Today we will look at Thanksgiving Psalms, more specifically, those psalms written by an individual as a personal offering of thanks. A thanksgiving psalm is different from a praise psalm because there is a specific danger the psalmist has faced and been delivered from.
- “The two components essential to the [individual thanksgiving] genre are: (1) the psalmist’s report about his crisis, and (2) the statement or declaration that the crisis has passed and his deliverance is an accomplished fact. The latter element is that which distinguishes these psalms from the lament.” [Constable]
- There are CORPORATE thanksgiving psalms also. Though all thanksgiving psalms were used corporately, some were written from an individual standpoint, others from a national/corporate view. Psalm 18, probably written by David or possibly a Davidic king, is a ROYAL thanksgiving Psalm for that reason. We are doing a corporate Thanksgiving psalm in our last time together.
To begin, let’s take a deeper look at Psalm 18 which many of you read for your homework. A few notes before we start. Psalm 18 is a military poem, therefore, all the metaphors here are battle images. It is intensely poetic with metaphors galore. A parallel version can be found in 2 Sam 22:1-51.
Also, take note of the word “salvation.” We automatically assume this means eternal salvation, but we always have to ask “saved from what?” Far more often (especially in the Old Testament), the word means deliverance from some sort of danger, not salvation from the penalty for our sins.
Verses 1-3 introduce the psalm and give us the summary statement: “I call upon Yahweh, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”
Nine different metaphors, all defensive images describing places of safety and deliverance, are used in these first three verses. Remember, in David’s early life, he spent a LOT of time in hiding, running for his life, hiding out in rocky places, finding strongholds and hiding from Saul. He would be very familiar with these images. “Yahweh was the source of his strength, stability, safety, and salvation. He was the one in whom David sought refuge, his defense, his power, and his protection. Because God had proved to be such a reliable Savior, the psalmist regarded Him worthy of his praise.” [Constable]
In verses 4 and 5, David describes the danger (death). Death is compared to surging waters (v.4) and a hunter (v.5). David is terrified by the forces of ungodliness. The terror he feels is similar to what he may have felt facing a sudden spring flood or picking his way through a series of traps. Do you relate to this? Do you feel overwhelmed? Are you swamped by your circumstances, by the sheer level of injustice in the world, or TRAPPED by a sin struggle? Let’s be watching for how this works out for David.
In verses 6-15 we see Yahweh’s response. It was . . .
- Swift (I called on the Lord AND THEN…)
- Powerful (Earthquake imagery; fire imagery)
- Angry (burning anger, smoking nostrils, devouring fire)
- Mighty (He bowed the heavens and came down)
- Dark (obscurity, darkness; this also implies swift retribution to me)
- Loud (the earth shook and quaked, the Lord thundered in the heavens)
- Military (arrows, lightning flashes, channels of water)
These verses have all the characteristics of a theophany or a manifestation of God to humans. They remind the first readers of the description of God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16-20) and the fear that initiated. This image is frightful, this response–the Theophany, seems terrifying… But look at what happens. As the Psalmist recounts it, this thunder and lightning do not come down and smite… they result in DELIVERANCE.
Verses 16 – 30 describe that deliverance.
- He SENT (has the idea of sending forth, He sent help?)
- He TOOK (to take, get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, receive, acquire, buy, bring, marry, take a wife, snatch, take away)
- He DREW (me out of many waters)
- He DELIVERED (to snatch away, deliver, rescue, save, strip, plunder)
- He WAS MY STAY (my support, or my staff)
- He BROUGHT (me into a broad place)
- He RESCUED me (because He delighted in me; DELIGHT here is the verb form of the noun in Psalm 1:2, his delight is in the law of the Lord)
Constable says the picture here is like a lifeguard rescuing a drowning man. David was swarmed by enemies, and God delivered him.
In verses 31 – 48 we see that Yahweh moved past deliverance to VICTORY over David’s enemies.
33 He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, And sets me upon my high places. 34 He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me; And Your gentleness makes me great. 36 You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped.
Several commentators compared this to the passage in Ephesians 6 about the full armor of God. More than just deliverance, Jesus teaches us to walk in victory.
Verses 49-50 Conclusion: THEREFORE I will praise you among the gentiles. The end result of this deliverance, this victory? PRAISE TO GOD AMONG THE NATIONS. Amen. Nations refers to Gentiles, the people groups of the world. Paul quotes this Psalm in Romans 15:8-13. Verses 49-50 have definite Messianic/Messiah prophecy marks. This promise was ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
So what is our take away from this psalm? I want us to consider David’s view of Yahweh. In David’s view, God was . . .
- Totally FOR him.
- When he called, Yahweh answered in terrific Theophany. Do we see God in holiness like this?? Do we depend on God for victory, do we call on Him when beset by spiritual enemies?
- He both delivered AND gave victory.
- Yahweh was totally faithful to His covenant promises.
I hope we don’t have physical enemies hunting us down like David did. But we do have AN enemy, and we have spiritual enemies, and I find this psalm tremendously encouraging in that battle.
Are you ever overcome with fear? Do you find yourself mired in the “what ifs” of life? Is Yahweh enough for your WHAT IFs? Ask yourself: “Is my confidence in Him enough to free me to step out of my comfort and into representing HIM? Is HE my source of strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, the horn of my deliverance, my stronghold?”
When have you felt entrapped or ensnared? Overwhelmed, like you were drowning? What in your life is just WAY too much for you? Do you see God responding to you in your danger? Are you crying out to Him, expecting that He would COME, and rescue you, draw you out of many waters, and bring you out into a BROAD place?
Do you believe He delights in you?
My hope is that we can say with the psalmist, “I love you, O Yahweh, my source of strength.”
GOING DEEPER (for personal study)
Read Psalms 30, 40, and 116 (other examples of individual thanksgiving psalms.) In each psalm, for what is the psalmist thankful?
List the character and actions of Yahweh/the LORD in each Psalm:
We want to use the Psalms as a jumping off point for our own communication with the Lord. With that in mind, you can either:
1. Write your own psalm or prayer of thanksgiving
2. Work through the exercise below:
Answer the questions below, then use your answers to fill in the blanks in the “Thanksgiving Mad Lib.”
1. Describe a current or past spiritual battle. This could be a time of insecurity in your relationships, the result of hard circumstances, or an ongoing battle (pride, fear, food, body image issues), anything that you’d consider a spiritual battle:________________________________________________
2. How would you sum up that spiritual battle in one word?_______________________________
3. What are 1, 2, or 3 characteristics or names of God that speak to the spiritual battle you listed above?
4. From what you’ve learned about God in Psalm 18 (and 30, 40 & 116 if you wish), write out how you see God responding to you in this battle: _________________________________________
5. Your name: _________________________________________________
6. How God sees you (daughter, beloved, friend, beautiful one, etc.):
Fill in the blanks below. (They are marked by number from your answers on the previous page):
I love you O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my (#3) _______________________ and my _______________________ and my ___________________________. I call upon the Lord and I am saved from (#2) ________________________________________. I was (battle from #1)______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________. But the Lord my (#3)____________________________________ came/will come to my rescue and (#4) __________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________ He delivers me from my enemies. Surely You lift me above those who rise up against me;. You rescue me from (#2)________________________________. Therefore I will give thanks to Your name among the peoples, O Lord, and I will sing praises to Your name. He gives great deliverance to (#6) _______________________________, and shows lovingkindness to (#5) ____________________________ forever.
Now read through what you’ve written out loud—there’s your Thanksgiving Song! If you’d like, you can share your poem with all of us in the comments below.