Oh, Give Thanks to the Lord: Praise Ignites

In Psalm 118 we contemplate words that the Lord sang before He journeyed through the darkness of Jerusalem, across the brook Kidron and up into the groves on the Mount of Olives. It is humbling to think of Him faithfully singing phrases like “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it,” and “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar,” as the shadow of Calvary loomed so near (Psa 118:24,27 KJV). Though He is indeed the faithful Man, we may wonder what attitude buttressed Him through such a deep trial. We need look no further than the repeated phrase which both begins and ends Psalm 118: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (vv1,29).[1] As we continue to ponder this phrase and the moments when it arises in the worship of Israel, we must now look beyond David and Solomon to the day of Jehoshaphat.

A hundred years earlier, Israel had enjoyed the pinnacle of united praise at the dedication of the temple. And yet a precipice loomed as the progeny of Solomon tore the country apart in the foolish pursuits of power. As good King Jehoshaphat took his place upon the throne of Judah, it was to reign over a people who had experienced the rending of a nation, twenty years of ungodly leadership, and then forty years of recovery. No doubt he was keenly aware of division, of lost leaders, and of the dimming of the testimony compared with past generations. Worse yet, though much had diminished, it seemed that the enemies of the people of God had only waxed greater.

Second Chronicles 20 relates to us the details of the three-headed monstrous multitude that threatened the people of God. “Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, ‘A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar’ (which is En Gedi)” (v2). The unity of their enemies from Moab, Ammon and Mount Seir, and the rapidity with which they approached Jerusalem mocked the weakness of Judah. One would hardly be surprised had Jehoshaphat left his station and fled for the worldly sanctuary of Egypt. How wonderful, rather, to read his response and see how it was reflected in the people: “And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD” (vv3-4). Dear reader, let me challenge your heart as I do my own: Is our day most like David’s or Solomon’s or Jehoshaphat’s? Is there any note of godly fear, godly pursuit or godly reliance marking my life in this time of great weakness? Consider the further details of Jehoshaphat’s experience and the lesson that praise ignites the Lord to work on behalf of His people.

In reverse order to what Solomon had done at the dedication of the temple, Jehoshaphat spoke first to the Lord and then to the people. Even as he prayed, reminding the Lord of His wonderful works and faithful promises to the nation of Israel, a new spirit of unity was present in the congregation. “Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD” (v13). Likewise, our little ones must see the reality of our faith. In this moment of united surrender the Spirit of the Lord spoke through Jahaziel, a descendent of Asaph. What wonderful words poured from his lips as he prophesied, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s’” (v15). This punctual, powerful and personal message left Jehoshaphat and his people prostrate before the awesomeness of their God. And when they rose up it was in praise and obedience to the Word of the Lord.

The next morning the strangest army you could imagine eagerly left the gates of Jerusalem. The final words of encouragement from Jehoshaphat to his people pointed them to their God and His Word: “Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (v20). After consulting with the people, Jehoshaphat decided to set a vanguard of singers before the army. As we have reached the third article of this series, I would implore you to reread if you are unable to guess the words of praise that they shouted on their march: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever!”

In the height of their praise their God had rightly grown very large in their eyes. As their appreciation of Him increased, the enormity of the enemy faded. The details we read concerning the Lord’s timing are so very precise, “Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated” (v22). Though we claim no personal merit to the sure mercies of God, can any deny that the Lord delights in the praise of His people and will move on their behalf?

The prayerful request of Psalm 118:25 is this: “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.” Indeed, that is what Jehoshaphat and Israel experienced. They spent three days in the valley gathering the spoil of riches and precious jewels. They renamed the valley “Berachah,” the valley of praise. In addition to prosperity and praise they enjoyed the tremendous fruit of peace. We read, “So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about” (2Ch 20:30 KJV). Let us not forget that Christ entered into the dark valley of death on our behalf that He might reap an eternal reward of praise and prosperity and peace. Should we not shout, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever!”?

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.