The following meditation comes from my devotional lingering over Psalm 96:7. All the modern versions translate it, “Ascribe to the Lord...strength” (ESV, NIV, NASB). Only the KJV renders it with the literal, “Give unto the Lord...strength.”
There’s nothing unusual about this Hebrew word “give” (yahab). It’s used over sixty times in the Old Testament in all the ordinary ways the word give is used.
The word ascribe in Psalm 96:7 is an interpretation. It’s a paraphrase. It’s a good interpretation, I think, but, as with all paraphrases, it short circuits our reflection. But for me, full-circuited reflection is where my soul gets its best food. So I am glad I spent the summer of 1969 with William LaSor learning Hebrew.
I start with the obvious. God is infinitely strong and cannot get stronger by my service. “He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). So giving God strength stands for something different than adding to his strength.
Here’s what I think would be some of what’s included in a full experience of what the psalmist calls for when he says, “Give unto the Lord...strength.”
First, by God’s grace, we give attention to God and see that he is strong. We give heed to his strength. Then we give our approval to the greatness of his strength. We give due regard to its worth.
We find his strength to be wonderful. But what makes this wonder a “giving” kind of wonder is that we are especially glad that the greatness of the strength is his and not ours. We feel a profound fitness in the fact that he is infinitely strong and not us. We love the fact that this is so. We do not envy God for his strength. We are not covetous of his power. We are full of joy that all strength is his.
Everything in us rejoices to go out to behold this power, as if we had arrived at the celebration of the victory of a distance runner who had beaten us in the race, and we found our greatest joy in admiring his strength, rather than resenting our loss.
We find the deepest meaning in life when our hearts freely go out to admire God’s power, rather than turning inward to boast in our own—or even think about our own. We discover something overwhelming: It is profoundly satisfying not to be God, but to give up all thoughts or desires to be God.
In our giving heed to God’s power there rises up in us a realization that God created the universe for this: So that we could have the supremely satisfying experience of not being God, but admiring the Godness of God—the strength of God. There settles over us a peaceful realization that admiration of the infinite is the final end of all things.
We tremble at the slightest temptation to claim any power as coming from us. God has made us weak to protect us from this: “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
O what love this is, that God would protect us from replacing the everlasting heights of admiring his power with the futile attempt to boast in our own.
God have mercy on me. Protect me from the suicidal desires for power. Awaken in me daily, and ever more deeply, the lowly will to give the gladdest and greatest assessment to your immeasurable strength. Forbid that I would sell the endless satisfaction of admiration for the mirage my own strength.
In this sense, Lord, I give you strength. In this sense, I join the twenty-four elders in heaven and say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive . . . power” (Revelation 4:11). Amen.