It’s time to begin bringing closure to this topic although much, much more could be said. We begin by returning to where we started, Psa. 115.
Psalm 115:1–8 (NKJV)
1 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
2 Why should the Gentiles say,
“So where is their God?”
3 But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
5 They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
6 They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
7 They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
8 Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
These verses set the stage for understanding the true nature of idols and the assertion that those who worship idols become like them, namely deaf, blind, impotent and stupid. Now we turn to verses 9-15, along with v3 above, to see what the solution, the only solution, is to idolatry:
Psalm 115:9–15 (NKJV)
9 O Israel, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD;
He is their help and their shield.
12 The LORD has been mindful of us;
He will bless us;
He will bless the house of Israel;
He will bless the house of Aaron.
13 He will bless those who fear the LORD,
Both small and great.
14 May the LORD give you increase more and more,
You and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
Verse 3 is important because it describes a particular cosmology about creation, namely that God is in heaven and, because He is God, does whatever He pleases. This means He has both the will and the means to accomplish whatever He sets out to do, unlike everything else that is limited by finitude and absolutely dependent on God.
Idols, however, are earth-bound images first formed from the vain imaginations of fallen humanity (Rom.1) and then fashioned using the very material God, who is in heaven, brought into existence from nothing (creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing). Idols, therefore, are ‘nothings’ since they are made from substances that once never existed and can, at His discretion, cease to exist at any time (the irony that we share, with the exception of the soul, similar substances as idols is interesting). The contrast is important to see.
Now, in verses 9-15 the operative words are “trust in the LORD” and directed to three groups of people: all of Israel, the Aaronic priesthood and then everyone who fear the LORD, whoever and wherever they might be. To the degree they do trust the LORD, His blessing is assured.
The Hebrew word used for trust in these verses is batah and denotes both the experience of well-being and an accompanying sense of security because of confidence in someone or something that is deemed worthy of such trust; it is to be “care-less”. The same word is used of idols in v8 and shows how such persuasion can be ascribed to what is deceptive, thereby creating a false security and false sense of well-being that is essentially self-destructive.
Reading from the Septuagint, we note that the translators did not chose for batah the Greek πιστευω “believe in”, which has more to do with intellectual assent to truth about God, but used ελπιζω “to hope” instead which has more of an emotional overtone, or ‘feeling’ a certain way, in this case safe and secure with God as opposed to ‘feeling’ dread and anxiety.
Although hard to admit, trusting God, Who is invisible, inscrutable and uncontrollable to provide safety and security is not ‘natural’ to us. Most of the time we think we have “to do something”, and quickly, to fend off threats to what security we have. Trusting God, of which waiting on Him with patience is a necessary requirement, almost seems irresponsible, especially if we think that “God only helps those who help themselves.” The words of Jesus “be anxious for nothing” while beautiful seem just too impractical given the magnitude of our needs.
However, we all end up trusting something, or someone, mostly ourselves, to achieve some semblance of control over the uncontrollable. Psalm 115 teaches that we either trust idols or trust God and, furthermore, trusting anything but God is idolatry. However, it is often the case that this clear either/or is turned into a both/and. One example is saying we trust God, devising clever plans to get what we want/need, and then asking God to bless our plans and efforts. Engaging in this sort of thing, however well-intentioned and ‘spiritual’, is really using God as a means to our ends. This is idolatry, plain and simple but difficult to discern as such because of all the religious trappings attached to it and, even worse, gross misapplications of Scripture (the ‘prosperity’ gospel, for example).
Trusting the LORD so described in our passage by the words batah and ελπιζω is like a sigh of surrender, a giving up of self-effort and abandonment of all self-interest, an acquiescence to both the vicissitudes of human existence far beyond our ability to solve and to God who is far greater than ourselves or our problems. Such acquiescence, while including a rational choice, is much more an existential capitulation leading to a state of ‘blessedness’ (verses 12-13), a transcendent experience rooted in the reality of Who and what God is to us.
In the Old Testament, when God blesses He is granting power for success, prosperity, fecundity, and longevity to those who trust in Him. As we have seen, these are the very things the heathen seek from their idols. It was Israel’s privilege to know the true Source, the One True God from Whom all blessing flows and Israel’s bane when it substituted this revelation for the fallacy of idolatry. And so it is with us of the New Testament.
Along with God’s blessing, those who trust in Him exclusively (all of Israel, the priesthood and everyone else) will enjoy His “help” and His “shield” (verse 9-11). The Hebrew word for ‘help’ signifies assistance or support militarily, materially, or spiritually. That ‘help’ associated here with ‘shield’ suggests a military application which includes actual physical combat or spiritual combat. The word for ‘shield’ indicates protection. The picture is that trusting God sets into motion His assistance and protection in the midst of life’s dangers and unpredictability while, at the same time, promising eventual victory and success in all spheres of our existence.
Together with His blessing, this help and protection insure that those trusting God will “increase more and more…” (verse 14). Contextually, this idea of being ‘increased’ is a consolation, a comforting word that, in spite of the oppression of surrounding heathen nations, when Israel trusts in the LORD and nothing else their numbers will increase, their might to overcome their enemies increase, and their presence as God’s people will inspire awe in the sight of her enemies. This idea echoes the promise of fecundity, longevity and prosperity that God’s blessing (see verses 12-13) brings.
Therefore, because we trust/hope in God we enjoy security and well-being so much so we become carefree, able to pursue Him and His will with reckless abandon and can say with Paul that “…nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Tim. 1:12 NKJV) In this verse we can easily see the ‘about God’ and the ‘with God’ that our text in Psalms 115: 9-15 (in Hebrew and Greek) expresses and the ‘persuasion’ that He is ‘able’ which lies at the center of what trusting God means.
In the next blog, a closer look at the three groups of people called to trust God will be considered. If you haven’t read the other blogs in this series, I encourage you to do so. This installment will make more sense in that context.
© W.G.Ryzek 2013