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Psalm 116:119comment (0)

November 19, 2009

By Douglas Wilson

Related Scripture: Psalm 116:119

Explore the Bible
Associate Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Psalm 116:1–19

Psalm 116 reminds us that worship is deeply personal. With this song, included for singing at the temple in a corporate setting, individual believers can experience intimacy with the Lord. In the 19 verses of this song, the psalmist used first-person references (I, me, my) at least 33 times. Without seeming selfish or self-centered, the composer expressed overwhelming personal gratitude for God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy and salvation.
In both corporate worship and national observance, it is necessary to retain individual thanks for His goodness to you and me. Thanksgiving is more than family time, turkey time, football time and nap time. It is a time to give God thanks for all that we experience. “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Seek the Lord (1–4)
I love God because He first loved me. When I cry out to the Lord, He is faithful to listen. He has answered my prayers in the past, and so I will continue to lift my voice to Him. This is the message of the first two verses. The prophet Jonah comes to mind when reading verses 3–4, especially the phrases “ropes of death,” “torments of Sheol” and “Lord, save me!” In his prayer, Jonah said, “I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice … seaweed was wrapped around my head … with a voice of thanksgiving I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jon. 2:2, 5, 9). Following this prayer, Jonah was set free. Release comes to the worshiper who confesses that only God can deliver.

Rest in God (5–8)
The Lord is gracious, righteous and compassionate. He guards, He saves and He is good. These words reflect the psalmist’s familiarity with the Law, when Moses witnessed God’s self-revelation on Mount Sinai: “Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex. 34:6). This recurring theme of compassion and grace is echoed throughout the Old Testament, including in Jonah (4:2). 

“Return to your rest, my soul.” We experience little of the biblical concept of rest. We are commanded to rest one day each week yet we seldom do. We are told to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him, though we know how to do neither. We are impatient, anxious and exhausted. We are pulled in a thousand different directions, and we cannot comprehend where all our time goes. Listen to the psalmist: “You, Lord, rescued me from death, [You, Lord, rescued] my eyes from tears, [You, Lord, rescued] my feet from stumbling.” We must find our rest in Him. Be still and know that He is God.

Walk With God (9–11)
“I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Walking with God carries with it the idea of having close fellowship with Him. Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:24). Noah also walked with God (Gen. 6:9). Micah exhorted believers to walk humbly with God (Mic. 6:8). In these verses, the psalmist is saying, “I am going to walk with God, regardless of how difficult my life becomes. Whether suffering great loss or feeling utterly accused and abandoned like Job, I continue to trust God and believe that He is my salvation.”

Worship God (12–19)
Worship through thanksgiving is the theme of this last portion of the song. This psalm has a refrain: “and [I will] worship the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the very presence of all His people.” We offer thanks in response to God’s deliverance. From what has He set you free? Are you grateful for your deliverance from sins and circumstances that once bound you? Take time to thank Him. We also thank Him in anticipation for what He will do. Do you think that Jonah had this psalm in mind while he was in the belly of the great fish? Look at Jonah’s prayer, especially Jonah 2:9 again; there is the refrain from this song. While he was still in the midst of terror, he committed to worship the Lord. Jonah was anticipating God’s deliverance and he received it. Are you thanking God for deliverance from that bondage you are facing? What are you waiting for?

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