“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name”
It is not beyond me to understand what David the poet is demanding here—and it is so forceful a demand that he makes it three times in two verses: “Ascribe. . .ascribe. . . ascribe!”
What he’s insisting is that mighty ones in particular (but all of us, methinks) lay their (and our) greatest accomplishments at the throne of the One who made those accomplishments possible. Give him the credit, the glory for what he has done, and nevermind yourselves.
The sacrifice he’s demanding is far easier to understand than it is to accomplish, of course. Theoretically, who could argue with the rightness of what David is demanding? Practically, however, I’d just as soon take credit for whatever successes I achieve.
I know what he’s telling us all to do. I really do.
But the second half of this verse offers a whole new style of monkey-wrench: give God almighty the glory that is due him, David says, the glory that he deserves. Pardon the pun, but, really, how on earth can I do that? How can I give him what he’s deserves, when he will be eternally due so very much more than I can ever give? Seems to me that when it comes to the creator and sustainer of the universe, there’s no gift I could bring that can fulfill what David considers to be my obligation.
Scratch it up to poetic license. In the heat of creative energy, his soul overflowing with his own thanks, David scratches out a line that makes sense in terms of his emotion, even if, rationally, what he demands goes far beyond his and our abilities. There’s simply no way I can give God what he deserves.
Okay, but if he’s asking the impossible, given the paucity of my offerings, do I simply take myself out of the line up? That’s nonsense, of course. Even though I can’t give what David demands—and neither could he—I certainly need to hear the prophetic command he gives us three times in two verses. I need to ascribe Him glory.
“What shall I render to the Lord?” is a question that echoes out of another song, Psalm 116. Some of us can’t really utter that line without hearing it set to music in an old hymn. I can’t. “How shall my soul, by grace restored,” the next line asks, “give worthy thanks, O Lord, to Thee?”
It is a vexing question, or so it seems to me. How can I repay him for the life he’s given me?
Benjamin F. Baker—I know nothing more of him than his name—wrote that hymn, and the answer he offers, and the answer of Psalm 116, is, at least to me, no startling revelation: “With thankful heart I offer now/My gift, and call upon God’s Name;/Before his saints I pay my vow/And here my gratitude proclaim.”
What he wants is our deepest thanks. What he wants is our gratitude. That’s all we’re due to give him, really—lifelong gratefulness, for his deliverance, certainly, and for love to shown to us in mountaintop experiences and everyday forgetfulness.
By way of Adam and Eve we chose to honor ourselves more than our Creator. It is a mark of our fallenness—mine certainly—that giving the Lord our best is as tough as it is. That may well be why David says it three times in the first two verses of Psalm 29.