Friday, July 26, 2013

Praising God Before the Elohim

I will praise You, O LORD, with all my heart;
Before the “gods” I will sing Your praise.
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And will praise Your name
For Your unfailing love and Your faithfulness,
For You have exalted Your solemn decree
That it surpasses Your fame.
(Psalm 138:1-2 NIV 2011)
As I began my time with the Lord this morning, I was suddenly impressed to sing the common doxology to the familiar tune of the “Old Hundredth.” So I picked up my guitar and began strumming the chords and singing the words. I looked toward the icon of the baptism of Jesus, which so beautifully depicts the Trinity: The voice of the Father in heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and Jesus the Son, standing in the baptismal waters, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. And I sang to the Lord, repeating the words of the doxology again and again.

Then I turned to my prayer book (I use The Paraclete Psalter), to the psalm laid out for today. But along the way, my eye fell on Psalm 138, and I was caught up by it. So I began to pray it:
I will praise You, O LORD, with all my heart;
Before the “gods” I will sing Your praise.
Let me get technical for just a moment. The Hebrew word for “gods” is elohim. It is the word that is usually used to refer to God Himself. But, clearly, that is not its use here because the psalm writer is speaking to God in the first person, but he refers to the elohim in the third person.

Elohim is a plural form, and so it can be translated as “gods.” It can refer to angels, as it perhaps does in Psalm 8:5, “For You have made him [man] a little lower than the angels,” where the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word elohim with the Greek word angelos.

Or it can refer to judges, as it appears to do in Exodus 21:6 and Exodus 22:8-9. This could be how the psalm writer uses it in Psalm 82:1, where God judges among the “gods,” who were themselves supposed to judge justly, but had failed to do. God warns them, “You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes” (Psalm 82:6-7). So, here elohim could refer to kings and rulers and heads of state, who were supposed to bring justice to the people God entrusted to them. It could also refer to the principalities and powers, the fallen spiritual entities who so often influence the political and cultural affairs of humanity.

But, back to what happened in prayer this morning: As I began praying Psalm 138, I suddenly found myself standing in the courts of the Lord, to do what I had just read — to praise God with all my heart, singing it before the elohim. I saw them as angels, parted on either side of me and waiting for my song to begin. Peter says that the angels long to explore the mysteries of the gospel and the salvation of humanity (1 Peter 1:12). And that is how I sensed them here.

I found myself overwhelmed as I stood in the clearing and in the silence of that moment. But as the psalm writer says in Psalm 138:3, “When I called, You answered me; you greatly emboldened me.” And I knew it would all be alright.

Now, it was obvious what the song should be, because I had been singing it just moments earlier in what had turned out to be a practice session for this encounter. And now I realized why that hymn had “popped” into my head — God had placed it there especially for me to offer for His pleasure in a “command performance.” So I lifted my voice and began to sing, softly at first and with some trembling:
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
As I sang, I began to realize that I was offering this praise to God not only before Him and His angels, but also in full view of the principalities and powers, reminding them of their defeat at the cross. For that is what always happens in the spiritual realm when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are worshipped and adored. And I was aware that our worship calls even to all the kings and queens of the earth and the rulers of nations, who will all one day bow, whether willingly or not, before God. The hope of the psalm writer is that it will be willingly:
May all the kings of the earth praise You, LORD
When they hear what You have decreed.
May they sing of the ways of the LORD,
For the glory of the LORD is great.
(Psalm 138:4-5 NIV)
That is my hope, too, as I sing to the LORD with all my heart before the elohim.