Psalm 116 & 117

Psalm 117 is, I think, the shortest chapter in the Bible, just two verses. The Lord is to be praised among the nations because of his love and faithfulness, which endures forever. Yet again the theme of eternity in the Psalms. Psalm 116 on the other hand is an existential Psalm, all about the struggle for existence in a fallen world. The author is in a vortex of death and sorrow, and you can sense he feels like a drowning man at sea. He cries out, “O Lord, save me!” For the people of God, this is always our response to life’s vicissitudes. The author then says something kind of strange, but fully biblical. Because our God is gracious and righteous, and full of compassion:

The Lord protects the simplehearted;
    when I was in great need, he saved me.

Simplehearted is also translated as just simple or helpless. I think Jesus telling us that unless we become like a little child we cannot be saved gets at this. We trust in the character of God. We know we can’t save ourselves. We acknowledge our great need, always. And because of this, the next verse says, our soul can once again be at rest. And, I might add, because we are right with our God. That is the only relationship that matters because it includes all others, to people, things, circumstances, everything. But it is never easy. The writer then speaks of being delivered from death, his eyes from tears, and feet from stumbling. This so he may “walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” I love this because it speaks to how messy and difficult life is. It is very easy to become cynical, as he does:

10 I believed when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
11 I said in my alarm,
“All men are liars.”

This is how we feel at times, that all the world is against us, yet he keeps his focus on God’s goodness and continues to call on the name of the Lord. Then this seemingly strange thought:

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his saints.

Every version translates whatever the Hebrew word is, precious. It simply means of great value, cherished, treasured. You almost get the sense of empathy here. He knows how traumatic it is, and he knows what happens on the other side, when we are with him absent this body of death. The writer then gets to the bottom line: the Lord has freed him from his chains. Those are chains of sin and death, and thus we can “sacrifice” a thank offering to him and call on his name. There again is the theme of thanksgiving being a sacrifice. It is not easy, but when we know what he has done for us even amidst the struggle, our hearts can be filled with gratitude. All this is done in the presence of God’s people, in his courts, in his city. The context of our faith is never individualistic. God is saving a people to be with him forever.

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