Theme: God’s Mercy
In this week’s lessons, from this last psalm of David we see that we are given a guide for how to praise God.
Scripture: Psalm 145:1-21
It was probably his reference to God’s “goodness” in verse 7 that led the psalmist to deal with God’s grace, compassion, patience and rich love (v. 8) in stanza three (vv. 8-13a), the theme introduced by verse 8.
This verse is a nearly perfect echo of God’s revelation of himself to Moses at Mount Sinai, recorded in Exodus 34:6, the verse most often quoted in the Old Testament.1 And why should it not be the verse most quoted? Exodus 34:6 speaks of mercy, and mercy is the amazing, utterly surprising thing about God. God certainly is almighty, all-wise and all-knowing. God could not be God without having all those important qualities, and more. We can expect them. But not mercy! The amazing thing is that God should be gracious to those who have spurned his rightful authority and have even murdered his Son when he came to earth to save us from our sins.
Moses had asked to see God’s glory, meaning that he wanted to see him face to face in his splendor. God said that he would not be able to show Moses his face; no one can see God’s face and live. But God would proclaim his name to Moses, which he did by placing him in the cleft of a rock, covering the opening with his hand and then causing his goodness to pass by. We are told, “The LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’” (Exodus 34:5-7).
The essence of this revelation is the meaning of God’s name. What is God’s name? His name is Jehovah which means “I Am Who I Am” (Exod. 3:14). But if we go beyond the mere definition of God’s name to ask, “But what is ‘I Am’ like?”, the answer is this: “I am compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
This is what David celebrates in verses 8-13. For just as the previous stanza of the psalm emphasized God’s greatness by repeating words having to do with greatness (works, acts and deeds), this stanza emphasizes mercy by using “gracious” (once), “compassion” (twice), “love” (once) and “goodness” (once). It picks up on verses 3-7 too, for it speaks of God’s “mighty acts” again, in this case as evidence of his love.
In the latter half of this stanza there is also a strong emphasis on God’s “kingdom,” which has led some writers to make this the theme of the stanza and even of the entire psalm, which began by calling God “King.” Here “kingdom” occurs four times and “dominion” once. It is a reminder that one part of God’s goodness is his rule over us. We cannot rule ourselves.
Moreover, it is a work of God’s grace when we come to see this, if we do. Nebuchadnezzar took the glory of God to himself when he looked out over the great city of Babylon and declared in his pride, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). God judged the king for his arrogance, depriving him of his sanity and causing him to be driven out to live with the beasts of the field, and even behaving like them. He lived with the animals for seven years. But at last Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson. And when he did, he praised God in the words of this very psalm, quoting verse 13: “Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:34, and Psalm 145:13). When a person has learned that lesson he or she has learned much.
But even more important is to become a grateful subject of God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. We read of Christ’s kingdom in Revelation: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9, 10).
1In Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13; and Jonah 4:2.
What theme is introduced in v. 8? Of what is this an echo?
Why can’t we see God’s face and live?
Explain the meaning and significance of God’s name.
Why was Nebuchadnezzar judged?
Reflection: Examine yourself. Are there times when you, like Nebuchadnezzar, want to receive glory for something you have done?
Key Point: The amazing thing is that God should be gracious to those who have spurned his rightful authority and have even murdered his Son when he came to earth to save us from our sins.
For Further Study: We can learn much about the attributes of God from the Psalms, and James Boice’s published sermons can help you in your study of who God is and what he is like. Order your copy of his three-volume set, and take 25% off the regular price.