Dear Radio Friends,
The day of Thanksgiving for those of us who are citizens of the United States is right around the corner. It is a time for thanks—not thanks to men, but thanks to God for the bounties of the field He has provided for us. As believers we realize there are indeed so many things for which to give God thanks. He has given us our health and homes. He has given us plenty in the way of this world’s possessions. He has given us food and drink in abundance. We are clothed and sheltered. He has brought in the harvest once again. We have more than our hearts could ask for. We are spoiled.
The psalmist calls our attention to all of this too. We read of God, in Psalm 147:8, 9, “Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.” Or again, in verse 14, “He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.” For this sovereign control of God over our creation we give Him thanks in this day.
He has providentially given to us so much. But in Psalm 147 the psalmist gives God thanks for the benefits of the field in connection with the gathering in of His church. The psalmist sings of these benefits as blessings God bestows on His people Israel. The first reason for thanks that the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 147 is found in verses 1-3: “Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely. The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” We wish to concentrate on these three verses today in connection with Thanksgiving Day. After all, this is the first thing we must praise God for: Jehovah builds up Jerusalem! He builds His church! He did that in the days of the psalmist and He does that today too. God is always and in every way building His church. And for that too we must give Him thanks.
This psalm was probably written by someone who lived after the return of Israel from the land of captivity. In other words, it was written to be sung by the captives who were allowed to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Some say it might have been composed by Ezra or Nehemiah and that it might have been sung after the temple or the walls of Jerusalem were completed. Whatever the case, it was written later in history than the psalms written by David or his singers. We wish to consider this psalm within its historical context as we bring thanks to God today.
JEHOVAH BUILDS HIS CHURCH
I. The Fact
It was a day of sadness and a day of rejoicing. God had stirred up the heart of Cyrus, king of the Persian Empire, to send the Jewish captives back to Canaan. According to Cyrus’ own words, God had charged him to send them back in order to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. After 70 years in the land of captivity the children of Israel returned. This was a day of rejoicing. But it was a day of sadness because only a little over 50,000 people desired to return. 50,000 people out of the millions of Israelites that at one time had lived in Canaan seemed so small, so few. It was a remnant of what had at one time made up the kingdom of Israel and Judah. But they returned and now the temple had been built and the walls of Jerusalem had also been restored. Again, the temple and the walls of Jerusalem were but a shadow of the former glory of Solomon’s temple and the mighty walls that had at one time surrounded Jerusalem. But there they stood—rebuilt. The work had been accomplished. In the meantime, God had preserved these few people in the land too. God had seen to it that the earth brought forth its fullness in order that they might be fed. God had provided them with shelter enough to keep them safe. Also of significance is the fact that God had protected these few, virtually defenseless people from their enemies who attempted to keep them from building the walls of Jerusalem. God had been good to them! There was much reason to give thanks, much reason to give God praise.
This is the immediate occasion for the writing of this psalm. But we must understand that it expresses a beautiful truth for the church of today too. “The Lord, Jehovah, doth build up Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is a type or a picture of the church. The church of all ages is referred to in Scripture as Jerusalem. And the truth expressed here in these few words of Psalm 147 is this: the church is always being built. How true this is! Since the very beginning of this world God has been building the church of Christ. Christ’s church has been gathered from the beginning of time and will be until the end of time. In fact, the world exists for the very purpose of the calling and gathering together of the church of Christ. It is God’s purpose to bring glory to His name by means of the salvation of a church, elect in Jesus Christ. For that reason the church has always existed and has always been in the process of building. But often times in the process of this building of the church, it dwindled in numbers. This was evident already at the time of the Flood. The true church of Christ that existed in the world at that time was only eight souls. That is all—only eight people! When Elijah was prophet in Israel God had preserved unto Himself out of the hundreds of thousands in Israel only 7,000 who were faithful to Him. When these few captives returned from Babylon, the church consisted of only 50,000 people—so very few, especially compared to the millions of people in the world who lived in unbelief. But God always has His church. He preserves and gathers and builds that church throughout the ages.
And He does that today too. We have much to be thankful for—much to praise God for as the members of the church today. You know, friends, it is so easy for us to become discouraged in this way. The true church always seems so small. It is easy for us to take the attitude of Elijah—“I and I only am left who is faithful to the cause of Christ.” Christ asks the question too: Will there be faith left in the earth when I return?
Pagan religions have millions of members. The cults today have millions of members. The Christian false church today is also mammoth in size. The true church of Christ has always been small! This can be discouraging to those who seek to remain faithful to the cause of Jesus Christ in this world. At one time the church strove to be true and distinctive in its doctrine and holy in the life of her members. We do not see much of that anymore today. It can be so discouraging! But we must be reminded today of God’s enduring faithfulness to His church. He has always and will always preserve, and build, His church. In this time of the year that we give God thanks for our provision let us remember to give Him thanks for that too. Jerusalem is being built! Small? Oh yes! But the church is being built. We as believers have been given a place to worship. We have grown spiritually again this past year. And when God calls in the harvest at the end of time we will be numbered together with a throng so large it cannot be numbered!
But the main reason we praise God today is because of this truth: Jehovah doth build up Jerusalem! The Lord God builds up His church! We are not held in the hands of man. We are not built up by men. It is God who gives the increase—always! If we were to look only upon the feeble efforts of man to build the church, we would be doomed to disappointment. We would not be able to praise God much today. Men falter and fail. Even the strongest man is at his best weak and frail. God uses men, no doubt, but God does not depend on man to build up His church. If He did, as we said, His cause would fail! It would fail because of our enemies who are far too strong for us to resist! Just as they were when the captives returned from captivity.
But notice who our God is. He is Jehovah. This name reminds us of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He has established with His people. God is the unchangeable God of His covenant. He is our God, and the elect of His church are His people. He loves us from eternity and is unchangeable in that love. This God has sworn to us in His love that He will never abandon us. He will never forget His church. He will build her. That is His promise to His church. God does not promise His church that she will be large in number. But He does promise her that He will build His church. And God is always true to that promise!
Before God caused His people to return from captivity, it looked as if God’s cause and kingdom was destroyed. But God brought His captives back again and reestablished His church in Canaan. How many times in the course of history did it not seem as if the church would die? We look at the true church at the time of the Reformation. Not many left who were faithful to the cause of Christ, it seemed. But God continued to gather and preserve His church and His people, did He not? God is faithful to His covenant and its promises to you and me! And it is for that reason we give Him wholehearted thanksgiving in this day!
We can do that especially in light of the times in which we live. The church today stands as a little hut in a garden of cucumbers! It is a besieged city! The enemies of the true church grow fierce and strong. The truth has eroded slowly but surely in those churches that at one time were faithful. But God has chosen unto Himself churches that are yet faithful unto His Word. He has preserved them from their enemies. If God had not been on our side we surely would have been swallowed up alive! But Jehovah builds up Jerusalem! Praise ye the Lord!
II. The Way
But the psalmist also lauds how God builds up Jerusalem. We read this in the last part of verse 2 and in verse 3 of Psalm 147: “he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” There are two ways God builds Jerusalem: 1) He gathers the outcasts; 2) He heals the broken in heart and binds up their wounds. Again, historically this was so true at the time of the return from captivity. God gathered the outcasts. The children of Israel had been taken captive and scattered throughout all of the Babylonian Empire. There were small communities of Jews scattered here and there. And these communities were despised too. The children of Israel were outcasts. They had been cast out of their own land, the land of inheritance, and had now become the offscouring of society. We learn, however, that God had gathered them out of this empire and now by means of Cyrus’ decree had called them back again. They had now converged on Jerusalem once again. God had gathered that which was scattered and virtually lost and reestablished them again.
Secondly, these captives had been broken in heart. Their bodies were not broken and wounded. Their hearts were! They were captives! The cause of God and of the coming Messiah seemed lost! They hung their harps on the willows and wept! No more songs of joy, but songs of sorrow and grief. Zion was gone. Jerusalem was destroyed! Their inheritance had been given to others! The church was lost! The hearts and souls of God people were broken and bruised and wounded. They hurt! Well, God builds up Jerusalem not only by gathering the outcasts but also by healing their broken hearts and binding up their wounded souls. That He did when He brought again Israel from captivity.
But again, this teaches us about the church of today too. God’s people are the outcasts of this present world. The wicked of this world certainly do not love us. In fact, more and more the false church turns in disdain toward those who will remain faithful. And that disdain and reproach of the world hurts the child of God. It grieves his heart and soul.
But there is more that causes the hearts of the faithful to be broken and wounded. There is sin in us. We must fight against sin every day of our lives. That battle alone is grievous and causes much pain and heartache. It leaves us humbled and broken. When we look at Jerusalem we know it cannot be built because of our own sin! We come before God today acknowledging our own sinfulness. We, saints of God, would break down the walls of Jerusalem—because of our own sin! We are apt to stray, and certainly in our dealing with one another we are not always so kind and gentle. We in our sin are not always so apt to build up our fellow members in the church. We can become angry and resentful and bitter.
But Jehovah remains faithful to His church. He does so by sending us His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is through Christ alone that God builds Jerusalem. He is the way that God builds up His church. It was only for the sake of the coming Messiah that God caused His people to return once again to Canaan. Christ was of the seed of Abraham and David. He had to be born in the promised land. God brought His people back for Christ’s sake. And it was for His sake too that God saved His people and therefore in His great love brought them back once again and restored Zion.
Christ is He who builds His church. He does that today. Christ is the ground and foundation of the church. The church rests on Christ. He binds our wounds and gently heals the brokenhearted ones. Christ does this through the work He has performed for us on the cross. By means of His work Christ earns for us the forgiveness of sins. His blood becomes an atonement that covers over the sin of God’s people. God no longer is angry with us because Christ has reconciled us to God. God continues to love us for Christ’s sake.
In the second place, Christ builds the church as the Lord and King of the church. He sits in the heavens and reigns over His people and His church. He guards her, He gathers her, He calls her, He guides her, and He establishes her. Our enemies cannot prevail against us because our faithful Jehovah has appointed Christ as our Head. And He is the captain of our salvation. For all of this we have great reason in this day to give God thanks!
III. The Praise
So, we read verse 1, “Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.” We cannot overlook the various phrases used here in this verse. It is good to sing praises. It is pleasant to sing praises. Praise is comely, or perhaps better, praise is appropriate. Singing praises to God in thanksgiving for all He has given us is good. It is honorable. It is holy and sanctified. Singing praises to God is one of the chief ways of showing thankfulness. Besides, singing praises is pleasant. It is beautiful. It is pleasing to God. His purpose in all things is the glory of His own name. Singing is God’s appointed way to bring glory to His name through you and me. When God hears us sing His praises, it pleases Him. It does not matter if we are on tune or not! God loves singing. And singing praises is also appropriate. This means that singing is the will of God for us. He desires that we sing. Singing is an act of worship. It is an act that is perhaps more pleasing to God than any other ceremony that churches enjoy adding to their services.
But we ought to remember well that singing is indeed a way that we give thanks. That we may not forget. Singing is not for our pleasure only. Certainly, it is not for our entertainment, as so many others want to make it. Singing is something that God’s people do together as a way of giving thanks to God for all His benefits. We thank God by singing about the bounties of the field that He has again provided us. And we thank God for building His church throughout all the ages! So here is the injunction: Praise ye the Lord! Praise Jehovah! Who? You! Me! Praise Jehovah! Sing! Give thanks! You and I who are God’s redeemed may not forget to do this. And when we give thanks, do not forget whom we are thanking! Forget not all of God’s benefits! And give Him praise today! He has built His church! Praise the Lord!