This worship Psalm combines elements of thanksgiving, confession, penitence and praise to God. The context is a retelling of Israel’s encounters with God. Repeated failures to accept God’s guidance has led to repeated distress in the life of the nation. It is not simply a failure to remember God’s word, but wilful behaviour on the nation’s part. This is not simply a litany of the failures of past days. The phrase ‘Our sin is the sin of our forebears’; brings the past into the present. Past failings persist in the life of the people today. They have not learned from their mistakes.
The cry of the Psalmist is to consider all this and remember in penitence God’s goodness and graciousness towards them.
We learn that God’s graciousness far exceeds the chosen people’s unfaithfulness. It is celebrated in the repeated refrain of John Bell’s paraphrase of this psalm ‘O give thanks to the Lord, for God’s love endures forever’. Time and again, after recounting repeated failure, the repeated cry of the worshippers’ thanksgiving towards God is echoed. Their God is not a distant God, but one who enters into their lives to rescue them, and forgive them. Their final cry must be one of praise.
We who read or sing this Psalm today are encouraged to do likewise. We in the Church are asked to consider and remember days past and present in penitence. But we are not destined to regret and repeat the mistakes of past days. In the words of Timothy Dudley’s great hymn ‘Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided’: we sing ‘past put behind us, for the future take us. Lord of our lives to live for Christ alone’.
Gracious God teach and train, rebuke and inspire us. as we seek to follow in the footsteps of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen
The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister of the National Synod of Scotland and member of Giffnock URC