O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…
Happy are those who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times.
Praise the LORD! Praise Yahweh! Hallelu – YAH! See how all our praise, worship and thanksgiving is grounded in the name, in the being, in the character of God.
God’s steadfast love endures forever. You probably recognize this recurring theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This statement of faith is a far cry from some of our modern misunderstandings. Have you ever heard someone say: “The God of the Old Testament is about Law and judgment but the God of the New Testament is about Grace and forgiveness.”
The ancient people of God would have puzzled over such a caricature of Yahweh.
The formulaic poetry of God as Creator and Liberator has always observed the “steadfast love of the Lord to the thousandth generation…” (In other words: forever.) This ancient biblical understanding has also always recognized God’s justice: “punishing iniquity to the third and fourth generation…”
Law and Grace, Judgment and Forgiveness. These have always been two sides of a coin.
But notice two things. One, the judgment may well have come from the natural consequences of the sin. Creator God (and we parents with our own children) often only need to wait for life to take its course so that people eventually experience the effect of what they have set into motion.
Actions have consequences. What goes around comes around.
But two, God promises the judgment can and will be curbed by grace. Within the formula, the punishment/consequences of our sinful choices may well affect our children and our children’s children, but the positive consequence of God’s eternal grace, forgiveness and steadfast love dwarfs the time bound consequence of our sinfulness.
God’s judgment is just. God’s justice is righteous. God’s way is grace.
And so the psalmist proclaims the reality, the state of being for all those who walk in this way as: “Happy/Blessed.”
“Happy” is the way the New Revised Standard Version translates the Hebrew word. Some other translations use the word “blessed.”
Whichever word you read here, always hear something much deeper and richer than any kind of feeling. This “happiness” is a state of being rather than an emotion. People who live according to God’s way, God’s justice, God’s righteousness are in turn (and in fact) living in a state of blessedness.
Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
Have you ever heard someone complain that slavery was not their fault? The statement implies that because they were not personally responsible for slavery then they don’t need to feel responsible for the systemic racism that continues in America.
This attitude differs dramatically from the repentance of the psalmist. Even though he may not have been personally guilty of the sins of Israel, he accepted personal responsibility.
An understanding of communal sin and communal grace also shows up in the Passover Seder. No matter which generation celebrates the liberation from Egypt, no matter how many thousands of years later, the Haggadah reads: “God saved US…”
As a part of the whole people of God, WE are responsible even when we are not to blame. As a part of the whole people of God, WE are recipients of grace even when we do not deserve it.
Many times God delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes,
and were brought low through their iniquity.
Nevertheless he regarded their distress
when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
God’s Great Nevertheless.
In spite of iniquities and rebelliousness, God remains faithful to covenant. There surely will be consequences of misery and distress for a season. But there will also surely be abundance of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, steadfast love to the thousandth generation.
In other words: forever.
106 completes the Third Book of the Psalms, and as with each conclusion for each of the five books, we sing a doxology.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
And let all the people say, “Amen.”