1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7 God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
14:1 For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. 2 And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves.1 They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.
3 When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
“How the oppressor has ceased,
the insolent fury2 ceased!
5 The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked,
the scepter of rulers,
6 that struck the peoples in wrath
with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
with unrelenting persecution.
7 The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
they break forth into singing.
8 The cypresses rejoice at you,
the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
no woodcutter comes up against us.’
9 Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
and worms are your covers.
12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;3
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
16 Those who see you will stare at you
and ponder over you:
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
who shook kingdoms,
17 who made the world like a desert
and overthrew its cities,
who did not let his prisoners go home?’
18 All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
each in his own tomb;4
19 but you are cast out, away from your grave,
like a loathed branch,
clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword,
who go down to the stones of the pit,
like a dead body trampled underfoot.
20 You will not be joined with them in burial,
because you have destroyed your land,
you have slain your people.
“May the offspring of evildoers
nevermore be named!
21 Prepare slaughter for his sons
because of the guilt of their fathers,
lest they rise and possess the earth,
and fill the face of the world with cities.”
22 “I will rise up against them,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the LORD. 23 “And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog,5 and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” declares the LORD of hosts.
24 The LORD of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand,
25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
and his burden from their shoulder.”
26 This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?
28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:
29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder,
and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
and there is no straggler in his ranks.
32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The LORD has founded Zion,
and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.”
2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”1
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution,2 whether it be to the emperor3 as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants4 of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.