blog meditation Psalms

Meditation Psalm 118

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)

Every year the Jewish people celebrate the festival of Passover. They remember their Exodus deliverance. As part of their celebration they sing Psalms 113-118. They recall how God saved them out of oppression and delivered them to a land where they had hope. The idea of Exodus has survived beyond the times of the Old Testament because Jesus Christ’s death is presented to us as the new Exodus. Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb, shed his blood to signify a violent death. His life was poured out unto death, and by that death his people have been sheltered from the wrath of God and have been given the hope of life in the new heavens and new earth. Of course to reinforce this we have this collection of Psalms that celebrate this Exodus deliverance. Martin Luther considered this Psalm his favourite. He said, “This is my own Psalm which I specially love. Though the entire Psalter and the Holy Scriptures are indeed very dear to me as my sole comfort and my very life, yet I have come to grips with this Psalm in a special sense, so that I feel free to call it my very own. For it has done me great service on many occasions and has stood by me in many a difficulty”.

I want us to consider the first five verses of this Psalm and go back in our thoughts to the original Exodus, and use that Exodus drama of deliverance to help us understand the special deliverance that Jesus Christ has brought us through his cross. To begin with, we see a people in a foreign land – Israelites living as slaves in Egypt, beaten, oppressed. The Children of Israel are exploited by the Egyptians. But as we look back at the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, we ask the question: ‘What moved God to bring about the deliverance?’ Was it the sound of the crack of the whip over the backs of the men who worked on Pharaoh’s building site? Was it the cry of the mothers as their baby boys were wrenched out of their arms and thrown in the River Nile? Was it the stench of the mass of the corrupting bodies of babies as they accumulated in the river? Was it the prayers that ascended to God? What moved the heart of God to take action? Quite clearly the text tells us that God did hear the prayers and the cries. But we are trying to get back to the trigger point to see what initiated the deliverance. Where did it all begin in God’s heart. And we have the answer in verse one of this Psalm.

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

NIV Psalm 118:1

The beginning is not a pity that God developed because he saw the suffering. But the very beginning was love (hesed). The origin of such love goes back into eternity when God determined in an unconditional decree that he would show love to a people that he would call his own. Did these people deserve deliverance? No, they did not. If you read the Joseph story in the book of Genesis, you see why the 12 brothers found themselves in Egypt. Yes, God had pity for them, it moved the heart of God that these people had to endure to hardship, but the Exodus was no ad hoc charitable initiative on God’s part. Deliverance was in the eternal plan of God which initiated in covenant love.

The same applies to the New Exodus in the cross of Christ. The trigger for sending Christ was not the oppression in the world. It was in the love of God that a plan of salvation was worked out. The coming of Christ was not some new initiative by God. It was part of the eternal initiative motivated by love, that when the time was right, God sent forth his Son to lead a new Exodus of people out of the oppression of sin into the new land of forgiveness, fellowship and fruitfulness of new born life in Christ.

Look at how the Psalm takes us back to that love that initiated deliverance.

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.”

NIV Psalm 118:1-4

The second thought that the psalmist points to, is that God is good. I can say that someone is good when they show me a kindness. When someone gives you a gift, says something nice, you can respond by saying about them, “Isn’t he good, isn’t she good”. But with God, God is presented here as good, God is presented as love before He gives. If God did not deliver, if God did not save, He is still good, He is still love. God did not get love and goodness awarded to him like a medal is awarded for an act of goodness or an act of love. God is good and God is love in his nature.

Have you ever thanked God for his love and goodness in sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross? In an act of love Christ died upon the cross, and as He hung upon the cross God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. Many people today never come to God to thank Him.

As candidates for salvation and people who would receive God’s love, we were undeserving, we were unworthy. We weren’t inherently worth the effort to rescue us. But God in his love determined that he would send His Son Jesus Christ to deliver us from our oppression. Now that the Psalmist understands what initiated the deliverance, he calls upon us to give thanks to the Lord, the name, for the Lord is Yahweh, the covenant God for He is good and his covenant love endures forever.

But let’s think about what the Exodus delivered the people from. They were slaves – they gave their energy and talent and effort to a cruel ruler. They had no freedom. Their bondage brought them misery.

When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD, and he brought me into a spacious place.

NIV Psalm 118:5

But what is the oppression that we live in, that Christ, in the new Exodus, has come to deliver us from?

It is popular today to think that poverty is the oppression that Christianity should work on. As socially responsible Christians, we should have a heart for the poor, no doubt about that. But that was not the poverty that Christ came to deal with. The problem is not the shortage of this world’s goods, it is the wealth of righteousness that we need. The oppression we live under is the oppression of sin. In a politically correct world, language has been dumbed down to try to take away the stigma of sin and guilt. We’re not curing anything by well-chosen words and soundbite empty platitudes. Sin is a cruel slave master. The happy and fulfilled way to live life is according to God’s law. We break God’s law and we live with the consequences. Sin brings guilt, hardship and misery into our lives. We glamorise the drug culture, the sex culture, we say that to live life this way is to live an emancipated life. Let us be free from traditional religious restraint. Let us sin without guilt. You can’t. You can rename adultery, you can try and take the stigma away from people living in sin and having sex outside of marriage by talking about partners. You can create a culture that accommodates the idea of a change of partner every so often, but the misery of children that are caught in the middle remains. Living in a way that breaks God’s commandments produces anguish. And however hard you try, you cannot escape the consequences of your sin. We need to be rescued, to be delivered. And God has come in Christ to deliver us from sin. In love God decreed that he would rescue a people from their anguish. He sent Jesus to earth to die on the cross, and their sin, their anguish was placed upon Christ. He took upon him what we were, he took our sins. God delivered us and he set us free. Christians are presented as a people who are restricted, legal, rule bound – we’re not, in Christ, we have been set free. Jesus came to set us free and we are free indeed. We have been freed from that slave master of sin. The Gospel doesn’t cover over sin, rather the message of the Gospel exposes the sin and the need, and Christ is offered as the only answer to sin. Think of sin as a debt, and every time you sin you get deeper into debt. The debt arouses the anger of God. If the debt is not paid you will be put in the debtors’ prison in the next life which the Bible calls Hell. But in this life in the Gospel you have heard about a plan to settle the debt. All that debt is paid for by Christ on the cross and by faith you come to God in prayer and accept by faith that the debt has been paid. Sin is a state of anguish, but Christ can take that anguish away and deliver us from the oppression of sin. Why not thank God tonight for such great salvation and take by faith what God offers in the Gospel.

Father, we thank You that the New Exodus in Christ was initiated because of Your covenant love. We rejoice that Your love endures forever. You will never take Your love from us. Lord we thank You for the security that we enjoy in Christ. Thank You for salvation in Jesus’ name. Amen.