Psalm 66: Shout for joy to God, all the Earth
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
Psalm 66:1–2 (NRSVA)
This talk was given by Paul Horton on .
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- [00' 00"] Psalm 66 (NIV)
- [02' 14"] The meaning of the psalm
- [06' 00"] Something simple
- [10' 53"] Praise
- [14' 16"] Closing reading
I’m going to start by reading Psalms 66. I’ve used the New International Version, it’s slightly different than the first part that Moira read earlier.
For the director of music. A song. A psalm.Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down before you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.’ Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come, let us rejoice in him. He rules for ever by his power, his eyes watch the nations – let not the rebellious rise up against him. Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfil my vows to you – vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble. I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats. Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. 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 has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!
When Paul asked me to preach on Psalms 66 I was reasonably happy about this. I’ve had some really hard subjects to try and talk about. I’ve talked about Jonah and a whale, I’ve talked about prayer, and I’ve talked about the will of God. A psalm, I thought, how hard can that be. One day I’ll stop asking that question. Turns out that Psalms 66 is difficult for me to preach on, but in a new and exciting way.
When I talked on the will of God, I had to try and understand something which had challenge theologians for centuries and then condense it into 15 minutes and present it here like this. It did feel a bit like trying to cram a week’s worth of shopping into one of Rachel’s handbags. It was quite a challenge, that one. Psalms 66, however, has given me a completely different challenge. It is a straightforward outpouring of praise, of joy. It’s exuberant, it’s reaffirming commitment. It’s inclusive, but it’s not really very complex.
Now, I’m a bit of a pseudo-intellectual. I like to think I’m a bit clever, that I don’t take things at face value, that I can see beneath first impressions, and sometimes I can even be a bit cynical, perhaps too cynical. With that in mind I prepared today as I would normally do, and I started looking for deeper meaning. I tried to expand on what it was saying. I looked at concordances and commentaries. I looked at other talks online to try and see what other people were saying, what meanings people were drawing out.
Now, often that’s a way to expose something which I hadn’t really thought about or hadn’t occurred to me, and God finds it a really helpful way of directing what I’m trying to say. This time, however, almost all of them said almost exactly the same thing. It’s not a complicated psalm in what it’s trying to say to us. It alludes to the Exodus, it’s talking a bit about Exodus, but it’s not a direct reference to the Exodus as such.
What’s written can actually be taken to be about the hardships that we all face, all of the time. It’s talking about God’s presence in all things that we have to strive for and the praise that we need to give him. O f course, God doesn’t love us because we praise him, we praise him because we love God. Our praise should be a response to God’s steadfast love. The thing is this psalm isn’t a thin ‘Thank God this went my way’; it’s not fleeting, it’s not hollow like that. It’s very much a thick praise, I saw it described as.
It’s not just asking us individually to praise, it’s asking all creatures of our God and King. I t’s not just us who sings and, there’s the really big thing here, everyone and everything praises God. We can summarize the psalm by saying two things, God is awesome and always helps us ,and everything and everyone praises his name. It’s simple, really simple. It’s so simple that I’ve only talked for about five minutes and usually, when I’ve only talked for five minutes I’ve barely scratched the surface of the passage.
What do I say now? Maybe something about a hobby to fill some time? I do a bit of woodworking. I’m not very good, but I’m practising when I can. My job is working with these things, pressing buttons, getting electrons lined up in the right order and that kind of thing. When I’m working with wood it results in a thing that I’ve made I can hold and handle and it’s nice to be able to touch and feel the work that you’ve put into something.
I can make amazing things inside this, but I can’t really show anyone, whereas a workbench that I made, for example, I can touch, feel, and even sit on. It hasn’t collapsed yet, but there’s still time . Obviously, to do this kind of thing I have a range of tools. What’s that saying? All the gear and no idea? Yes, that would be me, right now. I’ve got amazing things, like an electric compound mitre saw. I’ve got a dowel jig. I’ve got a combination square. Loads of different tools and other bits and pieces as well, things like screws.
Most of what I’ve made, so far, has required a lot of screws. Some things maybe more screw than wood, but that’s another matter. They are great little things, there’s loads available to buy. If you go into B&Q there’s a massive great display of them. I’ve got special ones which don’t need drilling, ones with different shaped heads, loads of different sizes, and very useful things, which got me thinking, does anyone know how old the screw is? Any guesses?
Archimedes’ is the one that pops straight to mind and isn’t a screw, despite the fact it’s called Archimedes’ Screw, it’s technically a helix. The earliest metal screws as we’d recognize them now were actually common in the mediaeval times, they were used around the 16th century or so, very widely all over the place. However, wooden screws were common in the first century BC, so screws pre-date Jesus.
There’s also evidence that they were around earlier than that with a Greek mathematician called Archytas of Tarentum and that was in the third century BC, he actually described them then. Screws, they’re amazing and ancient and mostly unchanged in form as well, really. A carpenter, 500 years ago, could be shown a modern screw and would know what it was. They’d marvel at how small it was and how refined and all the rest of it and what’s that funny shape in the end and that kind of thing, but they’re all minor refinements.
They’d still recognize it as fundamentally the same thing and that’s because screws are simple, they’re really simple, but they really important too, despite being so straightforward to make and use, they’re essential for so many things. The roof above our heads is probably got a load of screws in it, all sorts of things need screws, require screws. When something’s so simple, I can feel some of you thinking why on earth is this guy going on about screws, when something is simple and small, we can show a bit of contempt for it.
We absolutely should not do that because a basic thing can be universal in a way that a more complicated thing isn’t. For example, hands up everyone here who’s ever used a screw, hands up. You’ve used a screw. Excellent. Keep your hands up. Keep your hands up. Okay, now keep your hand up if you know how to use a compound mitre saw. There we go. That is a mitre saw, but there’s a compound one. If you’ve got that, that’s a mitre saw, but then you’ve got a compound mitre saw that does that, as well.
As you could see, we had lots of hands for the first one, the screw, a simple device, and we had far fewer hands for the second, more complicated, device. Simple things are great because we can understand them quickly and put them straight to use. We can quickly get a common understanding of things which aren’t complicated.
Like Psalm 66. It is simple. Everyone and everything praises God because he will lift us up.
I praise God because the traffic may have been better than I was expecting. Gardeners are praising God that there was rain the other day. England fans, despite some results recently, are still praising God for Gareth Southgate. Christians across the world are praising God for their own things, too. Whether in the midst of great victories or epic defeats, whether grieving, or succeeding, or simply being, we praise.
We all have that in common and it’s really, really nice to have a simple passage to talk about because complicated or deep passages can cause division or confusion. With a complicated passage, God speaks to us all on different levels. For example, I remember when I went on a theology workshop, several years ago, the leader was a theologian called Conrad Gempf, at the London School Theology, at the time, and he read Exodus 23:20, which says, ‘Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.”
Now, if we take just that verse and don’t look at the context, some people can read that and take joy that God has laid a metaphorical road before us. At the end of the road, there is joy and everlasting life with the father. It’s a big picture thing for those people. It’s setting a map for your whole life. It’s a reassurance and a blessing, but Conrad went on to say that other people read it and thank the Lord that an angel will accompany them to the shops and God has set aside a parking spot when they get there.
It talks to us on different levels, and then he said, and the crazy thing is both people will be right because God meets us where we are. He speaks to us on different levels. There’s so much in scripture that can mean one thing or another, depending on the translation or the context of the verse, the context of the whole book, the Church you’re reading it in, your own thoughts at the time you read it, even the weather can make a difference to how you interpret a piece of scripture.
With Psalm 66, our unchanging God is giving us a message which is crystal clear. It reminds us that we need to praise, and not just us but the whole world. Rich or poor or straight or gay or old or young or man or woman. We all need to praise God. It’s simple, but it’s oh so important. Praise is the screw that holds Christians together. It is universal and common to each one of us in this church, and to each person in St. Laurence’s, and to each person at the King’s Church, and St. Luke’s, and the Methodist church, and everyone in the world.
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
Psalm 66:1–2 (NRSVA)
How refreshing is that? Amen.
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Scripture quotations marked NIV and NIVUK are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.
Scripture passages marked NRSVA are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.