Remembering, step forward – Psalm 108

To step forward without remembering where you’ve been can be dangerous!

Psalm 108 is a place where David (the psalmist) is remembering how God has helped him in times past so that he can step forward. This little psalm can be a great comfort to you in your life right now.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Be exalted, O God (v1-5)

We notice first that the heading says this is a song, a psalm of David. That’s actually pretty important detail that we’ll return to.

Read Psalm 108:1-2. You get the mood pretty quickly! David is jubilant! He’s ready to sing, to play his lyre and harp on full volume, and praise the Lord. Wake up the neighbours? He’ll wake up the dawn itself!

Read Psalm 108:3. And this isn’t a private matter – he’s ready to thank God among all the people and sing his praises to all the nations. Deep-felt gratitude and joy in the Lord will always burst out.

What is it he wants to thank God for? Read Psalm 108:4. It’s that “unfailing love” word yet again. The Old Testament is riddled with it! God’s unfailing, covenantal, committed love towards his people. And his “faithfulness” – a child might have a favourite toy for a while, and then something else becomes the favourite. 

But with God, if you’re a Christian you’re his treasured possession and always will be. For those of you who are going through pain and trouble, you need to know that David wrote these words in his own pain and trouble (we’ll see that later on).

In the pain and trouble

You’re to know, experience, and give thanks in your circumstances, not just when the clouds have passed over.

Your circumstances are no measure for God’s love and faithfulness towards you.

  • He loves you. He’s committed to you, for your good.
  • He is faithful towards you, unwavering in his favour towards you.
  • Your circumstances are no measure for God’s love and faithfulness towards you. They do not change.
    • The ultimate example of that being the cross.
    • Jesus is the Son of God, eternally bound to the Father’s unfailing love and faithfulness.
    • Jesus suffered terribly, experiencing the Father’s wrath. But there was no dip or blip in the Father’s unfailing love or faithfulness.
    • In fact, it was precisely because of that love and faithfulness to each other and to you the Christ hung there and died.

See God’s glory in Christ

Which brings us to read Psalm 108:5. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus actually prayed that his disciples might see his glory!

  • You can’t see God in his glory, except that he’s particularly revealed his glory in Jesus.
  • He is exalted above the highest heavens – he is our Creator, beyond all creation and independent of it.
  • He doesn’t need anyone or anything, existing in perfect Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit beyond all time and space.
  • Yet brought everything into being; everything that exists comes from his own essence or command – rocks, galaxies, light, music, joy, love. Everything.
  • And we get a glimpse of his glory as we examine the wisdom and wonder of creation.
  • But we get a greater glimpse when we see his Son, Jesus.

Jesus is the image of God’s glory given to us. “May your glory shine over all the earth” (v5) – may Christ himself be known across the world! This gets brought out further in the next part:

Be our saviour, O God (6-13)

David (the psalmist) has reflected on God’s greatness and given thanks for God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. But he knows that those things about God aren’t just abstract ideas: If that is what God is like, you can expect God to act for your good.

So he lists some things that God has said (in Psalm 108:7-9)

  • He mentions Shechem and Succoth in v7 – places where Jacob (aka Israel) had rested centuries before.
  • The other places are about the land God promised in the east, west, north and south.
  • “Ephraim, my helmet, will produce my warriors, and Judah, my scepter, will produce my kings.” 
    • The NLT has added “will produce my warriors/kings” to help clarify for modern readers.
    • Ephraim is often Bible shorthand for “northern Israel”; Judah is “southern Israel” where Jerusalem is – the king’s palace and the Temple of God too.
  • Moab, Edom, and Philistia were enemies, working against David and Israel; God promised had to defeat the enemies of his people.

This is a prayer coming out of pain:

  • V1-5 You are great beyond the heavens
  • V7-9 You have promised to defeat our enemies
  • So, read Psalm 108:6.

If he left it there, it might sound like David is trying to twist God’s arm or manipulate God into action. But it’s not that; this is coming from his heart, from his pain. Read Psalm 108:10-11. In spite of everything he’s said, his circumstances drive him to anxiety: Will God no longer help him? Has God rejected them? He can’t see how he can succeed without God’s help.

So read Psalm 108:12. Haven’t you seen that so many times? Human help is good for many things, but there are situations where no-one can help – except God.

God acts for his people

But with God, things are different: Read Psalm 108:13. The “he” is emphatic; “he will trample down our foes.” David asks God for help against his enemies.

He is ready to go out and do battle, knowing that if God is with him then he will be victorious over enemies. In the soldiers in combat. In the water-carriers, caterers, medical helpers and support personnel. Hand by hand, person by person, God at work.

And this is the great picture of the psalm: God who is exalted above the heavens who loves his people with unfailing love and faithfulness has promised to defeat all enemies and works that promise through the hand by hand, person by person service of his people.

Our Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, North Korea, parts of China and Nigeria, and elsewhere in the world – they know what it’s like to have actual enemies armed and ready to kill them.

For you and me, there are different kinds of enemies against God’s people in this country: Injustice; denial of truth; eroding freedoms of speech. And universal enemies: Temptation, sin, death.

All of these enemies will one day be utterly destroyed. The greatest – and last – enemy is death itself, and that has already been defeated. Jesus died and rose from the dead. He is the firstfruits; one day he will return and everyone will rise for the harvest. Every man, woman and child ever.

Life, death, truth

The fact that he rose from the dead is proof of life after death; the fact that he rose to heaven shows that what he said about his return will come true.

  • You, me, and everyone you know has offended God and are naturally separate from him. That separation would be eternal in hell unless God himself chose to forgive.
  • He came into the world as a human specifically to take the punishment of sin; and he died as a human being in your place. He rose, and is now ascended in heaven until the day of his return.
  • He calls you to trust in that death and resurrection as your hope over death and to bring you joy in God’s presence.
  • You are called to turn to him today. Ask him for forgiveness, for victory over sin and death.
  • Then you can know him and experience his love and faithfulness; exalted above the heavens, known by you.

Revelation 19:11-21 makes it clear that Jesus will return to the earth to wipe away all the enemies of his people forever. As you face those enemies today, you can turn to him (as David did) and cry out to him for help against grief, temptation, sin, death, despair. Read Psalm 108:12-13 again. But the psalm has even more:

Remembering, step forward

There’s something pretty unusual about psalm 108. It’s basically a cut-and-paste from the ends of two other psalms by David.

  • Psalm 57 gives us verses 1-5; Psalm 60 gives v6-13.
  • In Psalm 57, David remembers a time when he was in a hole (a cave!), with his life in danger, and God rescued him.
  • Psalm 60 remembers a later time when David’s armies were facing defeat on several battle fronts.

Ps 57: I was in a hole, and you rescued me.

Ps 60: We were in trouble; people were no help; we cried to you.

Why should David write psalm 108 the way he did? [It’s even possible that the editor of the psalms did it (it would still be a psalm of David).] It’s because psalms are songs that sing into different situations. 

We all have songs that remind us of places, people, times in our lives. Some happy, some sad. The psalms work like that; you’re to know them and make them your own, and use the language to articulate your own pain in your own time and place.

Jesus himself quoted psalms even as he hung dying on the cross – crying out in despair and pain: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Ps 22) and also in trust: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Ps 31).

Forwards with God

David uses the language of the psalms to praise God. But more: He takes two memories of God’s help to help him step forward. He’s not looking back thinking, “I did ok then; I can do this again.” He’s looking back, remembering God’s help and strength.

  • Then he remembers God’s great love and faithfulness.
  • He remembers God’s power – greater than any mere human.
  • Then he remembers that God has made promises to defeat the enemies of his people and to save everyone who calls on him.
  • And so then he calls to God for help again.

Never make the mistake of thinking that past successes were done in your strength, or by your ability – victory is God’s alone. In your life, in the life of this church, anywhere. Do look back over your life; remember how you have been brought through tough times and successes.

But Psalm 108 reminds you that it’s only when you regard those memories as God’s victories will you be ready to ask him for help for your next hurdle. Because the Bible is clear: Hard days will come, and keep on coming until the end. I’m not going to kid you into some version of Christianity where everything is ok in life. But on the basis of God’s own word, I can promise you that Jesus Christ is Good News in a broken world. Step forward.

The Good News of the Bible is much more than “trust Jesus to avoid hell”. The Good News is that through Jesus you can come to know, thank, and praise the God who is exalted above the heavens – experience his love, faithfulness, and salvation today.

And know his help and strength as you step forward tomorrow.