A Thanksgiving Song: Psalm 118

Published November 22, 2012 by Andrew Lindsey in Bible study
Yesterday, my Dad posted Psalm 118 to his Facebook wall. I assume he was thinking in reference to the Thanksgiving holiday when he did so. This is the perfect Psalm to reflect upon on Thanksgiving Day.

The text of Psalm 118 is as follows [from the NIV 1984]:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    “His love endures forever.”
In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
    and he answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
11 They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
12 They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16     The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the capstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Lord, save us;
    Lord, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
A few of notes re: this Psalm:

I love how this Psalm is bracketed by thanksgiving to God. The Psalm begins and ends with the same words of thanksgiving (vv. 1, 29). In the middle of the Psalm, there is the repetition of thanksgiving concerning "The LORD's right hand" (vv. 15-16). There are several other modes of expression in the Psalm, such as supplication (v. 25), or a poetic recounting of historical events (vv. 10-12), but these are all within a Psalm of thanksgiving. This reminds us, that however we address God and others, our lives must be characterized by constant thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:18).

But this thanksgiving is not just an individual action. The psalmist is calling upon his hearers/readers to thank God with him. This is a reminder that we are to be concerned with bearing witness concerning the goodness of the LORD, that all nations would praise Him.

And why does the psalmist give thanks to God? First and foremost, because of Who He Is. God is good; He is the one with an ever-enduring love. I fear that many of us-- even if we do mention the things we are thankful for on Thanksgiving Day-- tend to focus overmuch on the things rather than the Giver of those things.

The psalmist does not give thanks to God on the basis of God giving him a charmed, trouble-free life. The psalmist does not feel that he must pretend that his life is trouble-free. Instead, the psalmist writes: "In my anguish I cried to the LORD" (v. 5). On Thanksgiving Day, many are feeling anguish: especially those who are separated from loved ones due to death or distance. It is a comfort that we can still cry out to the LORD in our anguish, and that-- by faith-- we can be assured of His help.

The psalmist points to the gospel in his praise. The psalmist writes of the righteous man, who is rejected by unjust authorities, and who is vindicated by God (vv. 22-23). The Apostle Peter interprets this image of a rejected then exalted "stone" as fulfilled by Christ (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7), who was put to death by the religious and governmental authorities of His day, but who rose again, showing that He had conquered sin, death, and Hell on behalf of all who believe in Him.

There are many other points that could be made about this Psalm. Contemporary songs have been written, which draw upon its various verses. But allow me to leave you with this: on this Thanksgiving, it is good to meditate upon the Word of the LORD and truly give Him praise.

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