Anyone who has ever faced the question, "Is there a dependable God?" or perhaps, "Are there absolute values in life?" or even the question, "Is there meaning to life, is there any purpose to this existence?" will find tremendous value in this 77th Psalm. Here is a man who finds his way from the conclusion of despair, expressed in Verse 10, "And I say, 'It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.'" (that is, God is changeable, he is capricious, he cannot be depended upon), to the triumphant declaration of Verse 13, "Thy way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?"
He does it, as he tells us here, by meditating on the deeds of the Lord. He thinks long and hard about certain actions of God in history, certain concrete, stubborn facts which cannot be forgotten or explained away, which have been witnessed by thousands and even millions of people, and the results of which have permanently altered the course of history.
He is thinking, of course, of such outstanding actions of God as the miracles that took place in Egypt, by which the heart of Pharaoh was melted so that he let God's people go. Also the subsequent ones, as the Israelites were led out of Egypt into the wilderness, especially the crossing of the Red Sea, when the waters were rolled back and the people went through, but the Egyptians trying to follow them were drowned. Further, there are the accounts of the supply of God to this people in the wilderness. Well over a million strong, perhaps a million and a half, they were fed by the hand of God in the desert for over forty years so that they lacked nothing, and even their clothes were kept from wearing out. When they came to the borders of the land they were a people powerful and terrible in the eyes of their enemies. God ministered to them in the desert, making the rocks to gush with water, feeding them with manna from heaven. watching over them with a pillar of fire at night, and a cloud by day, ministering in most remarkable ways to them. He is thinking, too, of the miracles that had accompanied their entrance into the land -- the sun standing still as Joshua attempted to battle the forces of the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and all the tremendous actions of God by which Israel was brought into the land. As he meditates on these and thinks about them the psalmist comes at last to this great conclusion:
Thy way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God? (Psalms 77:13 RSV)
You can hear the ringing, satisfying, positive assurance to which he has come after having been almost completely defeated by the despair he describes in the opening passages. For many people, to see how a man can think about what God has done and thus move from despair to renewed trust is enough alone to establish and strengthen them. Many are helped by thinking of what God has done in the past in human history or what he has done in the past in their own lives.
But there are many other people who are not so easily helped. They cannot accept these deeds as necessarily the actions of God. They ask questions like this: How do we know that these are God's actions? How do we know that we cannot explain these events on other terms? Perhaps it is all a hoax designed to make us feel a little better. Perhaps it is some kind of psychological phenomenon, or perhaps these are merely myths or legends that have accumulated through the years.
The psalmist was led to record his experience in order that he might satisfy all the questions of any who would be going through a time like this. He goes the whole length. He plumbs this experience to the very depths, and he faces all these questions in this psalm. That is why he goes on now, in Verses 14-15, to trace for us the way he arrived at his conclusion: what he saw in the deeds of God that made him absolutely confident that God was great, and that no god could be compared to him.
It is very important that we trace this. If these events can be explained as other than the actions of God, then perhaps, as we have already noted, we may be driven to admit that religion is but a very clever hoax designed to deceive many; that perhaps Karl Marx is right when he says that religion is the opiate of the people; it only serves to drug them, to reduce them to senselessness and make them unaware of reality. We may have to admit that at best it is nothing more than a pious mistake, some kind of an escape hatch invented by man to ease the burdens of life. So the psalmist traces the ground he took and reveals in these two verses, 14 and 15, the two characteristics about the events he was examining that convinced him that it was truly God at work, and lead him at last to declare, "Thy way O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?"
What did he find in his meditation on these events'? First, he found that these deeds reveal a tremendous power at work. Look at Verse 14:
Thou art the God who workest wonders,
who hast manifested thy might among the peoples. (Psalms 77:14 RSV)
"But," somebody says, "why is power a sign that God is at work? Man has released great power, too. He has discovered tremendous power in nature. Look at the hydrogen bomb, for instance, with its almost unbelievable release of power." But that is exactly the point that the psalmist makes! It was valid in the days in which this psalm was written (perhaps a thousand years before Christ), and is as valid today in this twentieth century. The point he is making is that, in these particular deeds, is revealed a power which no man can match and that man even today is not able to match -- a power that made men gasp in surprise and awe as they beheld it and which still makes men gasp when they realize the greatness of the power revealed. It is a power that is beyond man, what we call "supernatural" power; power that man cannot rival, accomplishing things that man cannot do.
I am very much aware of the contempt with which supernatural things are held in the thinking of many today. I fully realize that people look at these Old Testament miracles and, with an almost sneering smile, say, "Surely an educated person in this twentieth century cannot hold to this kind of superstition." Yet it is these very events which have convinced the men and women of faith for centuries that God is at work; and it is precisely because they are supernatural events that they are so convinced.
These are things which man cannot do. Even today, with all his advance and knowledge, man cannot equal them. Take, for instance, the crossing of the Red Sea. Here is that amazing event in which over a million and a half people participated, which was well known to all the peoples of the ancient world, and which shaped the course of ancient history, so that nations exist today as a result of the events that took place in connection with the crossing of the Red Sea. There the waters were rolled back so they formed a channel, as it is described for us. But when the Egyptians, attempting to go through in the same manner, were in the midst of the sea bed, the waters suddenly collapsed upon them and they were drowned. Consider that event. That kind of a thing has never been done by man and it cannot be done by man. Even today with all our vaunted power, even with the might of a hydrogen bomb, we cannot cause those waters to stand there for a long enough time to allow a million and a half people to make their way across. It is impossible; it is simply beyond us.
All that modern man can do is to belittle a story like that. I read the other day an account of a boy who had been sent to Sunday School. When he came home, his parents asked him what he had learned. He said, "We learned that Moses was sent by God to be the general to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. He went down there and organized them into an army and led them out to the edge of the Red Sea. There he ordered his corps of engineers to build a pontoon bridge across the Red Sea. When all the people of Israel had passed over on the pontoon bridge, the Egyptians tried to follow. When they got out into the middle the Israelites blew up the bridge, the Egyptians were drowned, and the Israelites escaped." His parents were a little suspicious of this and said, "Is that what the Sunday School teacher taught you?" And the boy said, "Well, no, not exactly. But if I gave it the way she told it you'd never believe it!"
I rather think that represents the attitude that many take today. They simply dismiss these events without any consideration of them as possible occurrences in human history. It reveals the strange reasoning of many about the miracles of the Bible. As Matthew Arnold put it very bluntly: "Miracles cannot happen; therefore miracles have not happened." And that is that! Or perhaps their reasoning takes even a more circular form. Sometimes the arguments you hear about the miracles boils down to this: "There is no God: therefore there can be no miracles. Since there are no miracles, this is proof there is no God." That is the essence of the type of argument you often hear. But this is what logicians call "begging the question." It means to state, as a positive conclusion, that which is offered as needing to be proved. You cannot simply say, "Miracles cannot happen; therefore miracles have not happened." That is begging the question. The question is, Have miracles happened?
It is amazing to me to see how otherwise intelligent people simply dismiss with a wave of their hands the massive evidence that exists that miracles have happened, and refuse even to consider them as a possibility. If we look at the events of the Bible as a record of the eyewitness accounts of honest, sincere, intelligent, alert men and women who saw these things and recorded what they saw, then the Bible itself becomes the strongest kind of evidence that these things did occur. The interesting thing is that when we read in other ancient documents the account of eye witnesses, we do not discredit them. We accept the accounts of men like Flavius Josephus, who recorded the wars of the Jews. We read his account and take, without question, his recital of what he saw, what he did, where he went, and whom he went with. But when we read a similar account recorded in the New Testament, from trustworthy men whose characters are above reproach, we tend to dismiss it simply because it deals with the occurrence of supernatural events.
But if once we grant that there is a God, a God who desires to make himself known to his creatures, then how else would he do it except by supernatural deeds and wonders; things that man could not do? Knowing the tendency to doubt in the human heart, and knowing that man would explain every possible thing he could by so-called natural means, as a possible product of man's own ability, the only way God could reach doubting man would be to do things man could not do. That is why the Bible is so full of miraculous events: these great miracles of the Exodus, the miracles of the prophets, the healing of poisoned waters, the raising of the dead, making iron to float, and many other strange things. Carrying right over into the days of our Lord, there are the miracles of Jesus himself: changing the water into wine, feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, making the lame to walk, raising the dead to life, and culminated by the greatest miracle of all, his own resurrection from the dead after he had been crucified and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
The amazing thing is that in those days when these events happened, even hostile witnesses had to admit that they had occurred. Look, for instance, at the fourth chapter of Acts, where we have the account of the lame man who had been healed by Peter and John as they went up to the temple. It immediately created a furor in the city. The rulers of the Jews, who were very sensitive in those days because they had recently accomplished the death of Jesus and thought they had rid themselves of this superstition by so doing, were now confronted by another miracle done in the name of Jesus, and they were troubled by it. They called these disciples before them and examined them. In Verse 15 we are told.
But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred with one another, saying, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem [that's quite a crowd of witnesses] and we cannot deny it [much as they would like to]. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any one in this name." (Acts 4:15-17 RSV)
The stupidity and blindness of vested interests and bureaucracy took over, and though they could not deny the miracle, they refused to adjust their actions accordingly. Unfortunately, this has been the attitude of many when faced with the Biblical accounts of miracles.
But the psalmist here has looked at these miracles, and in each one he has seen the manifestation of a power that no man could rival. Man simply cannot do these things. The psalmist does not question the authenticity of them. They were so well known, so widespread, so fundamentally woven into history, that he could not question these things. He has to face and does face the fact that each one is a manifestation of something that man cannot do. Who can duplicate these, even today, with man's prideful advance in knowledge? Even the commonplace things God does man cannot imitate. God promises us a body "not made with hands." That is characteristic of everything God does. "Not made with hands." In this room there are many things made with hands: clever things, ingenious things. Here is an electronic organ, a marvel of intricate electronics, probably the most complicated piece of machinery in this room. Yet there are in this room many things made without hands, our bodies, ourselves. And this electronic organ, compared with a human body, is a grossly clumsy, almost stupid, arrangement of wires and metal. It cannot compare with the body, with its delicate and intricate structure, made without hands. To this day science cannot duplicate the body, not in the least, not in even the simplest elements. That is the way God works. Take a simple flower and examine it, and its structure is absolutely breathtaking in its wonder. No wonder this psalmist cries out, "Thou art the God who workest wonders." He does things which man cannot do and before which man stands in awe and silence. He can neither explain nor imitate the working of God.
But that is not all that brought this man to declare, "What god is great like our God?" He also saw that the deeds of God had another inimitable quality about them: they were redemptive.
Thou didst with thy arm redeem thy people,
the sons of Jacob and Joseph. (Psalms 77:15 RSV)
What does it mean to "redeem"? It means to restore to usefulness something that has been rendered useless. When I was a seminary student I spent three years as a summer intern in two different churches in Pasadena. And, I suspect, like seminary students yet today, when I arrived in Pasadena in the spring of each year I arrived broke, with nothing to hold me over until the first paycheck came. The first time this happened I discovered a way of solving it which I used every year that I was a summer intern. As soon as I arrived in Pasadena I took my typewriter (which was the most valuable thing I possessed) down to the pawnshop and hocked it. That carried me over until I got my first paycheck. Then, when the first paycheck came, I would take the necessary money and go down and redeem the typewriter. When that typewriter was in the pawnshop it was absolutely useless. I could not use it; the pawnbroker could not use it; no one had the right to use that typewriter. It was rendered utterly useless to anybody. It was only when it was redeemed that it was put back into functional service.
That is what redemption does, and that is God's special work. Everything he does in human life is aimed in this direction. These mighty activities of God, recorded as miracles, are all redemptive in character. They serve to buy us back. They restore us. They chip away at all the accretions of years of wrong living wrongful habits, hurtful attitudes and strip them off to restore us to useful functioning again.
Some time ago I spent several hours listening to and talking with a man who told me the story of his life. He had been, for all of his adult life, one of the most pitiable and miserable of people -- a homosexual. I do not think most of us can even remotely identify with this problem, to realize the shame that must be hidden under a bravado of acceptance, the fear that grips the heart, the anxieties, the guilt, the self-loathing which a homosexual goes through. As I talked with this man he told me that for the last few years, though he still had struggles, he was living as a normal human being. The joy and the glory of it was in his eyes as he told me what a tremendous thing it was to be freed at last. What had happened? He had been redeemed, bought back, restored to usefulness!
The events of the Exodus were redemptive. What is God doing down there in Egypt with these people, bringing plagues upon the Egyptians, eventually taking in death the firstborn of the land, sweeping through the land in terrible judgments? What are these? Miracles, yes, but designed to buy back a people. Here they come, bought back and brought out of the bondage of Egypt. All this is to picture for all time the purpose of God's activity. All the miracles of both the Old Testament and the New Testament have this quality about them.
In the New Testament we are told that everything associated with the life of the Lord Jesus is aimed in this direction. There is his incarnation. Recall that verse in Second Corinthians which says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor," (2 Corinthians 8:9). He took on human flesh, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," (John 1:14 RSV). Why? "For your sake." That is redemptive love.
There is the crucifixion. How many times do you read throughout the whole New Testament. "Christ died for our sins"? (1 Corinthians 15:3). "He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him," (2 Corinthians 5:21). "Those who live should henceforth no longer live for themselves," Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:15). "But unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again," (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Writing to the Romans he says that Christ was raised again "for our justification," (Romans 4:25). There is his resurrection, the greatest miracle of all, which cannot be explained away or dismissed since it is grounded in history. What is its purpose? That we might be set free! As the writer of Hebrewsputs it, "he is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them," (Hebrews 7:25). He is forever alive for our sakes.
But notice something else about these events. These are the things that convinced the psalmist, but he also noticed something else about them. He says "Thou didst with thy arm redeem thy people..." Redemption is not just for anyone, indiscriminately. It is not applied to any human being without his knowledge, and certainly not against his will. It is for "thy people," i.e., for those who respond to the invitation of God, those who act upon God's word. As First Timothy 4:10 puts it. "He is the Savior of all men [potentially], especially of those who believe." The proclamation of God's redemptive love requires a response. Hebrews 11:6 says, "He who would come to God must believe that he is..." Everything around him is testifying to that: the orderliness of his own life, the orderliness of the universe in which he lives, the provision made for his welfare in the air he breathes, the sun that shines upon him, the water he drinks, the food he eats; everything about life is testifying that God is. "He that would come to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," (Hebrews 11:6). You say that you do not find God? Then, draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. That is always the offer of Scripture. The greatness of God is found only by those who respond to God's invitation, who step out to draw near to him. When they do they discover that God is a God of wonder and redemptive love.
I look back on my own youthful days when, as a college boy, I was callow, in the grip of hurtful habits, confused in my thinking, not understanding life, blaming everyone else for what was wrong with me -- and not able to understand how to be free from these things. Yet as I look back through the years I can see the redemptive love of Jesus Christ stripping off one by one the bad habits, setting me free, opening my eyes, explaining life to me, leading me step by step into the wide and glorious place of experiencing the liberty that was intended for the sons of God.
Thou art the God who workest wonders,
who has manifested thy might among the peoples. (Psalms 77:14 RSV)
Thy way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God? (Psalms 77:13 RSV)
Can you say that?
Are you responding to God?
Or are you sitting there in sullenness, waiting for God to do something to you in spite of yourself? No, no. The way of God is holy and his greatness is evident to those who are his people, who move toward him, who respond to his invitation. They are the ones who ultimately cry, "what god is great like our God!"
Our Father, how pitifully weak are words to express the greatness of your deeds and actions among men! How little have we understood the wonders of life that surround us on every side! How blind we have been to the simplest things of our nature and of our lives! Lord, we pray that you will open our eyes to see something more of your greatness and the fact that you have been moving in history and in our own lives. Millions today can testify to your greatness, to your redeeming love, and to your supernatural activity. doing things that no man can do. When we see a man or a woman changed, released from habits of thought, and made over into a new creature, what greater testimony is needed that here is a supernatural thing! Man cannot do it. All our struggling, all our educative processes, all our attempts by legislation to change men have been of no avail. But this simple blessed word of the Gospel, how it changes human hearts and sets men free. We pray that any here who have never responded to that invitation may say, "Oh, Lord God, in the name of Jesus. deliver me. Set me free, enter my heart, be my God." We ask for thy name's sake. Amen.