Theme: A Psalm of Prayer, Deliverance, and Thanksgiving
In this week’s lessons, we see how we are to approach God when we are in need, and what our response ought to be to his help.
Scripture: Psalm 116:1-19
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.
Henry F. Lyte expressed this as a prayer in the well-known hymn “Abide with me,” written in 1847.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
The fact that this obviously individual psalm is part of the Egyptian Hallel is a bit puzzling at first. But it may be a way of saying that the deliverance of the nation has parallels in God’s deliverance of individuals, and therefore individuals as well as the people as a whole should praise God. You should praise him, and so should I. It is worth noting that “I,” “me” or “my” occurs in every verse of the psalm but two (vv. 5, 19). “I” occurs eighteen times, “my” nine times, and “me” seven times (NIV).
The Septuagint and Vulgate treat this as two separate psalms, the first being verses 1-9, the second verses 10-19.1 The verses belong together, but the fact that they have been divided points to an easy two-part division of the psalm. In the first part the writer tells what God has done for him. In the second part he tells what he will do as a response. But this may be a bit too easy. Themes found in either part one or two are also found in the other part, and there are conclusions about the character and ways of God which are scattered throughout and draw the psalm together.
1Some Hebrew manuscripts make a similar break after verse 11.
What is Psalm 116 about? What inspired the psalmist to write this psalm?
What statements are repeated throughout this psalm? Why?
Explain the significance of the repetition of the pronouns I, me, and my. What does this teach us about how God sees us?
Identify the two parts to this psalm.
Key Point: God cares for those who are helpless.
For Further Study: One of the great themes that occurs in the Psalms is the compassion and care God bestows on the helpless who cry out to him. James Boice’s series from the Psalms carefully guides you through each of the 150 psalms, with thoughtful explanation of the text and helpful application. Order your copy of this three-volume set and take 25% off the regular price.