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Give Thanks to God for All His Goodness (Psalm 118)

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The last of eight "hallelujah" psalms (111-118), 118 is a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies. It presupposes a triumphal procession into the city and the temple of God. Psalm 118 praises God for unfailing love (st. 1) and for deliverance from many enemies (st. 2). In praise to God for bringing victory, the king leads a triumphal entry into God's presence (st. 3); the people celebrate "the day" in which God has set up his corner­stone–the stone the builders had rejected (st. 4). The people praise and joyfully salute the anointed one, "who comes triumphant in God's name." A final call to praise and thank the LORD for unfailing love echoes the psalm's opening statement (st. 5).
 
Psalm 118 closes the "Egyptian Hallel" used in Jewish liturgies for the annual religious festivals prescribed in the Torah. At Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal; 115 through 118 were sung after the meal. As the last song in that liturgy, 118 may have been the hymn sung by Jesus and his disciples at the end of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30). Jesus applied verse 22 ("the stone the builders rejected") to himself in Matthew 21:42 and Mark 12:10 (see also Acts 4:11). Stanley Wiersma (PHH 25) versified this psalm in 1982 for the Psalter Hymnal; he took the refrain from verses 1 through 4 and made it the final line of each stanza. Other settings of Psalm 118 are at 179 and 241.
 
Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Easter hymns accomplish three functions: they recount the Easter narrative, proclaim our Easter hope, and celebrate our joy at Christ’s resurrection. This hymn is built on the professions of Easter truths that are expressed primarily in Heidelberg Catechism. Note especially the following:
  • Lord’s Day 17, Question and Answer 45 declares that Christ’s resurrection makes us share in Christ’s righteousness, raises us to a new life by his power, and is a sure pledge to us of our resurrection.
  • Lord’s Day 22, Question and Answer 57 comforts us to know that not only our soul but “also my very flesh will be raised by the power of God, reunited with my soul, and made like Christ’s glorious body.”
  • Lord’s Day 22, Question and Answer 58 says that it may be a comfort to know that while experiencing the beginning of eternal joy now, “after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever.”
In addition, Our Song of Hope, stanza 5 professes: “On the day of the resurrection, the tomb was empty; His disciples saw Him; death was defeated; new life had come. God’s purpose for the world was sealed.”

Additional Prayers

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the foundation of our life and faith.
Even when the world rejects you, we sing your praise.
Help us to love and serve others even when they reject us and you.
In your name there is healing, in your death there is life,
in your resurrection there is hope, and at your return every knee will bow.
Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

Tune Information

Name
GENEVAN 98/118/RENDEZ À DIEU
Key
G Major or modal
Meter
9.8.9.8 D

Recordings

Musical Suggestion

This psalm was a festal procession sung by the Israelites as the final psalm in the "Hallel," the group of "Hallelujah" psalms sung during Jewish liturgy at the great religious festivals. Because Psalm 118 is structured antiphonally, each time "His love forever is the same" or the equivalent phrase on each verse occurs, it could be sung or played by a different group of people. Sometimes I play that phrase on a different manual to highlight the antiphonal character of the text.
 
Organists may appreciate the following easy compositions based on RENDEZ À DIEU:
  • "Intonatie Psalm 98 (66, 118)" by Willem van Twillert (from Muziek voor de Eredienst, published by Ars Nova [1385002], Oranje Nassaulaan 25-1075 AJ Amsterdam).
  • "Bread of the World" by Henry Coleman (from Twenty-four Interludes Based on Communion Hymn Tunes).
  • "Father, We thank Thee" by Richard Peek (from Hymn Preludes for the Church Year).
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 30)
— Joan Ringerwole

Hymn Story/Background

The last of eight "hallelujah" psalms (111-118), Psalm 118 is a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from enemies. It presupposes a triumphal procession into the city and the temple of God. Psalm 118 praises God for unfailing love (st. 1) and for deliverance from many enemies (st. 2). In praise to God for bringing victory, the king leads a triumphal entry into God's presence (st. 3); the people celebrate "the day" in which God has set up his corner­stone–the stone the builders had rejected (st. 4). The people praise and joyfully salute the anointed one, "who comes triumphant in God's name." A final call to praise and thank the LORD for unfailing love echoes the psalm's opening statement (st. 5).
 
Psalm 118 closes the "Egyptian Hallel" used in Jewish liturgies for the annual religious festivals prescribed in the Torah. At Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal; 115 through 118 were sung after the meal. As the last song in that liturgy, 118 may have been the hymn sung by Jesus and his disciples at the end of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30). Jesus applied verse 22 ("the stone the builders rejected") to himself in Matthew 21:42 and Mark 12:10 (see also Acts 4:11). Stanley Wiersma versified this psalm in 1982 for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal; he took the refrain from verses 1 through 4 and made it the final line of each stanza.
 
GENEVAN 98/118 was first published in the 1551 Genevan Psalter as a setting for Psalm 118; in the 1562 edition it was also set to Psalm 98 (hence both numbers in the tune name). The tune is also often named RENDEZ A DIEU, the French incipit for Psalm 118.
 
This beloved tune is one of the finest and most widely sung of the Genevan psalm tunes (next to GENEVAN 134). Its clear melodic structure and vibrant rhythm call for firm accompaniment with bright organ registration, though some congregations may want to try unaccompanied singing on a stanza or two in the tradition of the sixteenth-century Reformers.
 
Many modern hymnals set this tune to versifications of Psalm 98 or to other hymn texts. In the 1564 harmonization by Claude Goudimel, the melody was originally placed in the tenor.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Stanley Marvin Wiersma (b. Orange City, IA, 1930; d. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1986) was a poet and professor of English at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, from 1959 until his sudden death in 1986. He attended Calvin as an under­graduate and received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1959. His love for the Genevan psalms is reflected in the two books of poetry for which he is most widely known: Purpaleanie and Other Permutations (1978) and Style and Class (1982), both written under the pseudonym Sietze Buning. He also wrote More Than the Ear Discovers: God in the Plays of Christopher Fry and translated many Dutch poems and hymn texts into English, including the children's hymns published in All Will Be New (1982).
 
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

The Genevan Psalter is the major gift of the Reformed branch of the Reformation to the song of the church. John Calvin (1509-1564) first experienced congregational singing of the psalms in Strasbourg when serving as a pastor of French exiles there, and when returning to Geneva in 1541 he finally persuaded the city council to permit congregational singing, which they had banned entirely under the influence of Ulrich Zwingli. Just two months after returning to Geneva, Calvin wrote in his Ecclesiastical Ordinances: "It will be good to introduce ecclesiastical songs, the better to incite the people to pray to and praise God. For a beginning the little children are to be taught; then with time all the church will be able to follow." Calvin set about overseeing the development of several metrical psalms with melodies, rather than the hymns, or chorales, of the Lutheran tradition, and also in contrast to the published psalters with texts only that followed in England and Scotland. The emerging Genevan Psalter was published in instalments until completed in 1562, including the 150 psalms, the Ten Commandments and the Song of Simeon. He employed the best French poets and composers to prepare metrical settings rather than continuing to chant the psalms, since poetry in meter was the popular form of the day—and also the choice for the Lutheran chorale.
 
The publication event was the largest in publishing history until then; twenty-four printers in Geneva alone, plus presses in Paris, Lyons, and elsewhere produced more than 27,000 copies in the first two years; more than 100,000 copies were available in over thirty editions. The Genevan Psalter was extremely popular, and almost immediately translated into Dutch, Hungarian, and German. Due to the intense persecution of the French Huguenots in the 16th century, the center of activity of the Reformed branch of the Reformation moved away from France and especially to the Netherlands, and from there to Indonesia, South Africa, and North America. The most recent translation (2004) of the entire psalter is into Japanese. The most recent English translation of the entire Genevan Psalter is available with melodies from the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise, available at http://www.canrc.org/?page=23 .
Calvin’s goal was to provide a distinct tune for every psalm, so that each psalm would have its own identity. Every tune would then bring to mind a particular psalm. The psalter didn’t quite reach this goal: it contains 125 different tunes. Today, only a few of those Genevan tunes are in wide use, among them the psalm tune most widely known around the world, often identified as OLD HUNDRETH, or simply, “The Doxology.”
— Emily Brink

The music of Claude Goudimel (b. Besançon, France, c. 1505; d. Lyons, France, 1572) was first published in Paris, and by 1551 he was composing harmonizations for some Genevan psalm tunes—initially for use by both Roman Catholics and Protestants. He became a Calvinist in 1557 while living in the Huguenot community in Metz. When the complete Genevan Psalter with its unison melodies was published in 1562, Goudimel began to compose various polyphonic settings of all the Genevan tunes. He actually composed three complete harmonizations of the Genevan Psalter, usually with the tune in the tenor part: simple hymn-style settings (1564), slightly more complicated harmonizations (1565), and quite elaborate, motet-like settings (1565-1566). The various Goudimel settings became popular throughout Calvinist Europe, both for domestic singing and later for use as organ harmonizations in church. Goudimel was one of the victims of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of Huguenots, which oc­curred throughout France.
 
— Bert Polman
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.