Theme: A Great Praise Psalm
In this week’s lessons, we learn that God’s grace has been shown to all, supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ, who out of his rejection became the capstone for all who come to him in faith.
Scripture: Psalm 118:1-26
Psalm 117 is so short that any number of commentators try to tack it on to Psalm 116, as an appendage, or join it to Psalm 118 as a prelude. It is neither, of course. Psalm 117 stands by itself as one of the great short psalms of the Psalter, in fact, the shortest. Nevertheless, it is a fit introduction to Psalm 118, for its major message—“great is his [God’s] love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever” (v. 2)—is what Psalm 118 elaborates at length.
When I was writing about Psalm 117 I mentioned that its second verse is based on the favorite text of the post-exilic Jewish community, Exodus 34:6, and that it was given prominence in Israel as early as David’s great praise psalm on the occasion of his bringing the Ark of God to Jerusalem (see 1 Chron. 16:34). David’s poetic expression of this idea seems to have become a well-known and often repeated refrain in Israel, for it is found in many other places. Psalm 118:1 repeats the words exactly:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;his love endures forever.
This theme is echoed in verses 2-4, and then it is repeated again at the psalm’s close, in verse 29. In Exodus 34:6 God is said to have passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
There are good reasons for thinking that this psalm was used for praise by the congregation of Israel on festive processional occasions. The repetitive language alone suggests this, as well as the progression of ideas from anguish (v. 5) to worship at God’s altar (v. 27). The psalm even contains the words “festal procession” (v. 27).
There is a description of such a scene in Jeremiah, which quotes Psalm 118:1 and may imply a singing of the entire hymn:
This is what the LORD says: “You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sound of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying,
‘Give thanks to the LORD Almighty,for the LORD is good;
his love endures forever.’
For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,” says the LORD (Jer. 33:10, 11).
In writing down this prophecy, Jeremiah must have been remembering festal processions and singing like that from past days.
Again, this psalm may have been used when the foundation of the temple was laid in the days of Ezra. Verse 22 mentions the foundation stone of the temple, and Ezra 3:10, 11 reads:
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:
“He is good;his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.”
Why is Psalm 117 a fit introduction to Psalm 118?
What are some reasons for thinking this psalm was used on festive processional occasions? How do the passages from Jeremiah and Ezra illustrate this?
Reflection: Do you take time to praise God not just for big blessings but for small ones?
For Further Study: To learn more about God’s love, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from Romans 8, “Enduring Love.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)