Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 57:5

 

A person standing in the middle of a muddy area.Psalm 57:5 is the basis of dozens of hymns and songs of praise, and for good reason. Standing alone, this verse serves as a succinct, powerful chorus: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” In fact, this verse is a refrain in Psalm 57, appearing both in verse 5 and again in verse 11, the final verse of the psalm.

Many writers of hymns and songs base their lyrics on the second appearance of this chorus, which is preceded by a heartfelt confession of God’s goodness: “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (57:10-11). Yet, virtually no writer pays any attention to the context of the first appearance of this chorus in the psalm. Here’s what we find in verses 4-6: “I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts — men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. They spread a net for my feet — I was bowed down in distress.”

Isn’t that something?! That context changes the sense of the chorus, don’t you think? The first time David says, “Be exalted, O God” he is not in place of gratitude for God’s love and faithfulness. In fact, he is not in a good place at all; he’s in a very bad place. Enemies who are seeking to kill him surround David. He is desperate, crying out to God for help. And then, right in the middle of his peril, David cries out, “Be exalted, O God.” Here is praise in the midst of turmoil and trial. Here is worship in the messy trenches of life. Here is real faith, the kind of faith we need.

I believe that we can suck the life out of the Psalms when we remove glorious, joyful passages from their fuller context. We whitewash the struggle, the challenge, and the gut-wrenching agony of genuine faith. We turn worship into something that is removed from everyday life, something that seems appropriate only in a safe, comfortable sanctuary, but not in the confusion of work, school, and civic engagement.

I don’t mean to unfairly criticize songwriters who used Psalm 57 as the basis for their lyrics. I’m thankful for their efforts and especially for their use of the Psalms. More power to them! But, don’t we also need more songs and hymns that reflect the true struggles of faith? Don’t we need to be taught how to praise God when our enemies surround us and we see no way of escape? Don’t we need to let the Psalms – the whole of the Psalms – teach us how to have a gritty, honest, growing relationship with God?

Yes, by all means, let’s use the glorious sections of the Psalms to guide and enrich our praise of God. But, let’s also pay attention to the unkempt and unflinching passages that teach us how to praise God when our lives are painful and confused. Let’s allow the full voice of the Psalms to be read, heard, and sung in our personal prayers and in the prayers of our communities of faith.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Have you ever been “in the midst of lions and ravenous beasts”? In that situation, how did you pray? Did it occur to you to praise God? Why or why not?

How does praising God in the midst of suffering and turmoil make a difference in us?

How can we be expected to praise God when God seems distant or absent or unloving?

PRAYER:

Blessed Be Your Name, In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow, Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name, When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness, Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name, When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’, Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name, On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering, Blessed be Your name

You give and take away, You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your glorious name. Amen.

P.S. This prayer comes from contemporary songwriters Matt and Beth Redman. It is unusual in acknowledging that God’s name should be praised even in times of hardship and suffering. The lyrics of this song reflect passages in Job and the Psalms.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentaryGod Will Fulfill His Purpose for You

 

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