Who Owns Greatness?
By Fred G. Zaspel –
After King David and the people of Israel had given generously toward the coming Temple which Solomon would build, David paused for worship. His prayer is famous for its exalted praise:
Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:10-14).
The gist of David’s praise is clear enough — God rules over all in greatness, power, glory, victory, and unrivaled majesty. But notice that David’s thinking goes much deeper than just that. He does not say that God is great. He says that greatness belongs to God. He does not say that God is majestic. He says that majesty belongs to God. “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power,” and so on. It is one thing to say that God is great, but it is quite another step to acknowledge that greatness itself — all greatness — is his. That is to say, whatever greatness we see in this world is a borrowed greatness, on loan from God. Whatever power there is, it is a power that comes from God. It is all his. And whatever measure of greatness we have — physical, moral, political, societal, financial — we have it because God has condescended to share it with us. “Both riches and honor come from you,” David says, because it is all his to begin with.
So then, God “rules over all” simply because all the greatness that is necessary for ruling belongs to him. Others have greatness, to be sure. But because all greatness is his, no one could ever have manipulated power away from him. And if all greatness is his, he is free to share it with others — or not! — as it pleases him. “In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. . . . All things come from you.” We call this divine sovereignty.
But David is not done. His praise penetrates more deeply. In his prayer David reasons his way to the ultimate ground of God’s sovereign rule. How is it that all greatness belongs to God? David answers: all greatness is his, “because all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.” Everything that is, belongs to God. Why? Because he made it! This is a frequent theme in Scripture — because God is creator of all that is, he is free to do with it as he pleases. It is all his.
This, in turn, has direct bearing on this occasion of David’s worship. He and the people of Israel had given generously to God for the building of his Temple. But what they gave was already his! Indeed, if all greatness comes from God, then their very willingness to give came from him also: “And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?”
We need to learn this well. It is a massively humbling truth: the more we do for God the more we are indebted to God for the honor of it. I can take no credit for any measure of greatness or goodness I may possess, for it is all a gift from God. “All things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” For every good deed, for every act of worship, we are indebted to God for the privilege of it.
Having recognized all this David takes the inevitable next step of worship. He prays that God will continue to show this favor to his people, and keep their hearts for himself.
O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision (vv. 18-19).
David does not imagine that our faith or faithfulness stems from anything in us. Ultimately it is His gift. All greatness and goodness belongs to God, and so David prays accordingly. If faith and goodness are needed, we must look to God for it.
And so finally David calls on all the people to join him in praise.
Then David said to all the assembly, “Bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and paid homage to the Lord and to the king (v. 20; cf. vv. 21ff).
Surely, if we recognize that God possesses all greatness, then we must worship him for it. Many of us have said that it was only in learning the truth of God’s sovereignty that we truly learned to worship. It seems King David would concur.
Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.