By Terry MacCabe
I’d like to introduce you to my favorite psalm of thanks. I say “introduce” because I suspect that if I asked you to guess which one I am thinking of, you would make 150 guesses and still not come up with it.
How can this be, you wonder, when the book of Psalms has only 150 entries? It’s because my favorite psalm of thanks is the one and only psalm in the Bible that is located outside the book of Psalms! If you turn to the book of 1 Chronicles chapter 16, you’ll find it. Take a moment to read it and then come back so I can tell you why I like it best of all.
We like to write special songs to commemorate special dates and events. Beethoven’s “Wellington’s Victory” is fairly self-explanatory. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” commemorates Russia’s defense against Napoleon’s invading troops. Francis Scott Key was inspired to pen the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” shortly after witnessing the shelling of Fort McHenry by the British navy during the War of 1812.
David wrote the psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 to commemorate a special day as well. It was the day the ark was brought back to Israel after spending three months at Obed-Edom’s house, and 20 years in Kiriath Jearim before that. You remember the story of how the ark had been captured by the Philistines after the elders of Israel had the crazy idea that taking it into battle would bring good luck (1 Samuel 4). During the ark’s stay with the Philistines, their god, Dagon, was humiliated and a plague spread among the people. They decided to get rid of it.
The first time David tried to bring the ark back to Jerusalem they attempted to transport it in an inappropriate manner, and Uzzah died as a result. This time they’d move it the way God said to move it. Not only did the priests carry it, as they should have previously, but they even observed a Sabbath and sacrifice on the way! After six steps they rested and offered a fattened calf to the Lord (2 Samuel 6:13).
This is also the day Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife, observed him as he worshipped during the transportation of the ark. David was worshipping with such animation and expression that his robe came undone. The Scriptures tell us that Michal “despised” David in her heart because of his intense worship. It seems that she felt behaving in such a way was beneath the dignity of royalty. David reminded her that it was he whom God had chosen over her father to be king and warned her that he would become “even more undignified” than what she had seen that day. As a result of her hardened heart, God closed her womb and she died childless.
It was also a day of music. David appointed 10 men to play music in the presence of the ark. Asaph sounded the cymbals and “Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God” (1 Chronicles 16:6). The music was to be used to express gratitude to God. In this psalm David highlighted several reasons we ought to be thankful to the Lord.
The opening line of the psalm says, “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (vv. 8, 9). Imagine the stories that had been handed down orally throughout Israel’s history that would flood the minds of those singing this psalm.
They knew it was God who had created all things through his powerful word. Out of nothing the power of his speech had brought the universe into existence. They would naturally think of God’s great power demonstrated through the flood. Never before had the whole earth been deluged with a great flood; and they had his promise, demonstrated by the beauty of the rainbow, that never again would it happen. During that great flood, God’s power was again demonstrated as the great wonders of the earth such as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls were likely formed.
Without a doubt the minds of the Israelites would also turn toward the great military victories that came only by the hand of God. One clear example of God’s great works in battle would be that of Gideon and his meager force. With just 300 men and God’s ingenious plan, the Midianite army was decimated at their own hands as they turned on each other in confusion and fright.
This Thanksgiving Day, you and I would do well to consider the great works of God in our lives. Some of us will think of times when we were too weak to carry on, during which his strength was perfected in us and greater things than we could have dreamed were accomplished. Others can recall a diagnosis that was dire by man’s estimation, but which God turned around to the astonishment of the medical community. Still others will think of how a hopeless marriage, seemingly broken beyond repair, was restored when husband and wife surrendered their will to the Lord. God still does great works; let’s thank him for what he has done for us.
Three times in this psalm David reminds those singing of God’s great glory (vv. 24, 28, 29). Holman’s Bible Dictionary defines glory as, “The weighty importance and shining majesty which accompany God’s presence.”
I love to sing praise and worship songs in a great gathering of believers; each time I’ve attended the North American Christian Convention the highlight has generally been worshipping with thousands of like-minded believers. Many of my favorite worship songs are those that focus on God’s glory.
Each time we read about someone coming into God’s presence in Scripture, the person is overwhelmed by God’s glory. Moses’ face radiated God’s glory; Isaiah feared for his life. They stood amazed by God’s greatness. I thank God that even though he is so much higher and greater than we, he gives us the opportunity to spend eternity in his glorious presence.
Great Covenants and Promises
Another theme David dwells on is God’s great covenants and promises. He begins this theme in verse 15, reminding those who sing this psalm of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The significant point David dwells on is that God is faithful in his covenant. This is significant because the people with whom he entered into the covenant were unfaithful. Although God had many reasons to abandon his people, he continued to bring them back into relationship with him.
David draws out two great blessings that come to those who are in covenant with God: protection and reward. God protects those with whom he is in a covenant relationship. He allowed no man to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: ”Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (1 Chronicles 16:21, 22). Undoubtedly those who heard the words of this psalm would recall the waters that had parted, allowing the Israelites to walk through on dry ground, and then receded, destroying those who had oppressed the Jews in Egypt.
David reminded Israel that those who are in a covenant relationship with God receive a great reward: “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit” (v. 18). A place of great joy and peace awaited those who were in covenant with God.
We too, who are in a covenant relationship with God through his Son, Jesus, are recipients of these great blessings. We enjoy God’s protection as we live each day and look forward to an even greater promised land in which we will spend eternity with our Lord.
In verse 23 David instructed the people to “proclaim his salvation day after day.” As we reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, our salvation should be first and foremost. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-11 that the people of David’s day longed to know when God would fulfill his promise of salvation. You and I are blessed to be living in the day of salvation. Thank the Lord.
Terry MacCabe is a freelance writer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
A Psalm for Your Season
First Chronicles 16 was a song fit to its time. Think about this day or season in your life. It may be marked by joy, sorrow, confusion, or excitement—or a combination of highs and lows.
Now compose a song, poem, or list of truths about God—and your response to those truths—that are particularly fitting to this time in your life. You can use ideas and phrases from 1 Chronicles 16, like:
• declaring God’s wonderful acts
• remembering God’s covenant
• acknowledging God’s protection
• looking toward a great reward
• proclaiming his salvation day after day
• telling others who God is.
You can also weave in truths from other passages of Scripture.
Put your poem, song, or list somewhere you’ll see it often, and pray that God will allow you to live out the truth of who he is in this season of your life.