In verse 5 the Psalmist poses a rhetorical question. And this question forms the core and theme of the whole song that he sings. He triumphantly and adoringly asks, “Who is like the Lord our God?”
I have an ongoing wager with the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness. I tell them that I am ready at any moment to convert to their religion. All they have to do is show me that their god is greater than mine.
He is superlative in every way. And that is why he must be worshipped.
I even challenge those who adhere to other religions with this. I ask them, “Do you worship the greatest god?” and I’ll say, “If I could show you a God who is greater, would you convert to Him?”
I do this because we all know in our heart of hearts that there is not to be anything that is above God. God is to be the singular object of our soul’s worship because he supposed to be utterly supreme.
That is what our psalm glories in this morning. And throughout the psalm he revels in the fact that there is no one who can begin to match our God. We can begin to see just how incomparable God is by virtue of the praise he is due.
I. The praise he is due [1-3]
Look at verses 1-3. You cannot miss the fact that this psalm calls us to praise the Lord. The word praise is used 5 times in just these three verses. It is used again in the last verse too. But this 5 fold repetition is piled up in order to stress the exuberance of our worship. As he recites this over and over he’s seeking to rally us into the worship of God. He knows that God deserves praise and so he seeks to excite our hearts by reciting it over and over.
But it is not just the repetitions, it is the time table of this praise. If you look at verse 2 you see that the Psalmist stresses the eternality of this praise. It says, “Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore.”
Then in the next verse he goes on to say that his praise is to be “from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” In other words, God is to be praised all day long.
Putting these two verses together you understand that this is nothing other than perpetual praise. The worship that he calls for is no momentary excitement. Anything that falls short of eternal worship is not sufficient. He knows that God is so great that he deserves endless and exuberant praise.
But of course, what is all the hullabaloo about? What has got him so enraptured with God’s praise?
I can only think that it is the fact that the Incomparable God has entered into a relationship with him. Why do I say that? It is because the name of God, “the LORD,” is repeated so many times in this psalm.
If you look back at these first three verses you can see that the word LORD (capital L-O-R-D) is used no less than 5 times. You can see that the word is then repeated 3 more times in the rest of the psalm.
What is to note is that this name of God is a interesting mix. It expresses the absolute transcendence and immanence of God all at once. It is the name that expresses God’s incomparable greatness and His incomparable nearness all at once.
And that’s what the word Lord means. You may remember that when Moses encountered the burning bush in the wilderness God said, “I am who I am. Tell them that I am (i.e. the LORD) sent you.” The “I am” indicates God’s self existence. That is to say, God needs no other and depends upon no other for life. He is incomparable because he has life in and of himself.
You may also remember that this name is also associated with the incomparable glory of God. Fast forward through the book of Exodus and you come to the point in the book where Moses asks to see God’s glory. God answered the request and put Moses in the cleft of the rock. He then caused all his glory to pass by Moses, and as he did so he “proclaimed the name of LORD.” But what did Moses see? Did he see all of God’s glory? No. That would have been too much for him. He would have died. He was only able to see a glimpse of God’s coattails.
So here again you see the incomparable nature of God. He is incomparably glorious; so glorious that no one can look at him and live.
But here is the interesting thing. This name is also the personal name of God. It is the name that indicates God’s special relationship to his people. In each of the two instances I just mentioned, God was revealing himself as superior, but you can also say that each was a demonstration of God’s special love for his people. Or you can just look at the opening chapters of Genesis to see an example of this. In Genesis 1, as it talks about the creation of all the universe, the name Elohim (God) is used. Then in chapter 2, where it talks about God’s relationship to Adam and Eve, the author switches and uses the word “LORD.” That’s because chapter 2 talks about the intimacy the Lord had in relation to his children.
When we understand the name of God in this way we will understand why the Psalmist bursts into such vivacious praise. He offers this incomparable praise, not just because his God is incomparable, but because he has done an incomparable thing: He has entered into a relationship with him.
When I was a freshman in high school there was a cheerleader who would sometimes talk to me after basketball games. After an away game we’d be sitting around waiting to board the bus to go home. Everyone else would be talking and having a good time, but I was just a freshman and I didn’t really have a relationship with anyone. So I was pretty much left to myself. But she took notice of me and would come over and talk to me. I really liked her. Some might even say I had a crush on her. It is a little embarrassing to admit now, but I even pasted a picture of her in my locker.
There was a sense in which I adored her. But it wasn’t just because she was popular or pretty. There were plenty of pretty and popular people around me and I didn’t give them the time of day. I esteemed her above others because she did the unthinkable: she developed a relationship with a lowly, nerdy freshman like me.
This is the same reason our God is due incomparable amount of praise from us. He is an incomparably great God who has done an incomparably awesome thing: he has chosen to enter into a relationship with lowly sinners like us.
But God’s incomparability is not only seen in the praise that he is due. It is also seen in the position that he takes.
II. The position he takes [4-6]
In the second stanza the Psalmist tells us about the position the Lord takes over enemies and over his creation. And what we find is that his position is without rival.
Verse 4 starts by talking about God’s position in relation to his enemies. It says, “The LORD is high above all nations.” The word for nations here is the word “goim.” It is translated nations, which is fine. But you have to recognize that it is not just the distinct city states of the world that it refers to. This word goim indicates the nations that are in opposition to God. It refers to his enemies.
So when it says that the LORD is high above all nations, it means that the Lord is greater than the cumulative power of all who hate him. His supremacy cannot begin to be matched, not even by the allied forces of the whole entire world.
You likely have heard a lot lately about the threat of ISIS and how guys like Putin are attempting to flex their muscles. We read about the United States sending drones over what seems to be every third world country in the world and dropping bombs on this or that group.
There is a great amount of power expressed by nations. But none of it can begin to rival God. All of them are but a drop in the bucket because He is above all nations.
Reading on we find that “his glory is above the heavens.” This is the Bible’s way of saying that God is so big that he cannot even fit in the universe. The heavens are everything above us. But God is so great that he is above the heavens. He is so transcendent that he actually stands outside of the time-space continuum.
Then he expands on this idea in verse 5. He says, “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” The word “far down” literally means to sink or sink down.
The KJV translates this by saying, “He humbles himself to behold the heavens and the earth.” The idea of sinking fits well with the humiliation.
I actually like the way the NIV translates this passage. The NIV says that he “stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth.” I like the picture that this gives. The heavens are the loftiest thing to us. There is no possible way we can reach them. There were a few times this summer my daughter and I sat outside watching the stars. And we squinted our eyes in order to try and peer into the outer galaxies.
Yet God is so great that he actually has to stoop down to look at them. He, metaphorically speaking, has to get down on his hands and knees in order to see the stars in the sky.
Such is a picture of a God who certainly cannot begin to compare with anyone or anything. Often religions will depict their gods are very big. Some of you might be familiar with the “seven wonders of the world.” One of those ancient wonders was the temple to Greek God Zeus. It is said that there was a statue of Zeus sitting on a throne within the temple. The statue was huge. Supposedly it went from floor to ceiling. It was done that way intentionally because they wanted to give the impression that, if Zeus were to stand, he would tear through the ceiling and unroof the temple.
But, when you read what is said here, even the great Zeus—even if he were real—could not even begin to compare with the Lord.
What is even more astounding though is the fact that the Lord, who is this high and lofty, even stoops to look. We could make a big deal out of how big God is depicted here. But I think the greater wonder is that a God of this caliber, is even willing to sink down to that level. That he even cares is amazing, but that he condescends all the way down past heaven to gaze on what is beneath.
That certainly shows the heart of God. Other gods are not of this nature. The gods of the heathen world dwell in high places and are basically indifferent towards the affairs of men. The only time they have any concern for the earth is when man messes up. The gods are said to be provoked and they need to be appeased.
But our God far from indifferent. He cares deeply for what goes on in this world. He is deeply interested in the affairs of his people. So he takes this position. He rises off His throne and he does the undignified thing—the humiliating thing—he stoops.
As a matter of fact, the NT tells us that his interest is of such proportions that he became a man himself. He stooped so low that he took on flesh and lived among us. The God who was above the heavens condescended to the point of being born in our likeness, that he might live among us, and even die for us.
Who is like our God? Who of us bothers with anything that is beneath us on a daily basis? Who of us would sink that low?
Our God is incomparable. We know because of the praise he receives and the position he takes. But we also see it in the people he helps.
III. The people he helps [7-9]
Verses 7-9 tell us that God helps the poor man and the barren woman. The poor man is lifted out of the dust and out of the dunghill—that’s what it literally says. Mine says ash heap, but the language is that of the dunghill. Here is a man so poor that he is literally scrounging around in the filth of the cattle fields for sustenance.
It’s not the person you’d think that God would take notice of. You would think that if he would look down on this world he’d be interested in those who were noble and noteworthy. But that’s not who he is interested in.
The barren woman is perhaps even a better example of how far God condescends. A barren woman in the ancient world was considered useless. The job of a woman was to bear children, and if she couldn’t bear children, what use was she? It was even common to think that a barren woman was under God’s curse because bearing children was considered a blessing.
Again, here you have a testimony to how God is unparalleled. He doesn’t just take the best of the best. He doesn’t even help those who can help themselves. He helps those who are helpless. He helps those who would be considered a waste.
And look at the way he helps them! As for the poor man, again it is odd what He does, the Lord makes him to sit with princes. As for the woman, she is given a home and she is made the joyous mother of children.
These images, of course, are redemptive images. While there are examples of poverty stricken people being made princes (like King David) and woman bearing children (like Sarah or Hannah), the idea here is that this is God’s regular doing. Those events were atypical events. They were miracles, so to speak. But this third stanza is saying that God’s normal way of working is to flip things completely on their heads.
And that is what he does in the redemption of his people. All of us are poverty stricken as a result of our sin. We are spiritual beggars and are solely depended upon God’s favor for anything. Yet the Bible says that through Christ we have been seated in the heavens. That is a picture of a prince.
Again, God could work a miracle and give a barren woman children. It has happened before. But we should also remember what Christ says in the NT. He said that whoever leaves father and mother and brother and sister will be given many fathers and mothers and brothers in the kingdom of God.
When you come to faith in Christ you enter the church. And in the church you receive fathers and mothers and brothers. And if you have fathers and mothers, it obviously means you have many children as well.
There is a sense in which we share our children. I’m not saying it takes a village to raise a child, but there is a sense in which we are family integrated in the fullest sense of the term. We tend to use that in a restricted sense; that our children sit with us and participate with us in any activities. But we must not forget that we are family integrated in the broader sense of the term too.
But all of this is simply a reminder of the incomparable help that the Lord has given. He has not looked upon the best of us or the most noble. He has looked down upon the least of us. He has demonstrated compassion by helping poor sinners like us who are, in all reality, a real waste of time.
Surely that too is a reason for us to say, “Praise the Lord.”
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.