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C.S. Lewis once made a vivid observation that grumblers are on a path to becoming just a grumble: “[Hell] begins with a grumbling mood and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”
“I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, All men are liars. What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now 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 thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people, In the courts of the LORD’S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 116).
Summary of the Text
This is a passover Psalm, likely composed by David, and was a regular fixture of that celebration. It opens with a declaration of love, firm footing for any expression of praise to the Lord. But this ain’t vague sentimentality. Rather, He loves God because God heard him (v1). His statement “I will call upon the Lord (cf. vs. 2b, 4a, 13b, 17b)” forms the spine of this hymn. God’s past kindness in inclining His ear to David stirs him up to make calling upon God his continual habit (v2). He had faced a recent trouble––death hunting him down (v3)––and we see his response: calling unto God for deliverance (v4). God’s grace and righteousness is the basis for David’s confidence in this request (v5), along with the reality that God doesn’t deliver on the grounds of the recipient’s merit, social status, or book-smarts (v6).
This reality brings rest, because God has blessed him bountifully in this undeserved deliverance from death (vs 7-8); but it also compels him to “walk before the Lord” (v9). Faith isn’t an anesthetic to his emotion; rather it allowed him to look affliction in the face, and call it what it is (v10). This also helps him see his temptations to sin against his neighbor (v11).
All this leads to a question of how to properly thank the Lord (v12). What should I give Him? I should take from Him. The cup of salvation is received, and God is once more called upon (v13). Furthermore, reviewing God’s deliverance elicits a response of tangible gratitude. The thanksgiving overflows in obedient execution of vows (v14, 18), humbly recognizing that being spared death was a precious gift from the Lord (v15). In other words, salvation compels service; deliverance from bondage binds us to obedience (v16). The sacrifice which a loving, faith-filled heart gives is thanksgiving––public obedience––in the midst of God’s people (vs17-19).
Black Swan Deliverance
While this is a very “first person” psalm, it isn’t a psalm of individualism. Remember that this is a passover hymn. The psalmist sees in that mighty, miraculous deliverance of God’s people a source of hope for his present difficulty. David draws hope from God’s past faithfulness to His people, to buoy his hope that God would perform another miraculous exodus for him. In essence, he sings about his present trial, while putting himself in remembrance of God’s mighty works of old.
God’s deliverance is always undeserved, and we see this in a few spots in this passage. As Spurgeon observed, the grace and mercy are a bejeweled sheath for the blade of justice (cf. vs5). David had seen many perish, and knew that God sparing his life was a precious gift, not to be taken for granted.
We also see that the Lord’s preservation of the simple is not the way corrupt systems of human justice works. There often seems to be one law for D.C. elites and Hollywood stars, and another set of laws for us simple folk. But God isn’t a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and he delivers whom He will regardless of their wealth, influence, power, prestige, or IQ. God saves those who call to Him in faith. As David says in another Psalm, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. (Ps. 34:6).” And He continues to save them through “many dangers, toils, and snares.”
Gratitude and Duty
But the deliverance is intended to lead us to love and thanksgiving. The sacrifices of Israel were always supposed to elicit gratitude from God’s people. They were both an expression and a reminder of the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise which we owe to God. The sin offerings reminded the saint that the throat which should be slit was theirs, but instead, God graciously accepted the lamb in their stead. But this gratitude and faithful thanksgiving, wasn’t to be empty words. It is dutiful work. Notice the order of this psalm: love leading to loyalty, faith catalyzing good works.
How do you repay God for His salvation? You receive once more from Him a heart of thanksgiving, regardless of your circumstances. What does God want from you? He wants you to get more of Him and from Him. He wants you to overflow with praise. Praise for His blessings: life itself, rest, bounty, and all the other blessings. But also praise in the pit. Thanksgiving in all circumstances, for all circumstances.
Faith-filled hearts of gratitude don’t just thank God for keeping us safe during the flood, it thanks Him for the flood. Because the flood is what gave us another opportunity to call upon Him, look unto Him, and trust ourselves to Him alone.
Grumble or Gratitude
The grumbler wants to mutter and whine about everything, as he plods down the path to hell. He thinks he knows what his circumstances should be. He thinks a nice, comfortable life is his by right. He wants to pour his own cup, with his own choice of wine.
But the grateful heart knows that whether in blessed or burdensome times, whether on the mountain or in the low-lands, God delivers His people from all their troubles. The grateful pray to God about their problems. The grumbler prays to himself.
Drink the cup which God set before you. Trust that in it, you will taste that Christ has already drank the cup of God’s wrath, that you might drink the cup of God’s blessing. So don’t fear your trials, even the final trial of death. God’s deliverance is always a resurrection from the dead. For in Christ, even death has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15:55).