Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good (v. 3).
The psalm calls priests and people alike to praise You, Lord.
I need to praise You, for praise reminds me of who You are and what You have done.
You are the Lord of nature. Your sovereignty extends to heaven and earth and seas. The elements that compose the storms are Your servants.
You are the Lord of history. You act within the realm of politics to create, redeem, and sustain a people to be Your "treasured possession."
Your people are also Your servants. They are ruled by Your purpose, not by their pleasure. You spend Your treasure; You do not coddle it. For them You have compassion but on them You execute judgment also.
You are "good" and You are "great." You cannot be corrupted and You cannot be defeated. To live for You, therefore, demands holiness but assures victory. You brook no rivals, You share no pantheons. All of this is impressed upon my mind as I heed the call to praise issued by this psalm. I need the reminder, and when I recall who You are and what You've done, I want to praise even more.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever (v. 1).
Your goodness, Lord, is expressed in nature. The thankful psalmist and his people celebrated Your creative love, power, and wisdom. I know, Lord, that nature has shared man's fall and can be rough and ruthless, nevertheless it retains a beauty, glory, and utility that incite gratitude and praise. I am writing this in Spring--an exciting, vibrant, colorful and promising season that thrills my thankful heart.
Your goodness is expressed also in redemption. Here the psalmist celebrates the redemptive love and power that judged ancient Egypt and freed Israel from bondage. I share that Jewish joy, O Lord, as one liberated from sin through the atoning death and risen life of Jesus Christ. The exodus accomplished by His crucifixion and resurrection is topmost in my thoughts and thanks as I pen these lines on an Easter Sunday morning. You remembered my "low estate." You freed me from my enemies. You give me food as one of Your loved creatures. I give You my thanks, O "God of heaven."
Truly, Your "love endures forever." The antiphonal response echoes in my heart as I look around, look behind, and look ahead.
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? (v. 4).
The "rivers of Babylon" and the memories of Jerusalem united to pour a devastating flood of grief and pain into the psalmist's soul. The music had died in his heart and hands. He plucks no strings, he sings no hymns. He is drowning in the silence of God.
I do not wonder, Lord, that a soul so tormented could wish judgment and suffering in kind upon Babylon with such evident delight at the prospect. Only Jesus managed to penetrate such depths of horror and from its midst pray for the pardon of merciless tormentors.
Babylon was, indeed, "doomed to destruction." You used her as the instrument of Your judgment upon apostate Israel. You did not approve the evils of that agent, however, and Your impartial justice could only mean wicked Babylon's overthrow.
Lord, vengeance is Yours, but vengeance is. You take vengeance upon the impenitent persecutors of Your people. No person, no nation, defies You with impunity.
Let this ancient psalm, with its terrible closing lines, remind me of the awful seriousness of sin and the more awesome mystery of grace that restores the undeserving exile.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life (v. 7).
With all his heart the psalmist praised Your name. Indeed, in his enthusiasm he wants "all the kings of the earth" to join in praising You for the glory of Your "words" and "ways."
"Your name and your word" are "exalted above all things." You speak in love to create, sustain, and redeem. Though You are "on high," You involve yourself with and for "the lowly."
The psalmist knows this from personal experience. You answered his prayers, defeated his enemies, and preserved his life. Past mercies give him confidence for future triumph. Your enduring love grounds his hope for final victory. His life is "the works of your hand," and he doesn't expect to become an abandoned project.
With all this my heart resonates, O Lord. I have lived in the midst of trouble, and You have been my faithful Deliverer. From diseases of every kind, from highway dangers across the continent, from economic collapses and hunger, and from the murderous intention of wicked men You have saved me "with your right hand." Should all the earth assist me in praising You, that wouldn't be enough. And You will complete the good work You have begun in me. Your love assures my future.
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me (v. 1).
How comforting, Lord, when a person is falsely accused, to be able to call upon You to attest his innocence. Nothing is hidden from Your knowledge. You observe my ways and hear my words. More awesome still, You know my thoughts before they can surface in speech and action.
From Your presence there is no escape. The remotest heights and depths, the farthest reaches of earth, are filled with Your presence. Wherever I go, You are there to guide and uphold.
You knew me before I was born. You will know me after I die. Darkness cannot hide me and the powers of darkness cannot defeat me. The enemy may rage, accuse, and threaten-- but You are my defense and hope.
The psalmist found Your knowledge "too wonderful." I know how he felt. Your eyes see all. That means sin cannot escape detection, and trust will not endure embarrassment.
Like the psalmist I pray, "know my heart" and guide my steps. Continue to be the saving and sustaining presence in my unworthy but not ungrateful life. I will serve You and You alone. I will praise You, now and forever, for all Your goodness to me.
Hear, O Lord, my cry for mercy (v. 6).
The psalmist prays as one whose only hope is You. "Evil men" have pursued him with slanderous tongues and hidden traps. They are violent, crafty and persistent. With metaphors drawn from war, snakes, and trapping he laments their wicked designs and actions. His recourse is a cry for help to a proven champion of the afflicted.
He prays, also, as a man whose only hope is mercy. He wants justice in this situation. He wants the tables turned on his enemies. He wants them to get what they are dishing out. He knows You as the Lord who "secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." Judgment on them will be mercy on him and his people. He speaks and prays within the context of Your covenant with Israel. And he knows that covenant was made with people whom You redeemed and forgave in sheer mercy, in unconditional love.
Lord, the first prayer I raised to You was this cry for mercy. The last prayer I will raise to You will be a cry for mercy. In between, all my prayers recognize the truth that, in and of myself, I have no claims on You. Your covenant promises alone emboldened me to cry for, and to count on, Your merciful intervention in my unworthy life. Mercy is my only hope forever.
But my eyes are fixed on you, O sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death (v. 8).
Once again a psalmist prays as the victim of a manhunt. He has forsaken the opulent fare of evildoers, and they regard the parting of ways as an insult to be avenged. If they catch him the result is foregone--"death."
Life on the run with You, Lord, is better than the ephemeral and destructive pleasures of sin. But Satan does not easily surrender his prey--I learned that long ago. The disciplined life requires constant vigilance, with You performing sentry duty to guard and guide my desires, my speech, my deeds.
Like the psalmist I have profited from the rebukes of the righteous, those who possessed the kindness and courage to admonish me when I faltered. Had I resented and refused that admonition, I would have grieved You and wrecked myself. They were Your servants for my good, performing a mission that was difficult and painful for them. Thank You for Your love and for theirs. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."
Let me live with eyes fixed on You, not on the pleasures or treasures of the world. Keep me from all that would destroy my fellowship with You, for that fellowship is life eternal.
I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge…” (v. 4, 5).
I can't enter into the psalmist's mood from personal experience, Lord. I can rejoice that You are an unfailing Friend and Refuge, but I've never felt totally abandoned by others. Since I came to Christ, I have always had friends who cared and listened and encouraged and prayed. Your people have formed a wonderful, supportive family for me.
Even before I met Christ there were people who cared and helped, though I was sometimes too selfish, too blind, too ungrateful to recognize their concern for me.
I've never been the prisoner of despair in solitary confinement. For this I am thankful.
I can sympathize with the psalmist's last words: "Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me." I have often been surrounded by fellow believers who were glad to hear and swift to celebrate Your answers to my prayers. For them all I am profoundly grateful.
The person who knows You, the Friend of the friendless, will soon have other friends. When they are absent, though, You are still present to hear and answer cries for mercy from souls in trouble. I know! I know!
…for I am your servant (v. 12).
Your servant, Lord, was in desperate straits. He was hotly pursued by a ruthless foe, "crushed" and "dismayed."
I've been there, Lord. I discovered quickly that serving You did not exempt me from conflict and trouble. Indeed, loyalty to Your will has often been the occasion for my woes. Like the psalmist, "my cry for mercy" was both a first reaction and a last resort.
You always came through, Lord. The longest, darkest night has yielded to a morning that brought me "word of your unfailing love." You have been, over and over, my Rescuer and Refuge. Trust in You is never misplaced. Never!
Your servant, Lord, needed direction as well as deliverance. His prayers, "Show me the way I should go," and "Teach me to do your will," point the way out of confusion and repeated missteps.
I have been there, too. These have often been my prayers. Options and decisions are crucial to my service, and Your wisdom is my need. I expect wisdom, for You are more eager to guide than I am to be led. In that confidence I face life's confusions and uncertainties with courage and hope.
"I am your servant." That is assurance enough.
…blessed are the people whose God is the Lord (v. 15).
This psalm reflects a king and people who have come through serious conflict, not unscathed, but undefeated. Delivered by You, they sing "a new song," awed that You, the Almighty, should care for humble human creatures.
They look forward to better days of peace and prosperity, no longer captives but conquerors. They do not blame You for their past misfortunes. Their captivity resulted from their sins. They had failed You, but You kept Your covenant with them, and the covenant promised punishment for disobedience as surely as it promised prosperity for obedience. You kept Your word--that explained their previous captivity and their present freedom.
Lord, You are constant and faithful to Your word. I am reminded by this ancient psalm that I need to take seriously Your word, Your whole word. Your warnings and judgments flow from covenant-love, as do Your deliverances and rewards. You do what You say.
Human covenants are easily broken--witness the soaring divorce rate--but You keep Your word. Your faithfulness is my only anchor in the chaos of life in this world. And my trust and obedience will issue in new songs.
I will meditate on your wonderful works…. I will proclaim your great deeds (vv. 5, 6).
Lord, what we think about we talk about. The flow of the mind spills over the lips. The psalmist chose to think and talk about Your works, which celebrate Your "greatness," Your "goodness," Your "power," Your "promises," Your "kingdom," Your "righteousness," Your "compassion," and Your "Love." You filled his thoughts and his speech.
If I talk about what I have done for You, Lord, it will make for brief conversation. But if I talk about what You have done for me, then, like Tennyson's brook, I could go on forever. When I reflect upon my long life, there is plenty to praise You for. I can certainly say with the psalmist, "The Lord is faithful to all his promises," and "The Lord upholds all those who fall," and "The Lord is near to all who call on him," and "The Lord watches over all who love him."
I have stories to tell my children and grandchildren of answered prayer and fulfilled promises, if only they will listen. At the center of all the stories is "my God the King." How "worthy of praise" You are! How filled with praise I am. I will think and speak of You, O Lord.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob (v. 5).
As "the God of Jacob" You are the God of forgiven sinners. Jacob distinguished himself for clever selfishness and not for faith, or peace, or love. Grasping and greedy he was until You forgave and changed him.
Israel is called "Jacob" when the weakness and dependence of the people are accented. You are the God of those who cannot help themselves, the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the orphaned, the widowed--"those who are bowed down" under life's heaviest burdens (vv. 7-9).
You are my God. I am a sinner whom You forgave, a prisoner whom You freed, a starving wretch to whom You gave "the bread of life," a blind wanderer to whom You gave "the light of the world."
Lord, Your gracious acts here recounted by the psalmist are precisely the things Jesus did during "the days of [His] life on earth." He revealed Your heart and showed His disciples how they should live.
That is how I want to live--as Your servant to the need of hurting people. Let me channel Your mercies to those who trust in You. Let me be a helper to those whose help You are. As someone has prayed, "Let my heart be broken with the things that break Your heart."
So many have vainly trusted human rulers; enable me to point them to the unfailing "God of Jacob."
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name (vv. 3, 4).
How great and gracious You are, O Lord! You name and number the stars, and yet You care for fragile, hurting humans.
You are far above me as the remotest star in space. You are as close to me as the pain I feel in the midst of life's struggles.
You are everywhere present and active. You sustain what You have made--birds, animals, and people. The word You send controls nature, governs history, and determines the final destiny of every creature.
Surely You are "mighty in power," unfailing in love, and perfect in wisdom. No wonder a ransomed Israel was called to give You praise. No wonder Your people found it "good" and "pleasant" and "fitting" to sing Your praises.
For Your words and Your works, O Lord, my heart swells with praise today. Praising You is as natural and proper as breathing air and eating food. For all You are doing in the world, for all You are doing in my life, my heart cries, "Praise the Lord."
Praise the Lord from the heavens…. Praise the Lord from the earth… (vv. 1, 7).
The hosts of heaven owe You praise as their Creator and Sustainer. You "commanded and they were created." You assigned their places and their purposes. They rightly praise Your name, and Your name is Lord.
All the earth owe You praise as Creator and Sustainer, too. Nothing is here by chance, nothing is autonomous. All came into being as You willed, every height and depth, mountains and oceans, cattle and birds, rulers and commoners, young and old--they are the work of Your hands.
Israel had special cause for praise. They were the people close to Your heart, redeemed from bondage and chosen as a light to the nations. The church has the same cause for rejoicing and praising.
And so do I. I am the product of Your creative might and redemptive energy. When I was lost in sin, a rebel against You and deserving only wrath, You sought and saved me at infinite cost to yourself. You might justly have damned me at any moment of my existence, but You chose to exert Your creative power in the cleansing of my heart and the changing of my life. I praise You, O loving, saving Lord!
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation (v. 4).
Lord, most calls for praise are based upon past events or present conditions. This psalm solicits praise for a future event--the final vindication of Your people. Their oppressors will be defeated, the rulers who led the oppression will be imprisoned. Celebrating the liberation with music and dancing, Your people sing Your praise.
In the light of the New Testament, Lord, the final victory moves the church beyond Armageddon to everlasting peace.
This is Your world. Evil cannot speak history's last word. The ultimate triumph of Your kingdom, and the universal acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord are assured. The story is going to end right, justice prevailing and jubilation enduring. Amen.
This ultimate victory results because You delight in Your people, Your assembly of forgiven sinners. You crown the humble of earth with salvation from heaven.
Lord, the decisive battle in the ages-long warfare of good versus evil was fought at Calvary and settled on Easter. The final battle will complete "mopping up" operations, but the victory already belongs to You and yours. Hallelujah!
Praise God in his sanctuary…. Praise God for his acts of power…. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet… (vv. 1, 2, 3).
What a fitting doxology is this final Psalm, Lord. What a stirring call to worship and praise it forms.
It speaks of a good place for praise: "in his sanctuary." The heavenly hosts praise You in the "mighty heavens." Your people echo those praises in earthly houses of worship. All of them joined together cannot adequately praise Your name, but what joy accrues to those who do what they can.
The psalm affirms a good reason for praise: "for his acts of power...for his surpassing greatness." Your greatness has been expressed in Your goodness. You have acted on behalf of Your people, to save and to sustain them. Creation and redemption and providence shall fuel our praises forever.
A good method for praise is named: "with the sounding of trumpets..." A whole orchestra of instruments is named. From throbbing music and dancing feet a chorus of praise pours forth, to which "everything that has breath" is summoned to share.
That includes me. My jubilant heart and cracked voice echoes, "Praise the Lord."