The Lord of the Living
Psalm 115:17–18 – “The dead do not praise the LORD . . . . But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.” (ESV)
Idolatry may seem like an exotic sin nowadays, one that modern people aren’t really tempted by. Bowing down to a figure made of metal, wood, or stone and treating it as a god seems childish and primitive to us. But in the ancient world, it was a universal practice. In Egypt, where Israel had spent 400 years before the Exodus, there were the animal-headed idols of Horus, Set, Anubis, and a menagerie of other gods. In Canaan, to which the Israelites traveled under Moses’ leadership, the locals worshiped statues of Baal the thunder-god and wooden poles devoted to the mother goddess Asherah. The Babylonians who conquered sinful Israel served the idols of Marduk, Ishtar, Nebo, and others. The Romans who ruled the Jews during Jesus’ lifetime had sacred images of gods like Jupiter and Mars, Minerva and Venus. The Israelites stuck out as wildly out of step with the prevailing culture because they insisted on worshiping an unseen Deity. The pagan nations surrounding them asked in bewilderment and contempt, “Where is their God?” (verse 2; all quotes ESV).
Psalm 115 sets up a sharp contrast between idols and the Lord God of Israel. The idols are on earth, while God is in heaven (verses 3, 16). The idols are made by humans (verse 4), while the Lord is the maker of humans, the heavens, and the earth (verse 14–16). The idols are unable to do anything, but God is able to do whatever he wishes (verses 3–7). The idols are lifeless, dead things, and both their fashioners and their worshipers will end up dead just like them (verses 5–8). The living and active God of heaven, however, will preserve the lives of those who trust in him. It won’t be dead people who praise the Lord; it will be the living who will bless his name forever (verses 17–18).
The living Lord makes us live. As Jesus sang this psalm before going to his death on Good Friday, he surely entrusted himself to his Father, the living God, who would raise him from the dead on Easter Sunday. And because Jesus, our Lord and Savior, now lives forever, we can trust him to give us a new life, free from the guilt and power of sin, here and now. We can also place our hope in him to give us a new, resurrected bodily life in the age to come.
Notice I’ve said “we” and “us” above. Most of us aren’t Jewish. But Psalm 115 promises God’s aid not only to the ordinary people of Israel and the priestly household of Aaron, but also to all who “fear the LORD, both the small and the great” (verse 13; see verses 9–12). The God who made the whole world and all humankind (verses 14–16) will save all who reverence him, regardless of their ethnic or religious or social or economic status. Whether prosperous or poor, famous or anonymous, clergy or laity, Jew or Gentile, God will acknowledge whoever acknowledges him. God will show his faithfulness to everyone who relies on him. And the glory for our salvation will go, not to us because of our wealth or wisdom or power or pedigree, but to the God of “steadfast love and faithfulness” (verse 1). We are saved by grace through faith—faith in the invisible God, faith in the faithful God, faith in the living God who gives us life and even raises the dead!
Even though we’re probably not tempted to bow to a metal figure of Horus or Venus, the temptation to trust in items of silver and gold, paper and copper, steel and plastic is very much alive. Whatever we devote ourselves to, we’ll become like. Fill your days with stuff and you’ll be possessed by your possessions. Fill your eyes and ears with raging, violent images, talk, and lyrics and you’ll tend to be anxious and angry. Fill your mind with objects of sensuality and you’ll objectify others (and, ironically, become desensitized in the process). But fill your heart and life with love for the living Lord and you’ll find his love will last forever.