Resources » Asbury Bible Commentary » Part II: The Old Testament » PSALMS » Commentary » IV. Thanksgiving Songs (the tôdâh) (Pss 18, 22, 23, 30, 32, 52, 66, 92, 107, 116, 118, 124, 138)

IV. Thanksgiving Songs (the tôdâh) (Pss 18, 22, 23, 30, 32, 52, 66, 92, 107, 116, 118, 124, 138)

The Thanksgiving Songs constitute the joyful reflex of the Prayer Songs (see Ps. 0:5), especially those for Deliverance From Accusation and Persecution, for here those cries have been heard. The terrible plights encountered in those prayers are now history. They surface here only to recount God's faithful deliverance. Certain death and destruction (18:4-5), enemies and illness (30:1-2), a sense of forsakenness by God (22:1), sin and the terror of God's anger (30:5; 32:3-4), and the scorn of it all (22:7-8) appear in testimony of the Lord's saving answer. In every case he has made the day in which gladness appears (118:24).

No single structure guides this process, though the components of praise on the basis of recounted deliverance are common to almost all of these songs. The entire opening two-thirds of Ps 22 recounts the desperate, deadly attack in which the psalmist felt deserted by God (22:1-21), a picture so bleak one despairs ever hearing from him. Reflecting God's rescue later, the latter third of the song is as victorious and confident as the first section is despondent (22:22-31). In Ps 30 the opening and closing lines declare praise to Yahweh for deliverance in general terms, with the intervening lines detailing and supporting these invitations to praise. Ps 52 devotes seven of its nine verses to warning the wicked, with praise and testimony of deliverance briefly concluding the work (52:8-9). Ps 23, if it belongs here, simply assumes the plight and devotes all its energy to testimony of Yahweh's salvation past, present, and future. Ps 107 is a meticulously crafted liturgy of thanks, with recurring refrains and culminating exhortation. The grand point of it all, as Ps 52:9 puts it, is that these marvelous rescues are “what you [Yahweh] have done.” And the point of the songs, by and large, is “Come . . . let me tell you what he [God] has done for me” (66:16).

Just as the plights recounted before in petition now surface in testimony to problems resolved, so the petitions themselves appear now in testimony to what God has done. He has heard (18:6; 66:19); has healed (30:2-3); has forgiven (32:5); has delivered from the enemy and given victory (18:32-45); and has protected, provided, vindicated, and given hope (23:1-6). Nowhere is this more clearly portrayed than in the matching refrains of Ps 107, where predicament is mirrored repeatedly in the language of deliverance: for example, “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom. . . . He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom” (vv. 10, 14).

In the course of these testimonies and related to them, rich faith in Yahweh finds song. Affirmations regarding Yahweh's saving relationship to the psalmists now rise from life experience, Yahweh as the Rock and Fortress (18:2-3)—the place on which one stands safe from the swirling waters of a wadi's flash flood or the impregnable city behind whose high and strong walls one is secure. Yahweh is the hiding place from haunting sin (32:7). Yahweh's holy dominion, the ancient reports of the ancestors, and the psalmist's own history of trust, which in the crisis stood so ironically out of place, now in the light of deliverance seem surer than ever (22:4-5, 9-11 versus 22:1-2, 6-8, 12-18 in light of vv. 22-30). Ps 118's account of rescue (118:5) undergirds the call to affirm Yahweh's enduring mercy (118:2-4), the Lord's nearness, and the psalmist's freedom from fear (118:6). The fitness of praising Yahweh and his exaltation (92:1-3, 8) springs directly from the psalmist's gladness at Yahweh's works, the demise of Yahweh's enemies, and the psalmist's own elevation (92:4-7, 9, 10-11). Deliverance leads to assurance that God treasures the life of his dear ones, relinquishing them only with great reluctance (116:15-16). What else could explain this poor soul's survival?

But according to these songs, it is not simply that the experiences inspired or confirmed faith, but that in the deliverance Yahweh actually made himself known. Ps 18 uses classic language borrowed from historic theophanies (appearances of God) to make this point (18:7-15). None of this finds clearer expression, perhaps, than in Ps 23, where the image of the royal shepherd unites the entire work. (That is, the poem does not begin with a shepherd picture and switch to a host picture.) No lowly peasant shepherd here, this is Yahweh, the King, in the figure of Shepherd (as known since earliest days in the ancient Near East and frequently, e.g., in the prophets' hope for the mighty David to rule after the Exile). This Shepherd has the resources, authority, power, and goodness to supply life's deepest needs; to rescue from death and guide through mortality; to judge and vindicate lavishly in the presence of foes; and to offer unending bliss by his very presence. According to Ps 107, only the upright of heart are able to see God even in these experiences; the wicked miss it all (107:42).

From these experiences of God's deliverance, the psalmists find eyes to see the future in faith. They envision Yahweh's “global” dominion and worship (22:27-28), universally rendering service to him (vv. 29-31). They see Yahweh's providence continually with them for good and life forever in his presence (23:6). The flourishing lot of the righteous in God's all-embracing goodness now appears to them (92:12-15). This new hope shines through the repeated “will” and “shall” language of these songs. They find themselves inspired to pronounce blessing on the forgiven (32:1-2) and on those who join the liturgy of praise (118:27-28).

Nor is this all a private matter. The drama of the tôḏâh engaged the worshiping assembly so that the private experiences of these rescued ones was to edify other people of God. The liturgy frequently associated with the tôḏâh still peeks through Pss 52, 66, 107, and 118. Ps 52:9 registers the simple import of praise in the presence of the saints. The back and forth interaction between the celebrant and other worshipers and leaders present is obvious in Ps 66 (vv. 8-9, 10-15, 16). The refrain structure of Ps 107 would almost certainly have involved antiphonal or responsive worship. The celebration could involve a procession of praise (118:26-28), marching with waving boughs to the altar. There the grateful one offered a thank offering (of the same name as these Songs of Thanks, the tôḏâh) and other sacrifices, paying vows made during the distress now past (66:13-15; 116:17-18). The whole priestly leadership and worshiping congregation are called to join the praise and affirmation with this delivered individual (118:1-4).

Oddly enough, many of these deliverances are actually reversals of distress also traced to Yahweh's anger and displeasure (e.g., Ps 30). Yahweh rescues from the storm he has spawned and now controls to a whisper (107:23-30). On the other hand, for those who trust him, Yahweh's presence is affirmed through all the woes that the righteous endure (32:10). In the end, the afflictions seem momentary in a lifetime of awareness of the Lord's loving favor (30:5).