Psalm 29, without question, is a praise of God. It observes God’s power, strength, and presence. Almost the entire Psalm is about who God is. The last verse, though, is different. It is more of a plea to God about the people of Israel.
A cynical person could infer that the whole Psalm was intended to curry favor with God. A more joyful person could infer that the Psalmist did an add-on along the lines of, “if you would be so kind.” A more balanced view could infer that the last verse is a statement of trust, because of who God is, which had just been declared. Regardless, the Psalm was neither a simple praise nor a simple ask.
What should become startling, but really isn’t when it comes to human nature, is that at the same time they would recite a Psalm such as this, the Israelites were abandoning God. Isaiah’s opening words for today include abandon, despise, and turning their backs. In regards to abandon and despise, the Hebrew implies something as strong as blasphemy. It wasn’t just ignorance or turning away, it was something far deeper.
The Hebrew for turning their backs is a combination phrase of stranger and back. In other words, the Israelites are no longer (from their hearts’ point of view) God’s people. They might have claimed and proclaimed that they were, but Isaiah’s words say it was so much more. A more poetic way of thinking of it, God was left in a cloud of dust in a rearview mirror, and the Israelites did what they could to speed away faster and look back in disgust.
Yet, the verses from Isaiah don’t end there (mercifully). We often try to skip over the ugly verses. It is the ugly verses that give the freedom and forgiveness of the last phrases of Isaiah the deepness that they have.
The verses of Romans explain the why. To some theologians, they explain the how. The truth is that God could never (per God’s nature and character) look in the rearview mirror at his people, and speed away.
- When you read the Psalm, which kind of person were you (cynical, joyful, balanced)? Why? Is it learned or natural?
- Why is understanding God’s character crucial to our response to those who turn their backs on God?
- How might the selfishness of the Israelite (and mentioned in Romans) be reflected in us?
Lord, you gave us so much and yet we give so little in return. Thank you for your faithful love. Amen.