Why should the nations say, ‘Where is now their God?’
In some manuscripts, this psalm is written as part of the preceding. Psalm 114 looked backed to Egypt; to the mighty works that were done by the LORD as His presence brought the people out; and it warned the earth to tremble at the prospect of the LORD’s presence working again.
Now, in Psalm 115 we have a current prayer for deliverance. The context is that Israel are surrounded by enemies, oppressed and afflicted. The psalm itself divides into three, with an introductory plea (v1-3), a consideration of the weakness of the enemy (v4-8) and then a song of praise, calling all Israel to ‘trust in the LORD’ who is ‘their help and their shield’ (v9-18).
Mercy and Truth
The twin pillars upon which this plea for help is set are the LORD’s mercy and truth.
‘Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.’ (v1-3)
The first time we read of these two characteristics together is in Genesis 24. Isaac, the son of promise, is grown and Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac from among his own people rather than from the surrounding nations.
Eliezer (God is my help), that most spiritual of servants and a man of prayer, is led by the LORD, most remarkably, to meet Rebekah and his first response is to give thanks to God.
‘And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.’ (Gen 24:27)
Eliezer recognised that the wonderful way in which God had helped him was in no way because he or Abraham were deserving of this help, but all of God’s grace hand in hand with the LORD’s faithfulness to His covenant promise.
This is always the basis upon which the Lord works in relation to us. He has made covenant promises which are for the gracious blessing of mankind, and His Word will ‘not return unto (Him) void’ (Isa 55:11).
These covenant promises are brought to their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, of whom it could be said:
‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)
We trace Christ’s life from the crib to the cross to the crown, and marvel that by this gracious way, we are brought into the eternal blessings faithfully established in the New Covenant!
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ … according to the good pleasure of his will … In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.’ (Eph 1: 3-7)
The Good Pleasure of His Will
Truly it is a marvel that all this is ‘according to the good pleasure of His will’.
By ‘all this’, I mean, not only the spiritual blessings we enjoy, but the sufferings that Christ endured on our behalf. This thought of God being responsible for the sufferings we face is not something we often consider.
Indeed, in Isaiah, we hear the LORD say, ‘I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things’ (Isa 45:7). It’s also here in this psalm.
The nations oppressing Israel are seeing the desperate situation they are in: weak, helpless, afflicted – and are concluding that Israel’s God has left them or is impotent. Taunting and mocking, they say: “Where is now their God?”. This is similar to many today who look at suffering and conclude there is no God.
However, the answer is given: ‘God is in the heavens’. In other words, He still reigns supreme, and in His Sovereign will He has brought His people under this affliction for a purpose, as it ‘hath pleased Him’.
To have this perspective brings us some consolation in our sufferings, and yet we cry for deliverance, as Israel do here, using the very taunts of the enemy to plead with their God for mercy: ‘why should the nations say …?’
But what must it have been for the Lord Jesus, on the night in which He was betrayed, to sing the words of this psalm: ‘He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased’.
And going forth, as true Israel, He ‘was oppressed and He was afflicted’ (Isa 53:7). He became ‘a reproach of men, and despised of the people’. And it could be said: ‘All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (Psa 22:6-8).
Yet in view of all this, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, shortly after singing the words of this psalm, would humbly submit to the will of His Father: ‘not my will, but thine be done’ (Luke 22:42).
As a result, we are greatly blessed, and so in response, ‘we will bless the LORD from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the LORD.’ (v18)