Doxological Cohesion & Comprehensiveness
Psalm 144 for Worship
In recent years I have incorporated Psalms (not exclusively) in the sung worship of God’s people at the church where I serve. Out of all the Psalms, I have come to find myself looking forward to the singing of Psalm 144 the most. The chief reason why I find this Psalm so exciting and useful is due to its ability to bring together various elements of the Christian faith cooperatively that are often made out to be irreconcilable dichotomies.
Piety & Polemics
The themes of warfare and worship, piety and polemics dance together harmoniously. Verses 1 and 2 speak about being trained for warfare and verses 5 to 8 speak about God’s judgments while verse 9 speaks about pious devotion to the Lord. It seems that it is often the case that piety and polemics, warfare and worship are polarized and/or presented as antithetical to one another. Yet Psalm 144 shows how true piety demands spiritual warfare with darkness, and also how spiritual warfare with darkness always demands devotion. Devotion devoid of spiritual warfare is superficial and sentimental, and spiritual warfare devoid of devotion is simply vain self-interest.
Deliverance & Destruction
The themes of deliverance and destruction also dance together harmoniously in the Psalm. You will notice how pleas for rescue in verses 7 and 11 are accompanied with pleas for judgment in verses 2 and verses 6-8. The deliverance of God’s people goes hand-in-hand with judgment of the ungodly (think of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt). A worship that celebrates judgment devoid of deliverance is contrary to God’s decree and covenant of grace, and yet a worship that sings of deliverance devoid of divine judgment is humanistic. The songs of God’s people praise His deliverance that is destructive and yet speak of a destruction that is redemptive. God’s redemption in every sense of redemption is always through judgment.
Heavenly & Historical
The heavenly and the historical also hold together harmoniously in the Psalm. There can be a tendency for our songs to see God exclusively in the heavenly and the consummate realm as we sing praises unto Him. However, what can be seen here in verses 5-7 and 10-11 is that the Lord above is actively intervening in time and space. God’s people are not merely praising a God who sits in heaven and is one day returning; they are also praising a God who rends the heavens and comes down and intervenes according to His will and ways in history. Our songs should involve waiting on God’s return as He reigns above, and yet they should also praise the One who breaks into time and space to lead history to its culmination. Worship towards the throne is indeed about God’s present actions below in time and space. The heavenly and the historical come together in this Psalm and in the people of God.
Defeat & Dominance
The reality of defeat and dominance also co-exist in the praises of God’s people as expressed in Psalm 144. The very fact that God’s people are singing about the need for deliverance from the wicked assumes that they are under affliction and persecution. The people of God are to praise Him as they suffer and experience various forms of horizontal defeat. Yet we see the theme of dominance in the midst of defeat. In verse 2 the nations arrayed against the covenant people are said to be subdued and in verses 10 and 11 victory over the enemies of God is celebrated. Corporate worship is not about the covenant peoples’ endless sufferings nor is it about their uninterrupted dominance. Praise entails the reality of defeat and yet the inevitability of dominance by the Kingdom of God. Psalm 144 will not allow us to worship in endless pessimism but demands that defeat and dominance coexist (and that defeat always be unto dominance).
Earthly Citizenship & Citizenship in Zion
The coexistence of our various spheres and our citizenship in Zion can also be seen in this Psalm. Notice how the Psalm ends with the blessing that is bestowed upon the people of God. But also notice how verse 12 speaks about the next generation and the particular genders (sons and daughters) of the next generation. Note how verse 9 speaks about God’s intervention as it pertains to civil rulers in their places of power. The people of God praise the Lord in light of their covenant identity in connection to their particular places and spheres. All this is to say that corporate worship is not devoid nor disinterested in our creational roles and spheres. We do not cease to see ourselves as fathers, mothers, children, and governors as we worship in Zion. All that we are and where we are coexist as we worship as citizens of Zion. In Zion, we worship God as mothers, fathers, children, and rulers as we see all of our lives as subject to the King. As we sing we see how the earthly and the eschatological doxologically co-exist and cooperate.
Creation & New Creation
Finally, notice the connection with creation (spiritual and spatial) and new creation in the Psalm. In verses 12-15, the people of God praise Him and ask that their familial, social, vocational, and economic lives be affected by the King. In this song, we can see that the doxological redemptive life has a connection to the rest of life. Praise unto God soteriologically coexists with praise unto him temporally. It is here where we see that all of our life, in every way, is connected to our covenant with God. While the church often sees the soteriological with the temporal as antithetical and unrelated, the Psalm speaks otherwise. While the church too often thinks that our songs must praise God either for riches in Christ or for God enriching all of our lives, we see both elements in one song.
My ongoing pastoral concern is that our doxology and praise is inadvertently introducing competitions and cancellations of various parts of the counsel of God. God does not deny Himself, and neither does His Word deny itself. Psalm 144 is a wonderful, tutorial, doxological look that consolidates various features of the Christian life that we have too often compartmentalized or set in opposition one with another. Psalm 144 helps us to break out of the dichotomous thinking that ultimately lays waste to Christian devotion.