Style and Substance
A praise psalm by David.
1 I will exalt you, my God, the King.
I will praise your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you.
I will extol your name forever and ever.
3 Great is YHWH, and greatly to be praised!
His greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation will commend your works to another,
and will declare your mighty acts.
5 Of the glorious majesty of your honor,
of your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 Men will speak of the might of your awesome acts.
I will declare your greatness.
7 They will utter the memory of your great goodness,
and will sing of your righteousness.
8 YHWH is gracious, merciful,
slow to anger, and of great loving kindness.
9 YHWH is good to all.
His tender mercies are over all his works.
10 All your works will give thanks to you, YHWH.
Your saints will extol you.
11 They will speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and talk about your power;
12 to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts,
the glory of the majesty of his kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
YHWH is faithful in all his words,
and loving in all his deeds.
14 YHWH upholds all who fall,
and raises up all those who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all wait for you.
You give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 YHWH is righteous in all his ways,
and gracious in all his works.
18 YHWH is near to all those who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear him.
He also will hear their cry, and will save them.
20 YHWH preserves all those who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of YHWH.
Let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
World English Bible Version
When was the last time you were impressed by the look of a building or star or media production? Did the look impress you more than the content? Why or why not?
Do you remember the fads of your youth? Did some of these fads endure with time? Some of these fads were a certain look, a way to dress, a hairdo, an attitude. Some survived because of the personalities involved. Sinatra set the tone for crooning. Miles Davis exhaled the “cool.” The Beatles outgrew their haircuts but not their influence. These and many other stars left a cultural legacy built upon not only their talent, but their look and attitude. Their image was as important as their output.
Sometimes the Scripture contains verses that depend upon style. Psalm 145 is such a series of verses. This psalm is more stylistic than thematic. Each line of the psalm has a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (imagine a poem where the first line began with a word beginning with the letter “A,” the second line began with a word beginning with “B,” the third with “C,” etc.). Such a psalm was limited in thought because the focus was on form.
The psalm can be divided into the following themes:
145:1-2: personal praise.
145:3: a transition that extolled God’s grandeur.
145:4-7: the consistent activity of the faithful throughout the generations in praise and witness.
145:7-8: the mercy and goodness of the Lord.
145:9-12: creation giving praise to God.
145:13: a transition about the glory and trustworthiness of the Lord.
145:14-20: God’s care for the faithful.
145:21: personal praise.
Notice there are some repetitions. The psalm began and ended with personal praise, like bookends; the center piece of the psalm was the praise of all creation. The faithful praised God throughout the generation, while God cared for his faithful (implicitly from one generation to the next). The transitions in the psalm spoke of God’s glory.
While the theme of praise threaded through the psalm, the content of the praise depended on the structure of the psalm, not the thought process itself. The verses did not built on one thought to another; they seemed to jump from one image to another. Still, the psalm held together with the idea of praise. (We can assume the original Hebrew engaged the ancient reader far more than the English translation we have today.)
Style can rise to the level of substance, even in Scripture, yet it should never overtake the spirit of the verse. Worship, like other parts of the Christian lifestyle, requires a style, but in never reducible to style. In praise, style is a means to an end, giving glory to God.
What is your style of worship? How important is that style to you? How does it support your life as a Christian?