“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).
This psalm has a long and favoured place in both Jewish and Christian spirituality and worship. In a trivia game, ask how many times it is used in the New Testament. To get you started: its used in each of the Palm Sunday narratives, its quoted as the point of parable; its used in Acts 4 and Ephesians 2.
For Christians it points towards both Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the donkey and His remarkable exit from the tomb on Easter morning. The Jews still recite it as part of the concluding thanksgiving in the Passover celebrations.
There are three strong themes that dominate this song. First, “God is on my side, I am not afraid.” One has to be careful here. We are not referring to opposing sports teams offering the same prayer or two armies both convinced God is on their side.
No. This psalmist recognizes that he is fighting for the Lord God. His struggle is not his own but the advancement of God’s business in this world. He is confident of victory not because God likes him or his cause, but because God’s work will succeed.
We so often misuse this psalm to claim that God is on our side. However, the psalmist can claim to defeat his enemies ‘in the name of the Lord’ because he is fighting God’s enemies. Paul picks up on this in his famous exposition on the armour of God in Ephesians 6.
Paul recognizes there that our battle is not against people but against spiritual powers. There is only one way to defeat them, with the spiritual weapons God has given us. The foremost being prayer.
A second theme is this: “I shall not die, but live and tell the deeds of the Lord God.” Once again, we are caught up short. We want to live because we want to live. But the psalmist remembers that our lives are not about our lives. Our lives are about God. He lives in order to tell the deeds of the Lord. The psalmist has become first of all an evangelist.
The third theme is this: ‘The Lord God has chastised me.’ In the struggles he has endured, he has learned much. Not so much skill but self-awareness. He has learned about his own pride and self-confidence. He has learned about his own anger and prejudice. The battles he has faced have humbled him. And he declares that this is a good thing.
These themes and more you will find in Psalm 118. Spend some time with it this week. Maybe read it every morning as a morning psalm. Can you see the hints of Jesus victory sung here? Where do you find yourself in these verses? Can this prayer really become yours?
Your Friend & God’s Friend,