“Ascribe” is not a word we hear much in day-to-day life. It doesn’t come up much in the news feeds and I don’t hear it very often in conversations.
You might remember it from some worship songs back in the 80s: “Ascribe greatness to our God the rock…” Haven’t heard that one in a while.
It is not even a New Testament word. But it does occur a few times in our Old Testament.
It is an important word.
If we recognised a quotation or a painting as being said or created by a particular person, we would ascribe it to that person. It came from her and her alone. If a person’s illness can only be explained by what is seen in the brain scans, a doctor might say his condition was ascribed to the aneurysm.
When we ascribe something to something or someone, we say it comes from them.
When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, Asaph and a team of musicians were appointed to give praise to the Lord in song. Partway through, they worshipped with these words:
“Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord, glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.” (1 Chron 16: 28 – 29)
Bible Concordances tell us that in some circumstances the Hebrew word for ascribe means to “give”. So, we might read the beginning of v 29 as “give to the Lord the glory due his name”. The KJV translates it that way.
I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but it strikes me that I cannot give to the Lord the glory that is due to his name. I don’t have the capacity to create praise and worship in myself alone that would be a worthy offering. I am too small. I can sing and give thanks to Him with all my soul, but it would never be enough to express his greatness.
But I can say, with all confidence, that He exudes greatness. That glory, true glory, the staggering weight of His importance in the universe, unmatched by any other, emanates from Him. If we want to see what Glory looks like then gaze no further than His dazzling splendour, as much as He will allow us to see. We cannot add to it, but we can stand amazed at what comes from Him.
People talk about the glory of a nation or the glory of winning a championship. But when we ascribe glory to the Lord, we are saying that He defines the word. Any understanding of what it is for some thing or some one to be glorious can only begin as we seek the source of glory.
Our Lord sets the bar for what true glory is (and perhaps keeps us humble when we try to use the word to describe people or human achievements).
So, here’s what I think: When we ascribe glory to the Lord, we are doing more than simply giving Him glory in our praise and worship. We are reminding ourselves, and declaring – with wonder – to Him, who He is and where all beauty and splendour, goodness and greatness comes from.
Then we can worship and give Him our love and praise with full and grateful hearts. We can “bring an offering and come before him”. We can “Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.”