Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) explains, “If you meet with a system of theology which magnifies man, flee from it as far as you can…. Here is a test for you to apply, and by it you may tell whether a thing is true or not. Does it glorify God? Then, accept it. If it does not, if it glorifies man—puts human will, human ability, human merit, into the place of the mercy and the grace of God—away with it, for it is not food fit for your souls to feed upon.”[i]
Drs. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison write, “This psalm is basically a hymn of praise designed for use in the temple worship. . . . . That it was used in the worship of the feast celebrations is known from various sources. In fact, Psalms 115-118 were sung at the conclusion of the Passover meal, just before the worshipers returned to their homes. The hymn appears to have been designed originally for antiphonal use.”[ii]
Note three things in this psalm.
1. Note the contrast of idols with God.
Psalm 115:1-8 reads, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’ But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.”
Don Fleming, a prolific author and Bible teacher from Belmont, Queensland, Australia, explains, “God was always faithful to Israel, though the Israelites were often unfaithful to him. Their sins brought God’s punishment upon them, causing their pagan neighbours to mock them with the accusation that their God was unable to help them and had deserted them (115:1-2).”
Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “Where is the God of Israel? In heaven on His glorious throne, reigning as the sovereign God of the universe! His throne is founded on mercy and truth (love and faithfulness), which reminds us of His covenant with Israel. Because He loved them, He chose them (Deut. 7:7-11) and gave them His covenant, which He faithfully kept. All of God’s people can shout, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God omnipotent reigns!’ (Rev. 19:6).”[iii]
Note the sovereignty of God. Psalm 115:1-3 reads, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’ But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” Dr. Allen P. Ross writes, “In verse 3 the psalmist declared his theme: God is sovereign. He alone is in heaven, and He does whatever He desires (cf. 135:6; Job 23:13).”[iv] Psalm 135:6 reads, “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.” Job 23:13 reads, “But He is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does.”
Note the supremacy of God. Psalm 115:4-8 reads, “Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.”
These verses are repeated almost exactly in Psalm 135:15-18, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.” Dr. Allen P. Ross writes, “People who construct idols and those who trust in them become like them—powerless before the Lord God.”[v] We find the following on “idol ideology” in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: “Idols came in a variety of shapes and sizes in the ancient Near East. They were typically carved of wood and overlaid with hammered out sheets of silver or gold. Basically human in appearance (except those from Egypt which combined human and animal characteristics), they had distinctive, even formalized, poses, clothing and hairstyles. Images of deity in the ancient Near East were where the deity became present in a special way, to the extent that the cult statue became the god (when the god so favored his worshipers), even though it was not the only manifestation of the god. Rituals were performed to bring the god to life in its idol. As a result of this linkage, spells, incantations and other magical acts could be performed on the image in order to threaten, bind or compel the deity. In contrast, other rites related to the image were intended to aid the deity or care for the deity. The idols then represented a worldview and concept of deity that was not consistent with how Yahweh had revealed himself. The idol was not the deity, but the deity was thought to inhabit the image and manifest its presence and will through the image.”[vi]
Don Fleming writes, “The Israelites reply that their God is alive and in full control. The pagan gods, by contrast, are useless, and the reason they are useless is that they are lifeless. Those who trust in them will achieve nothing (3-8).”[vii] Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “[Israel] needed to remember that they were the servants of the living God . . ., and the church today also needs to keep this truth in mind. . . . Because the dead idols lacked the attributes of the living God, they were unable to do either good or evil, yet the people worshiped them! . . .
But the greatest tragedy is not what the idols cannot do but what they can do to the people who worship them. We become like the God we worship. As we worship the true and living God, He transforms our ears to hear His truth and the cries of those in need. He gives us eyes to see His Word and His world and the path He wants us to walk. Our ‘spiritual senses’ develop and we become more mature in Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:10-14). But those who worship false gods lose the use of their spiritual senses and become blind to the light and deaf to God’s voice.”[viii]
Idolaters encounter a deceptive demonic power that clouds their thinking. In themselves, idols are useless, lifeless, and powerless. Those who refuse to worship the true and living God, and who worship idols fall prey to the power of suggestion and the power of superstition. 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 reads, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” To take the name of God and mix it with pagan gods is blasphemy! William Purcell warns, “The worship of the false in any form is idolatry.”[ix] Evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) explains, “You don’t have to go to heathen lands today to find false gods. America is full of them. Whatever you love more than god is your idol.”[x] 1 Corinthians 10:31 reads, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It would be better for you not to serve God that to serve Him for your own glory!
Drs. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison explain, “The burden of the psalm is seen in the question by Israel’s Gentile enemies, Where is now their God? In appealing for help, the psalmist does not seek glory for his nation but recognition by the heathen of the glory due to the name of Yahweh. The impotent idols and their feeble worshipers stand in sharp contrast to God’s power and glory.”[xi]
Part Two Coming Soon!
[i]Charles H. Spurgeon, “Non nobis, Domine!” Sermon Notes (Psalm 115:1), Accessed 07/30/16: http://www.preceptaustin.org/spurgeon_on_psalms-pt8.htm .
[ii]The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, eds. Charles F. Pfeiffer Everett F. Harrison (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute, 1962, 1990), 538. Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp.
[iii]Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament – Wisdom and Poetry (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2004), 300. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
[iv]The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Psalms, Allen P. Ross (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books / Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1985), 876. Database ©2014 WORDsearch.
[vi]The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament, eds., John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 553. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.
[vii]Don Fleming, AMG Concise Bible Commentary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publications, 1988, 1994), 213. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
[viii]Wiersbe, Exposition, 300-301.
[ix]Great Quotes & Illustrations, comp. George Sweeting (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985), 149.
[xi]Wycliffe, Pfeiffer, 538.