For many people, commitment and love are short-lived. Marriages are unhappy or they break apart. Leaders are unfaithful to those they serve. Parents don’t keep promises they made to their children.
The Lord’s committed love, on the contrary, is everlasting. If God has a relationship with a person, He doesn’t stop loving him or her. His commitment to their good is eternal. Psalm 118 emphasises this and tells us some of the implications of His everlasting love.
First, let’s get a little background on the psalm. In Leviticus, one type of offering was the fellowship offering (Leviticus 3; also called peace and communion offering). In a fellowship offering, the person making the animal sacrifice was given the majority of the meat in order to have a feast with family, relatives, friends, neighbours, and the poor.
The feast was a celebration of something about the Lord ― maybe God had responded when the worshiper made a vow (vow offering), or the Lord had blessed the offerer in some particular way (thanksgiving offering), or the worshipper wanted to praise the Lord for some general characteristic, such as the Lord as Creator, Redeemer, or Provider (free-will offering). The offering was to the Lord, with the diners in fellowship with Him, and with each other.
If God has a relationship with a person, He doesn’t stop loving him or her. His commitment to their good is eternal
In the Psalms, praises correspond to the three fellowship offerings: there were vows to praise the Lord; hymns that praised him as Creator, Provider, and Redeemer; and thanksgiving psalms.
Psalm 118 can be labelled as a thanksgiving psalm. It praises the Lord for a specific blessing and calls for others to join in the thanks. In vv. 1-4, he exhorts others to thank the Lord. In vv. 5-21, he tells them the reason for thanksgiving. And in vv. 22-27, the others join him in praise. Verses 28-29 conclude the psalm as it began: exhorting everyone to thank the Lord.
The psalmist begins by urging others to thank the Lord because he is good (v. 1). He then explains what goodness he is referring to: the everlasting love of God. The term for His love is translated in different ways across English versions. This is because it has a range of meanings broader than one English word. It involves love, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and faithfulness.
The psalmist summons particular groups to thank the Lord: all Israel, the priests, and those who fear God. Those who fear God were not confined to Israel, but included Gentiles too (cf. Psalm 117). He was inviting many to thank the Lord for His enduring, committed love.
If someone says they care about us or claims that we can depend on them, but then abandons us, their assurances are empty. If a pilot fails to appear for a flight, a doctor is absent for a scheduled visit, or a husband abandons his wife, they are unfaithful. God is not so.
Verses 5-13 outline why they should thank the Lord for His faithful love. First, in vv. 5-7, the psalmist says that, because God’s love is everlasting, God’s people will win in the end.
In v. 5, he speaks generally. He had been in distress, in a “tight spot”, under a lot of pressure. We know what it is to have tight finances or a tight schedule or otherwise be under great pressure. But when he called on the Lord for help, the Lord brought him — to be literal — into a “broad place.” He gained freedom from the pressure; he felt safe — and he was.
If someone says they care about us or claims that we can depend on them, but then abandons us, their assurances are empty. God is not so
His conclusion from this experience with the Lord was that he did not need to fear what people could do to him. People can do us a lot of harm, so v. 6 might seem unrealistic: “I will not fear; what can man do to me?” But v. 7 goes further and explains: the singer would look in triumph on those who hated him because he knew that, in the end, he would win (or, be successful) against those who opposed him. The Lord’s people win in the end, despite stressful situations.
Thanksgiving psalms often give instruction about the Lord, as in vv. 8-9., which show a second blessing of the Lord’s faithful love: God is trustworthy. He points out that it is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in humans ― even the powerful people in society.
Jacob had trusted his uncle Laban to arrange his marriage to Rachel, but Laban deceived him and gave him Leah instead. David rescued the Keilites from the Philistines and expected them to be loyal to him, but Yahweh warned him they would betray him to his enemy. King Ahaz trusted Assyria to save him from Israel and Aram, and they did — but then they overran his country. Hezekiah trusted Egypt to save Judah from Assyria, but Egypt took his payment and did not help. We ask doctors, lawyers, government officials, counsellors and others for help. But some people can’t or won’t do what they promise. Ultimately, our trust must be in the Lord.
In vv. 10-13, the singer goes into specifics about what the Lord did. This leads us to another blessing of the Lord’s faithful love: He gives victory against overwhelming obstacles.
‘All nations surrounded me.’ This appears to mean that he was in a military fight. Many scholars say it refers to nations politically opposed to Judah. Four times (in Hebrew, if not in translation) in vv. 10-12, he says he was surrounded. So he was against insurmountable opposition.
However, three times, he says he fought against them in the name of the Lord and defeated them completely. The Hebrew word for defeating them is unusual in this context, so translations vary in an effort to make it clearer. The fact that he says he defeated them thrice shows that his victory was decisive. At first, he appeared to be falling beyond help, but the Lord enabled him to turn the battle around completely.
Some people can’t or won’t do what they promise. Ultimately, our trust must be in the Lord
Because of these blessings from the Lord’s eternal faithful love, the writer would sing (vv. 14-21), and so can we: “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” Yahweh had given him the strength to win his battle; so he sang for joy. Although the psalmist had done the fighting, it was God who gave victory. An example of this is David attributing the victory to the Lord after confronting Goliath with a sling and cutting off his head with a sword (1 Samuel 17:45-51).
Although the writer had been in danger of dying, he lived and would go on to tell the people what the Lord had done (v. 17). In this, he says that the Lord had been disciplining him, teaching him something he seriously needed to learn (v. 18). Discipline usually involves some pain. Someone might ask why God would discipline him if he were fighting in the name of the Lord. I would suggest that the Lord does more than one thing in any experience we have.
Jacob was disciplined for his deceitfulness by being outmatched by a deceitful uncle (Genesis 29), but later learned that God had been taking care of him through it all (Genesis 48:15-16). Absalom’s revolution against David was part of David’s chastisement for adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12:11), but he learned that the Lord was protecting him even then (Psalm 3; notice the title). God’s discipline does not mean He hates us (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). Our troubles include His love.
The gates in vv. 19-20 are either the gates of Jerusalem or, more likely, the gates to the Temple. The singer was coming to thank the Lord in public and have a grand celebration — including a thanksgiving offering and feast. He shared his thanks with others.
The companion worshippers responded by quoting what was probably a proverb: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). Construction in Israel was mostly with stone. A stone the builders considered of little value might later prove useful for connecting two walls. In a similar way, the Lord would take a rejected person and use them for something important.
God’s discipline does not mean He hates us. Our troubles include His love
Joseph’s brothers hated and sold him into slavery, but he later saved their lives. Israel initially rejected Moses, but he led them out of slavery (Acts 7:35-36). David was not invited to the family feast with Samuel, but he became their king. God’s way was amazing to the worshippers (v. 23). Later, Jesus would be rejected and murdered, only to be exalted by God Himself (Acts 4:11; Matthew 28:18).
One benefit of giving God thanks in the presence of others is that they learn to trust the Lord too. In v. 25, the companion worshippers call on the Lord for help in their need. The use of one term in v. 27 is not entirely clear, but the verse speaks of the community joining in the thanksgiving offering. When we share our thanksgiving, others are encouraged in their faith.
Psalm 118 declares God’s committed love is everlasting. It also teaches us that we should share our thanks for His blessings: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
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