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19th February, 2010

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Exalted above the heavens

We human beings tend to read right over vital truths as naturally as we miss the bulls eye when playing darts, particularly when the words we read are difficult to interpret. Funnily enough, even very simple sentences constructed from very simple words can evade our understanding. Take Psalm 57: 5, for instance:

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

What did the Psalmist mean when he spoke about God and His glory being exalted above both the universe and the earth? The thought being conveyed is obviously significant - the saying is repeated in verse 11, and also in Psalm 108:5. One commentator declares that, "Greater words of prayer than these never came from human lips".1 The psalmist expresses the thought that God deserves to be "exalted" above the earth and the universe and he longs for the day when human beings will recognize the exaltation of His glory. But what does it mean? Other songs of praise show that God deserves to be "exalted" above heaven and earth for a simple reason - He is "above" heaven and earth.

The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens (Ps. 113:4).

A similar expression appears in Psalm 148:13. God's glory (kabod) is above the heavens (the universe). The Hebrew word kabod (glory) appears 189 times in the Old Testament, with the phrase "glory of the Lord" (kabod yhwh) appearing at least 27 times. The term has a broad scope of meaning; in Exodus 16:7 and other places it refers to a spectacular manifestation of the divine presence visible to human eyes. What would I give to have seen what the Israelites saw! But the phrase obviously has a different usage in the psalms in question; to pray that human beings would see some manifestation of God's glory way up there in the sky or beyond the edge of the universe makes no sense. "Glory" in these verses carries a more abstract connotation. In spite of its rich spectrum of meaning, the general gist of divine "glory" seems clear enough - God is "glorious" (insert your own synonyms) beyond our capacity to imagine.

But again we ask, what are we to learn from the statement that God's glory is "above the heavens and the earth"? What do these words add to our understanding of God's greatness? A comment by Dr. Cohen on Psalm 148:13 seems to make the most sense:

What He did for Israel had the effect of magnifying Him before all peoples and making it evident that His majesty. transcends the universe.

His majesty (glory) transcends - is exalted above - the universe. That is, God is even more brilliant, spectacular, intelligent, powerful, and so on, than the created earth and universe convey. The clearest image we human beings can have of God's "power and Godhead" is given to us by the creation (Rom. 1:20). Planet earth is brilliantly put together in such a way as to provide a stable environment for living things; no geological accident is going to wipe life off the face of the planet. Rocks decompose to form soil minerals which are kept moist by the sublimely brilliant water cycle, providing food for plants which in turn provide food for animals. The wealth of plant and animal species takes the breath away. God's signature is clearly visible in the untold genius of design which stamps every living thing. In short, "The whole earth is full of His glory!" (Is. 6:3). But no matter how much we can see of the glory of God in the earth, He is in reality far greater, far more glorious.

Then you have the sublime statement of Psalm 19:1:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

The wonders of our universe utterly overwhelm the senses and intellect of all who study them. Every day seems to be blessed with stunning new discoveries in astronomy, each one exciting gasps of awe from its discoverers. No human being can hope to have but the tiniest grasp of the totality of marvels out there in space. But even if one could "see it all", God's glory is far greater. After all, He made it all. It stands to reason His glory is "above the heavens". To think that the saints will one day get to "see His face" (Rev. 22:5). Unbelievable.

Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, The Psalms, p. 182


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