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Nov 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 10, 2019


Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel now say,
“for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Psalm 118:1-4

Intro: My grandchildren have invented a birthday tradition

It began when Calum announced:
“It’s my birthday and you have to do whatever I say all day”
– then Adrianna told me, “Grandpa, you have to get me something”
• I argued, “But you’re birthday was yesterday”
◦ but she explained, “This is my birthday week
◦ of course, then Addison had to have a birthday month
• you can see where this is going
– though I refuse to extend birthday privileges to an entire month,
• I see no problem in making November “Thanksgiving Month”
• so my talk today and next two weeks will be on giving thanks

Psalm 118 opens with a chorus that has a long history

We first hear it immediately following a big event
– the day King David brought the ark of the covenant into his city
• the ark was the heartbeat of Israel’s religion and relationship with God
• David wanted to place it at the geographical center of nation
– he invited all Israel to participate in the procession
• we are told that afterward, David
appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. [some] were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound cymbals, and [others] were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers (1 Chr. 16:4-7)
• David also composed a song for his worship leaders
◦ and the last stanza of the song was,
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever
(1 Chr. 16:34)
◦ this became a “liturgy of the ark”; so to speak (1 Chr. 16:41)

This chorus represented Israel’s life of worship before God
– so later on, during spiritual revival or preparing for battle,
• these were the lyrics of their prayer (cf. 2 Chr. 20:21)
• hundreds of years later, when Jeremiah prophesied Israel’s return from exile,
◦ he predicted they would once again know joy and gladness
◦ they would come to the temple with thank offerings, singing,
Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
(Jer. 33:11)

Psalm 118 is not only another song with this chorus – it is a script

It outlines an event of music and movement
– parts were written for three groups of people
• this is laid out in the introduction:
Israel–i.e., the people who were present; the worshipers
the house of Aaron–i.e., the priests
those who fear the LORD–everyone else who was present for worship
– by the way, I’m not happy with translation, “steadfast love”
• like many words in biblical Hebrew, hesed has multiple meanings
◦ it is a loving benevolence, it is to treat someone with kindness
◦ in KJV hesed is frequently translated mercy and loving-kindness
• think of all the ways God expresses his goodness toward us
hesed is behind God’s every act of love, mercy, and grace

Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
Psalm 118:5

Perhaps this verse was sung by a soloist
– still it is the collective voice of the people
• it summarizes their story
• this is typical of the Psalms of Thanksgiving
Walter Brueggemann explains a Psalm of Thanksgiving this way:
“. . . these psalms tell stories of going into the trouble and coming out of the trouble.” “The speaker is now on the other side of a lament or complaint.”

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The LORD is on my side: I will not fear.
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me
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.
Psalm 118:6-9

Here we learn what Israel has gained from their experience
– a firm confidence in God
– a clear lesson regarding who they can trust

All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
they went out like a fire among thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
Psalm 118:10-13

These verses sing the story of what had happened
Artur Weiser, in his commentary on the Psalms, notes the poet’s use of metaphor and “exaggerated word-pictures which on the one hand describe the threat from which there was, humanly speaking, no escape, but on the other hand bring into prominence against this very background the greatness of divine deliverance.” (emphasis added)

The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
Psalm 118:14-16

Here God’s help is celebrated
– first, what God has become to them
– then, what God has done for them

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Psalm 118:17-18

At this point, a confession is made
– although severely disciplined, even here God is merciful
Artur Weiser, “His life has been granted to him anew and filled with a new meaning.”

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:19-24

We can imagine the procession singing this as the approach the temple
– they call to the gatekeepers stationed at entrance
• they have come to the temple where they will give thanks
• in response, the gatekeepers sing,
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it
◦ the people can enter if they meet the criterion
◦ having entered the temple, they do what they came for (v. 21)
– the “stone” may stand for the entire temple
Robert Alter, “The speaker, having entered the temple gates and now standing within the courts of the resplendent building, compares himself in his former abject state to a stone at first considered unfit by the builders but then made the chief cornerstone of a grand edifice.”
• in the New Testament, Jesus is the cornerstone
• at first rejected by men, but ultimately honored by God (Mt. 21:33-42)

Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
Psalm 118:25-27

The prayer of the people
– their request for salvation
– their joy in anticipating the arrival of their savior

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:28-29

A vow of praise and thanksgiving
– they commit themselves to ongoing thanksgiving
– then brings the song comes full circle and ends where it began

Have you noticed how gratitude has been promoted in recent years?

By emphasizing it’s health benefits
– we are better off physical, mental, and in relationships if we give thanks
• it has even been said that being grateful increases our productivity
(as if we’re not going to say Thank you unless there’s something in it for us)
• the Bible provides us with another motive
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High
(Ps. 92:1)
• giving thanks to God carries its own good within it
– it’s one of the ways we enjoy what God’s does for us
• when we realize circumstances did not have to go this way
◦ they could have turned out worse–very much worse
• but we have to let ourselves feel gratitude long enough for it:
◦ stir up in us the full energy of its joy
◦ to sink in and affect our mood
Ann Voskamp, “Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it.” “It’s ridiculous how much joy a moment can hold.”

Giving thanks opens our eyes
David Steindl-Rast, says it is a way to wake ourselves up
“As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it.”
Ann Voskamp, “In naming that which is right before me, that which I’d otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible.”
– thanksgiving is one half of the rhythm of our relationships
• we receive something and we give something
◦ we cannot always be doing only one or the other
• we receive grace and we give thanks

Conclusion: If we learn anything from the Psalms,

We learn that always returning to God to give thanks changes us
– it takes us from despair to hope, from mourning to dancing
– so here’s my recommend:
• every day until Thanksgiving Day,
◦ focus on one thing for which you are thankful
◦ write it down
◦ pause to feel it
◦ then pray it
• avoid generalities — be specific

For example, I thank God for:
• “Books that bring God near, and make this seem like the most natural thing”
• “What breathing can tell us about our current mood”
• “Sleep that lasts all night”
• “Learning to let go of heartache and despair through prayer”

If you can’t think of anything in particular,
– you can always fall back on this:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

We really can learn to sink into this truth
and find that it is enough to satisfy us
When we do this,
our gratitude increases
and we find ourselves not only content
but happy over even the little things
“Wow! I have Jesus AND enough to eat”
or “make my car payment”
or “have a butterfly land nearby”
because gratitude opens the faucet of joy

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