Oh, Give Thanks to the Lord: Praise Delights

As a young boy I had the privilege of meeting two of my great-grandmothers. One of these happily resided at the Longport Home for the Aged. Her name was Gladys Ruth Sutherland, but we just knew her as Granny Shu-Shu. Shu-Shu was short for Tissue and had been coined by her grandson Mark Taylor. She was aptly named because Granny was always using a tissue to wipe away tears. However, in my experience they were rarely tears of sorrow but of joy. In fact, I remember a birthday party when everyone gave her a box of tissues and she promptly put them to good use. Her disposition, however, highlights for us the nearness of joy and sorrow. We tend to think of them as complete opposites, and yet, so often in life they arise together. This was true in Zerubbabel’s day when joy and weeping were mingled, as for the fourth time in Israel’s history the cry went forth, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

Perhaps 500 years had now passed since David first publicly spoke those lovely words. The days of defeating giants were forgotten. The gold and grandeur of Solomon’s time had been squandered and scattered among the nations. Even the glorious battle victories of Jehoshaphat were as wonders of a past time. A blinded king had closed his eyes on the history of Israel as the temple was left in ruins and the people were carried away into captivity.

But the Lord was not finished with the praises of Israel. Men like Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah were raised up to serve the remnant of God’s people. Zerubbabel led the first wave back from Babylon composed of some 42,000 pilgrims, which included priests, Levites, singers and gatekeepers. Ezra 3 makes it clear that the people were unified in recognizing the importance of starting the rebuilding project with the altar: “And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God’’ (vv1-2).[1] With the altar returned to service, the next seven months were spent collecting supplies. In 536 BC, exactly seventy years after the first deportation, the work on the temple commenced. Ezra relates the great joy this work created in the hearts of the people: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid” (vv10-11 NKJV).

The temple was not yet completed, so why did simply looking at the pattern in the foundation of the temple bring such joy and meaningful praise from the hearts of the people? Did it not display to them the great truth that the mercy of the Lord endures forever? How valuable to remember, when we consider the elements and traditions of our assembly testimony now, that we are not only serving as a present-day witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, but we are displaying the pattern of things to come, when the Lord will have the preeminence in all things.

However, in Zerubbabel’s day the emotion was not only joy, for we read that sorrow was mingled with the shouts. “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off” (vv12-13). Though the surroundings were meager, a deep beauty is witnessed in the joy and sorrow that rose together before the Lord. If we are honest, there is much cause for sorrow in our day of remnant testimony as well. No doubt when gathering as an assembly there is the memory of many who happily have gone home to heaven, and yet their presence and spiritual weight is greatly missed among us. There is the sorrow of friends who have left the assembly. There is the burden of personal weakness and the reality that my ability to worship may not reach the heights of generations that have gone before. Yet, in the midst of sorrow, we are called to praise.

I was walking recently with a well-respected believer while near a beautiful vista. But rather than speaking to me of the earthly scene, he expressed his ever-increasing appreciation for the worship of the Lord. He said, “As I grow older, I realize there is nothing greater in life than worshiping the Lord in the assembly with my fellow believers.” The Psalmist understood this sentiment. Psalm 136 repeats this phrase of praise concerning the mercy of the Lord twenty-six times over. As he reaches the close of his rapturous, repetitious meditation, he declares, “Who remembered us in our lowly state, for His mercy endures forever; And rescued us from our enemies, for His mercy endures forever; Who gives food to all flesh, for His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever” (vv23-26). Perhaps you feel a great weight of sorrow when remembering the former things, but the remnant pilgrims of Zerubbabel’s day implore you to pour it out in praise and to be reminded, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the NKJV.