Messianic Psalms - Psalm 118: Oh Give Thanks
This was the favorite psalm of Martin Luther. In the preface to his sixty-page exposition of the psalm, dedicating the work to Frederich, Abbot of Saint Giles of Nuremburg, 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.”
James Boice notes that one way of appreciating psalm 118 is to realize how much it meant to the Protestant martyrs. Rowland E. Prothero talks about some of them in his study of The Psalms in Human Life. One was Louis Rank, 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 day
For which we have been waiting.
Sing praise to God who gives us joy
And pleasures unabating.
A few weeks after the martyrdom of Louis Rank, 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 Rank had sung just weeks before.
The last of the Huguenot martyrs in France was Francois Rochette, who died seventeen years after Rank and Roger, 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.
Psalm 118 has many other individual verses that leap out at us. I will highlight a few:
“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (v6).
“I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done” (v17).
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (v29).
“The stone the builders have rejected has become the capstone” (v22).
Specifically, Psalm 118:22 pictures Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus used these words of himself in Matthew 21:25-26. If Jesus is the stone that has been made the foundation of God’s building or temple, then the only wise thing for us to do is build upon it.
The Apostle Peter loved and often quoted Psalm 118:22. He quoted it before the Sanhedrin and also used it in his first letter, combined with Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 (see 1 Peter 2:4-8). In introducing these quotations Peter says, “As you come to him, the living stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:4-5). What a privilege and joy but also responsibility. You must not stumble at God’s grace in Jesus Christ, as many have, tripping over that stone. You should come to Jesus instead and build your life on that secure foundation.
Join us this coming Lord’s Day as we conclude our series on A Journey to Christ in the Psalms, with Psalm 118. In verse 29 the psalmist calls on the people among whom he is bearing witness to thank God because this true God “is good.” Come and testify to the goodness of our God. See you in our new location this Sunday morning.
God is Good,