Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving Meditation – Psalm 145

Nowadays, amid all the food and family gatherings, it is easy to lose sight of the central idea of the occasion, viz., the giving of thanks. Thanksgiving is an old American tradition that can be traced back to the Pilgrim fathers at Plymouth, MA, when they gathered together in late 1621 for the specific purpose of giving thanks to God for having given them a good harvest, and for having preserved them alive during the preceding year. The occasion served a fundamentally religious purpose.
    Today it would be well to take a few minutes to reflect on what God has done for us during the past year. And an appropriate passage for meditation might be Psalm 145. The psalm begins:
                "My God, o King, I'll thee extol:
                    & bless thy Name for aye.
                 Forever will I praise thy Name;     
                    And bless thee every day." (vv. 1,2)
    The psalmist, traditionally said to have been David, then goes on to focus on God's unsearchable greatness:
                "Great is the Lord, most worthy praise:
                    his greatness search can none." (v. 3)
    God's greatness consists in a combination of two things: His power and His grace. David goes on to mention the things that God has actually done in history:
                "Age unto age shall praise thy works:
                    & thy great acts make known." (v. 4).
    But God is not just powerful; He is also gracious.
                "The Lord is gracious, & he is
                    full of compassion:
                 Slow unto anger & full of
                    Commiseration." (v. 8).
Here David is using language very similar to that used by God Himself when He revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:6).
    God's goodness expresses itself in the way He provides for His creatures:
                "The Lord is good to all: o'er all
                    his works his mercies be." (v. 9).
He cares for the downtrodden and afflicted:
                "The Lord doth hold up all that fall:
                    and all down-bowed ones raise." (v. 14)
He also (and this is especially important to remember on Thanksgiving Day!) provides us with food:
                "All eyes wait on thee & their meat
                    thou dost in season bring." (v. 15).
    It is truly a blessing to contemplate the goodness of God and all that He provides for us – family, jobs, health, and freedom, not to mention the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. But the blessings God bestows ought not to be taken for granted. God does not promise to bless everyone indiscriminately. He wants us actively to seek Him. Notice how the psalm puts it:
                "He is near to all that call on him:
                    in truth that on him call." (v. 18).
In other words, God wants us to pray – to engage in earnest, heartfelt prayer.
    But then David goes on to say:
                "He satisfy will the desire
                    of those that do him fear. . ." (v. 19)
By "fear" he does not mean a terrified, cringing fear, but rather a kind of humble, reverential awe of God's majesty, power and holiness. To know God, even to catch a mere glimpse of His eternal glory, is to be profoundly humbled by the experience.
    But most of all, we are to love Him.
                "The Lord preserves each one of them
                    that lovers of him be . . ." (v. 20).
The question is, are we trying to find God?


[Note: The Scripture quotations in this blog post were taken from The Bay Psalm Book, first published in 1640 in Massachusetts Bay colony. It is the first book ever published in the English colonies of North America. This past Tuesday an original copy of The Bay Psalm Book was sold at auction for $14.2 million. It was one of two copies still owned by Old South Church in Boston. It was part of a historic collection of books that had been put together in the 18th Century by Thomas Prince, pastor of the church at the time and a friend and colleague of such figures as Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield.
    The Puritans sang metrical paraphrases of the psalms, i.e., the Hebrew original was turned into English poetic meter so that it could be sung to standard tunes. The translators of The Bay Psalm Book, some of the leading ministers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, strove for literal accuracy but the resulting verse was often awkward and ungainly, as some of the above examples demonstrate ("He satisfy will the desire of those that do him fear . . .").
    I am fortunate to have in my possession a facsimile reprint of one of Old South Church's copies of The Bay Psalm Book, possibly of the very one that was just sold at auction. The facsimile was done by the University of Chicago Press in 1956. In the blog post I took the liberty of modernizing the spelling somewhat.]

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