For great is the Lᴏʀᴅ, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lᴏʀᴅ made the heavens. (Psalm 96:4–5)
There is none like you. Praise the wonders of your mighty love. My comfort, my shelter, tower of refuge and strength. Every breath, all that I am, never cease to worship you. Shout to the Lord, all the earth. Let us sing. I sing for joy at the work of your hands. Nothing compares to the promise I have in you.
It’s really simple: we should praise God because he is great and worthy of our praise. That is what Psalm 96:4 tells us. The rest of the verse just explains why that’s the case.
God is great and worthy of our praise because he is greater than all the idols that litter this world. He is more valuable that every other object of our affections. Really, he is better than it all. Nothing outside of him has a right to our worship. The psalmist actually makes this point crystal clear by comparing God to the “gods of the peoples” we’re so prone to chase. He says the gods of the people are worthless idols, but the Lord, well, the Lord made the heavens.
Not So Simple
But this is not as simple as it sounds. The truth is that this common sense command was rarely lived out in the history of Israel. In fact, the story of Israel throughout the Old Testament is riddled with their fundamental inability to live faithfully under God’s supremacy.
It goes back to Deuteronomy, just before Moses died and the people enter the Promised Land with Joshua. Moses warns the assembly over and over against idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:15–18; 25–26). This same warning against idolatry is also the foundational command in the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6–7).
Even more than that, Israel’s identity-shaping rallying cry—the Shema—is passionately opposed to the slightest idea that it’s okay to worship anything other than God himself.
Hear, O Israel: The Lᴏʀᴅ our God, the Lᴏʀᴅ is one. You shall love the Lᴏʀᴅ your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)
But Israel did worship other things.
The Horror of Idolatry
Later, speaking to that same group, Moses foresees Israel’s future and gives the grimmest picture of their faithlessness (Deuteronomy 32:17–18). Here we learn that apostasy always leads to idolatry. Turning away from God always leads to turning toward something else. If we forsake the true worship of the Lord then we’ll hoist up the false worship of a fake deity. It happens every time.
And somehow we’ll sacrifice to it.
It might be our time or our money, maybe our love or our thoughts, maybe even our families or our friends. Israel slaughtered their children.
Psalm 106:36 tells us, “They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons.”
Notice the interplay between “idols” and “demons” (see also the switch in Deuteronomy 32:17 between “gods” and “demons”). The concept behind idols, demons, and gods is the same. They are referring to the same problem. Of course, there is no such thing as real gods, as the apostle Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 8:4; 10:20; Galatians 4:8). Nevertheless, these “gods” get a lot of attention. They receive a lot of fanfare. They did in Israel’s history, and in ours.
A New People
But the Lord made the heavens. He is the Creator—the one above all that there is. There is none like him. None. And he will make for himself a people who will praise the wonders of his mighty love.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has made this new people. He has made new worshipers who give him their exclusive praise—a people who worship by the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3); a people who call God their comfort, their shelter, their tower of refuge and strength; a people who will never cease to sing his praise.
Or as Paul captures it precisely:
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:5–6)
And therefore, since we are this people in Christ—since you and I have been transformed by his gospel—let us shout to the Lord! Let us praise his great name, for he is greatly to be praised.