ASCRIBE YE GREATNESS UNTO OUR GOD
Deuteronomy 32: 1-4
By: Michael Hobbis
CW Committee Member
These Scripture verses are part of the song of Moses. It is said that this song of Moses will be sung in Heaven and are the directly inspired words given to him by the Holy Ghost; that is from the very lips of Jehovah. As David also said: “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and His word was in my tongue.”
These opening verses give us a sense of the awe with which we should approach this Scripture. Words which are meant to bring the very fear of God into our hearts and minds. Words which speak of God’s majesty and power. These words are spoken by THE WORD – even Christ the great I AM.
Give ear, O ye Heaven, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of My mouth. Who is to listen? All the inhabitants of Heaven and earth which He created; “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.” Psalm 33: 8.
These words of instruction, for that is what they are, will have differing effects (see 2 Timothy 3: 16). The manifestations of God’s communication to men are often compared to rain in its many forms. The Hebrew here, it seems, implies the gentle rain of the still small voice of God; to the sweeping rain of tempestuous gales. From the almost imperceptible dew of the applied doctrine, the Holy Ghost silently works in the hearts of men; sometimes sealing their instruction even as they sleep: to the drops of the angry voice of God’s wrath, heavy storm drops multiplied beyond calculation. Such is the living and powerful Word spoken by God; dividing asunder the very soul and spirit of man. Hebrews 4: 12.
Christ our Rock
In the following song, the word ‘Rock’ is mentioned many times. Who is that Rock but Christ? – “For who is God, save Jehovah? and who is a rock save our God?” 2 Samuel 22: 32. That same Rock is the One who followed the children of Israel as they journeyed. The following words of the song of Moses, the man of God, speak of the goodness of God to His people in His leading, protecting and feeding them and their sinful returns to Him by their turning aside and ingratitude. The ‘rock’ of the heathen is compared to their Rock, the True God. Finally, as an epilogue to this song, and in demonstration that the very best of men are but men after all, Moses is told to ascend mount Nebo, where he is to behold the land with his eyes, but tragically will never set foot upon it because of his transgression at Meribah.
Giving to God the Glory
All this sad, but awesome and glorious song, accentuates the holiness, mercy and justice of God, set against the blackness of man’s rebellious course. Now we are commanded here in verse 3 to “ascribe greatness to God”; we must ask what this truly means. To ascribe is to attribute or assign something to a person. Firstly, in spiritual terms, it is to give unto God the glory due to His name. Moses says here: Because I will publish the name of Jehovah: ascribe ye greatness unto our God.
This act of ascribing greatness unto Jehovah God is to be undertaken here on earth and it will be the theme of Heaven – we might say it will be the very atmosphere of Heaven. Revelation 7: 9-12. Natural man would never be happy in Heaven, having no capacity to see God as reconciled to him: but rather as a consuming fire. Having no delight in his Creator he will not, let’s say cannot, delight in glorifying God.
We know of men, men of earthly power and renown, who have been destroyed for not ascribing greatness to God. Herod, who after making a vain oration to the people, was destroyed by Divine visitation; because when those same people attributed divinity to him, he did not return the glory to God Who gave him breath. In a like manner was Nebuchadnezzar humbled for a season for his pride – and yet finally and happily ascribed to Jehovah the glory due to His name. Acts 12: 20-23; Daniel 4:34.
It was Belshazzar before whom God’s hand wrote out his doom upon the wall in the midst of his sacrilege and idolatry; although he had known of the humbling of his father Nebuchadnezzar for his pride. Daniel interpreted God’s message to Belshazzar telling him – “and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” This same Belshazzar was deposed and killed, according to the writing, in the same night. Daniel 5:30. Each time you and I display pride and self–sufficiency, we are in effect stealing the glory which alone belongs to God. “I am Jehovah: that is My Name: and My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42: 8.
Our Joy in Earth and Heaven
Since our eternal delight in Heavenly places will be to attribute to God greatness, power and glory, then we should surely be much engaged in that pleasurable work now; remembering that all things in Heaven and earth were created for His holy pleasure, and we especially, as the Redeemed, are saved to the praise of His glory and grace for all His love, mercy and kindness to us.
In the paraphrased words of Psalm 92: Sweet is the work my God and King, To praise Thy Name give thanks and sing… We sing Psalms and hymns to His glory; we perhaps are apt to forget that the Psalms which we love so well and by the operation of the Holy Spirit give us so much guidance and comfort, are, if they are anything, essentially songs which sound out the glory and greatness of God
What is it to Ascribe Greatness to God?
As Moses says in our Scripture here, it is to publish the Name of The LORD/JEHOVAH, THE GREAT I AM, the Living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (see also Exodus 3:13-15; and 34:6-7)
To ascribe greatness to God and publish His Name, is to willingly and joyfully show what and who God is, and what He has done, and what He is doing now. His Name is in all His works and ways and His attributes seen in them – His Perfection of Mercy, Goodness, Truth, Holiness, Power, Justice, Love and Everlasting kindness. Some of those are mentioned here in verse 4. It is never possible to engage in hyperbole when speaking of the greatness of our God. We may exaggerate the qualities of mere men; but never God Himself. It is not possible to exaggerate the infinite; it cannot be done; we may never fear outdoing our praise and worship of our Triune God. As Charles Wesley’s hymn sweetly says:
Through all eternity, to thee
A grateful song I’ll raise;
But O eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!
The Works of the LORD are Great – Psalm 111
All the world may see, if their eyes were opened, the eternal power and Godhead of their Creator in the works of creation and providence. As David by the Holy Ghost exclaimed in Psalm 8: “When I consider the Heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained: What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” It was Job, overcome by the majesty and power of God in His works, who laid his hand upon his mouth and exclaimed: “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
It is chiefly by Christ as Jehovah the Creator that God’s wonderful works are seen. In truth, in Revelation 5: 13, it is to God the Father on the throne – and the Lamb of God Jehovah Jesus at His right hand – that greatness, power and glory are ascribed.
Jesus said that in His work on earth He came to declare the Father and this is a part of Jesus’ glory that God is seen in Jesus Christ, the very image of the Father. As our Saviour said to the disciples: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father”, and that all men should give equal glory to the Son, to the Holy Ghost and to the Father; all three persons of the Godhead being, as the shorter catechism Q. 6 declares: the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. The redeeming and the declaring work of God in Christ Jesus is surely the central aspect in which the wonderful attributes of God are seen and supply the major motivation for the praises and worship of the glorified saints – John 15.
In the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is seen who God is. Here He is described as The Rock and the pleasurable work of the saints on earth is to praise and glorify God through and by that same Jesus. Yet not all Christ’s redeemed are possessed of the same strength of faith as others; as faith and experience grow, so does praise. Again, the Psalmist says: “But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.” It is the knowledge and sense of His favour which opens our mouths in worship and adoration. The more we know God in Christ Jesus; so the more will we love Him and ascribe greatness to the King of Glory. Psalm 71:14.
The Testimony of our Fathers
We may also consider God’s works of old and what our fathers have told us. Whether it be the deluge of Noah’s age; the parting of the seas and rivers for the children of Israel with the destruction of Pharaoh and all their enemies; or, closer to our time, the power of Jehovah in the conversion of thousands in the Early Church; and, more recently still, the wonderful revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In our text in verse 4, Moses ascribes to God the greatness of His work of Judgment, Truth, Holiness – the perfection of all His ways and works. It was the Holy Spirit who also spoke by Paul, too, when he said in Romans 11: 33; O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!
The Ways of God
By the ways of God is meant His providential dealings in the world. God’s works of providence are His controlling and ordering all events in the world; past, present and future. It is said by some that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can have an influence upon the weather conditions in the Northern Hemisphere; but whatever the truth of this theory, it is our God Who controls even the movement of the butterfly’s wings: such is the Omnipotent power of our Lord and Saviour. We may well lay our hands upon our mouths in amazement as we consider the providential dealings of Jehovah God in this world. The Book of Esther displays but a small part of the wonderful ways of God in providence and the greatness of Christ our God who upholds all things by the Word of His power. What wonders we have seen in our own nation’s deliverances from the Armada, Gunpowder Plot and two World Wars! Some today still among us have seen it with their own eyes. We have our own Purim to celebrate in praise of our God.
But, surely, when we see in the cross of Christ Jesus and by the determinate counsel of God, mercy and truth meeting together; and righteousness and peace kissing each other in our eternal salvation; and with no diminution of God’s holiness, justice and truth, but rather in the greater and clearer display of them, then in the words of Sheba the Queen of the South – there is no more breath in us!
In our ascribing greatness to God, we are in effect saying that nothing is impossible to Him and none can stay His hand. The same God who turns the heart of Kings whithersoever He will and says of Cyrus: “He is my shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure…”
If this be so, then is it not irrational, and even sinful, to be uncertain, afraid, or timid, in the service of such a Captain? And yet how sadly we seem to deny the power of our LORD to defend and keep us. We praise and worship our God for His omnipotent power, His controlling all events: yet become very concerned when we are suddenly visited with losses and afflictions.
His Truth is inviolable, yet we often fail to believe Him. How grievous a thing is this!
It is to our shame that our unbelief detracts from our praises, but even in this we see the need for the greatness of Divine mercy and grace to forgive, restore and strengthen us. And we worship God for His faithfulness.
Christ and Our Salvation from Sin
It is the motive for our love, praise and service now that the greatness of God is displayed in our complete and perfect salvation from sin, death and destruction; and as we trace the wonderful workings of God in our lives, in bringing about our reconciliation to Him with the gift of life eternal, we are quite overcome at times, and we are like them that dream when we see that our captivity has been so turned again. Every attribute of God is displayed in our redemption.
But, however wonderful the sight by faith, O the open view in glory of all that belongs to our salvation. It will be the new song in Heaven that we are the redeemed Church saved from all our sins. That the Lord Jesus Christ against Whom we committed innumerable crimes and rejected and despised for a time, loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. These are things which we often reflect on, yet know so little now of the full extent of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There, when we shall know, even as we are known, and when the full light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in our sanctified hearts then – as Murray McCheyne so aptly says:
“When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ on high,
Looking o’er life’s history;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.”
– and so praise shall be perfected in ascribing to God greatness and power and glory for ever and ever.