In the second half of the book of Isaiah, the prophet is given a simple message of good news. “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9) It is a short message. Three little words. “Behold your God.” It even reminds us a little of the famous line of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Look and listen. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8a).
What is the value of this sort of message? Why do the prophets sometimes point upward and just ask us to gaze upon God? Why do we gather to worship and celebrate him regularly? Is there any practical result of recognizing the greatness of God and worshipping him?
The answer to that last question is both “yes” and “no.” No, there is no immediate moral action that results from worship. No, worship in and of itself does not make you a better person or correct your bad habits. Worship alone does not save the lost or feed the hungry.
And yet, worship is the foundation of all those actions and goals. Consider Psalm 138.
“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise” (Psalm 138:1). We might imagine this psalmist writing his hymn in the years of exile in Babylon. The gods of his captors surround him. Ishtar. Tiammut. Apsu. And, of course, Marduk, the Babylonian national god, who was worshipped above all. Yet, there in their midst, the Hebrew refugee looked past them all to worship the one God he had always known. He believes as Hannah had declared so many years before, “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2). He shared the faith of Isaiah, “Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8).
No, the gods of Mesopotamia did not allure our psalmist nor did their temples and shrines. “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word” (Psalm 138:2). The Hebrew would rather face God’s temple from a distance than share nearness with an idol. The idols had not loved the people of Judah for generations nor rescued them countless times. One Being alone had been faithful to Israel, and that is the God the psalmist wants to worship. “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).
The psalmist also expects the rest of the world to catch on eventually. “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord” (Psalm 138:4–5). Surrounded by pagan kings, the psalmist expects them to fall down and honor God. To behold a glimpse of God’s glory was to know that he is different from any other. “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15–16).
The psalmist does not fear that his circumstances would separate him from the reality of this great and awesome God. The gods of the pagans were high and lofty, so only the most important and exalted of people could ever hope to interact with them. But our God, higher and loftier than any would even dare to imagine, still descends to attend to the needs of his lowest people. “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar” (
Psalm 138:6). Again, we can hear Isaiah concur. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
Nor would adversity separate the worshipper from God. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me” (Psalm 138:7). Surrounded by troubles, the Psalmist sees God caring for him. We might remember a similar sentiment from another more famous psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, KJV). The God that the psalmist had beheld would not shrink back from difficulties or troubles.
This God and this God alone could be trusted to hear each prayer and attend to every need. “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased” (Psalm 138:3).
Surrounded by doubt and weakness, the psalmist found strength in prayer to God. This God could be trusted where all others failed. Powerful men view weaker men as instruments in their schemes, but God sees us and offers us purpose. “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:8).
What is the value of turning our eyes upward to behold our God? There is a reason that the Psalms still resonate in the human heart after the passage of so many centuries. Today, we too, are surrounded by idols, kings, troubles, and fears. We can say, “My soul is in the midst of lions … the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (Psalm 57:4). And still above it all, reigns this same faithful, listening God and his purpose for his creation. “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” (Psalm 57:2-3)
Is there a practical result of our worship? Only in the sense that it changes everything! When we pause and “behold our God,” we are able to see past the deception of fear and see the reality of unending love. The knowledge of God itself defeats the lies of this world and judges them. To know God is to know what is real and what is mere shadow.
This message is only magnified in Christian faith. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31-33). When we turn our eyes to the cross, we again are able to behold our God. When he is lifted up - on his cross and in our worship - the parodies and frauds of this world shrink away. He is King upon his cross, still the one true God who saves while idols crumble.
Behold our God!
Dr. Benjamin Williams is the Senior Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Ada, Oklahoma and a regular writer at So We Speak. Check out his books The Faith of John’s Gospel and Why We Stayed or follow him on Twitter, @Benpreachin.