Psalm 115: The Cure For Idolatry In The Postmodern World (Part 3)

And YHWH said to Abram, “Go, you, from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you. Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will magnify your name, and you will be a blessing. Then I will bless your blessers, and those demeaning you I will curse. And all the families of the earth will be blessed in you.”1 (Genesis 12:1–3)

My wife and I have moved quite a lot in our adult lives. We have done local and cross-country moves. We have met a lot of wonderful people along the way. Recently we moved 750 miles back to my hometown to plant a church. I have realized when you move a lot you begin to feel the connection between people and place. They go together. To leave a place is also to leave the community you have found there. In the Bible, people and place go together too.

The covenant with Abraham gives us a paradigm to understand the promises of the Bible. In this final part of the series on Psalm 115, I hope we will see the psalm’s place in the story of God and his people. In the paradigm of Genesis 12 and elsewhere, we find a people, a place, and a destiny for God’s people. We will take a look at what the psalm has to say about each of these in turn.


God’s promise comes to people and it establishes a relationship between him and his people. Louis Berkhof summarizes this well: “The main promise of God, which includes all other promises is contained in the oft-repeated words, ‘I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee’ (Gen 17:7).”2 All the promises of the covenant of grace are contained within the promise that we have a relationship to God as his people. And counter to our modern sensibilities, this is not just for individuals, but for families. The promise to Abram to make him a great nation is a promise to make him and his seed after him into a people. This is present in Psalm 115.

Look at verse 2: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where now, is their God?’” Even the nations in their mocking unknowingly declare the truth. YHWH is Judah’s God. As the psalm unfolds, what begins as a taunt about God’s perceived absence becomes the source of the people’s confidence. In response, the psalmist asserts that “our God is in heaven” (v. 3) and “he will remember us” (v. 12). God is neither absent nor absent-minded toward his people.

The truth is that the God of heaven and earth is their God. Verse 14 reads, “May YHWH increase you all, you all and your sons.” Note this promise is extended to “your sons”—this is the covenant promise in action. God will increase his people and their children as he promised Abram. Far from absent and forgetful, our God remembers his people and their children. When people ask you about your God, this psalm models a response. Point them to the transcendent God who calls a people to himself and blesses them as he promised. Our God is in heaven and he remembers and blesses his people.

The psalmist invokes these covenant promises to assure God’s people with God’s Word and to respond to the critics. It is not hard to imagine being lost and without identity in the modern world. We often turn to chosen identities, and we speak of friends as “chosen family.” The psalmist reminds us that our most important identity is being a part of God’s people. We can be born into God’s people, like Christian children, or we can enter from outside as a convert. But that God calls and promises people, even today, to be their God and bless them, provides people with a sure identity. This psalm is a response to the critics and an assurance to the criticized ones of this world.


God’s covenant promises are not just to make a people of Abram, but also to give them a place. We often speak of this place as “the promised land.” God tells Abram to leave a land and to go to a land God will show him. People have bodies. A person, a family, a community—these are embodied realities. They must be somewhere. By forming a people, God ensures they will have a place.

This psalm comes to God’s people in a time when some had returned to their homeland, but many were still dispersed throughout the world. Those in the land remained subject to foreign empires. Those outside the land still lived like exiles. We get a glimpse into this opposition in Nehemiah 4:1–9, 6:19, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the promise that God will be their God is also an assurance that even as they are scattered among the nations they will gather still to hear his Word.

In recent times, people find chosen identities online, in groups based around affinity and interests. Such groups can be sought, or even curated by algorithm. But the church, the people of God, is an assembly. When people get together to form the community that is the church, this is an embodied gathering—it is somewhere. In this assembly is a foretaste of heaven on earth, as the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us.

For you all have not come to something touchable, and blazing with fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a windstorm, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers plead not to have messages spoken to them. . . . But you all have come to mount Zion and the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and the myriad of angels in festival, and to the assembly of the firstborn, enrolled in the heavens. (12:18–19, 22–23a)

God’s eternal place for us breaks in on the here and now in the assembly of the saints.

This psalm does not remove the embodiment of that promise. Multiple times throughout verses 10–12, the psalmist refers to the people as either “the house of Israel” or “the house of Aaron.” Let us pause to consider these phrases. A house is of course a place where people dwell. Moreover, metaphorically it is extended to dynasties, like the “house of David” or the “house of Omri.” In these instances, it refers to royal lineage. A royal line often occupies the same house or palace, a family dwelling across generations.

In this psalm, “the house of Aaron” refers of course to the priestly lineage who at times, and in their rotations, lived in the temple. The “house of Aaron” lived and served in God’s house, the temple.

God dwells in the heavens, but in the temple he meets with his people. This is of course a type, and Solomon himself says much the same in 1 Kings 8:27 and 30:

For truly, will God dwell on the Earth? Behold! Heavens and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house which I built. . . . Then you will hear the plea of your servant, and your people Israel which they pray to this place. And you, yourself will hear in the place of your dwelling, in heaven. May you heed and forgive.

The priests serve in a house where God has put his name and hears prayers. This is not a container, a home God can fit inside. Rather it is a place where God meets his people and places his name and a type of his presence among them.

The psalmist also reminds us that God has given all mankind a place on this earth. “The heavens are the heavens which belong to YHWH, and the Earth he gave to the sons of mankind” (v. 16).3 Man is given a dwelling place on Earth, but this is not forever in fallen creation. For “the dead do not say ‘hallelujah’ nor all those who descend to silence.” In stark contrast to this stand the words of our Savior, “Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the Earth” (Matt 5:5). Those who are gentle like the Savior will inherit the earth. Those like the Savior do not die but are given a place.


The psalmist is not this-worldly minded, but instead gives us glimpses of the future. First, the psalmist holds out two destinies. In part two of this series, we studied verse 8. It reads,

Those who make them will be like them,

All who trust in them.

Idolaters have a destiny of death. This is the first destiny we see. Verse 8 connects the inert nature of idol statues with the inert fate of the worshipers of idols. But this is not the only destiny in the psalm.

There is the fate of God’s people. While the dead, like those who worship idols, descend into silence, God’s people do not. Here, “silence” is a metaphor for and parallel to death. The place of God’s people after death is not the grave but a place of praise. This is the second destiny. The psalmist writes, “And we will bless Yah, from now on and forever, hallelujah” (v. 18). God’s blessing of his people is not just a temporal increase in numbers, nor even merely the eternal preservation of his church in this world. It is also a destiny of praise in the world to come.

God blesses his people with life with him. This is at least a part of the meaning of the priesthood of all believers. We are being prepared for the life of the world to come where we will dwell with God and serve him in his house like the house of Aaron, but better—this house will be eternal. At that time, we will be God’s people dwelling forever with God in the place prepared for us.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has ceased to be, and the sea was no longer. And the holy city, new Jerusalem I saw coming down out of heaven from God prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, “Behold! The tent of God is with mankind. And he will set up his tent with them, and they will be his people, and he will be with them. And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no longer, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain. The first things have ceased. And the one seated on the throne said, “Behold! I am making all things new.” And he said to me, “Inscribe it! For these words are faithful and true.” (Rev 21:1–5)


Throughout this series on Psalm 115 we have seen that the only God worth worshiping is a God unlike us (part one). We have seen how the object of our worship shapes what we are and who we are becoming (part two). And in this piece, we have seen that God is his people’s God, who provides for them a place both now and more importantly in the world to come, where our destiny is to be his people dwelling with him. Psalm 115 is a great comfort to us: it reminds us of the character of our God, our relationship to him, and his promises to us, and it assures us when people ask, “where is your God?”


  1. There is a difference here between “land” and “earth.” Though “land” (ᵓereṣ) is in many places translated “earth,” here it clearly refers to Abram’s “country.” Whereas here, “earth” is translated from ᵓǎdāmâ which generally refers to the soil—Adam was taken from the dust of the “ground” (ᵓǎdāmâ). Thus, there seems here to be an illusion to Adam and the table of nations of chapter 10. All translations are the author’s unless otherwise specified.
  2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 2:277.
  3. There may be a wordplay here. “Sons of mankind” are the “sons of Adam.”

©Luke Gossett. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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    Post authored by:

  • Luke Gossett
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    Rev. Luke Gossett (MA Westminster Seminary California, MA and PhD Candidate, Catholic University of America) is Associate Pastor at Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, DC, where he has been a member since 2017. The Council of Christ Reformed DC has begun the process of sending Luke back to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to plant a church in the URCNA. He dissertation focuses on the linguistic functions of the Hebrew word for “now.” Luke has been married to his wife, Jennifer, since 2014, and they have two wonderful children.

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