posted on Aug, 7 2015 @ 05:02 PM
The Old Testament offers rituals for many kinds of sacrifice, whether rams or lambs, oxen or pigeons, cereals, oils, or wine.
But we learn from the Psalms that it’s also possible to offer sacrifice in words;
“Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy!”- Psalm 107 vv21-22
“I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”- Psalm 116 vv17-18
It may not be clear from those references whether thanksgiving is the sacrifice itself, or whether it just accompanies the sacrifice.
There’s a less ambiguous promise in Hosea;
“We will render the calves of our lips” (Hosea ch14 v2), which in the Greek and modern translations becomes “the fruit of our lips”. Either
way, a bold metaphor identifies the praise as a kind of offering to the Lord.
This metaphor is picked up in Hebrews;
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” –Hebrews ch13
The psalms, of course, are filled with praise, and they can help us understand the purpose of praise.
I’m going to pay particular attention to Psalm111;
v1 “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart”.
In these opening words, we see the motivation of praise.
It is something which the speaker does willingly, on his own initiative, moved by a sense of gratitude.
Here is no command from God instructing people to praise him (and I haven’t come across any elsewhere in the Old Testament).
The initiative normally comes from the worshippers themselves, or they are prompted by other worshippers.
“…in the company of the upright, in the congregation”.
This would have been the normal setting of the original psalms.
“I will praise” is one of the standard opening phrases, but in that setting we should frequently understand “I” as the nation, speaking as a
single body in the middle of its wars and troubles.
For whose benefit are the worshippers doing this?
In the first place, they are doing it for themselves. They are reminding themselves of what their God can do and has done.
Then they think of themselves as addressing the people who come after them.
“One generation shall laud thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.” (Psalm 145 v4)
“Men shall tell of the Lord to a coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.” (Psalm 22 vv30-31)
In principle, they’re also addressing the world at large, to the extent that the world at large is listening.
“I will give thanks to thee, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to thee among the nations.” (Psalm 57 v9)
In a sense, the whole of creation is praising the works of the Lord, just by existing (see Psalm 148), so this praise too is reaching the world at
Coming back to Psalm 111, most of the rest of the psalm is an account of the good things which the Lord has done.
In many of the other psalms, this would be about his help in recent troubles.
This particular psalm is taking a more general overview.
vv2-3 are focussed upon the works of creation. They are great, full of honour and majesty, and endure for ever.
In vv4-6, the psalm is touching on the events following the escape from Egypt, including the manna in the wilderness (“he provides food”) and the
people’s arrival in their new homeland (“giving them the heritage of the nations”).
vv7-9 are about the covenant relationship, which is both a gift and an obligation, something which he has “commanded for ever”.
“His precepts are trustworthy”; his commands are manifesting the same righteousness which can be seen in the works of creation and the events of
“They are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness”.
This recommendation of the precepts helps to throw light on the purpose of praise.
The precepts and the praise go together, as a partnership.
When the scripture publishes the commands of God, it’s telling the people what their God wants them to do.
When the scripture publishes the praise of God, in Israel’s history and in the psalms, it’s telling the people why they should take notice of what
their God wants them to do.
The function of praise is to proclaim the credentials of the God who gives the commands, and thus encourage the people to obey them.
v10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
The logic of the psalm has been moving towards this conclusion.
For the psalmist has been outlining the reasons why their God should be respected and obeyed (which is what “fearing the Lord” means).
This praise can be called a sacrifice because it is a kind of self-offering.
It comes closer than ritual sacrifice to the form of offering which God really wants from his people, namely trust and obedience.
To be exact, it is the function of the psalms to promote the trust, which in turn has the effect of promoting the obedience.
In the long-term, in theory, this combined operation would take effect over the world at large;
“All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord, for they have heard the words of thy mouth;
And they shall sing of the ways of the Lord.” (Psalm 138 vvvv4-5)
“All the ends of the earth shall remember, and turn to the Lord.” (Psalm 22 v27)
So this combination of precept and praise is the Old Testament equivalent of the proclamation of the gospel.
Therefore the casual sneer that the Biblical God wants to hear praise for his own sake is missing the mark.
The praise is being proclaimed for the sake of its effect on the people who hear it (including the praise-giver himself);
“Whoever is wise, let him give heed to these things;
Let men consider the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 107 v43).