Psalm 104: Hallelujah
Today we come to what just might be my favorite word ever spoken or written in any language. I grew up with this word. I heard it often in my home, from my parents, in church, from pastors, and congregants alike. I have heard it sung, shouted loudly, and whispered quietly. I have heard it spoken in the greatest joys and the deepest sorrows. It is a word that comforts me when I am broken, strengthens me when I am weak, and reminds me when I am forgetful. Most of all it is a word that centers me, that tells me to look up and to look around, to rest in the hands of the One who holds all things together and promises to never let me go. Most days I need at least one hallelujah.
Psalm 103 taught us to “Bless the LORD” and “forget not all his benefits”. It is a psalm that calls us to remember all that God has done for us, it is personal, internal, and intimate. Psalm 104 teaches us to “Bless the LORD” by looking around and remembering that God is not only our Father, but He is the Creator and Father of all (Ephesians 4:6). If Psalm 103 was a call to look at our own lives to see the goodness of God, Psalm 104 is a call to look beyond ourselves and see that God’s goodness goes far beyond us.
The author (traditionally believed to be David) painted a poetic picture of God as the omnipotent Creator. God stretched out the heavens like a tent, set the earth on its foundations, covered the earth with waters like a garment and told the mountains and valleys where to take their places. The language is beautiful, but the point is powerful, the God who set all of creation in place has not and will not lose track of you.
But it was not just that God created all things, David went on to write of God’s sustaining care and concern. He writes that God made springs in the valleys and the hills so that the animals would have water to drink. God created grass to feed the livestock, vegetables to feed man, even wine to “gladden” our hearts. How often do I overlook the purposed nature of everything single thing that God created? On the third day of creation God spoke plants and trees into being to provide for those He knew He would form with His hands on the sixth day. The earth and all its contents were formed by God for the sake of the image bearers of God. He made it all for us, while it all brings Him glory, it all provides for our needs. His works are manifold, His thoughts are perfect, His plans are settled and in place and His redemption is for our sake.
In II Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul wrote three words that need to be heard even when they cannot be understood. “For our sake . . .” Those words mean that what happens next was for our benefit, that the action that was taken was for me, it was not a reward for good behavior or a wage for work well done, but that it was the outcome of love, the overflow of God’s compassion for me. “For our sake he (the Father) made him (the Son) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might be come the righteousness of God.” Jesus did not just die for my sin, He died for my sake. He did not just bear the burden; He became the sacrifice. He did not just administer mercy; He bore the punishment. And it was all for one reason, “for our sake”. In the same way that God created plants for man to eat, rivers to provide water and wine to gladden our hearts, He purposed His Son to be our Redeemer, He set Him apart to die for our sin, God created the way for our salvation before we ever knew we needed a Savior. As Thomas Obediah Chisholm wrote, “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided”.
But it is not just us that God provides for. The young lions get their food from God. The creatures of the sea, the birds of the air, even those things that creep along the ground, they all look to God to be fed, they live by His power and when they die it is only because God Himself has taken away their breath. Jesus Himself said that sparrows are so small, so seemingly insignificant that you could buy two of them for a penny and yet not one of them falls to the ground, not a single sparrow comes to the end of its life apart from our Father. God is the Creator of all things, but He is also the Sustainer of all things. The care of the six days of creation has continued every day since. God did not form us and then release us; He did not give us life and then step back to see what we would make of it. In the same way, the author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus is the “founder and perfector of our faith”. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Author and the Finisher, the Creator and the Sustainer of our faith. We are not only saved by His nail scarred hand, but we are also kept, we are held, we are gripped, we will not and cannot be let go.
This all culminates with a single word. Psalm 104 concludes with what sounds very familiar, “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” but then there is a common phrase that should never be allowed to be common. The English Standard Version says, “Praise the LORD!” The Hebrew is the combination of two words, halal, which means “to be clear, to shine; to make a show, to boast; to rave; to celebrate”. The second word is Yah which is the abbreviated form of Jehovah, it is the proper name of the one true God. In Psalm 104:35, for the first time in Scripture, someone wrote the word “Hallelujah”. David had looked up, he had looked inward and he had looked around and his answer to all his questions, his response to all that he had seen, his announcement to the world he lived in and the emotions that lived within him was “Hallelujah!” It is more than “Praise the LORD”, it is be content in Him, be confident of Him, be convinced of His nearness, be sure of His love. Hallelujah is not a cry of those who have it all together, but of those who believe that God will not let us go. It is not just a shout in times of plenty, it is a promise in times of lack. It is not just the shout of those who have been healed, but the hope of those who need healing. It is not just the testimony of the free, it is the song of those still feeling the weight of their bondage. “Hallelujah” is just not the last word, it is the next word, it remembers what God has done so that it can believe in what God is still doing.
I have sung “Hallelujah” everywhere I have ever been. I have sung it in Kenya and the Philippines, Israel, and Turkey. I have sung it in church services and hotel rooms, in my living room and in my car, I have sung it in hospital rooms and at death beds, I have sung it at weddings and at funerals, I have sung it when I was filled with faith and when I have been filled with grief, when I have been sure of what God was saying and when I could not at all understand what He was doing. I have sung it at every turn of my life because the God who created me sent His Son to save me and still is not done doing His good work in me. “Hallelujah” is not just a word of praise, it is a word of hope, a call for help, a reminder of what God has done and a prayer for what we need God to do. It is one word that has the power to change me when nothing in my life seems to be changing. Look inside, look above, look around and whether you can see clearly or not, open your mouth and say “Hallelujah”. It is a declaration to our hearts that the One who made us keeps us, that the One who took hold of us will not let us go, that the One who died for our sake has given us a life to live for His sake. He does all things well, He always hears us, and He will never, ever, even for a moment, leave us. “Hallelujah” does not cause God to come, it reminds me that He is here, He has always been and will always be here with us and for us, even by His Spirit within us. Whisper it, shout it, sing it, cry it, laugh in it, but do not ever stop saying it, our hearts need to hear our mouths say “Hallelujah”.