Beautiful Worship for a Beautiful God
(1) HALLELUJAH! How good (it is) to sing praises to our God! How pleasing and appropriate (are) songs of praise! (2) Yahweh builds up Jerusalem. He gathers together the outcasts of Israel. (3) He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (4) He determines the number of stars and gives to all of them their names. (5) Great (is) our Lord (Adonai) and abundant in power! His understanding (is) beyond measure. (6) Yahweh restores the afflicted. He brings down the wicked to the ground.
In the opening declarations of the psalm we encounter two notable features. The psalmist uses the word for “praise” twice, the first occurring in the opening word, “Hallelujah,” and the second in the expression “songs of praise.” Then the author sets forth the delights of praising God by means of three synonymous adjectives: “good…pleasing…appropriate” (vs. 1).
Following this the psalmist offers several reasons why God is worthy of our praise. First, he describes how Yahweh cares for his covenant nation, building up and regathering the outcasts, healing the brokenhearted and binding up the wounded (vss. 2 & 3). Then he broadens his focus to call all peoples of the earth to praise Yahweh for the wonders of creation (vs. 4), for his omnipotence and omniscience (vs. 5), and for his mercy and justice (vs. 6).
Why praise to God should be lovely and pleasing: (1)
- because he is compassionate to Israel. (2 & 3)
- because he is powerful and wise. (4 & 5)
- because he is merciful and just to all peoples of the earth. (6)
Because all that God is and does is beautiful, he should receive worship that is lovely and pleasing.
In a previous study (Psalm 59:11-17 on May 18), we considered the subject of “aesthetics,” the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of that which is beautiful. While the adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” suggests that aesthetic judgment is a personal and highly subjective endeavor, most of us know instinctively the difference between what is beautiful and what is ugly, between what attracts us and what repels us. The psalmist begins this psalm with three adjectives that call us to beauty in our worship: good (agreeable), pleasing (delightful), and appropriate (lovely, beautiful). In essence, because God is beautiful our worship should be beautiful.
The following meditation on beauty from the well-known author and pastor, John Piper, should help us in developing a Christian aesthetic: “Beauty is what God is. His wisdom is beautiful wisdom, his power is beautiful power, his justice is beautiful justice, and his love is beautiful love. But what makes each of these attributes beautiful is not merely that they are infinite, unchanging, and eternal. Power, for example, could be infinitely and eternally evil and thus ugly. The attributes of God derive their infinite beauty from their relationship to each other. Just as in paintings it is not the isolated color or shape or texture that is beautiful but rather their relationship with each other, their proportion and interplay; so it is with persons and ultimately with the person of God. It is the peculiar proportionality and interplay and harmony of all God’s attributes (together with their infiniteness and eternality) that constitutes God’s beauty, and makes him the foundation of all the beauty in the world. There is in the human heart an unquenchable longing for beauty. And I am persuaded that the reason it is there is because God is the ultimately Beautiful One, and he made us to long for himself.”
NOTE: If you are following the calendar suggested for your devotional study, you are reading this psalm on Christmas Day when we celebrate one of the most beautiful things God ever did for us in sending his Son to be our Savior. The splendor of the Incarnation should lift our hearts in praise and adoration so that today, of all days, our worship reflects the beauty of Christ’s coming to be one of us. As Paul put it, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).