Theme: The Right Kind of Universalism
From this week’s lessons we see that Psalm 66 tells us to praise the Lord and gives us an example of one who is doing just that.
Scripture: Psalm 66:1-20
Most Bible students know that later in its history, after the Babylonian captivity, the nation of Israel became religiously exclusive. The masses of Jews looked down on Gentiles, who were thought of as being excluded from any relationship to the true God, and deservedly so. It is somewhat surprising therefore to find many times a considerably broader and inclusive view in the psalms. We are in a little block of such psalms now, as was pointed out in the last study. At one point or another Psalms 65-68 each call on all the nations of the world, not just Israel, to praise and worship God.1
The call to the earth to praise God in verses 1-7 is a proper kind of universalism, meaning that God is God of the whole earth and that all the peoples of the earth should acknowledge him as God and be thankful. But the fact that the peoples of the earth must be invited to “come and see what God has done” betrays the reality of the situation, namely, that although people ought to praise God and be thankful they actually do not do it (cf. Rom. 1:21). True, they are sometimes awed by the power of God in or over nature, as those who witnessed his deliverance of the Jews from Egypt by turning “the sea into dry land,” thus enabling them to pass over “on foot” (v. 6). The people who learned of the overthrow of Jericho and other Jewish victories as part of the conquest of Canaan must have been likewise impressed. They might have said of God, “How awesome are your deeds” (v. 3)! But this does not mean that they bowed down to God or worshiped him.
What happens is illustrated by comments on the earthquake that occurred in southern California early in 1994. By later estimates the California earthquake was the most destructive and costly natural disaster ever to occur in the United States of America. Some thought that might be significant. Noting the closeness of the Los Angeles riots, the destructive brushfires of the previous fall and the earthquake of the winter, one person observed in an interview on network television, “Maybe God is trying to tell us something.” Another person said, “Maybe God doesn’t like what is going on in California.” These people (and others) were impressed with the power of God displayed in nature and were led to draw God into their thinking and conversation, as they probably had not done before the earthquake. But it does not mean that they repented of personal sin and sought God through faith in Jesus Christ. It would be difficult to document any significant turning to God in our country as the result of this or any other natural disaster.
1Psalm 65:2, 5,8; 66:1-4, 7,8; 67:2-5; 68:32.
Why is the inclusive view found in the psalms so surprising?
What is a proper kind of universalism? Why must the peoples of the earth be invited to praise God?
How did people in California see God through the earthquake? What did most of them fail to do?
Reflection: Have you ever heard a non-Christian say something about God, even though they don’t know him in a saving way? How will you use these opportunities as “openers” for witnessing in the future?