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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Psalm 116 - Song of Gratitude

Psalm 116 has often been sung in Scotland when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. It is also one of the Psalms of Hallel which were sung in Israel at Passover time. Of course, the psalm could have been sung at any time by an Israelite because it concerns gratitude to God for personal deliverance from a threatening situation. Similarly we can sing it whenever we wish.

The psalmist says that he had been praying earnestly for divine help and had been heard by the Lord. One effect of receiving an answer was an increase in his affections; his love for God was enlarged (v.1). Spurgeon comments that ‘the sweetest of all graces and the surest of all evidences of salvation is love’. This response is the opposite of forgetfulness and reveals the gratitude that David felt towards the Lord. Gratitude is the fuel that leads to obedience.

Answered prayer has another effect as well and it is ongoing prayer. A believer prays continually because he depends on God and receives help from him. If a person does not pray for divine help frequently (many times a day), he or she is not a true believer. Such prayers may only be short petitions, but a believer loves to speak to God about what is happening.

David reveals that he was in a dark situation in which death seemed a real possibility (vv. 3-4). He may have had a serious illness or he may have been in dangerous circumstances when others were threatening his life (v. 11). He was in deep distress (vv. 8, 10). Whatever his circumstances were, he was beyond the help of man, but not beyond the help of God.

Answered prayer reminded David about the character of his God (v. 5). The psalmist mentions three divine attributes: gracious, righteous and merciful. God always deals with his people by expressing those aspects of his character. We are undeserving, but the Lord always reveals his goodness, his fulfilment of his promises (righteousness) and his pardon. David had experienced this trilogy countless times in his life. They are revealed each time the Lord answers prayer. It is not surprising that David concluded that the Lord had dealt with him bountifully (v. 8).

David describes believers as ‘simple’ (v. 6). He does not mean that they are unintelligent. Instead he means that they depend on God and do not resort to ingenious attempts of self-rescue. The simpler we are in the Christian life the better for us. It is best to take the Lord at his Word, and when we do many of our concerns are dealt with.

Sometimes when a believer is praying to God he also addresses himself and David does so in verse 7 when he urges himself to return to his rest. The word translated ‘rest’ is plural, so indicating the degree of spiritual comfort that the Lord can provide for those of his people who have been through difficult situations. He can provide great amounts of peace and assurance after a time of spiritual difficulty, and we should use our faith to focus on what God has promised.

In verse 9 David dedicates himself to serving the Lord. He looks forward to participating in one of the religious feasts of Israel (vv. 13-14, 17-19). The cup of salvation was likely a drink offering that accompanied one of the sacrifices. He also determined to renew his vows of service in a public manner. It is not enough to express gratitude in secret; the Lord wants us to express our gratitude publicly, especially in the presence of his people.

David’s experience also reminded him that death would come eventually. Although he had once more been delivered, he had also realised that when death would come it would be precious in the eyes of the Lord (v. 15). Why will it be precious? One reason is that the believer would move into the immediate presence of God and it is important to know that the Lord himself is looking forward to that moment. David’s words are also a reminder that when the moment of death comes for a believer the Lord pays particular and loving attention to what is taking place.

One intriguing detail of the psalm is that David tells us about the faith of his mother (v. 16). Sometimes we think of our parents at unexpected times. Perhaps David thought of her at this moment because she had been the first to show to him how simple a believer’s faith in God should be. No doubt, he thought of her with gratitude. One of the highest blessings is to be the child of godly parents.

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