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A Closer Look
Does God"inhabit the praise of Israel"?
(Psalm 22:3)     

THE QUESTION: A popular publisher of "praise and worship" music includes "praise" in their music "because the Bible tells us that praise is the doorway to God's presence." The verse they use to support this is Psalm 22:3, ". . . thou who art enthroned on the praise of Israel." (NAS)

In fact, this verse is a great favorite of worship leaders, and the ad's claim is widely repeated as a reason for praising God. When we praise him, he will "show up" or act, because he "inhabits [or 'is enthroned on'] the praise of Israel." Therefore we should remember to praise him!

Is this a good application of the verse? Is it the point David was making?

Let's look at Psalm 22

What is he saying? (Translation)

First, most modern interpreters translate "enthroned" instead of "inhabit". The Hebrew word can take the sense of "dwell" or "sit," and if it is a king who is sitting to "be enthroned." And this notion of God being enthroned in his temple in Zion is reflected in several other places in the Psalms (29:10, 80:1, 9:11, cf.v.7) and vividly in the prophecy of Ezekiel (10:1). Other Scriptures depict God as the victorious King, marching into his palace (temple) to take his throne (Ex 15:13-18, Pss 24:7-10, 68:17-24, 132:7-14).

But this change does not significantly change the sense of the verse. To say that Zion or the temple is where the King dwells is not so different from saying he is "enthroned" there.

A second point may be a bit more significant. The Hebrew of this verse is a bit ambiguous.
"Literally," it reads, 'You are the Holy One enthroned the praise of Israel'
Some read 'enthroned' with the following expression as "(you are) enthroned on the praise of Israel". But it might also be read with what precedes, "You are enthroned as the Holy One" (NIV). If we adopt the second interpretation, "the praise [or 'boast']of Israel" is a title for God. The line might be rephrased as, "you are the One Israel praises" or "you are the One Israel boasts about".

Why does he say it?

Yet neither of these translation questions gets to the main question -- why does David speak of God this way here, in this particular psalm/prayer?

Three parts of the psalm help us to answer this question.

First, this verse is the beginning of the picture of verses 3-5. It goes on to say that God is the one in whom "our fathers put their trust," the one who delivered them when they cried out to him.

This supplies the explanation for Israel's praise. It is because he had come to their rescue. By his deeds for them he had shown himself to be their God and King, 'enthroned' in their midst. And so he had become their trust and their boast.

Second, God's past deeds for Israel are contrasted with David's current plight. Verse 3 begins with a "yet" because, unlike what God had done for Israel in the past, he now seems to have forsaken his chosen one, and to be "far from the words of my groaning" (vv.1-2). The one Israel praises for hearing their cry and delivering them is not hearing his cry!

The next part of the psalm repeats the same pattern, first describing David's plight (vv.6-8), then declaring that God has always been his trust.

"Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast."
David appeals not only to Israel's history, but to his own, and looks for the one he calls "my Strength" (v.19) to come to his aid.

Third, the last section of the psalm (vv. 22-31) looks beyond the present crisis, to the final outcome. David declares with hope, "I will praise you" in the congregation, and calls the children of Israel to honor him,

"For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has. . . listened to his cry for help."

The praise will extend even further, to all the ends of the earth (v.27), and to future generations who will hear about this thing that God has done. (vv.30-31).

This great expression of hope builds on and parallels the appeals to God's saving deeds in the past. How are they parallel? The needy cried, putting their trust in God; the Lord delivered; the people praised God, declaring his deeds. David now looks for the same thing to happen for him, on an even grander scale.

We cannot escape the importance of praise, that is, of God's being glorified, as the final outcome of his deeds, of his answers to the prayers of his people. That is true not only for this psalm, but for many others that appeal to God on the basis of the glory that he will receive when he acts to save.

Conclusions, Applications

What then is David's purpose in mentioning the "praise of Israel"?

In light of the pattern of this and other psalms, this is part of an appeal to God, 'reminding' him that his acts of deliverance have brought him praise in the past. (All of this supports the translation, "you are the praise [or 'boast'] of Israel," though it is not necessary to the main point.)

What of the claim that God enjoys the company of his people, and particularly in hearing them praise him? Is this a mistaken idea? Not at all! God does indeed delight in our praises! That is, in fact, a major part of what David appeals to in this psalm, and in many others.

But note that David's appeal is to God. He is not calling God's people to praise him so that God will "show up" or act in their behalf. He is not saying, "God comes [fights, acts for us, etc.] because we praise him, so praise him and he will act!." Rather, he is telling God (and indirectly, telling us), that he is the one we praise and boast in because he HAS shown up for us!

WHY is it that God "shows up"?

  • because he is faithful to his promises and to his people. (His deeds for "the fathers" is evidence of this commitment.)
  • because he hears and answers our cries, delighting to show mercy. (This too he has demonstrated in delivering the fathers, and the psalmist himself in the past.)
  • to bring himself glory, cause us (and all who hear!)to praise him as he displays his mercy.

    Consider then what David does in declaring that God is "the praise of Israel," etc.

  • Here, and throughout the psalm, he reminds God not only of his servant's plight, but of God's promises, his past deeds, and his glory.
  • By doing so he is uttering words of worship/praise.
  • He is also reminding himself of these things, encouraging himself to take hold of God, by remembering God's goodness and looking forward with hope to singing his praises before his people.

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    1999 Bruce L. Johnson
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