Sunday, November 25, 2007

C is for Correlation

IV. Theme and Expected Emotional Response to Psalm 118

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart Tuesday!

On the surface, Psalm 118 stands out as a thanksgiving hymn wherein the speaker is saved from great danger and brought to a place of peace inside the gates of God. The thanksgiving within the psalm is certainly the driving force behind the genre of the psalm as well as much of the content, but the true theme of the psalm reflects God’s nature instead of the act of giving thanks to God. Psalms function to remind readers and singers and musicians about God’s character in such a way that invokes a deeply felt inward emotion that then brings about the outward response of praise and thanksgiving. The theme of Psalm 118 then focuses on the quality of God’s love for His people. The theme of Psalm 118 is shown in the repeated refrain “His faithful love endures forever,” and the emotional response this divine characteristic summons is a feeling of joy that then bursts forth in praise and thanks to God.

The refrain “His faithful love endures forever” envelopes the psalm, opening and closing the lyrics. The refrain identifies the main theme that is developed through the recounting of how God saves the speaker of the psalm in the middle section of the psalm. The “Lord” places the speaker in a “spacious place” (v 5), which intones a place of safety and refreshing. The Lord then is compared to a “helper” (v 7) and to the idea of “refuge” (vv 8, 9). As such, the Lord becomes the speaker’s strength, song, and salvation (v 14) from the nations that surrounded him/her (v 10). The idea that the speaker’s enemy was “the nations” also implies that though the speaker in the psalm is predominately singular, the speaker more than likely represents his/her family, tribe, or the nation of Israel. This may help explain why the speaker switches from first person to third person pronouns in verses 23 through 27; the speaker begins to say things like “let us rejoice and be glad in it” and “The Lord is good and has given us light” (vv 24, 27 italics mine). Further, there is a chorus of “shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the righteous” (v 15), which reinforces the corporate aspect of Psalm 118. The words “rejoice” and “glad” and the phrase “shouts of joy and victory” indicate the kind of emotion involved in singing/reading this psalm aloud; the readers/singers of this psalm are to be filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. The content of the psalm suggests that it functions to aid a number of worshippers in thanking and praising God for His “faithful love.” All of the praising and thanking emphasizes the theme that God’s people should give thanks to God as their reaction to His “faithful love [enduring] forever.”

One of our modern thanksgiving hymns, written by Chris Tomlin, takes its theme from Psalm 118. Chris Tomlin’s song has been pumped through Christian radio and featured by worship leaders across the world. The opening lyrics are, “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, His love endures forever.” Driven by an upbeat bass line and intense percussion crescendos, Chris Tomlin’s song serves the function of uplifting the spirits of modern day worshippers by reminding them that God’s goodness is “above all things” and that this eternal quality is available to God’s people in their time of need. It is no surprise then that the psalm from which Tomlin derived his modern hymn of thanksgiving functioned to create the same uplifting effect thousands of years ago to Israelites worshipping in the temple of God. Seeing how Chris Tomlin’s refrains are used in the church today serves to underscore the original purpose, function, theme, and emotional response engendered originally by Psalm 118. The theme is God’s “love endures forever.” The expected emotional response is to be uplifted by emotions of joy into such a state as to posit the human heart in a posture of external thanksgiving and praise.

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