Why should the whole earth shout joyfully to God? What awe-inspiring acts should solicit exuberant worship from all people everywhere? One answer could be creation. After all, God has given us the gift of life. He created such a beautiful and bountiful world. Another answer could be providence. After all, God has not removed Himself from creation. On the contrary, He sustains and shepherds life according to the purposes of His sovereign grace. Both creation and providence should cause explosions of joy to ring loud from every corner of the earth.
Yet, Psalm 66 presents another reason why all people everywhere should sing about the glory of God. It has to do with the unique work He did in a small, insignificant people group known as the Israelties. Readers are invited to come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring (Psalm 66:5). The psalmist then references the moment God parted the Red Sea so that His people could leave Egypt (verse 6). How could that act be described as an action for all of humanity? Why should God’s dealings with Israel cause us to worship Him?
One for All
It is no secret that the Old Testament refers to Israel as God’s chosen people. Such exclusionary language may be off-putting to some, but we must remember two reasons why God chose Israel. First of all, He did not choose them because they were in any way superior to all other people groups in the world. In fact, just the opposite seems to be the case: “The LORD had his heart set on you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your fathers, he brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). His choice of Israel, much like His calling of Abraham centuries prior, issued forth from His grace.
Second of all, God chose Israel for an inclusive purpose. Isaiah 49:6 says, “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light of the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” God’s salvation would extend through the people of Israel. They were not chosen to the exclusion of every other people group but for the sake of every other people group. So, what God does in the history of Israel concerns all people. It serves an inclusive purpose.
The redemption of Israel declares that God is a God with a plan. Israel was just the beginning of God’s international rescue mission. Their crossing of the Red Sea represented the definitive redeeming act in the Old Testament. It was so significant that New Testament writers viewed it as a paradigm for understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At Jesus’s transfiguration, we’re told that He met with Moses and Elijah. Luke 9:31 says, “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” The word “departure” literally translates to “exodus.” Jesus would bring about the true exodus.
Jesus is the one Savior for all people everywhere. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He redeems people of every nation, tribe, and tongue from their bondage to sin, Satan, and death. True redemption means to cross over from death to life, from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom.
Refined to Shine
Moreover, after God redeemed Israel from Egypt, He then led them through the wilderness where they were tested and refined (Psalm 66:10). Through the trials and struggles of their journey, God brought them “out to abundance” (verse 12). The Apostle James writes, “Consider it a great joy . . . whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). God refines His people through trials and troubles so that they might shine more brightly for His glory.
So, how is God refining you through this current pandemic? What dross is He removing from your life? Whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, we are all walking through the same fire. In fact, the whole world is doing so. But not everyone will come out on the other side to abundance. Not everyone will be refined through this trial. Some will be ruined through all that is happening.
Warren Wiersbe was a pastor of a previous generation. He once said that realism is idealism that has been through the fire and got purified; cynicism is idealism that has been through the fire and got burned. Now whether you get burned or purified is not determined by the intensity of this present heat but by the malleability of your spirit.
God’s highest ambition, afterall, for our lives is not happiness but holiness. If happiness was His goal then His purpose would be threatened by COVID-19. But more important than our immediate happiness is our ultimate holiness. If holiness is His goal then His purpose for us can be fulfilled through COVID-19. You might even say that our holiness requires it. So rather than stubbornly insisting upon our immediate happiness let’s humbly move towards the holiness God desires to generate within us.
Let us be like the psalmist who resolves to worship and to witness. Once again, he invites readers to “come and listen, all who fear God, and I will tell of what he has done for me” (v. 16). God redeemed and refined Israel to get to the nations. Likewise, God redeems and refines us to get to the nations. May God use the current pandemic to refine all of His redeemed so that we might shine bright in the world for the sake of the world!