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A 7-11 Song

God intends for us to remember that the steadfast love of the Lord endures.


Psalm 118 is a type of psalm this is what is known as an antiphonal psalm, which means it has echoes whereby God’s people respond to each other. You may remember there were times in Israel’s history where the people of God sang to each other from different mountains, responding to one another.

This particular psalm is one of six known as the Egyptian praises—psalms that were written to remind the people of God of his blessing of releasing them from slavery in Egypt. These six psalms—and this one in particular—are meant to be read antiphonally in families and in worship services at the Passover as the people of God reminded each other of God’s releasing them from slavery. What that means is that we are going to read this responsively with me, and as we do this you will be echoing Jesus and his apostles on the night before he was crucified, as he and his disciples also read responsively Psalm 118.

[Read Psalm 118]

Enduring Love

“His steadfast love endures forever.” We repeated it five times. Four times at the beginning and then again at the end of the psalm. Just be glad I didn’t choose Psalm 136. There it is repeated 26 times. Just a reminder that repetition in itself is not necessarily wrong; it may have a biblical purpose that God intends.

We may need to remember that repetition isn’t necessarily bad because of the way we tease each other sometimes. We tease each other about those 7-11 worship songs, right? 7 words, 11 times, as though there’s somehow something intrinsically wrong with that.

Yes, vacuous, shallow, empty repetition is actually something we’re commanded not to do in Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that all repetition is without purpose.

Why, after all, do we see repetition in Psalm 118 so long and much? Surely one reason is God intends for us to commit certain things to memory. The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. And we’re not supposed to forget that. That is the takeaway. You can’t miss it. Four times at the beginning, one time at the end. Unquestionably God intends for us to remember the steadfast love of the Lord endures.

That’s not just the takeaway, it’s the regular way that this psalm was intended to be used, to plant something in memory. After all, this psalm is collected from the time after Israel’s exile, when they had been taken into bondage and slavery again in Babylon, and now the people don’t remember their history; they don’t remember what God has done. So the psalmist now writes a worship song for the people to repeat and to say to one another—not just one time but every year for 500 years prior to Christ’s coming and for thousands of years since in Jewish households—the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. That is unquestionably the takeaway that is meant to happen.

So in verse one, it’s generally said to God’s people. In verse 2, to the nation. In verse 3, to worship leaders. You remember this. And finally, to individuals. Remember, the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

We sometimes say things repeatedly because we want them to stick in mind for people’s safety, for our own children. Do you remember the first phone number your parents ever had you memorize, in case you were ever in trouble? I can remember: E-X-8-2-0-4-8. I’ve had many numbers since then, but that one is deep down in there somewhere. I can remember that number.

We tell our kids things over and over again so they won’t forget. Remember your lunch money. Don’t talk to strangers. Put on clean underwear—you might be in an accident. Whatever that means. You are precious to me. Jesus loves you. Remember, remember. Because the days will come when the fish don’t bite and the sun don’t shine and the job doesn’t come and the relationship is undone. And health crumbles and age creeps, when life is long and love seems lost. Remember. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, oh God. Great is thy faithfulness. Just remember that. It’s worth repeating.

We repeat not just from memory; we repeat for emphasis. We emphasize particularly when we think what we are saying will save lives. Maybe it doesn’t even seem relevant at the moment. We teach young children: If your clothes ever catch fire, don’t run. Stop, drop, and roll. Teach it, teach it, over and over again. It may be needed. And if someone’s in trouble in the water, don’t make your first step to jump in after them. You both may get hurt. Reach, throw, row, go. Remember, remember, remember. You may need this; it may save lives.

The Lord Is on My Side

Verse 5, the psalmist is saying, “I need you to remember this and I emphasize it for the day of distress.” He says remember in verse 5, “Out of my distress I called on this Lord,” whose steadfast love endures, “and the Lord answered me and set me free.”

What are we learning by this God who answers in times of distress? Verse 6, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Verse 7, “The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on all of those who hate me.”

We have to confess as believers in the church of Jesus Christ that this phrase has been hijacked more than once. “The Lord is on my side.” Nations or movements, either for aggression or for selfish gain, have adopted the phrase to say we can do as we want with impunity because God is on our side. But the fact that it has been misused is not to take away an understanding that the ancient Jews would have had and that we should reclaim, that this is the essence of the covenantal promise of God: You have walked away from me, you have sinned against me, you have rebelled against me, and I am still on your side. You walked away; I haven’t walked away. I am still for you. The psalmist is driving this deep into people’s lives and hearts: God is on our side, what can man do to me? We need to remember this in our times of everyday struggle and in our day of darkest persecution.

Wheaton College President Phil Ryken surprised students when they were returning to college one year with a chapel message in which he said he had so been pressed by the pressures of the presidency of Wheaton College that he had considered taking his own life. Fundraising that was never ending, accreditation pressures particularly for a school that is standing for biblical principles, faculty in division, family difficulties. And if you’ve ever see his sermon online, it will drive you to tears as he describes lying on the floor and his own parents putting their hands on him and praying for his life. And the dearness of lying in bed at night where he could not sleep, so his wife reading the psalms to him to give him some peace of heart and mind so that he could actually believe again the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

“The Lord is on my side. What can man do to me?” If you have been in places of heavy responsibility, you know what that means. To be in public place or public office where not only are the pressures intense, but the bloggers take control, where reputation, name, and future are so damaged you begin to wonder, “Can I survive this? Can my family survive this?”

To be able to say, “I will not fear what man can do to me.” To actually believe deep in your heart the truths of a covenant-keeping God whose steadfast love endures forever. Can they take my life? Yes, they can, but then I have eternal life. Can they destroy my family? Yes, they can, but Jesus holds them forever. Can they take my reputation? Yes, they can, but the King of heaven will crown me with the glory and the honor of his Son. What can they do to me? God is on my side.

It’s what the apostle Paul takes so much to heart when he says in Romans 8, “What can we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all. How shall he not also along with him graciously give us all things?” He has provided all that we need for life and godliness and eternal life beyond this present. Yes, earthly trials can be great, but God in my distress hears me and answers me. The Lord is on my side. He is for me. And that may not just be something for memory; that may save your life someday.

So God says it to his people with repetition and emphasis: The Lord is for us. The reason is clear in verses 8 and 9, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mighty men like princes.”

The reason that this repetition comes with such memorableness and emphasis is because there is so much contrast to it in the world. Every phrase will be challenged. The challenge is actually stated in verses 10, 11, and 12 because the Bible is real and realistic. “All nations surrounded me,” verse 11, “They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side,” verse 12, “They surrounded me like bees.”

As you hear the words I want you to think first of their original context, the nation of Israel, divided, enslaved, in a land not their own, surrounded by Babylonian enemies, now their slave masters. I’m surrounded. I’m surrounded on every side. Not even in my own land. And then when the people begin to go back into the Promised Land under Nehemiah, and they begin to build the wall—and you may remember how the nations gathered around them and mocked them like bees stinging them. What are you doing rebuilding this wall? You think you’re going to stand against us? How silly. And the disciples repeating the same words on that night in Jerusalem where they knew that the Jewish leaders were surrounding them to arrest their leader to kill him if any way they could. And Jesus himself saying, “They surrounded me, they surrounded me on every side. They surrounded me like these.” Even the reigning Lord saying, “They’re all around me, Lord. You say that your steadfast love endures forever, but they are pushing me hard.”

The Lord Helped Me

Why the contrast? So that we were prepared for verse 13, “I was pushed hard so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.” Wonderful words—“The Lord helped me.” A little bit later, the Lord reminded us that he is our helper. They are precious words.

Do you remember where you may first have heard the word helper used in the Bible? It’s in the second chapter of the entire Scriptures, where God provides for Adam a helper who is fit, suited just right for him. Because it was not good that he be alone. So God said, “I will bring this helper to you, one who in intimacy and affection and support will actually give you the help you need to be what God has called you to be,” and now God gives himself that same name. I will help you. I will be your helper. Everything surrounds you, everything is dark, everything seems bad, the persecution comes, and they are pushing you hard. But I am your helper. As close as a spouse, as deep in love, as affectionate as that can be, supportive as I can—I am your helper. You have turned from me, you walked away from me, the enemy is surrounding, but I am here to be your helper. And we need those words in a real world.

I received a letter recently from one of our wise and dear elders, and he wrote about the significance of a God who helps us when we feel surrounded and pressed on every side. I want to read a portion of that letter.

The recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage must be addressed with a patriotism that remembers the great American right of freedom was developed by pilgrims who were being persecuted for their faith. In my opinion, the freedom of religion that was established by them will now need consistent memory in a time of our own persecution. There is a time that persecution will now come to Christians. It will no longer be socially acceptable to be a Christian, casual or otherwise. The difficulty ahead won’t be a function of our inability to legislate morality or control the Supreme Court. The reason that our persecution will come cuts deeper into the Bible and across the centuries of biblical history. The reason for our persecution will be the defense of the cross, which already cost millions of our brothers and sisters across this world their lives and their suffering on a daily basis. By persecution the church will be refined as if by fire.

It is still true—the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. We need to prepare our hearts and those in our congregations to be ready for a much bigger battle, a spiritual battle whose victory can only be in the Lord. Not in government, not in politics, not in court decisions. He goes on to say that while we all are still responsible for political and social responsibilities, it is better for us to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

It’s not just the message for a political time. There are those of you who are in companies right now who are debating whether or not you shall continue in a practice that you believe is wrong. There are places where your peers are pressing you to do things that push you hard in your faith and sometimes what we struggle with is “But I have to take care of my family. I have to protect myself. I have to protect my name.” And God says through his Word: For the sake of yourself and your children and your church and the progress of the faith of Jesus Christ, all about us. It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man. You or anybody else. Trust in the Lord. Because the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. I won’t say there’s no trial, no distress, but in our distress we call out to the One whose steadfast love endures forever. And recognizing that is the calling.

The psalmist now begins to repeat things with intensity, recognizing how difficult it will be to remember even what is repeated. The intensity begins in verse 14, “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.” Why do we now begin—even in the middle of distress when we are pushed hard—to sing songs of praise to the Lord? Because he has provided our salvation. Something beyond this world, and the beyond is going to be now explained.

The middle of verse 15, “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” Repeat it again, verse 16, “The right hand of the Lord exalts.” Repeat it again, “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” What is all that about?

The right hand of an ancient warrior held the sword. The right hand of God was the place of power, but it is also the place of his Son. And so in Psalm 98, you may remember not only this is the day the Lord has made, but his right hand, his holy arm had gotten the victory for him. This is a statement of his Son, of the right hand that is Christ himself who not only is providing for us by his work in God’s power but it is Christ himself who is performing the work of God in our behalf. God is not just providing us salvation; he is providing us a Savior.

As a result of that, verses 17 and 18, “I shall not die, but I shall live.” It cuts so many ways. Can you imagine Jesus at the Passover meal, the Last Supper, having just said those words? He has already told his disciples for weeks, the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested and mocked and spat upon and crucified, and three days later he will rise. And now this same Jesus repeats this psalm, “I shall not die but live.” But he is saying it not just for him. He is saying the words that are to be repeated by the people of God for generations and millennia to come. It’s what you and I can say. He has provided my salvation; he has provided my Savior. And as a consequence, I shall not die but live.

Verse 18, “The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.” Yes, earthly life can push you hard, but eternal life is ours and that recognition that we walk in the path of our Savior, able to say, “I shall not die but live.” This is the promise of God who tells me to trust in him, not in the realities of this world alone but in the greater reality of heaven itself. “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.”

The Gates of Righteousness

The Lord actually provides himself. Verse 19, “Open to me the gates of righteousness.” Can you see us walking up now not just to the temple of gods of the ancient people but walking up to the gates of heaven? I shall not die but live. God, open to me the gates of righteousness. This world has pushed me. Life itself has pushed me down. Enemies have surrounded me. They’ve said wrong things about me; they’ve hurt my family. But God, I shall live in the land of eternal life. Open to me the gates of righteousness.

Now you see the reason for the intensity. It becomes almost pure ecstasy as the psalmist begins to push harder and harder. “This is the gate of the Lord,” verse 20, “The righteous shall enter through it.” Verse 21, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” How has that happened? Verse 22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The words Jesus used to refer to himself. How has this salvation come? How does God open to use the gates of righteousness? How do we become righteous to enter? Because that stone, that rock of salvation that God provided which was rejected by the nation upon which he built the Jews, has nonetheless become the cornerstone for the salvation of all peoples. Jesus Christ himself is being provided. God has provided his Son and because he has provided his Son, we have a song to sing.

Verse 23, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” We so often use that verse to talk about creation, right, and we forget it’s actually a statement about salvation. This is the day the Lord has made. He has taken the stone that the building nation rejected and he has made it a cornerstone for all peoples. This is the provision of Christ our Savior.

You may be thinking, I don’t have a place in the church of Jesus Christ. I don’t have the life, the background, the setting. Life has pressed me hard. I don’t have a place here. No, we’re not building on your background. We are building on the cornerstone that is the righteous of Jesus Christ, and you and I come and stand here—with confidence not in our goodness, not in our righteousness—but in trust that God has made a way for the gates of righteousness to open to us, we stand on the reality of what Christ has done and it’s what the Savior himself told us to do. “I am the cornerstone,” he said, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and we build our lives, our hope on him.

How do we know that? Verse 25, because we pray after the song. “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success.” Maybe better interpreted, victory. Victory over ourselves, victory over our sin, victory over our persecutors, victory over the life that’s pressed me here. O Lord, if your steadfast love endures forever, give us your victory. Help us to build on Christ, who is the one who secures and saves as he promises. And with that intensity, the psalm almost become ecstasy.

Sometimes we forget that worship is not just cognitive rational thought. Sometimes the reason we repeat, sometimes the reason you respond with such volume and dearness when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” is something deep in you has been touched.

I don’t know what you came with this week, some of the press of family and job and the things. But for a moment you are able to release as the Lord opened to you the gates of righteousness and maybe just for a few moments in that song repeating the “holy, holy, holy” that you have sung, some of you, since you were little children. Some of you only learning late in life. What would it mean to be able to have a relationship with a holy God? Something in you released for just a moment from the press and the worry and all the things that were in your mind, and you just for a moment were able to rejoice in God. And that is part of what worship is supposed to do. It is part of what the repetition does if it has truly moved us to the place of heart and soul that God intends.

Look how it happens here in verse 26, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” We pray for help and then we respond, “We bless you from the house of the Lord.” Do you remember those words? Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. When else are they repeated? The triumphal entry, remember? As the people of God, looking at Jesus, believing for a moment that the Messiah has come, they said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and they took the palm branches, they took their cloaks and, kind of forgetting themselves, they just threw it on the streets, saying, “We have to worship this one.” And prepared a way for him in heart, mind, and song.

Scholars who study Jewish history at that time say that as Jesus was descending the Mount of Olives and the people were strewing the palm branches and the cloaks in front of him saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” because it was the time of Passover, at that same time coming into the city would roughly have been a quarter million sheep to be slaughtered for the Passover. 250,000 lambs coming into the city. And God chose only one to do his work. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

As God provided his Son and prepared our hearts for the wonder and the goodness of that verse 27, “The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.” Now read the words, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” The Jews were thinking of all those lambs, but we read it now in the voice of the Savior who would have read it himself, knowing what he was saying. Bind the sacrifice to the place on the altar where he will provide for the sins of the people. Bind me to the altar and then once we know it, verse 28, “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” When we perceive the wonder and the greatness and the goodness of it, it somehow lifts us beyond the earthly trials, beyond the earthly pain, beyond the tears. We are lifted to give thanks unto the Lord whose “steadfast love endures forever!” And it’s the very intent of the repeated psalm to take our hearts there.


Violence broke out in St. Louis near where Kathy and I have lived, where friends of ours still live. It’s not the first touch of violence. Just a few years ago, Kathy and I had the opportunity to participate in the funeral of one of those friends, the funeral of her son. A son who had been caught in gang life, in violence, in drugs, but by a marvelous work of God had come to claim the God who saved him. And as he turned from gang life and turned from drugs, he was murdered.

At that funeral, tradition unlike ours, in some ways more biblical than ours, the mom of the murdered boy knelt at the casket and began to repeat in ecstasy, “Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Jesus, Thank you, Jesus, Thank you, Jesus, for saving my son.”

How did he do that? By giving his Son for you and for me. And when you profoundly and deeply know that, it takes you above the press of this life and you say, “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Lord, for you have saved my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole. Thank you, Lord, for giving to me thy great salvation, so rich and free. “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Praise him. Amen.

Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.

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