I’ve previously mentioned one of the things that makes Psalm 115:1 so interesting to me. It reflects something I see in the Old Testament generally: these writings were not written to glorify Israel or glorify its heroes and leaders and prophets. They were written to glorify God — and are surprisingly honest about the faults and failings of the nation and of the people. Salvation’s glory goes to God alone.
And, that is quite an amazing thing: this was the national literature of the people of Israel. These were the writings that were carefully copied and recopied and handed down so that the descendants of Israel could discover and rediscover their identity.
לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)
As I think about it, this single verse is so remarkable to me. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that it’s unique, out-of-place, or unusual in any way. No. It fits well with the over-all perspectives of the Hebrew Bible. It is remarkable for stating so simply — and so briefly — some of the unique characteristics of the Old Testament.
Another common Old Testament theme that is here is the remarkable reticence the Hebrew writers had about speaking of God.
כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד
This did not mean they were ignorant of God. No. They claimed a knowledge of God, and God’s character. The God they served could certainly be distinguished from the various gods that the other peoples served.
“Give glory to God whom we know as Yahweh.” “Give glory to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Or, as a Christian might say: “Give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Praise the God whom we know by revelation.
This strange and carefully qualified way of talking about God seems very significant to me.
I wish we would learn from it, and be more cautious ourselves.
It’s as if they are saying: “Give glory to what we know of God” Or “give glory to God as God has been revealed to us.” The Name is the revelation of the nature and character of God. It is what can be humanly named. But, this is not the whole of God. Human words and ideas cannot contain all that God is.
It’s a very ancient theological insight: God is always greater. When we speak of God we come to the limits of human intellectual ability. We are beyond our depth. Whatever we may think or conceive: God is always greater.
We may speak of God by analogy. This says what God is like, but does not say directly what God is. To this Thomas Aquinas added a kind of negative knowledge of God. He said:
Now, because we cannot know what God is, but rather what he is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how He is not.
— Summa Theologica Volume 1, Question 3: “Of the Simplicity of God”.
And, it is often forgotten by those who use the categories of Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent that they tell us more of what God isn’t than of what God is.
It is said by scholars that the names of the ancient gods were used as ways of gaining power over God. Yet in Israel it was different.
Israel knows of no secret divine names because magical use of the divine name is forbidden, and all believers, not just a particular group, e.g., the priests, can call directly on Yahweh in prayer.
— Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament edited by Ernst Jenni with assistance from Claus Westerman © 1997 by Hendrickson Publishers.)
For me, the Name of God reminds me that I do not have control over God. God is always greater. God is the source of my very being. God is beyond my conceptions. Not unknowable, but only knowable in part — by grace.
And I glorify God in response to what I know of God: “to your Name I give glory.”
whom I know through Jesus Christ
Alpha and Omega
Beginning and end
The Holy One
The Lord of Hosts
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
The Great “I Am”
God Most High
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
It is a wonder to approach You at all
It is a wonder to speak of you
to pour out my heart to you
May my life glorify you today
And, grant me the peace that I can only know
when my mind is stayed on you. Amen.