Theme: Praising God Always
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
When we were studying Psalm 115, I noted that the last two verses of that psalm say rightly that it is not the dead who praise the Lord but the living:
It is not the dead who praise the LORD,those who go down to silence;It is we who extol the LORD,both now and forevermore (vv. 17, 18).
That is a fairly obvious observation. Dead people do not speak. Only the living can praise God. But it raises an important question, namely, do we praise God? Or are we as silent as those who have died and been buried? If we have been saved from our sin and kept alive by God, rather than being taken to heaven, it is that we might do exactly that. We live to be God’s witnesses.
This is what Psalm 118:17, the next verse that particularly strikes me, says: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.” This verse may have been in the mind of Jesus as he meditated on his pending death and resurrection, but it is also a verse for us since Jesus calls us to live and be his witnesses. Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25), and “you are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
This verse meant a great deal to William Cowper, the hymn writer and poet who was a personal friend of John Newton. Cowper was a fragile soul who had a delicate mental and physical constitution. He was taunted and abused as a young student at a school in Hertfordshire, and later in his life he was committed to an asylum for the mentally ill at St. Albans. Yet Cowper recovered, and when he did he expressed joy over his recovery in the language of our psalm. “The LORD is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation—I shall not die but live,” he said (vv. 14, 17). It was this man who gave us such beloved hymns as “God Moves in a Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform,” “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins” and “O for a Closer Walk with God.”1
Martin Luther had this verse written on his study wall. He called it “a masterpiece,” adding, “He [the psalmist] so immerses himself in life that death is swallowed up by life (1 Cor. 15:55) and disappears completely, because he clings with a firm faith to the right hand of God. Thus all the saints have sung this verse and will continue to sing it to the end….So far as the world is concerned, they die. Yet their hearts say with a firm faith: ‘I shall not die, but live.’”2
During World War I Donald Grey Barnhouse, one of my predecessors as senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, served in the American army and spent some time flying open cockpit bi-planes that the army was using at the time. Someone asked Barnhouse if he was not afraid to fly in those planes especially since they might be used in combat. But he answered that God had reassured him with a verse from the psalms, Psalms 118:17. He rephrased it in rhyme, like this:
Ours is not to fly and die.Ours to live and testify.
And testify he did, for many long years after that destructive, fierce, but eventually passing world conflict.
Sometimes, too, our witness to Christ must expose and denounce evil as well as proclaim good news. This is because to be truth, truth must reveal error, and to be good, good must expose evil. John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformer, fell sick at one point as the result of his incessant labors for the gospel. The friars heard that their enemy was dying and hastened to his bedside. Surely Wycliffe would be overcome with remorse for his Protestant heresies. Surely he would renounce them and ask for God’s forgiveness and their blessing. A crowd of monks representing four major orders of the friars gathered around him. They began by wishing him health. But then they quickly changed their tune and urged him to make a full confession since he would soon have to give an accounting of himself to God. Wycliffe waited patiently until they had ended. Then, asking his servant to raise him a little so he could speak better, Wycliffe fixed his keen eyes on them and said in a commanding voice, “I shall not die but live and proclaim… the evil deeds of the friars.”3
1Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904) p. 320.
2Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Daniel E. Poellot (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), p. 87.
3Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3a, Psalms 88-119 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), pp. 120, 121.
What is our purpose in being saved from sin and kept alive by God?
Explain Jesus’ statement: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
What elements must our witness to Christ contain?
Application: Do you regularly express thanks to God? Is it evident in your speech?
Key Point: To be truth, truth must reveal error, and to be good, good must expose evil.