Thrust Statement: Psalm 116 is a reminder of redemption from the kingdom of darkness
Scripture Reading: Palm 116
This Psalm is one of the six Egyptian Hallel psalms that Jesus and His twelve disciples sang during the Passover meal. Psalm 116 was sung following the eating of the Passover lamb. The author of this Psalm describes his deliverance from a near death experience. And, as a result of God’s rescue, he breaks forth with the phrase, “I love the LORD” (Psalm 116:1a). The author expresses his thanksgiving for God’s response to his call. The Psalmist paints a picture of God’s gracious character and righteous purposes. One cannot read this Psalm without reflecting upon the urgent call of the Psalmist—dependence upon God. This writer shuns self-reliance and invites total trust in God. When an individual exercises this kind of conviction, one finds the ability to tolerate every strain of hardship.
One may find this Psalm rather strange as one of the Passover hymns. But the Jews adopted this Psalm of relief and applied this deliverance to their Exodus from the land of Egypt. On the other hand, early Christians also read or recited this Psalm during the Eucharist (thanksgiving) as a reminder of their exodus from the kingdom of darkness. Every Christian should read this Psalm with the atonement of Jesus in mind. Christians cannot help but praise God for such a wonderful gift—the gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus. Will you look upon the Psalmist and emulate His cry: “I love you LORD”? Are you willing to commit yourself to Him without reservations?
As one reflects upon this Psalm, one discovers that this Psalm is a beautiful word of thanksgiving. One cannot read this poem without counting his/her blessings. One cannot hold back his gratitude when one contemplates the promises of such a bountiful giver. Have you counted the many blessings that God has extended to you? Do God’s blessings encourage you to respond with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole soul? Do you cry out: “I love you LORD”? Psalm 116 is a song of praise and a prayer for help. This Psalm is not only a monument to the gracious character of God, but it is also a testimony to God’s loving kindness.
Do you feel the love of God glowing in your soul? The Psalmist felt it glowing in his soul. Do you feel the tenderness of God in your daily walk with Him? Do you feel the peace of God that passes all understanding? Do you feel the kindness of God as you reflect upon redemption? Does your soul overflow with love for God? Well, the Psalmist felt all of this in his soul. Listen to him as he sets forth his reasons for his feeling of love:
1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116:1-2).
The author of this Psalm expresses his reason for the love he felt toward God. Jehovah “turned his ear” toward him. This no doubt was but one of the many motives that prompted the Psalmist’s love for God.
Has not God turned His ear toward you, too? Has not God showered many spiritual blessing upon you through faith in His Son? Has not God answered your prayer concerning sickness? Has not God answered your prayer concerning your afflictions? If God has not answered your prayers concerning affliction, Are you still willing to praise God for His gift of eternal life through His grace? Are you willing to praise Him for all His spiritual blessings in Christ? Paul, too, prayed for relief from his thorn in the flesh, but to no avail. Listen to Paul as he reveals his inner thoughts: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”’ (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
How did Paul act in response to the Lord’s answer? Again, in spite of his afflictions, he still praised God. Paul related to the Corinthians his personal mind-set: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:9b-10). The author of Hebrews also reveals the plight of many believers—some delivered, other not. Every Christian praises God whether He delivers or does not deliver! The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a chapter that captures graphically the faith that individuals manifested in the face of trouble:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:32-40).
THE THREE HEBREW CHILDREN
Christians should worship God whether or not He hears their prayers for the liberation of their miseries. Christians should serve God whether or not He sends joys or sorrows. Christians should praise God whether or not He favors them with prosperity or allows deep hardships. Every believer should exhibit the attitude of the three Hebrew children (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) that were taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel leaves for posterity their encounter with the king. In this story, one discovers that the king had built an image of himself and required that when certain instruments were played, then everyone should bow before the image. But these three men refused to bow. And, as a result of their refusal, they were called in and given a chance to repent and bow or suffer the consequences for their actions. But the three Hebrews spoke to the king in forceful words about their faith in the God whom they served/worshipped. One should pay attention to Daniel as he reveals the reaction of the king and the conversation that took place among Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the king. Daniel writes:
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:13-18).
Do you believe that the God you serve can free you from your problems? But, what if he does not lighten your difficulties, Are you still willing to serve Him? Can you still say, “I love the LORD”? The Psalmist not only knows that he loves God, but he knows the reason why. If you really and truly know the basis of why you love the Lord, then your love is deep, strong, and abiding. John, the apostle, says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus also calls attention to God’s love in His conversation with Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
WHAT SHALL I RETURN TO THE LORD?
As one reflects upon this Egyptian Hallel Psalm, one witnesses an individual who ponders over his past predicament of life-threatening trouble: “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 116:3). But his thinking upon the past and the Lord’s deliverance caused him to sing a song of thanksgiving to the LORD. He expresses himself this way as he meditates upon God’s goodness: “For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling (116:8). Again, the Psalmist enters into his soul and exclaims: “O LORD, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains” (116:16).
When one looks upon his/her past life of sin, one cannot help but recognize the hand of God in one’s redemption. Since God has offered forgiveness of sins through Jesus, then everyone should say, “truly I am your servant” (116:16). Are you a servant of God? Is there commitment on your part to serve Him? Even though this Psalm had its original Sitz im Leben (setting in life, or life situation) in the Psalmist’s personal sickness that brought him near death, nevertheless, one can also observe how the Jews in a second Sitz im Leben employed this Psalm as a psalm of thanksgiving to God for His response to their plight in Egypt. Then a third Sitz im Leben can be observed as every Christian sings a song of thanksgiving for his/her salvation. Every Christian, in reading Psalm 116, should reflect also upon the good news of God—salvation by grace through faith in His Son Jesus. Peter, in his sermon to the household of Cornelius, explains something of God’s mercy exhibited in the gospel:
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42-43).
As one meditates upon the Psalmist question—“How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?”—one is immediately awakened to a sense of consciousness of God’s mercy. Since God has exposed so much mercy, so much kindness, and so much love, everyone should look around and within to see what could be done to manifest gratitude to God so that others can identify the great God whom every believer serves. Each person should use whatever talent God has given in order to honor and glorify God.
After contemplation upon his liberation from sickness, the Psalmist naturally wondered about how to express his thanks: “How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?” (Psalm 116:12). Do you wonder how you, too, can express your appreciation and joy for what God has done for you in your feeble, wretched, and lost condition? The Psalmist tells how he will lift up “the cup of salvation,” that is to say, the offering of libation, or sacrificial offering. He raises the question of an appropriate expression of gratitude. How can he repay the LORD? He says that he will lift up “the cup of salvation.” But what does this mean? This lifting up of “the cup of salvation” was a means of expressing his thanksgiving for his blessings from God.
In the first Sitz im Leben, the Psalmist lifts up “the cup of salvation” as a demonstration of his thankfulness for God’s response. In the second Sitz im Leben, Psalms 116 was employed in the Passover as a Psalm of thanksgiving. During the course of the Passover meal, four cups were raised and blessed in its progress. The first cup was called “The Cup of Consecration”; the second cup was called, “The Cup of Proclamation”; the third cup was called “The Cup of Thanksgiving”’ and the fourth cup was called “The Cup of Hallel.” The third cup was also called “The Cup of Redemption.” Did not the phrase, “the cup of salvation” make this Psalm an appropriate psalm for the Passover?
Following the Passover meal, the guest recited Psalms 115—118. This recitation of Psalm 116 reminded the Jews that they had been brought from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to gladness, from mourning to a Festival-day, from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption (Pesachim 10:5). This Psalm became the thanksgiving of everyone who participated in the Passover. In the singing of this Psalm, each participant acknowledged salvation in his/her deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
In the third Sitz im Leben, Jesus took the third cup—The Cup of Thanksgiving”—and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). In the specific phrase of the Psalmist, “the cup of salvation,” one cannot help but recall “the cup of thanksgiving” (“the cup of blessing,” 1 Corinthians 10:16, KJV) that Paul mentions in his letter to the Corinthians. Just as Jesus and the twelve sang Psalms 115-118, so, Christians also adopted Psalm 116 to be recited or sang during the Eucharist. Today, it would also be appropriate for Christians to recite or sing Psalm 116 as an expression of appreciation for their salvation through the shedding of the blood of Jesus. Mays says, “This Psalm becomes the voice of Jesus and the congregation, the one providing the cup and sacrifice, the other united by them with him in his death and resurrection.”
As Christians reflect upon the words of Psalm 116, they are reminded that “the cup of salvation” was offered up as a sacrifice to express thankfulness. When Christians assemble to break bread in their commemoration of Jesus, they cannot help but remember “the cup of blessing/thanksgiving.” The cup of blessing constantly calls attention to redemption from sin. When one shares in the “cup of blessing,” then that participation should ring-a-bell in the mind of every person to present his/her body as a living sacrifice to God. Paul, in calling attention to true worship, expresses the height of appreciation of the believer by serving God. Listen as he captures graphically the core of Christian worship and thankfulness:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).
Just as the Psalmist offered up “the cup of salvation” as a libation, so Christians offer up their bodies as living sacrifices. The author of Hebrews expresses it this way: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:15-16). As Christians we “confess his name” and we “do good” and “share with others.” These sacrifices are the means by which God’s people lift up “the cup of salvation.”
Another way Christians can lift up “the cup of salvation” (Psalm 116:13) is by extending forgiveness to others. Paul encourages Christians to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Are you kind and compassionate to one another? The Psalmist says, “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (Psalms 116:5).
Do you recall the story of Jonah and Nineveh? When God spared the city, Jonah was extremely displeased and angry (Jonah 4:1). Jonah wanted God to destroy the capital, but God had other thoughts in mind. After God spared the city, Jonah complained in his prayer: “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:2).
Is it any wonder that this Psalm was sung during the time of the Passover? This Psalm is a psalm about God’s compassion. One cannot participate in the observance of the Lord’s Supper without reflecting upon the compassion of God. Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, set forth the magnitude of God’s love for humanity: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
When one is conscious of what God has accomplished for the salvation of the world, one cannot keep silent. The Psalmist could not keep silent as he reflected upon God’s response to his call. The Psalmist looks back over his experiences and says, “I believed” (Psalm 116:10). The Psalmist lets his readers know that he did not put his trust in man, but rather he placed his conviction in God. He portrays his confidence in God when he writes:
10 I believed; therefore I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
11 And in my dismay I said,
“All men are liars” (116:10-11).
This is not a statement of despair, but rather it is a statement that he did not place his hope in human help. Faith was the foundation of his recovery; he was now reaping the fruits of faith. Do you have faith? Are you ashamed to speak when you are suffering? Is affliction a sign of not being in favor with God? Paul borrows this language of the Psalmist to express his confidence in the truth of the gospel. He cites this passage in his second letter to Corinth to bolster his determination to speak about his faith in Jesus, despite despair:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:7-15).
Even though Paul and his fellow ministers suffered for Christ, nevertheless, they were not ashamed to speak. When one believes in God, one must address himself/herself to God. One can hardly reflect upon Paul’s citation of Psalm 116:10 without also calling to memory the words of Paul in his letter to the Christians at Rome:
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:9-11, see also Isaiah 28:16).
The Psalmist came to the realization that he owed his pious efforts to his mother:
16 O LORD, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your
you have freed me from my chains (Psalm 116:16).
This Psalm should be a psalm that every Christian mother should read. It appears that he is giving his mother credit for his service to God—“the son of your maidservant.” The word “servant” should remind everyone of the words of Jesus as reported by Luke: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Again, the words of Paul also ring loud and true: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Not only are Christians servants, but they are also informed friends: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Christians are to serve the Lord, not blindly, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. It is in this vein that Paul encouraged the Ephesians: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:17). The Bible is where we find what God demands of us. The Bible is an unfolding of the mind of God. Jesus tells how one can be restored to God: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).
As one mulls over the last half of Psalm 116 (vv. 12-19), one is immediately confronted with the question: “How can I repay the Lord?” How can you repay the Lord for your salvation? One can repay the Lord by presenting his/her body as a living sacrifice. Paul goes right to the heart of appreciation, as stated above, when he writes: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). This Psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving.
Do you thank God for salvation made available by faith? Are you willing to lift up the “cup of salvation”? Are you willing to accept the many spiritual blessings from God through Jesus Christ? Are you willing to “call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13, 17)? Psalm 116 is a call for devotion: “I love the LORD” (v. 1); Psalm 116 is an expression of dependence: “I will call on him” (v. 2b); Psalm 116 is a reminder of one’s daily behavior: “that I may walk before the LORD” (v. 9). Is your life one of devotion, one of dependence, and one of good behavior?
The Psalmist was fully committed to the walk that would please the One who had done so much for him. Are you willing to please the Lord for what He has done for you? Is your life worthy of the gospel of Christ? The words of Paul to the Ephesians capture graphically this perception of the Psalmist: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2). What does Psalm 116 mean to you?
Dr. Dallas Burdette
PO Box 20274
Montgomery, AL 362120
 See A. A. Anderson, Psalms (73-150), The New Century Bible commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), where he writes: “Traditionally these Psalms were used at the great annual festivals which included the Passover. On the latter occasion Ps. 113—114 were sung before the Passover meal, Ps.115—118 after it (cf. Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26).”
 All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.
 See J. Clinton McCann, Jr., Psalms, in 1 & 2 Maccabees, Introduction to Hebrew Poetry, Job, Psalms, The New Interpreter’s Bible: A commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol., 4 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 1149.
 Psalms 115-118 were sung following the drinking of the fourth cup—The Cup of Hallel. Matthew reports this incident of the Passover: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (26:30).
 See James L. Mays, Psalms, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 371-372.
 Ibid., 372.