Psalm 116 is a hymn by an individual celebrating God's deliverance from a sickness so severe he thought he was going to die. But more than that, it is a poem about prayer and thanksgiving. It begins by stating the writer's love for God because God heard his cry for mercy. This means that he prayed or "called” on God and God heard him. Because of this, he says, “I will call on him as long as I live” (v. 2). The two statements, “I called” and “I will call," are repeated throughout the psalm, being found in verses 2, 4, 13 and 17. They teach that God cares for those who are helpless, that he hears their prayers and saves them when they cannot save themselves. 

So what should our response to God be? Since God is all-powerful, unlike the idols who can do nothing, we should trust him. But further, what should our response be to the one who is good to us and who is faithful to bless us—small and great alike? The last stanza of Psalm 115 suggests two additional answers: first, we should be faithful stewards of all God has given us; and second, we should praise him constantly. 

What happens if we do trust the Lord? Will we be disappointed? Those who trust in their idols or false gods will be disappointed, because the idols are nothing and can do nothing. The worshiper will get nothing from them. But those who trust God will never be disappointed, because he is the living, true, kind and compassionate God who delights to do good to those who seek, trust in and obey him. 

As we concluded in yesterday's study, any representation of God by anything material merely debases God and misleads the worshiper. This is why the second commandment is so strong. It says, 

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (Exod. 20:4-6).

The first major section of the psalm, after the thematic statement of verse 1, is the polemic against idols found in verses 3-8. It is the first polemic against idols in the Psalter, though there was one brief reference to idols in Psalm 96:5. This is somewhat surprising when we think about it, but it may indicate that Psalm 115 was written after the Jews' return from the Babylonian Captivity, where they would have been able to witness the idol worship of the Babylonians first-hand. These verses are highly sarcastic and profoundly mocking, much like several well-known passages in Isaiah (see 44:6-20 or 46:5-7; similarly Deuteronomy 4:28; 28:36; Habakkuk 2:18; Isaiah 41:21-24; Jeremiah 2:8 and 16:19).