I Love the Lord - Psalm 116

A service plan for Lent from Psalm 116 focused on praising the Lord for his deliverance from death in a Lenten series on the Psalms.

Worship Service
Also in this Series

Psalms for a Lenten Journey

This series of worship services for Lent is built around a sampling of the Psalms.

Theme of the Service

Maundy Thursday is the day for the church to remember the last evening before Christ's crucifixion. At that time Christ was in the upper room with his disciples and instituted the Lord's Supper. Therefore, this service includes the celebration of the Lord's Supper. We have selected Psalm 116 as the theme of this service so that the testimony of praise to the Lord for his deliverance from death can be prominent.

We are grateful for the collaborative efforts of Professor Carl Bosma, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, who is providing helpful information on each of the Psalms during this season. You will find the information he has provided at the end of the worship service.

WE GATHER IN WORSHIP

Prelude: "Variations on 'How I Love You, Lord, My God' " [see music notes]
"My Jesus, I Love Thee"
"What Wondrous Love"

The Welcome and Call to Worship [see liturgy notes]

*God's Greeting with Congregational Amen!

*Response Reading:
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
He heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to him
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord-
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord. (Psalm 116:1-2, 17-19)

*Song of Love: "I Worship You, O Lord" PsH 30


GOD SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS WORD

He loves us without a reason

Meditation [see liturgy notes]

Responsive Reading from Psalm 116:
I love the Lord for he heard my voice,
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me;
the anguish of the grave came upon me.
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
"O Lord, save me!"
For you, O Lord, have delivered.
my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:1-4, 8-9)

Prayer

*Song of Thanks: "Father, Long Before Creation" PsH 464:1, 3, 4; RL 353: 1, 3, 4

He gives us rest

Meditation

Responsive Reading from Psalm 116:
I love the Lord for he heard my voice,
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simple hearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you. (Psalm 116:1-2, 5-7)

Solo: "My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone" PsH 62:1, 2

Prayer

Sung Prayer: "Nearer, Still Nearer" The Celebration Hymnal 567:1, 4

We vow to repay the Lord

Meditation

Responsive Reading from Psalm 116:
How can I repay the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.
O Lord, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant,
the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord-
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord. (Psalm 116:12-19)

The Offering
Our offering of music: "I Love the Lord, for He Has Heard My Voice" [see music notes]
We offer our gifts for..


WE GATHER AT HIS TABLE

The Welcome and Invitation to the Lord's Table

The Institution of the Lord's Supper: Matthew 26:17-30
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The Prayer of Consecration

Our Participation in the Bread
Anthem: "To Your Table We Come," Pethel

Our Participation in the Cup
Songs of Faith: "I Love the Lord, for He Has Heard My Voice" PsH 116
"I Love the Lord" PH 362, SNC 227 or
"What Shall I Render to the Lord" PsH 178, RN 116, TH 637

The Prayer of Thanksgiving


WE LEAVE WITH PRAISE FOR GOD

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song of Praise and Thanks: "What Wondrous Love" PH 85, PsH 379, RN 277, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212, UMH 292 [seemusic notes]

Postlude: "What Wondrous Love" [see music notes]

* You are invited to stand.

Sermon Notes
Introduction to Psalm 116: "Love and Gratitude No Matter What"1
by Carl Bosma

When I was a youngster in the Netherlands, the Genevan version of Psalm 116 was drilled into my mind by its repeated use in the liturgy. It became part of my spiritual DNA. Then our family moved to the United States. After our family joined the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), the music and words of Psalm 116 became silent. The following exposition of this psalm, however, aims to demonstrate that this intensive psalm merits another hearing in the CRCNA, especially for Maundy Thursday.

Like Psalm 118, Psalm 116 is also a psalm of thanksgiving. Unlike Psalm 118, however, Psalm 116 contains no elements of a communal hymn. Moreover, whereas the primary focus of Psalm 118 is on victory, Psalm 116 centers on the psalmist's agonizing experience of and rescue from the imprisoning cords of death. In fact, this terrible word, "death," is a thematic word of Psalm 116 that occurs in verses 3, 8, and 15. This fact already makes Psalm 116 an appropriate psalm for Maundy Thursday. The walking motif in verse 9 also enhances the journey theme throughout this series of expositions.

I. The Unity of The Psalm

In the Greek and Latin Bibles, Psalm 116 is divided into two separate psalms. Verses 1-9 appear as Psalm 114 and verses 10-19 as Psalm 115. However, the repetition of key terms (e.g., "death" in vv. 3, 8, 15 and "return" and "benefit" in vv. 7, 12) and phrases (e.g., "call on the name of the Lord" in vv. 4, 13 b and 17 b ) argue for the compositional unity of the Hebrew text of Psalm 116.

II. Compositional Structure

The compositional structure of Psalm 116 is, in the words of Leslie C. Allen, "not at all obvious."2 Two complicating factors are 1) the use of verbal tenses and 2) the unusual sequence of the poem's component parts. The complexity of the poem's structure has led some to consider it to be haphazard.3 Others, however, argue for a symmetrical structure of the psalm.4 Of these, some follow the LXX's division and divide the poem into two equal halves: verses 1-9 and 10-19.5 Others argue for a more complex structure; some even claiming that Psalm 116 has a chiastic structure.6 For our purposes we have segmented the text as follows: verses 1, 2, 3-4, 5-6, 7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-14, 15-16 and 17-19 (see below).

III. Literary Genre

Psalm 116 is a song of thanksgiving that narrates the story of an anonymous individual's deliverance from death. Depending on the interpretation of verse 11 (see below), the near-death experience is connected with being falsely accused. A comparison with Psalm 30, the paradigm of songs of thanksgiving by individuals, reveals that Psalm 116 does not follow the regular order of this type of psalm. For this reason, Claus Westermann follows Hermann Gunkel, the pioneer of form criticism, in rearranging the order of this psalm's various modes of speech.7 Such rearrangement, however, is unnecessary. That the order of events in Psalm 116 differs from that in Psalm 30 underscores the uniqueness of this psalm.

IV. Exposition

A. Declaration of Love (vs. 1)

The opening of Psalm 116 is unique. Unlike Psalm 30:1, Psalm 116:1 does not begin with a voluntary proclamation. Instead, like Psalm 18:1, it begins with a declaration of love, "I love" (vs. 1 a).8 Because the verb "I love" is without a direct object, the divine name Yahweh is usually transposed from the following clause (vs. 1 b) and inserted here to read, "I love the Lord."9 In our opinion, however, this emendation is not necessary because in the Hebrew text the emphasis falls upon love as a response to an act of God in a manner similar to 1 John 4:19, "We love because he first loved us."10

The unique opening declaration of love is followed by a causal clause (cf. the conjunction ) that explains the chief reason/ground for the celebrant's love for God: "because the Lord hears my cry for mercy" (vs. 1b).11 This is a typical feature of songs of thanksgiving.12 Strikingly, however, the verb in this clause is a YQTL (=Imperfect), denoting habitual action.13 According to Artur Weiser, this expresses "the worshipper's continuing certitude."14

B. Renewed Vow to Praise (vs. 2)

The opening proclamation in verse 1 is followed by a renewed vow to praise15 in verse 2:
a Because he inclined his ear to me,16
b I will call on him as long as I live (lit. "in my days").17

Because the causal clause in verse 2 a parallels the causal clause in verse 1, verses 1-2 are frequently read together. The parallelism between verses 1 b -2 a could be an argument in favor of this reading. But the emphatic prepositional phrase "in my days" (cf. Is 38:20) in verse 2 b indicates that verse 2 is actually a renewed vow to praise that is formally similar to Psalm 30:12 c: "O Lord, my God, I will praise you forever." As the example of Psalm 30:12 c shows, the renewed vow to praise normally occurs at the conclusion of a song of thanksgiving. In Psalm 116, however, it stands at the beginning. In this renewed vow the psalmist commits himself to the lifelong task of retelling the story of his marvelous rescue from death,18 which he proceeds to do in the next section of his poem (vv. 3-4).

C. Condensed Narrative Report of the Distress (vv. 3-4)

This next section (vv. 3-4) is a condensed report of the speaker's distress and deliverance, another representative feature of a song of thanksgiving (Ps 30:2-3).19 Interestingly, this passage provided the basic motif for Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death."20

In language that recalls Psalm 18:4-5, verse 3 reports the distress in chiastic word order. Like Jonah, the psalmist had become a prisoner of the grave. As Claus Westermann has underscored, being under the power of death is a common way to describe the distress in songs of thanksgiving.21 Generic language is used to describe the crisis because the one that is giving his testimony did not intend to give a "play by play" report but "to testify what God had done for him."22 Consequently, preachers should not attempt to reconstruct the particulars of the event recollected in this psalm.

In verse 4 he recalls in condensed form the prayer that he invoked23 for God's help: "O Lord, deliver me!" Quotations of condensed forms of the suppliant's prayer are a standard feature of songs of thanksgiving.24They serve to underscore the deep agony that the petitioner suffered.

D. A Personal Testimony to God's Graciousness (vv. 5-6)

The speaker's recollection of his dreadful experiences with (near-) death in verses 3-4 prompts a testimony to the Lord's graciousness and righteousness in verses 5-6. The opening part of this testimony (vv. 5-6 a) is a third-person declaration about the Lord. This fact and the reference to "our God" in verse 5 lead Erhard S. Gerstenberger to postulate that the community spoke verses 5-6.25 Two features of verses 5-6, however, argue against this position. First, verse 5 ends with the participle "showing mercy," and verse 6 begins with the participle "guarding" or "protecting." This stylistic feature establishes, as Gerstenberger recognizes,26an excellent connection between verses 5 and 6. Second, in view of the fact that an "I" is the speaker in verses 6-7, the use of the phrase "our God" in verse 5 could just as well mean that it is a personal testimony addressed to the congregation, not by the community. In our judgment, therefore, the speaker of verses 5-6 is still the celebrant.

As the following synoptic comparison shows, like Psalm 112:4, Psalm 116:5 is a modified version of the first part of Israel's core testimony about God in Exodus 34:6-7.

Exodus 34:6

Psalm 116:5

"The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious.."

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.

In his modification of this Old Testament hermeneutical magnet the poet has inverted the adjectives "merciful" and "gracious" (cf. Ps 111:4 b) and, strikingly, inserted the adjective "righteous." He has inserted the adjective "righteous" in the verse because, as is evident from Psalm 7:9, 11 (cf. Ps 11:7), this adjective describes God as a righteous judge. As a righteous judge, he condemns the wicked but loves and saves the upright.

Verse 6 a provides the basis for this claim: "The Lord protects the simple." Significantly, the adjective "simple" occurs primarily in Proverbs.27 In the Psalter it occurs only here and Psalms 19:8 and 119:130. In Proverbs this adjective denotes immature, inexperienced, and naïve persons, who "lack judgment" and subject themselves easily to peer pressure (Pr 1:4).28 Apparently, the psalmist considered himself to be one of them.

To prove the truth of his claim in verses 5-6 a, the psalmist appeals to his personal experience in verse 6bc. The NIV and NRSV translate these clauses as a single past event, "When I was brought low, he saved me" (NRSV). In this case, the speaker returns to telling the story of his trouble and reports the important missing piece of the cycle of trouble- lament- audition- deliverance in verse 6 bc, namely, his deliverance. In other words, the Lord heard his plaintive plea, "O Lord, deliver me!" reported earlier in verse 4. However, the verb translated as "saved" is actually a YQTL (=Imperfect) verb. In light of the preceding active participles "showing mercy" and "protecting," we suggest that the psalmist is referring to a frequent occurrence. For this reason we would translate verse 6 bc as follows:
Whenever I am brought low,29
he saves me.

On this translation one need not separate verse 6 bc from verses 5-6 a, as Willem A. VanGemeren proposes.30 Instead, together with verses 5-6 a, verse 6 bc is an integral part of the lesson that the psalmist wants to teach the worshiping community: The Lord's gracious and compassionate righteousness reveals itself in his rescuing the oppressed.

E. A Unique Soliloquy (vs. 7)

Apparently this important lesson overpowered the poet's emotions. Alleviated from the threat of death, he exhorts his soul in an ecstatic outburst to return to rest (cf. Jer 6:16).31 This soliloquy is a unique feature of this song of thanksgiving. Apparently the Hebrew word for "rest" (plural!) in verse 7 has a double meaning. On the one hand, it may mean that now that he has been delivered from the clutches of death he can return to a state of complete well-being (Rt 3:1) that is free from adversary or disaster (2 Sam 7:1; 1 Kgs 5:4).32On the other hand, however, it may also refer to a resting place, namely, the temple (cf. Ps 132:8, 14) "where God's presence provides relief and security."33

The basis for this assurance, according to verse 7 b, is the recognition that the Lord has acquitted him from his false accusers. Frequently, the Hebrew verb gamal in this clause is translated as "has been good" (cf. NIV), but this translation fails to express the more technical nuance of the expression gamal 'al in juridical contexts, such as laments "to recompense."34 In these contexts, the verb refers to a judicial and retributive intervention act of the Lord, the "God of recompense" (cf. Jer 51:56), who rewards people according to their righteousness (cf. Ps 18:20[21]). In the Psalms this reward takes the concrete shape of deliverance from the peril of death (Ps 13:4, 6), from enemy attack (Ps 18:17, 21), from illness and sin (Ps 103:2, 10), or from persecutors (Ps 142:6, 7).35 In view of the fact that in verse 11 the psalmist records his complaint of being falsely accused, we infer that the judicial nuance of the verb gamal is also appropriate for Psalm 116:7. Consequently, in verse 7 b the psalmist considers his deliverance from the danger of death as his just reward from God.

F. A Personal Address to God (vv. 8-9)

In verses 8-9 the speaker returns to describe his deliverance from distress. Unlike verses 3-4, however, this condensed report is addressed directly to the Lord. In fact, this is the first and only time that the speaker addresses God directly in Psalm 116.

As the following synoptic comparison shows, verses 8-9 are almost identical with Psalm 56:13.

Psalm 56:13

Psalm 116:8-9

a For you have delivered my soul from death,

and my feet from stumbling,
b +so that I may walk before God in the light of life.

8 a For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

Introduced by an affirmative conjunction ,36 verse 8 repeats "with a sigh of relief" the thought of verse 6 dbut now in closer connection with the recollection of the prayer in verse 4 b. What the psalmist requested in verse 4 b, the Lord delivered in verse 8. Echoing the metaphorical language of verse 3, the Lord rescued him from the clutches of death.

The significance of the liberation of the speaker's feet becomes evident in verse 9. In place of a purpose statement in Psalm 56:13 b, verse 9 is a vow in which the speaker acknowledges the purpose of a new lease on life. Rescued from mortal danger, he promises to walk in the presence of the Lord, exactly like God required from Abraham in Genesis 17:1.37

G. Further Account of Trouble (vv. 10-11)

In verses 10-11 the speaker returns to his narrative account of the distress in verses 3-4.38 As the following synoptic comparison shows, formally these verses are an example of alternating parallelism:

Verse 10

Verse 11

I kept my faith when I was saying39:

I said in my alarm:

"I am greatly afflicted!"

"All men are liars!"

On the assumption that verses 10-11 pick up the story line of verses 3-4, it seems plausible that the quotations in verses 10 and 11 should be read together with the actual prayer quoted in verse 4.40

Like verse 1 a, verse 10 a begins with one word clause, "I believed." This clause is followed by another clause that is introduced by the conjunction followed by an imperfect verb, "I am saying." This has posed a problem for translators and commentaries. The Septuagint, for example, translated the verb in question in past tense, and its translation of verse 10 ab is quoted in 2 Corinthians 4:13.41

Two things are clear from verse 10. First, echoing verse 6 b (cf. Ps 142:6), the speaker admits that he was in the pits and suffering greatly. Second, despite his awful suffering, he continued to trust in God.

The opening words of verse 11 a are identical to Psalm 31:22 a. Like Psalm 31:22 a, the initial words of verse 11 a are also followed by a quotation. The content of the quotation, however, is different. In verse 11b the speaker reports the charges that he had lodged against his accusers in his prayer to God: "Every human being is a liar."42 Consequently, whereas the focus in verses 3-4 is on the entanglements of death, verse 11 indicates that the psalmist's hellish experience of death was caused by false accusers.

H. Announcement of Fulfillment of Vows (vv. 12-14)

In verses 12-14 the celebrant turns to the Lord in gratitude. Structurally, these verses consist of a rhetorical question (vs. 12) and a promise to perform three liturgical acts (vv. 13-14).

Verse 12 asks an important rhetorical question: "What shall I return to the Lord for all his benefits to me? With respect to this rhetorical question, it should be noted, first of all, that the verb "return" is used as a synonym of the verb gamal (Ps 18:21, 24). Next, attention is called to the Hebrew noun tagmûlôhî, "benefits," (cf. Ps 103:2) which comes from the Hebrew verb gamal used in verse 7. Consequently, it is inferred that the verb "return" in verse 12 means, "to repay." As is evident from 2 Chronicles 35:25, in verse 12 the verb denotes the obligation of a grateful response. Finally, it should also be observed that this rhetorical question echoes a similar question in Micah 6:6. Unlike Micah 6:6, however, no answer is given in recognition of the fact that it is impossible to repay the Lord.

Consequently, in verses 13-14 the speaker announces his intent to perform three liturgical acts as a token of his immense gratitude. First, he resolves to lift up "the cup of salvation" (vs. 13 a).43 Significantly, this is the only reference to a "cup of salvation" in the Psalter.44 The reference here is probably to a libation that is poured out as part of the burnt offering (Num 28:7; cf. Ex 29:40)45 or a cup that is shared as part of the thanksgiving meal (Lev 7:11-21).

Next, the psalmist resolves to "call on the name of the Lord" (vs. 13 b). Remarkably, the words of this resolve are an exact repetition of verse 4 b. Whereas in verse 4 b this conventional expression refers to the celebrant's prayer, here it is part of the thanksgiving ritual.

In obedience to the directive found in Psalm 50:14 b, the celebrant then announces in verse 1446 his intent to fulfill the vows which he had made to the Lord in conjunction with the lament referred to and quoted partially in verse 4 (cf. Ps 66:14).47 In times of distress Old Testament believers frequently made vows to thank the Lord if he delivered them. A good example is the vow in Psalm 56:12-13 because the language of verse 13 reflects that of Psalm 116.

Two features of this announcement of his vow fulfillment merit special attention. First, the announcement of fulfillment underscores the intimate relationship between lament psalms and songs of thanksgiving. As we noted in our exposition of Psalm 118, the vow to praise in a song of thanksgiving picks up where the vow to praise in laments stop. Second, the celebrant promises to pay this vow in the presence of the worshiping community ("all his people"). The fact that he resolves to do this publicly shows once more that thanksgiving does not occur in a vacuum. The purpose of this public presentation is to encourage the people of God to trust in the Lord in times of adversity.

I. Public Testimony and Rededication (vv. 15-16)

The announcement to fulfill his vow in verse 14 is followed by verses 15-16, both of which are rather unusual and complex.48 In fact, their placement between verses 12-14 and 17-19 suggests to some that they are out of place49 or a later insertion.50

The fact, however, that the declaration, "To the Lord (belongs) deliverance!", in Jonah 2:9 [10] occurs in conjunction with an announcement of fulfillment of vows suggests that verse 15 in Psalm 115 has a similar function. Like the declaration in Jonah 2:9[10], verse 15 also represents the content of the promised public testimony: "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints."51 As such, verse 15, which is a third person statement about God, looks back to the report of deliverance, especially verse 8, in which he testifies that God delivered him from the snares of death. From this traumatic experience he draws the important lesson that the Lord cares about the life of his loyal covenant partner and does not let him die an untimely death (cf. Ps 16:10). After all, should he die, his praise is silenced!52 Significantly, the psalmist makes this lesson axiomatic for all loyal believers. Consequently, this is the lesson that he wishes to teach the congregants and that preachers today should also underscore.

The assuring axiomatic statement of verse 15 effectively leads the speaker to humbly reaffirm his total allegiance to the Lord in verse 1653:
O Lord,
truly54 I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.

In this pledge of allegiance the psalmist reaffirms that he is the Lord's servant (cf. Ps 143:12), which could mean that he is the Lord's anointed (Ps 78:10).55 To this affirmation he adds that he is "the son of your maidservant" (Ps 86:16). As is evident from Exodus 23:12, "the son of your maidservant" is a legal term for a homeborn slave. By using this term, therefore, the psalmist places himself at the lowest level.56

As Artur Weiser notes,57 the psalmist's direct address to God in verse 16 shows that his thanksgiving is not merely the required performance of a thanksgiving ritual. On the contrary, it is also an opportunity of complete surrender to the Lord, occasioned by God's gracious deliverance: "you have freed me from my bonds" (vs. 16c).

J. Reiteration of Fulfillment Vows (vv.17-19)

The poem concludes with a reiteration of the fulfillment of vows (vv. 17-19). The fact that verses 17 b -18 are an exact repetition of verses 13 b -14 demonstrates that together these verses bracket and highlight effectively the psalmist's testimony in verses 15-16. Moreover, they also suggest that the three cultic acts of verses 13-14 and verses 17-19 are parallel. Consequently, the lifting up of "the cup of salvation" in verse 13a and the promise to sacrifice a thank offering in verse 17 a are intimately related. As an additional result, "the cup of salvation" in verse 13 a is probably not related to the cup of the Passover meal referred to in Luke 22:18, but more likely parallels the cup of wine that was drunk at the festal meal that climaxed with a thank offering (cf. 22:26, 29; Lev 7:11-21).58 The promise to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in verse 17 a is in fulfillment of the divine requirement in Psalm 50:14 a. Moreover, verse 19 is an elaboration of the prepositional phrase "in the present of all his people" in the previous verse (vs. 18; cf. vs. 14). It clarifies that the thanksgiving ritual takes place in the temple courts59 of Jerusalem and could perhaps serve as an additional argument for the hypothesis that the speaker is a king.

V. Canonical Context

Like Psalm 118, Psalm 116 also belongs to the collection of psalms called the "Egyptian Hallel." Consequently, like Psalm 118, it was also sung or recited at Passover time. Determinative for its use at Passover are the reference to the "cup" (vs. 13) and "sacrifice of thanksgiving" (vs. 17). The reference to the "cup" in verse 13 also facilitated the use of Psalm 116 in connection with the Lord 's Supper (cf. 1 Cor 10:16), especially in connection with the celebration of communion on Maundy Thursday.

VI. Reflections for Preaching

How does one preach Psalm 116 for Maundy Thursday? How does one preach a message based on this psalm to an audience that has become estranged from it?

In response to this question we begin with a general observation. In Psalm 116 an unidentified believer recounts in the presence of the worshiping community his desperate prayer, his dramatic deliverance, and his rededication to walk in the presence of the Lord. The purpose of this testimony is to teach the audience an important lesson for life.

For preaching we should isolate five important lessons on Psalm 116. The first theme is the Lord hears prayer. The implication is that in times of distress one should pray to God. This is the same message as the well-known hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus":
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged-
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Second, the Lord is a gracious, righteous, and compassionate God, who protects the weak and oppressed, especially those who have been falsely accused. For this reason one can trust that the Lord will adjudicate our plaintive pleas with righteousness. Third, verse 15 underscores that the death of the believer(s) is (are) precious in the eyes of the Lord. Fourth, believers who have experienced that the Lord hears the plea of the righteous and rescues them from the imprisoning cords of death should rededicate themselves to God to walk in his presence. Fifth, those who have been rescued should give public testimony about their experience in the worshiping community. The cycle of drastic prayer, dramatic rescue and rededication of life must be shared because, as this ritual at AA meetings shows, such sharing is a powerful witness to the reality of God and helps keep the believer on track. Consequently, more time should be given in the liturgy for testimonies of heard prayers. In Latin America this practice has proven to be an important key to church growth.

More specifically, with respect to the challenge of preaching a sermon on Psalm 116 on Maundy Thursday, we would note, first of all, that in the Gospel accounts of Holy Week, we encounter a dramatic reversal of the lament-thanksgiving cycle. Normally believers in mortal distress first cry out to God (lament). After God has heard their prayer and has rescued them, they bring thanksgiving. Apparently the thanksgiving process involves two stages. In Psalm 116 the rescued person promises to thank the Lord in the temple (vv. 18-19). This suggests that he has not yet arrived there. In Psalm 118, however, the rescued person does enter the temple. The Gospel accounts reverse this cycle. They begin with their use of Psalm 118:25-26 in their account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the temple and return to the use of Psalm 116 at the institution of the Lord's Supper. When Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn after Jesus' installation of the Lord's Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26), they may have sung Psalm 116 because during the Passover meal Psalms 115-118 were recited in connection with the fourth cup. The reference to "the cup of salvation" in Psalm 116:13 increases the probability of this suggestion.

Second, we recall that a motif of paramount importance in songs of thanksgiving is the persistent claim that God heard the suppliant's prayer. Like Psalms 34:4, 6 and 118:5, Psalm 116:1 also underscores the effective power of prayer. On the reasonable assumption that Jesus and his disciples recited Psalm 116, which recalls the awful reality of suffering the pangs of death from the flip side, it is interesting to note that, after they sang, Jesus took his disciples to Gethsemane to pray (Mt 26:36-45 par.). There his soul "was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Mt 26:38 par.). There he pleaded with his Father to take the "cup (of wrath)" away (Mt 26:39, 42).60

In relation to this proposed thematic connection between Psalm 116 and Jesus' agonizing time of prayer in Gethsemane, two other features of Psalm 116 merit attention. First, according to our interpretation of the quotation of the psalmist's prayer in verse 11, the suppliant claims that he was falsely accused (see above). In Gethsemane Jesus prays as one who will be falsely accused and sentenced to capital punishment. However, on resurrection day the Father acquitted him of the false charges. Wolfhart Pannenburg recognized this dramatic reversal when he wrote:

Under the presupposition that there is an element of substitution active in all social relationships, one is permitted to understand Jesus' death as a vicarious event in view of the unique reversal that the one rejected as a blasphemer is, in the light of his resurrection, the truly just man, and his judges, in contrast, are now the real blasphemers.61

Moreover, if Jesus and his disciples had just sung Psalm 116, then certainly the desperate prayer and dramatic restoration of the suppliant, as well as that most comforting of all verses, verse 15, must have been a source of reassurance for Jesus. With this reassurance, he was able to pray, "may your will be done" (Mt 26:42). The fact that the Father resurrected the Son confirmed this precious assurance! The apostle Peter recognized this important fact in language that echoes Psalm 116:3, "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:24).

The Father's public vindication of the Son's desperate prayer from the cross on resurrection day should be a powerful source of comfort for Jesus' disciples today, especially those who are struggling with terminal illnesses. On the basis of Jesus' dramatic restoration to life, Psalm 116 ought to be sung more. From this side of Jesus' death and resurrection, we may sing Psalm 116 in a spirit of thanksgiving and assurance that we too will "walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps 116:9), yes, even into eternal life. When we sing it, however, we should pay particular attention to the opening line, "I love because the Lordhears my cry for mercy."

Music Notes:
Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Suggestions for prelude music are as follows:

ABERYSTWYTH ["How I Love You, Lord, My God"]

Organ:
Haan, Raymond H. Welsh Hymn Tune Preludes. SMP KK426 [1989] (E-M)
Held, Wilbur. Those Wonderful Welsh, set 2. Morningstar MSM-10-842 [1992] (E-M)
Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 5. SMP KK323 [1984] (adaptable for piano, E-M)
Linker, Janet. Suite for Holy Week. Beckenhorst OC5 [1989] (E-M)
Near, Gerald. Augsburg Organ Library - Lent. Augsburg 11-11036 [2000] (E-M)
Willan, Healy. Ten Hymn Preludes, set 1. Peters 6011 [1956] (E-M)
Young, Gordon. Preludes on the Familiar. Fischer 0 4886 [1972] (E-M)

Piano:
Organ, Anne Krentz. Christ, Mighty Savior. Augsburg 11-10819 [1997] (E-M)

GORDON ["My Jesus, I Love Thee"]

Organ:
Bish, Diane. The Diane Bish Organ Book, vol. 1. Fred Bock B-G0548 [1980] (M)
Goode, Jack. Seven Communion Meditations. Flammer HF-5084 [1976] (E-M)

Piano:
Wilson, John F. This Is the Day. Hope 243 [1992] (E-M)

Handbells:
Sanders, Patricia A. My Jesus, I Love Thee. Beckenhorst HB 96 [1990] (3-4 octaves/C
instrument, E-M)

Choral Resource:
Sjolund, Paul. My Jesus, I Love Thee. Hinshaw HMC-935 [1987]
(SATB with flute or violin and keyboard; E-M)

WONDROUS LOVE ["What Wondrous Love"]

Organ:
Barber, Samuel. Wondrous Love. Schirmer 44477 [1959] (M-D)
Callahan, Charles. Six Meditations on American Folk Hymns. Concordia 97-6140 [1992] (E-M)
Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 9. AMSI SP-106 [1992] (E-M)
Johnson, David N. Hymns Settings for Organ. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7498-7 [2002]
(E)
Johnson, David N. Wondrous Love. Augsburg 11-0821 [1965] (E)
Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (M)
Middleswarth, Jean E. Were You There. Broadman 4570-64 [1984] (E-M)
Phillips, Don. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name. (ed. Lyon, Sharron) Broadman 4570-31 [1976]
(E)
Young, Gordon. Preludes on the Familiar. Fischer 0 4886 [1972] (E-M)

Piano:
Carter, John. Folk Hymns for Piano. Hope 240 [1987] (E-M)
Carter, John. The Wondrous Cross. Hope 1747 [1994] (E-M)
Wilhelmi, Teresa. Hymns.Light Jazz Style. Word 301 0136 315 [1997] (M)

Handbells:
Larson, Lloyd. What Wondrous Love. Beckenhorst HB 150 [1994] (3-5 octaves, E-M)
Wagner, Douglas E. What Wondrous Love. Agape 1312 [1988] (3-5 octaves, E-M)

Suggestions for offertory music can be found in the following resources:

GENEVAN 116 ["I Love the Lord, for He Has Heard My Voice"]

Organ:
Schuurman, Adr. C. Psalm 116. Wagenaarstichting D. 425 [1956] (M-D, a set of variations)
van der Panne, Wim. Variaties over Wie maar de Goede God laat Zorgen. Musicript MR122
[1986] (E-M, an additional piece in this publication of If You But Trust in God to Guide You")

The communion anthem "To Your Table We Come" by Stan Pethel has a Maundy Thursday text and is published by Choristers Guild CGA824 [1999]. It is scored for SAB voices and keyboard (E-M).

The suggestions for the Songs of Faith sung during communion are all based on Psalm 116. Each comes from a musically different era and style.

Alternative harmonizations for the singing of the closing hymn can be found in:

Alternative Harmonization for Organ:
Burkhardt, Michael. As Though the Whole Creation Cried. Morningstar MSM-10-555 [2001]

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:
Cherwien, David. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000]

Postlude suggestions can be drawn from the resources listed under prelude suggestions based on "What Wondrous Love."

Liturgy Notes:

1. We suggest that the Call to Worship extend a warm welcome to all and briefly set the tone for this worship service by describing the scene in the upper room when Jesus met with his disciples shortly before his death. An explanation of how Psalm 116 will permeate this service may also be helpful.

2. The format for this worship is somewhat different in that the pastor will provide several brief meditations that will weave together the events of the upper room, the themes of Psalm 116, and the liturgy of moving toward the table of the Lord. Each of the meditations will precede the readings of Psalm 116. Notice how the three subsections-He loves us without a reason, He gives us rest, and We vow to repay the Lord-structure our worship around three themes of Psalm 116.

3. We assume that your local congregation has its own customary practices for the liturgy of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday. We have provided a basic structure, and you may complete it with your usual pattern. You may also find helpful material in The Worship Sourcebook, pages 305 ff. and pages 593 ff.

1 For the first part of this title I am indebted to Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 379.
2 Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 , WBC 21 (Waco: Word Books, Publishers, 1983), 114.
3 Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations, The Forms of Old Testament Literature, Volume XV (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 291.
4 Cf. Michael L. Barré, "Psalm 116: Its Structures and Its Enigmas," JBL 109 (1990): 61-79; R. L. Alden, "Chiastic Psalms (III), A Study of the Mechanics of Semitic Poetry in Psalms 101-150," JETS 21 (1978): 206; John H. Stek, The NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 920.
5 Barré, "Psalm 116," 63; Stek, The NIV Study Bible, 920; Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 73-150: Songs for the People of God, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 2: 185.
6 Alden, "Chiastic Psalms," 206; P. Auffret, "Essai sur la structure littéraire du Psaume 116," BN 23 (1984): 32-47; idem, " 'Je marcherai à la face de Yahvé,' Étude structurelle du Psaume 116," NRT 106 (1984): 383-396.
7 Claus Westermann, Living Psalms, tr. J. R. Porter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 190-197.
8 For the verb "love" to denote the believer's relationship to God in the Psalms, see: Ps 5:11; 31:23; 40:16; 69:36; 70:4; 119:132, 140; and 145:20. Cf. Dt 6:5; 10:12; 11:1; 19:9; etc.
9 Cf. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 292; Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150: A Continental Commentary, tr. Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 385.
10 Davidson, Vitality of Worship, 379.
11 For the phrase "cry for mercy" see: Ps 28:2, 6; 31:22; 130:2; and 140:6.
12 Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trs. Keith R. Crim and Richard N. Soulen (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 106. Hereafter cited as PLP.
13 Because the Hebrew verb in the parallel clause in vs. 2 a is a QTL (=Perfect), the NIV, NRSV and commentators normally also translate the YQTL verb in vs. 1 b as a past tense, "heard." Cf. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 385.
14 Artur Weiser, Psalms: A Commentary, OTL, Herbert Hartwell (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 719.
15 For this speech function in a song of thanksgiving see Westermann, PLP, 110-111.
16 Cf. Ps 17:6; 88:2.
17 Kraus (Psalms 60-150, 385) emends the text to read "on the day."
18 Davidson (Vitality in Worship, 379) suggests that the poet commits "himself to prayer as long as he lives (v. 2)." The fact is that the Hebrew verb qara', "to call," in vs. 2 b is without a direct object. Consequently, it can denote either "to call out (in prayer)," as in vs. 4, or "to proclaim (in praise)," as in vv. 13 b and 17 b. Because the poet narrates his deliverance from distress in what follows, we have opted for the second meaning of this verb in vs. 2 b.
19 Westermann, PLP, 108-110.
20 Anderson, Out of the Depths, 121.
21 Westermann, PLP, 109. For the function of death in songs of thanksgiving, see the excellent extended note by Anderson, Out of the Depths, 121-127.
22 Westermann, PLP, 109.
23 Literally, "on the name of the Lord I kept calling." The verb is a YQTL (=Imperfect). With a different nuance, this technical O.T. expression occurs again in vv. 13 b and 17 b (see below).
24 Cf. Pss 30:9-10[10-11]; 32:5; Jnh 2:4.
25 Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 293.
26 Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 293.
27 Of its 21 occurrences in the O.T., 15 are found in Proverbs.
28 Herbert Wolf, The NIV Study Bible, 959.
29 For the verb see: Ps 79:8 and 142:7.
30 Willem A. VanGemeren, "Psalms," The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 726.
31 For a similar monologue see: Ps 42:5, 11; and 43:5.
32 Stek, NIV Study Bible, 921.
33 James L. Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 369.
34 K. Seybold, s.v. gamal, TDOT 2: 29.
35 Seybold, s.v. gamal, TDOT, 31.
36 Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 387; Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 293.
37 Cf. Gen 24:40 and 48:15.
38 Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 293.
39 The Hebrew verb is a YQTL (=Imperfect)!
40 Stek, The NIV Study Bible, 921.
41 Westermann, Living Psalms, 192.
42 Stek, The NIV Study Bible, 921. Stek refers to Ps 5:9-10; 35:11, 15; 109:2-4. See also Ps 12:2. On the basis of the occurrence of the same Hebrew word in Psalm 62:9, others interpret the quotation in verse 11 to mean that human beings are false hopes.
43 For a more detailed discussion of "the cup of salvation" see: Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 388. Kraus refers to a votive stele of Yehawmilk, king of Byblos, in which the king offers a cup to the deity. For a picture and the text of this votive stele see: Anderson, Out of the Depths, 120-121.
44 For other references to a "cup" in the Psalter, see: Ps 11:6; 16:5; 23:5; and 75:9.
45 For a burnt offering in connection with a thanksgiving liturgy see Ps 66:13-15.
46 This verse is missing from the LXX. Charles Augustus Briggs and Emilie Grace Briggs (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms, ICC [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907], 400) consider it to be a "premature repetition of v. 18.and against the strophic organization."
47 Cf. Ps 65:1; and 66:13-15; Jnh 2:9.
48 Cf. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, 294-295.
49 Westermann, Living Psalms, 193.
50 William R. Taylor and W. Stewart McCullough ("The Book of Psalms," The Interpreter's Bible in Twelve Volumes [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955], 4: 613), for example, opine that vs. 15 "could be an insertion into the text." Hermann Gunkel (Die Psalmen, Göttinger Handkommentar zum Alten Testament [Göttingen: VandenHoeck & Ruprecht, 1926], 500) also thinks that verse 16 ab stands in the wrong position and adds it to verse 4. For a critique see Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 389.
51 For an analogous expression see: 1 Sam 26:21; Ps 72:14.
52 Cf. Ps 6:5; 30:9; 88:10; and 115:17.
53 For the effective position of vs. 16 see: Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 389.
54 The conjunction is probably emphatic. Cf. A. A. Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Psalms 73-150, New Century Bible (London: Oliphant, 1972), 795.
55 Stek, The NIV Study Bible, 921.
56 Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 389.
57 Artur Weiser, Psalms: A Commentary, Old Testament Library, tr. Herbert Hartwell (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 720.
58 Stek, The NIV Study Bible, 921.
59 Cf. Pss 65:4; 84:2, 10; 96:8; 100:4; and 135:2.
60 For the possible connection between Ps 116 and Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, see also Mark Kiley, " 'Lord, Save My Life' (Ps 116:4) as Generative Text for Jesus' Gethsemane Prayer (Mark 14:36a)," CBQ 48 (1986): 655-659.
61 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man, trs. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, second edition, 1977), 269. For this reference I am indebted to my colleague and friend, Dr. John Bolt.

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