Several years ago I got myself into trouble by letting my thoughts drift to other things instead of paying attention to what I was doing – driving. As a result, I ended up driving 70 MPH in a 55 MPH speed zone. This caught the attention of a Virginia state policeman who pulled me over and gave me a speeding ticket. While getting the ticket was bad enough, it got worse. First of all, it just so happened that my mother-in-law was in the vehicle with me when I got pulled over. She was nice about the whole situation and never mentioned it again but let’s be honest. Who really wants to get a ticket while your mother-in-law is riding with you? Second, while the officer was writing me the ticket, he began telling me how he was doing me a favor by stopping me because it might have been devastating if I hit a deer at 70 MPH. I honestly didn’t need to hear that. And third, when I got home I would need to tell my wife, Stephanie, about the ticket. While I knew she wouldn’t be mad about it, I didn’t know what her reaction would be.
Since it was late when I arrived home, Stephanie was already in bed but she wasn’t asleep. As I got ready for bed, I told her what happened. She patiently listened until I was finished with the story and then she looked over at me and said, “Did you thank Jesus for getting that ticket?” I have to honestly admit that as I drove home and wondered what her response would be, that question wasn’t in the top three responses I was expecting. So, of course, my response was, “Why honey, that’s a great question!” Obviously that wasn’t my response. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “What are you talking about? That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.”
Stephanie: “You really need to thank the Lord.”
Me: “I’m not thanking the Lord for getting a ticket.”
Stephanie: “I really think you need to thank him.”
This conversation went on for a little while until I threw my arms up in frustration and said, “Thank you Lord for allowing me to get that ticket.” I don’t remember what Stephanie said at this point but she muttered something, rolled over on her side and went to sleep. Needless to say, I wasn’t really sleepy at this point.
This happened almost twenty years ago and I still don’t know exactly what she was thinking at that moment. But according to Psalm 147 she might have a point. This psalm says:
1 Praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.
6 The Lord sustains the humble
but casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make music to our God on the harp.
8 He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.
10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.
12 Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion,
13 for he strengthens the bars of your gates
and blesses your people within you.
14 He grants peace to your borders
and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
15 He sends his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
16 He spreads the snow like wool
and scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand his icy blast?
18 He sends his word and melts them;
he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.
19 He has revealed his word to Jacob,
his laws and decrees to Israel.
20 He has done this for no other nation;
they do not know his laws.
Praise the Lord.
Verse 1 says we should praise God by singing to him since this is pleasant and fitting to do so. We know this. We are supposed to praise God. What’s the big deal? Let’s look at the context in which this psalm was written. Verses 2 and 3 mention building up Jerusalem, bringing exiles back, healing the brokenhearted and binding up wounds. This indicates the psalm was written after the Exile. What does this mean?
We read in the Old Testament how God brought his chosen people, the nation of Israel, out of slavery in Egypt. He then led them into the land he had earlier promised to their forefathers, which we now call Israel. He told them to destroy the people who were living in the land when they arrived because these people worshipped false gods who would lead them astray. Unfortunately they didn’t listen and eventually they too began to worship these false gods. Their worship included child sacrifices and immoral physical relationships. God continually sent prophets to the people to tell them to repent and turn back to him or he would destroy their nation. They didn’t listen and in 722 B.C. the Assyrian army overran the 10 northern tribes of Israel. The remaining two tribes, whose capital was Jerusalem, didn’t learn from this and continued to reject God. In 587 B.C. they fell to the Babylonian army who destroyed Jerusalem, killed many of them and carried those who were educated or skilled back to Babylon to serve their king. While they were there in exile, the Medes and Persian overthrew the Babylonians. After being there seventy years, King Cyrus allowed some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the city walls and the temple of God.
Verses 2 and 3 of Psalm 147 tell us it was written after the Jews began returning home. God is to be praised for bringing them home and allowing them to rebuild their city. He is to be praised for healing their broken hearts and binding their wounds. The psalmist goes on to say God is also to be praised because of his power, compassion and love for those who humbly follow him.
There’s an interesting point we need to realize about the Exile. It wasn’t God’s fault. While it’s true God sent the armies of Assyria and Babylon to overrun his people, it’s also true God gave them many warning along with ample time to repent. It isn’t God’s fault they didn’t listen. Even after he punished them, God loved them enough to bring some of them home so they could rebuild their nation. For this he is to be praised.
It also wasn’t God’s fault I got the speeding ticket. He didn’t tell me to speed. It wasn’t even the trooper’s fault. He wouldn’t have pulled me over if I obeyed the law. While I didn’t blame God for the ticket, I was too concerned about getting it. Maybe Stephanie was right. Instead of being aggravated about getting it, I should have been full of praise for the God who redeemed me through the death and resurrection of Jesus and guides me through difficult times in life.
Please let me ask you a question. Are you focusing on praising God because of how great he is or is your praise hampered because you’re blaming God for your problems? If you’re blaming God for your problems, did he cause them? No he didn’t. It is true he could have prevented them but nowhere in the Bible does God promise us a worry-free life simply because we follow him. He does, however, promise to give us salvation along with the strength we need to face the challenges of each new day. For this he is to be praised.