If we are to follow God, if we are to trust God, we must have some assurance about God’s character. It is only natural that Bible often spends time with this issue. If we are to trust in God we need some assurance also of God’s power. Is God able to uphold us through the difficulties of life? To me, these are the issues addressed in Psalm 135:7,8.
Which brings me back to the circumstances that made Psalm 135 so vivid to me in the first place. I started reading and meditating on this psalm on a stormy morning. There was a thunderstorm raging outside. And, it is clear that the Psalmist saw the power of God in the thunderstorm. It was not an unruly, threatening natural event — somehow the thunderstorm was also under the sovereign power of God.
So there is no need to ultimately fear what would otherwise seem powerful, unruly or chaotic — all the powers of this world are under God’s overruling power. They reflect the power of God — for God is the Creator of all that is.
Theologians often begin their discussion of Systematic Theology by talking about the power of God. The traditional categories are: omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), and omnipresence (everywhere present). But, I don’t think the Psalmist had anything quite so philosophical in mind.
These verses affirm the God of Israel as the Creator God who answers to no one.
כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־חָפֵץ יְהוָה עָשָׂה בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ בַּיַּמִּים וְכָל־תְּהוֹמוֹת
“Whatever the LORD pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (NRSV)
In this verse the claim is made that there is nothing restricting God’s power to act. In the times when these verses were first written, the people believed in many gods. In the public mind, a war between one country and another was a contest between their respective gods. Who was more powerful? Who would prevail? So, in that context the claim is that there is no spiritual power (other god) restricting the poser of YHWH, the God of Israel.
Once again, the personal name by which Israel knew God is used (יְהוָה). But, this God is more than a local god. This God is more than the god of the nation — who goes with them into battle. YHWH is the God of Creation — whose power cannot be restricted by any other power.
In the New Cambridge Bible Commentary on The Psalms Walter Brueggemann and W. H. Bellinger Jr. state the teaching of these verses this way:
Israel knows, and gladly proclaims, that YHWH is sovereign over all other gods (in a polytheistic world) and therefore can act freely everywhere in creation — in heaven and on earth — as all creation is YHWH’s work and YHWH’s realm of governance. Thus, verse 6 celebrates the accomplishments of YHWH the creator who governs not only heaven and earth, but the chaotic waters beneath the earth as well.
The reference to “the seas and all deeps” (בַּיַּמִּים וְכָל־תְּהוֹמוֹת) is significant. It refers to the powers of chaos and disorder — powers that cannot be humanly tamed. Yet, as Psalms 29:3 says: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.” It is in passages like this that we understand the symbolic significance of the event of Jesus’ walking across the waters. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50 NRSV).
So, what — if anything — restricts the power of God? God does what pleases (חָפֵץ) Him. The only restrictions on the power of God are the character and intentions of God. Adam Clarke (1760–1832) remarks: “All that he has done is right, and therefore it is pleasing in his sight.” God does what is consistent with God’s character. In Exodus 34:6 we read : “The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” God acts in a way that is consistent with mercy and grace and steadfast love and faithfulness. And, God desires mercy for all people, Ezekiel 18:23: “Have I any pleasure (חָפֵץ) in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” Micah 7:18 – “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights (חָפֵץ) in showing clemency.” So, in 1 Timothy 2:3,4 we read of “…God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is easy for us to focus attention on the problematic passages of Scripture, where God appears angry and vengeful and forget that it is the overwhelming testimony of the Bible that God is a God of mercy and grace and steadfast love and faithfulness.
מַעֲלֶה נְשִׂאִים מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ בְּרָקִים לַמָּטָר עָשָׂה מוֹצֵא־רוּחַ מֵאוֹצְרוֹתָיו
“He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (NRSV)
Verse 7 features the rainmaker God and echoes the claims of the divine cadences of the whirlwind speeches of Job (see Job 38-41). This is a God who answers to none!
The natural response to thunder and lightening is fear. And, thunderstorms can be destructive. I enjoy gardening, so I tend to appreciate the rain. But, thunderstorms can sometimes do almost as much harm as good — torrents of rain causing destructive erosion. Lightening can set things on fire. Thunder can shake things. Severe thunderstorms can include hail. It is rational to be afraid of thunderstorms. Yet, the effect of the rain is to renew the earth.
But, the Psalmist sees God in the thunderstorm. It is a reflection of the power of the Creator God. God’s realm is not wholly spiritually — wholly other. God’s power is seen in natural events. Jeremiah 10:13 contains almost the very same words as this verse – “When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightnings for the rain, and he brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (NRSV). God’s power is over all.
And, what are the practical implications of all this? We can travel through life without fear knowing that there is a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” who superintends over all the earth — and over our lives.
One of the things I have found most challenging in the spiritual teachings of Thomas C. Upham (1799–1872) is his emphasis on trusting in the providence of God. I realize as I read his thoughts that I have not had this attitude. I have thought it was all up to me — when I needed to trust that it was all up to God. Upham asserts that one of the deepest problems of human nature is that we are at war with God’s providence. I am seeking to take this teaching to heart. I think my own distrust in God’s purposes — superintending over all — has been as source of great inner sadness — since life never really turns out the way one expects or plans.
But, God has an over-all purpose, and that purpose is good.
Lord God of Israel, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,Creator God,
We are amazed by the greatness of all you have created.
Some of it is wonderful and delightful to us,
but some of it is threatening.
We are thankful that we can rest in the knowledge
that You are Lord over all that is.
You created it and it will finally all bend to your will.
Help us to trust in you today.
As You walk across the waters to us.
A God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Enable us to trust in your good purpose
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.