The single most important event of the Old Testament, the story that the Hebrew people told about themselves, was that of the Exodus, their release from captivity in Egypt. They go to Egypt willingly because of famine in their country; God uses Joseph to prepare for the famine (Gen. 37–41). They become captives as their numbers threaten Pharaoh. Perhaps because humanity seems destined to repeat history if we don’t retell it, the Israelites choose to retell their release story in their worship. Psalm 118 closes what is identified traditionally as the Hallel collection. Hallel, as in hallelujah, “Praise the Lord.”
Verses 1-4 praise God for the foreverness of God’s love, “God’s steadfast love endures forever!” And the opening verses give way to a recounting of deliverance by God. God answers the psalmist’s cry of distress by setting him in a broad place. Surrounded on all sides and pushed hard to the point of falling, the psalmist triumphs with the Lord on his side.
It is important to repeat this truth because God’s people will face captivity again in Babylon. Through the recitation of Psalm 118, they choose their story. Rather than focusing on captivity, they focus on praising God forever and remembering God’s faithfulness.
We all have stories of captivity in our lives. We are captive to our pain, our families, our choices. And sometimes, things that we had no control over tie us to a life in captivity. But the people of God choose to remember and recite the story of God’s faithfulness, not the years of captivity. Perhaps we can join in their refrain and “Praise the Lord” as well.
O God, I praise you because you deliver us from our captivity, both individual and corporate. I remember that you release me from that which binds me and for that I say, “Praise the Lord! [Your] steadfast love endures forever!” Amen.
Isaiah 65:17-25 looks toward God’s creation of “new heavens and a new earth.” Jerusalem itself is not to be restored but created anew, a place in which life will be revered and protected and in which God will permit no harm to any of creation. The New Testament lessons remind us of the reality— the sometimes painful reality—of the present. Second Thessalo- nians 3:6-13 warns against the disorderly conduct of those who believe that the newness of the eschatological future permits them license in the present. Luke 21:5-19 adds an element of sobriety to the singing of new songs and the expectation of a new future. The faithful are called to bear witness to God’s future in the present, precisely when the new future cannot be seen and even when it seems most improbable.
• Read Isaiah 65:17-25. How does the promise of the new heavens and new earth encourage to tell a new story?
• Read Psalm 118. Which story will you tell? The one of your captivity . . . or the one of your salvation?
• Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. Where in your life do you need to be more disciplined so that you do not deceive yourself?
• Read Luke 21:5-19. What signs from God are you seeking instead of trusting in what you know about God’s character?
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