Categories
blog meditation

Meditation Psalm 118b

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures for ever.

Let Israel say:
    ‘His love endures for ever.’
Let the house of Aaron say:
    ‘His love endures for ever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    ‘His love endures for ever.’

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
    he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I look in triumph on my enemies.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defence;
    he has become my salvation.

Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
    The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!’
I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvellous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures for ever.

(Ps. 118:1-29 NIV)

Look at how the Psalm begins in v1 with a call to worship:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps. 118:1 NIV)

The call to worship sets the theme and establishes the agenda. ‘But Lord’, some may say or feel, ‘I don’t feel like giving thanks today, what about my feelings, what about my needs, my worries and the cares of so many families, illness, relationship issues, unemployment and loneliness?’ Surely a blanket and indiscriminate call to thanksgiving does not take account of the very real needs that different people experience. Just for once it would be great if the minister would be more sensitive to where people are and show some awareness of the very pressing needs of the moment. What about getting into the real world for once. We are all individuals. If you look at vs 2-4 you will find that God is calling the whole community without exception to thanksgiving. In short, verses 2-4 is saying ‘Listen ALL of you’:

Let Israel say: “His love endures for ever.” Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures for ever.” Let those who fear the LORD say: “His love endures for ever.”

(Ps. 118:2-4 NIV)

Let me paraphrase those verses for our day and this congregation: Let the house of Scott (that’s me and my family) say his love endures forever. Let the houses of the elders (that’s the elders and their families) say his love endures forever. Let those who fear the Lord (that’s everyone in the congregation) say his love endures forever. All without exception will join together as one, whatever our personal or private circumstances; the word of the Lord in the call to worship commands us to thank the Lord because His love endures forever.

Let me take a short aside here from the Psalm to say something in general about what liturgy does in worship. When I use the term liturgy I’m referring to things like the call to worship, the objective praise as we come singing into God’s presence, the prayer of invocation where we invoke the name of the Triune God, the confession of sin, the confession of faith, the assurance of pardon, the prayers of thanksgiving, illumination intercession and commitment, the reading and preaching of the word and by faith receiving the benediction from the Lord. Liturgy reminds us that we gather as a community. There is always a liturgy in worship, whether we use a prayer book, the Westminster Directory of Worship, the Psalms or the extemporary composition of the minister. Liturgy is not merely aesthetics, or just an order of service. In liturgy we do not take the initiative or set the agenda. Liturgy steals us out of our individualism and personal preoccupation and places us in a community gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In liturgy someone stands in front of us and says let us pray. We don’t start it; someone starts it and we fall into step, behind or alongside. Our personal reluctance, or cares, or worries, our personal tastes or preferences are no longer front and centre. It’s not, of course, that our feelings are unimportant. We will see plenty of emotion expressed in this Psalm. We don’t lose our emotions but lose the tyranny of our emotions that would want to shape and dictate what we as individuals might want to do. I am not the only child of God here, nor am I the favoured child of God here, but with all the children of God without exception this Psalm calls us to thanksgiving. Whether that is out of our joy, out of our worry, or out of our distress, we are called on this day to give thanks to God for He is good and his love endures forever.

When we sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual songs in worship it brings our prayers into rhythm and harmony with others in the congregation. Liturgy finds us taking our place praying in community. Liturgy pulls me out of prayer that is self-oriented and self-indulgent and integrates me through the word, through the songs and confessions, through the drama of the sacraments, into the community of worship. Liturgy pulls our prayers out of the tiresome business of looking after ourselves and into the exhilarating enterprise of seeing and participating in what God is doing. While I have had to spend some time over the past ten years studying liturgy, that hasn’t changed the fact that I often come as a reluctant worshipper, not always prepared, not always ready to join in community. But as I read this Psalm I find that God does not just leave me with the bare command to give thanks, but rather, in tender love towards His wayward, reluctant and slow of heart people, He persuades us why we should give thanks. There is a Psalm to sing to steal us out of our apathy, indifference and reluctance to draw us into worship, convincing us that we should join with all others and together give thanks. God knew that we would have days like this, and has provided a Psalm to guide us and encourage us into worship. My love for God, my readiness to give thanks, any overwhelming sense of gratitude is fleeting and fickle, but His love endures forever. The instability of my ups and downs, the flitting about of my desires and feelings, now blowing hot, now cold, stand in stark contrast to the love of God that endures for ever. Twenty-two times in this psalm the name Lord translates the Hebrew name for the covenant keeping God, the love that endures is the covenant love that will never let me go. There is a reason for you to give thanks because of who God is and because of what He is towards you. You are cocooned, encapsulated, engulfed by the covenant love of God, hemmed in and surrounded on every side by the enduring love of God lavished upon you. This love does not change like shifting shadows, but is steadfast, enduring always because God is love and His character and love endures forever. So God’s word sets the scene and establishes the mood, tone and themes of our worship. We all without exception are called to fall into line and thank God because of who God is and how He is toward us.

Now if the character of God fails to persuade us to engage in thanksgiving, then consider what God has done for us. The Psalmist covers this in v5-21. This goodness of God is seen particularly in His covenant love. Covenant love does not come and go like our devotion. God’s love in the covenant means that He commits Himself to love us while we are still His enemies. In covenant love God binds Himself that He will love us whatever it may cost Him to achieve our salvation. The Psalmist offers testimony to three examples of the goodness of God to persuade us to engage in thanksgiving in v 5-9. The covenant Lord offers His protection against those who hate His people. When others hate you, you feel restricted and confined. There is no liberty to speak, as you know that the worst possible meaning will be imposed on what you say. While this Psalm had its birth in the experience of the Psalmist, possibly David or one of the Davidic kings, ultimately the Psalm finds fulfilment in the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ. The religious leaders of Christ’s day listened to His every word, not that they wanted to learn, but rather they sought occasion to find fault and condemn Him. But God gave Christ great liberty and with inner freedom He spoke the truth and proclaimed the words of salvation. In union with Christ we too enjoy this liberty, and because the covenant Lord is for us, we need not fear the forces of evil and hatred:

The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.

(Ps. 118:7 NIV)

We need not be overly concerned on what mere mortals may do to us. The appropriate response to this declaration of the Lord’s protection is to echo the response of the worshipping congregation in v8-9:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

(Ps. 118:8-9 NIV)

Why should we trust in humans rather than God? God lives without the limits of our humanity.

The second testimony of God’s goodness is listed in v10-16. The covenant Lord is worthy of thanksgiving because He delivers us from a large coalition of enemies who set themselves against the Lord’s anointed. This Psalm was sung during the feast of Passover and the minds of God’s people would go back to the deliverance and salvation experienced during the Exodus from Egypt. This would have been the last song that Christ would have sung with his disciples as He celebrated the last authentic feast of Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The fulfilment of this exodus is the new exodus. This is our deliverance out of the slave market of sin, the declaration of our justification in Christ, the sanctifying new creation and adoption into the family of God. The response and celebration of this second example of deliverance is given in v14-16:

The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”

(Ps. 118:14-16 NIV)

The third example of the covenant Lord’s care is given in v17-25 where the Lord delivers from death. The Psalmist has been delivered from death, and as a result he resolves to enter the temple and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. That’s the example we are expected to follow. We have been delivered from eternal death and enjoy the blessings and benefits of salvation in Jesus Christ, therefore when we hear the call to worship we should respond by coming singing into His presence to offer God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. We see in this section that though the worshipper may be rejected by humanity, a bit like the chief corner stone that the builders rejected, they are nevertheless accepted by God. Jesus applied this verse directly to Himself. He was rejected as the Messiah. Christ the chief cornerstone. How perverse to imagine that we could construct anything without Christ. He is the linchpin of the whole kingdom of God. Through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, God’s plan of redemption has been accepted. The appropriate response is given in v23-25:

the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes. This LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success.

(Ps. 118:23-25 NIV)

God the Father accepted Christ’s work on the cross as sufficient offering for our sin. If you are in Christ, if Christ is your Saviour and Lord, then you are accepted by God in Christ. If you miss Christ, you miss out on salvation, you can’t bypass Christ and expect salvation, as He is the chief cornerstone. There is no salvation outside of Christ. Because we are in Christ, we have every reason to give thanks. I’ve only been able to give an overview of the contours of this Psalm. God calls us to worship, and He doesn’t stop us because of our reluctance or lack of preparedness to come, but graciously provides support and encouragement as He has us rehearse the reasons why we should respond with thanksgiving.

  1. God reveals that He is the faithful covenant Lord
  2. His covenant love towards us endures forever
  3. He delivers us from those who would restrict our gospel liberty
  4. He delivers us from the enemies of the kingdom of God
  5. He delivers us from death.

This is all fulfilled for us in Christ and in Christ we are accepted by God. So here I am, I have heard the call to worship, I come through the gates into the presence of God, I stand before the altar of His presence, persuaded by the overwhelming evidence of the goodness of God that I should give thanks. Standing in God’s presence what should I say? We’re not left without support or help. God provides us with what He commands of us. God gives us a liturgy of thanksgiving in v26-29:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps. 118:26-29 NIV)

The Psalm ends where it starts:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps. 118:29 NIV)

Irrespective of how we feel, whatever the assessment is of what we feel we need, we should give thanks. The Psalm calls us, even if we are tossed upon life’s storms, to count our many blessings and then it will surprise us what the Lord has done.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps. 118:29 NIV)

A 19th century hymnwriter captures the meaning

Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come! Jesus, I come!
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee!
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee!

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come! Jesus, I come!
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee!
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storm and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee!

Prayer
Lord God we praise and exalt Your glorious name because Your love endures forever. Above all people we have reason to praise You, but we often excuse ourselves from Your presence because we don’t feel like praising You. We thank You that You pursue us to bring us back to praise. Lord forgive our short-sightedness. We thank You that Your mercy extends to give us for unjustified reluctance. Thank You for all Your mercy in Jesus’ name. Amen.