Awesome. How often we hear or use that adjective! Too often it refers to something a little less than awesome: a piece of pizza, a great basketball shot, a friend’s kind action, or catching a flight connection. These things can be delicious, amazing, touching, or stress-relieving. But are they truly awesome?
Something awesome inspires awe, and awe is feeling of fear, wonder, and reverence. The best use of awesome is for God and His works, as in Psalm 66, which the ESV titles: How Awesome Are Your Deeds.
The psalm begins with four verses of lively praise:
Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name” (Psalm 66:1-4, ESV).
The psalmist calls the entire earth to shout for joy to God, giving him glorious praise. He even provides a specific piece of dialogue as a pattern of declaring the awesomeness of God’s deeds to him.
Following the first four verses, the word “Selah” appears. Commentators differ in their interpretation of this little word, which shows up three times in this psalm and many times in others. Some people believe it is simply a musical notation, indicating a pause or break in the delivery. Others agree it may be a musical notation, but may also indicate the reader should pause and meditate on what has just been read. And some people think it may additionally indicate the idea of lifting up praise. Whatever its original intent, seeing it reminds modern readers to pause and meditate as well as to lift their hearts in praise.
The next section of Psalm 66 invites the reader to “come and see” God’s awesome deeds:
Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in him,
who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let not the rebellious exalt themselves (verses 5-7, ESV).
These verses recall the awe-inspiring event when God caused the waters of the Red Sea to part so his people could walk across on dry land, escaping from Pharaoh’s pursuing army. You can read the narrative account of the event in Exodus 14, but you can read the poetic song as the people rejoiced in Exodus 15. God watches the nations and will not let the rebellious exalt forever. Just as he destroyed the Egyptian army at the beginning of Israel’s journey, he destroyed the rebellious nations in Canaan when Israel entered the Promised Land. He even reminded the people of his earlier deliverance by providing a dry path through the Jordan River in an awesome echo (Joshua 3).
God leads his people through trials to places of abundance:
Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance (verses 8-12, ESV).
How often has your foot seemed ready to slip, but God kept you among the living? Has God tested you like silver in the refiner’s fire? Have you felt caught in a net of addiction? Or crushed under a burden of grief? Have men rode over you, pressing your head into the dirt? Do you feel as if you’ve been burned? Or nearly drowned? God has been in control of even these trials and has led you through them into a place of abundance. Perhaps you don’t see that abundance yet, but you will some day.
On this Monday following the Lord’s Day, this psalm reminds us of God’s call to formal worship.
I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats (verses 13-15, ESV).
When we’re in distress, we often promise to serve God better if he’ll only get us out of this mess. Don’t neglect to follow through on those promises. God delivers us from trouble we see and countless disasters we don’t even recognize. Whether we see his deliverance or not, he calls us to formal worship every week. All the Old Testament sacrifices pointed forward to the one-time definitive sacrifice of Christ. We no longer need to offer animals, but we do need to offer our hearts.
And, like the psalmist, we need to proclaim God’s awesome deeds to others.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer (verses 16-19, ESV).
God listens to the cry of humble, repentant believers. He hears our prayers and delivers us in ways that are truly awesome. We can proclaim the words of verse 20:
Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!
God alone deserves all our praise. His holiness and majesty generate awe. Wonder of wonders, Almighty God hears and answers our prayers. He loves us and will never stop loving us! Awesome.