Theme: Psalm 118 in History
In this week’s lessons, we see that this psalm reminds us of the need to trust and praise God always.
Scripture: Psalm 118:6, 8, 9, 17, 27-29
We already completed one study of Psalm 118 last week, but we need to do another. And no wonder. Psalm 118 is a great psalm, telling us not only about Jesus Christ and his work of redemption, but also about ourselves and of our need to trust God and praise him in all circumstances.
Psalm 118 was the favorite psalm of Martin Luther. In the preface to his sixty-page exposition of the psalm, dedicating the work to Fredrich, Abbot of Saint Giles of Nuremberg, Luther wrote:
This is my own beloved psalm. Although the entire Psalter and all of Holy Scripture are dear to me as my only comfort and source of life, I fell in love with this psalm especially. Therefore I call it my own. When emperors and kings, the wise and the learned, and even saints could not aid me, this psalm proved a friend and helped me out of many great troubles. As a result, it is dearer to me than all the wealth, honor, and power of the pope, the Turk, and the emperor. I would be most unwilling to trade this psalm for all of it.1
One way of appreciating Psalm 118 is to realize how much it meant to the Protestant martyrs. Rowland E. Prothero tells about some of them in his study The Psalms in Human Life.2 One was Louis Rang, a Huguenot pastor who was captured and condemned to die in Grenoble in 1745. He was offered life if he would renounce his faith, but he rejected the offer and was led to the scaffold singing a French versification of verse 24, which might be roughly translated,
Here now is the happy dayFor which we have been waiting.Sing praise to God who gives us joyAnd pleasures unabating.3
A few weeks after the martyrdom of Louis Rang, another Huguenot pastor, Jacque Roger, likewise strengthened himself with this verse. He was seventy years old and had escaped his enemies for nearly forty years, often by only a hairsbreadth. When the king’s soldiers finally tracked him down and asked who he was, Roger replied, “I am he whom you have sought for thirty-nine years. It is time you should find me.” Roger spent his last days in prison encouraging other Protestant prisoners to remain true to the faith, and when the officers came to escort him to his place of execution, Roger quoted the same verse Louis Rang had sung just weeks before.4
The last of the Huguenot martyrs in France was Francois Rochette, who died seventeen years after this, in 1762. He was seized in a time of civil turmoil in Toulouse. As with the others, Rochette, too, was offered life if he would renounce his Protestant faith. He also refused. As he was led through the crowded streets, thronged with spectators, he encouraged the faithful to the very end and mounted the scaffold chanting, “Here now is the happy day for which we have been waiting.” Prothero says, “It was fitting that the last words of the last Protestant martyr should be taken from that Book of Psalms which, through two centuries of conflict and persecution, had meant so much to the Huguenots.”5
1Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Daniel E. Poellot (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), p. 45.
2Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904).
3Prothero gives the French versification in The Psalms in Human Life, p. 225:
La voici l’heureuse journeeQui respond a notre desir;Louons Dieu, qui nous l’a donnee;Faisons en tout notre plaisir.
4Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, p. 226.
5Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, p. 228. Rochette’s story is on pp. 226-228.
For what reason(s) was Psalm 118 a favorite of Martin Luther?
How did the Huguenots use it? What does that reveal about their Christian experience?
Application: Do you have a special passage that gives you great comfort? How do the examples of the martyrs encourage you?
Prayer: Ask God to give you courage to stand fast in your faith when you go through trials.
Key Point: Psalm 118 is a great psalm, telling us not only about Jesus Christ and his work of redemption, but also about ourselves and of our need to trust God and praise him in all circumstances.