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The word “great” gets thrown around so loosely it loses much of its impact. Phrases like “Wow, that was a great pizza,” or “That was a great game,” or “Grandma makes great cornbread” all communicate something better than average. But just how great can a pizza, a ballgame or a piece of cornbread be? Where is the sense of scale?
The word “great” is used 962 times in the 1611 KJV. The word calls attention to the magnitude, the importance, of a person or thing. If we read these usages of “great” in watered down, modern parlance, we do ourselves a great disservice. Consider 1 Chronicles 16:25; “For GREAT is the LORD, and greatly to be PRAISED: he also is to be FEARED above all gods.” When scripture establishes a cause-effect relationship between God’s greatness and our praise, our reverential awe of him, it requires us to envision something better than cornbread and pizza.
In the opening chapter of scripture, God gave us a ‘sense of scale’ when he talks about ‘great’ things. In terms of creation, he made “two great lights” (1:16) on the fourth day and “great whales” (1:21) on the fifth day. There’s no need to wax encyclopedic about these astronomically massive bodies, brought into existence, held in place by a single word from God. They truly give ‘great’ a sense of scale relative to his PERSON and our PRAISE. And as science has discovered since, there are numerous heavenly bodies ‘greater’ in magnitude than these. The sun is a mix of hydrogen (70%), helium (28%) and other trace gases. It’s big enough to house 1,300,000 earths. Scientists estimate it has the ‘stuff’ to burn for another 4-6 million years.What I find most amazing about the moon is the fact the time it takes to ROTATE on its own axis is precisely the same time it takes to REVOLVE around the earth. This precision is the reason men have viewed the SAME side of the moon for thousands of years.
The blue whale is the largest animal on earth, growing to a length of 100 feet and weighing up to 300,000 pounds. In a single creative word, God fashioned these ‘great’ creatures to frolic in the open seas. If one requires a sense of scale for greatness, take your pick.
We find the third usage of “great” in Genesis 6:5: “And GOD saw that the WICKEDNESS of man was GREAT in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” With the sense of scale we derive from Genesis 1, how GREAT the magnitude of that wickedness must have been in the sight of God! It was of such magnitude that the LORD God decided to obliterate the entire human race except for eight souls, and start over.
The Psalmist used the word “great” so often probably because he could find no more suitable word to sum up things divine: “O LORD, HOW GREAT are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep” (92:5). And again: “For the LORD is a GREAT God, and a GREAT King above all gods” (95:3). In Psalm 145:3, he triples down: “GREAT [adjective] is the LORD, and GREATLY [adverb] to be praised; and his GREATNESS [noun] is unsearchable.” The greatness of God far exceeds the ability of language and its parts of speech to express it. The LORD God is just flat-out GREAT!
Carry that same sense of scale into
the book of Hebrews, where we find “SO GREAT salvation” (2:3), the
believer’s “GREAT high priest” (4:14) and the Lord Jesus as the “GREAT
Shepherd of the sheep” (13:20). Fast forward to Revelation 20:11: “And
I saw a GREAT white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the
earth and the heaven fled away.” The greatness of this White Throne
lies NOT in its literal size, but in the magnitude of the ultimate
authority possessed by the One who sits there to judge.
We close this brief discussion of greatness with a contrast between the words of the Psalmist and those of the Lord Jesus. The Psalmist declared: “Oh HOW GREAT is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee” (31:19); and “O LORD, HOW GREAT are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep” (92:5). The Lord Jesus warned: “But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, HOW GREAT is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).
The Psalmist affirmed in 145:3 that the Lord is great, greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. The number one goal for EVERY man ought to be to ensure that in this life he or she ends up on the right side of that greatness!