His love endures forever

Psalm 118

9 April 2006

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


Why have I decided to speak to you on Psalm 118 this morning?

Well, one interesting thing about it is that it is pretty much the dead centre of the Bible: according to some counts verses 8 and 9 are the middle verses of the Bible. It's also interesting that it is sandwiched between the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117, and the longest, Psalm 119. Fascinating stuff, but hardly good reasons to preach on it.

Another fact is that Martin Luther was particularly fond of this Psalm. He wrote of it,

This is my Psalm, my chosen Psalm. I love them all; I love all holy Scripture, which is my consolation and my life. But this Psalm is nearest my heart, and I have a peculiar right to call it mine. It has saved me from many a pressing danger, from which neither emperor, nor kings, nor sages, nor saints, could have saved me. It is my friend; dearer to me than all the honours and power of the earth.

So, this Psalm was a great help to Martin Luther, which I suppose is good enough reason to preach it. But there is a particular reason that I have chosen to preach it on this occasion of Palm Sunday.

You know that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the coming king on the back of the donkey the crowds shouted Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!ref These words are directly lifted from this Psalm, verses 25 and 26. So Psalm 118 was on the crowd's mind that first Holy Week, and I believe it was very much on Jesus' mind as well.

Later in the week we find Jesus quoting verses 22 and 23 as he teaches the people. Still later he himself quotes verse 26, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lordref. And it is very likely that this Psalm was the last song that Jesus and his disciples sang together as they left the upper room after the Last Supper. Matthew tells us When they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olivesref. Psalm 118 is known to be the final Psalm that makes up the normal Passover liturgy, so it was probably this that they sang.

I think it is safe to say that this Psalm was on Jesus' mind that week, and for reasons that we shall see later I'm sure that it was particularly helpful to him. So it helped Jesus and it helped Luther. I wonder if it will help us this morning.

Has anyone been to Reading museum and seen the extraordinary full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry they have there? I highly recommend it! I only mention it because I want to structure this Psalm a bit like a tapestry.

First I want to look at the canvas it is woven on: the enduring love of God in verses 1 to 4. Next I want to look at the threads it is woven with: responding to the love of God in verses 5 to 18. And finally I want to take a step back and look at the big picture it portrays: saved by the love of God in verses 19 to 29.

The canvas: God's love endures forever

First, the canvas for our picture is the enduring love of God. It appears four times in the first four verses, and in the last verse as well. It is the enclosing theme for the Psalm and the background to everything in it.

Actually, this enduring love of God is the canvas that underlies the story of the whole Bible. It is the background to all God's dealings with his people.

The word for enduring love used here is a very important word in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. It is not just any old word for "love", but a particular Hebrew word, Hesed that doesn't have a simple direct translation into English. What it refers to is God's particular love for his chosen people, based on the covenant that he has made. It is his commitment to those he is in relationship with, so it is different from God's love for the world in general, which is agape love.

Isaiah explains it like this, The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lordref. In that verse the phrase "steadfast love" is the same word, Hesed.

Perhaps a modern picture of it might be something like the marriage promises at their best, which, taken seriously, are a commitment to stick by the relationship "For richer and for poorer, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health" . This is Hesed love, covenant love, enduring love that sticks by the relationship no matter what it takes. This is the love God has for us if we are his people, and this is the canvas that the story of the Bible is woven into. God never breaks his promises; his love really does endure forever.

Inside our wedding rings, my wife and I each have inscribed the words "His love endures forever" . Of course our marriage is based on our commitment to each other, but we are well aware of the inadequacy of relying on our own abilities and intentions. So we wanted to base our marriage on something deeper, something more reliable: the enduring love of God. Hence the inscriptions. This will be very reassuring when I inevitably forget our tenth anniversary next month.

Anyway, in verses 1 to 4 we see the cry go up among God's people: His love endures forever. In verse 2 all of Israel, God's special people, are invited to take it up. In verse 3 just the priests recite it, who are particularly responsible for making sure the people understand God's covenant commitment. Finally all who fear the Lord take up the shout, whether Israelites or not. At no point is the wider world invited to join in: this is God's Hesed love; his special love for his chosen people.

So that's the fabric and background to the Psalm, and the background to all God's dealings with his people. Now I want to go in and have a close look at the threads woven into that fabric, which are our responses to this love of God that endures forever.

The threads: Responding to God's love

Our response to God's covenant love should be to weave our lives into its fabric.

I'm assuming that King David was the author of this Psalm, and here in verses 5 to 18 we find five threads from his life woven into the canvas of God's covenant love. These are the applications of what it meant for him to live with God's covenant love as the fabric of his life, particularly at a time of great crisis in his life. And they show us too how to respond in our lives to God's committed love, especially when we face times of crisis.

It is these threads of our response to God's love that, woven together, create the big picture of our lives. Some threads might look similar to others, but they all add richness to the end result.

v5-7: Pray to the Lord because he answers

Have a look at verses 5 to 7, where we find the first thread: pray to the Lord because he answers.

Verse 5, In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.ref God's covenant love for us means he is committed to answering our prayers.

In prayer God assures us that he is with us, which gives us a right perspective on our troubles, verse 6: The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?ref

And in prayer God assures us that he helps us, which turns our anguish into confidence, verse 7: The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.ref

Pray to the Lord because he answers: this is the first of the threads we ought to be weaving into the fabric of God's covenant love as we create the tapestries of our lives.

v8-9: Trust in the Lord because he is trustworthy

Second, verse 8 and 9: trust in the Lord because he is trustworthy. If God's covenant love means nothing else it means that God is reliable. It is all about his unfailing commitment to his people.

What a contrast with everything else we are tempted to trust, It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.ref

These middle verses of the Bible turn out to be such an obvious truth that you might wonder if they really need saying. At one level the superior trustworthiness of God over anything in the world is obvious: but at another level, it just demonstrates what spiritual fools we are. How many of us truly take this seriously? Not trusting in the things of the world, but taking refuge in God alone?

The reality is that often it is not until we reach the very end of the tether that we finally, reluctantly take refuge in the Lord: coming to him and casting ourselves on his mercy alone. Only when all our personal reserves are exhausted, and all our worldly solutions have let us down do we at last take refuge in the Lord. Wouldn't it be so much better to come to him first?

If you are worried, if you are in anguish this morning or any time, ask yourself this question: where am I turning for help?

v10-12: Rely on the Lord because his name is powerful

We find a third thread in verses 10 to 12. Rely on the Lord because his name is powerful.

It's not that when we pray God will magically make our problems disappear, although he might. It's not that when we trust in the Lord our troubles go away. What we learn from verses 10 to 12 is that God equips us with his powerful name: he empowers us with his supernatural power to triumph over our problems.

When David is surrounded by enemies, on all sides, swarming around him like bees, God didn't airlift him out of his crisis. No David had to fight his own way out. Three times he says so: I cut them offref, I cut them offref, I cut them offref.

But he didn't do it alone; God had equipped him with the most powerful weapon he could, the name of the Lord. When we act in God's name, with godly integrity, doing his will in order to glorify him, then we will know his power. in the name of the Lord I cut them off.ref And we see that illustrated throughout this section: sixteen times in verses 5 to 18 David uses the covenant name of God, Yahweh, the Lord. He is fully conscious that everything he is doing is in the name of the Lord.

So, we must be determined to tackle our crises in God's way, mustn't we? If we try to do it our way we will be fighting only in our own strength which will likely get us nowhere. If we fight God's battles, then we have the greatest power in the world, the name of the Lord, to help us.

v13-16: Remember the strength of the Lord because he helps us

The fourth thread of our response to God's enduring love, is remember the strength of the Lord because he helps us.

In verses 13 to 16 David remembers the strength of Lord at work in the past. Verse 14 is a direct quote from Exodus chapter 15, where Moses celebrated the crossing of the Red Sea when God saved his people from the Egyptians pursuing them in chariots: The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.ref, and the three-fold cry that follows also echoes Moses' song: The Lord's right hand has done mighty things! The Lord's right hand is lifted high; the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!ref

The point is that the Lord who saved Israel from Pharaoh is the same Lord who helps David. Constantly throughout the Bible, and especially in the Psalms, we find godly people rehearsing the great ways God has rescued his people in the past. It's not because they are interested in academic history, but because they know that God's enduring love means that if he saved then, he will save now.

When we are feeling helpless, then this is what we must do too. Remember the God who saved you: look back at what he has done in your life, and especially look back on what he did for his people in the Bible. These things ought to be a source of great encouragement for us because God's covenant love endures to us today.

v17-18: Proclaim the deeds of the Lord because that is his plan for us

We find the final thread in verse 17 and 18: proclaim the deeds of the Lord because that is his plan for us.

David's confident assertion in verse 17 is I will not die but liveref. It's not that he believes he is immortal, but that he believes his death will come about in God's time, and not when his enemies would wish it. He was confident that his time had not yet come. And that's a good reminder, isn't it, that our lives and our deaths are part of God's sovereign plan. Jesus said Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.ref How much more then is the timing of our end in his hands. We have nothing to fear from any enemy or disease because we will die no sooner or later than God's enduring love has decreed.

And David further shows his trust in God's plan and his sovereignty in verse 18 where he makes an extraordinary connection: all the suffering that he has faced at the hands of his enemies was part of God's plan as well! The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.ref It's all part of God's discipline at work in him for his good.

If we didn't know that this thread of God's discipline was woven into the fabric of God's eternal covenant love for us, it would be pretty hard to take, wouldn't it? The suffering of believers is hard to understand; it is adult theology, but David has grasped it completely. Godly people do suffer, but only because God, in his enduring love, has something even better planned.

That's what we need to cling on to whatever our circumstances: God has a plan for us, and it is a glorious plan, even when it doesn't particularly look like it.

The theologian John Calvin makes this observation on God's plans for his people: he says, "God does not prolong the lives of his people that they may pamper themselves with meat and drink, sleep as much as they please, and enjoy every temporal blessing, but to magnify him for his benefits which he is daily heaping upon them." That's why King David commits himself to proclaim what the Lord has doneref. If God has helped you, tell people about it! What a great encouragement for other Christians! And what a great witness to those who don't yet know him.

So, there are five threads from the life of David as he responded to the enduring love of God.

Which of these threads weave themselves through your experience of God? When you are anguished, when you are fearful, when you are in crisis, is your response to God like David's in this Psalm? I guess Martin Luther's was, which was why this Psalm helped him so much.

The big picture: Saved by God's love

What I want to do now, is to have look at the big picture in the rest of the Psalm. At verse 19 we find ourselves taking a step back to survey a wider scene. Verses 5 to 18 are mostly in the past; they are what King David has gone through to get to this point. Now we enter the present, and it is a joyful scene: as verse 24 puts it, this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in itref.

What we find is that the bigger picture is of David the King coming to the temple, or tabernacle as it was in his time. He stands at the gates in verses 19 and 20, and we can picture the festal procession of verse 27, with the crowd crying out O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.ref

Now the King can put behind him the trials of verses 5 to 18. His own people had rejected him, but God had preserved him and enthroned him as king, The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.ref

Finally the King approaches the altar where he will offer a sacrifice of thanks: the supreme kingly duty.

The threads of King David's response to God's covenant love have been woven by God into this glorious picture of Kingly Triumph: a triumphal entry into the temple itself.

But as we look at this scene we can't help but realise that the real picture woven into the fabric of God's love for us is much bigger even than the picture we find here. The real picture is set a thousand years later when another King, a descendant of David, would ride in procession on the back of a donkey to the gates of the temple. Again the crowds would cry out Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!ref And this King would again take up the triumphant claim that the stone the builders rejected has become the capstoneref.

This King's rejection by the people would come to a climax in the week ahead of him, and like David he would cry out in anguish to the Lord. But unlike David he will have to face death, for this King doesn't just bring a sacrifice, he is the sacrifice. The same voices crying out Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lordref as he entered Jerusalem, five days later were yelling Crucify him!ref

But like David, he knows that it is all part of God's plan. I've already said that I believe that this Psalm was very much on Jesus' mind as he faced that first holy week. A thousand years earlier God had demonstrated his covenant love to his King, David. And now what the Psalm had foreshadowed, was about to take place on a much bigger canvas.

Don't you think this Psalm must have been a great help to Jesus as he faced what lay ahead of him? The Last Supper; the Garden of Gethsemane; the betrayal; the sham trial; even his friends disowning him. The flogging; the mocking; the scourging. The crucifixion; the lingering, painful death; and finally abandonment by God himself.

He could not say I will not dieref: for him God's time had come; he died a real death, a death that ought to have been ours. But he could say that God had not given him over to death completely, for on the third day he lived again.

This is the big picture woven into the canvas of God's covenant love for his people. But the question we should ask is, why did he weave it? Why did God put his son through this? Why did the stone have to be rejected before it could become the capstone?

Well, the answer is that these events of Holy Week that we are approaching now are the unavoidable response of God's love to our cry of "Hosanna! Lord, save us" . If we didn't need saving there wouldn't need to be a cross. And if God were not defined by his covenant love then I don't suppose he would have bothered to save us.


As we approach the big picture of Holy Week I hope we will meditate on the canvas into which it is woven, the enduring love of God, and I hope we will weave the threads of our lives into that same canvas.

And let us make our theme the enclosing theme of this Psalm: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.ref