A THANKSGIVING PSALM
by Bob Wheeler
Today is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S., but how many of us will actually take time today to thank God for what He has done for us during the past year? It is easy to take His blessings for granted. Too often Thanksgiving is all about the turkey and not about the giving of thanks.
In ancient times King David of Israel understood, though. In Psalm 145, which is attributed to him, he has given us a beautiful meditation on divine providence, and it is a fitting passage upon which to reflect on an occasion such as this.
David begins by saying, “I will extol You, my God, O King; / And I will bless Your name forever and ever” (Ps. 145:1; NKJV). He then goes on to speak of God’s unsearchable greatness” (v. 3), His “mighty acts” (v. 4), and “the might of Your awesome acts” (v. 6).
An appreciation of God’s providence begins with an understanding of His sovereignty. We do not live in a chaotic universe ordered by random chance. Rather, David describes God as a powerful king who rules over all of creation. “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, / And Your dominion endures throughout all generations” (v. 13). Human kingdoms come and go because of their inherent weaknesses and limitations. But God’s reign will never end because He is all-powerful. No rival will ever be able to challenge successfully His authority.
But there are good kings and there are bad kings. There have been some kings who were cruel tyrants. What kind of king is God? The psalm tells us, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, / Slow to anger and great in mercy” (v. 8). This is a reference back to a defining moment in God’s relationship with Israel. In Exodus 34 God revealed Himself directly to Moses and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). The word “gracious” used in our psalm means to show favor to someone freely. “Compassion” is a tender feeling toward someone who is weak and vulnerable, especially as seen in the love of a parent toward a child. “Mercy” (or “lovingkindness,” as it is sometimes translated) signifies a willingness to help others. What all of these terms suggest is that God is kind and generous by nature. He has a genuine care and concern for His creatures – He genuinely desires their well-being.
But the text also says that God is “slow to anger.” The fact of the matter is that God does get angry over sin. His anger, however, is not the violent passion we often experience. It is not the blind fury that lashes out at its objects in rage. Rather it is the controlled, purposeful outrage at human sin and rebellion. God is angry precisely because He is a God of love. Sin is the exact opposite of what love requires in the way of personal conduct. Thus a loving God cannot help but be indignant at our stubborn rebellion, our chronic selfishness, and our abuse of others.
But God is “slow to anger.” He delays His judgment because He wants to give us the opportunity to repent, and to ensure that when His judgment finally comes it will be perfectly just. Justice tarries for the moment, but will be true and certain in the end. In the meantime God’s patience and mercy are on full display.
It is God’s character, then, that leads Him to bestow favors on us. Having stated the principle, David then goes on to draw the logical corollary: “The Lord is good to all, / And His tender mercies are over all His works” (v. 9). First of all, He comes to the aid of those who are in distress. “The Lord upholds all who fall, / And raises up all who are bowed down” (v. 14). God does not promise to keep us from trials and difficulties. Rather, He helps us in our trials. In all that comes our way in life, His hand is in it, and He orders all the circumstances of our lives for His glory and our good.
But in a very general way He provides for all of His creatures:
“The eyes of all look expectantly for You,
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (vv. 15,16)
At this point some modern thinkers might demur. In our experience doesn’t every event have a natural cause? Isn’t the reason that there is food on the table because I have a job, earned money, and went to the store to buy groceries? Where is the hand of God in all of this? But what David realized is that all of this is possible only because an intelligent Supreme Being so ordered nature as to function this way. The watch keeps time because the watchmaker made it that way. The same thing is true of nature as well. The whole structure of reality bespeaks of wisdom and care that God exercises for all of His creatures. He “gives them their food in due season.” Moreover, what would have been perfectly obvious to an agricultural society is that the crops depend on the weather, and man exercises little control over that. Thus in a very real and concrete sense we are dependent upon God for the food that we eat.
And finally, God hears and answers prayer.
“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and save them.” (vv. 18,19).
Here it will be noted that there is both a promise, and a condition attached to the promise. The promise is that God will answer prayer. He will “fulfill our desire” and “save” us. But the condition is that we must “call upon Him in truth” and “fear Him.” To “fear Him” does not mean to be terrified of Him. Rather it means to hold Him in deep reverence. In other words, if we expect to have our prayers heard and answered, we must approach Him sincerely and respectfully. God does not promise to answer hypocritical and half-hearted prayers.
Thus God really is the source, either directly or indirectly, of all of the blessing that we enjoy. And thus David could conclude,
“My mouth shall speak of the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.” (v. 21)
And so should we this Thanksgiving Day!