Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (v. 1). The opening and closing verses of the psalm are part of the terminology of praise that appears in almost identical form in Psalms 105–107, 136; 1 Chronicles 16:8, 34, and 2 Chronicles 20:21. The fact that God is good is shared with other passages in the Psalter (such as 25:8 and 73:1). At a time of personal and national rejoicing, the use of the covenantal title of God (Lord) and the theme of covenant love direct attention to the object of praise. Once more the mercy of God has been experienced by king and people.
118:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. The opening and closing verses are precisely the same as the opening verse of Psalms 106 and 107, as well as the lead line of Psalm 136. In Psalm 106 it signals a transition to Book 5, while its occurrence in Psalm 107 begins a prolonged thanksgiving unit, composed of Psalms 107–36. Its double occurrence in Psalm 118 forms a proper conclusion to the Egyptian Hallel, anticipating the Great Hallel of Psalm 136.
1. “O give thanks unto the Lord.” The grateful hero feels that he cannot himself alone sufficiently express his thankfulness, and therefore he calls in the aid of others. Grateful hearts are greedy of men’s tongues, and would monopolize them all for God’s glory. The whole nation was concerned in David’s triumphant accession, and therefore it was right that they should unite in his adoring song of praise. The thanks were to be rendered unto Jehovah alone, and not to the patience or valour of the hero himself. It is always well to trace our mercies to him who bestows them, and if we cannot give him anything else, let us at any rate give him our thanks. We must not stop short at the second agent, but rise at once to the first cause, and render all our praises unto the Lord himself. Have we been of a forgetful or murmuring spirit? Let us hear the lively language of the text, and allow it to speak to our hearts: “Cease your complainings, cease from all self-glorification, and give thanks unto the Lord.” “For he is good.” This is reason enough for giving him thanks; goodness is his essence and nature, and therefore he is always to be praised whether we are receiving anything from him or not. Those who only praise God because he does them good should rise to a higher note and give thanks to him because he is good. In the truest sense he alone is good, “There is none good but one, that is God”; therefore in all gratitude the Lord should have the royal portion. If others seem to be good, he is good. If others are good in a measure, he is good beyond measure. When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord, because he is good; and when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless him that “he is good.” We must never tolerate an instant’s unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questionable, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; his dispensations may vary, but his nature is always the same, and always good. It is not only that he was good, and will be good, but he is good, let his providence be what it may. Therefore let us even at this present moment, though the skies be dark with clouds, yet give thanks unto his name.
“Because his mercy endureth for ever.” Mercy is a great part of his goodness, and one which more concerns us than any other, for we are sinners and have need of his mercy. Angels may say that he is good, but they need not his mercy and cannot therefore take an equal delight in it; inanimate creation declares that he is good, but it cannot feel his mercy, for it has never transgressed; but man, deeply guilty and graciously forgiven, beholds mercy as the very focus and centre of the goodness of the Lord. The endurance of the divine mercy is a special subject for song: notwithstanding our sins, our trials, our fears, his mercy endureth for ever. The best of earthly joys pass away, and even the world itself grows old and hastens to decay, but there is no change in the mercy of God; he was faithful to our fore-fathers, he is merciful to us, and will be gracious to our children and our children’s children. It is to be hoped that the philosophical interpreters who endeavour to clip the word “for ever” into a mere period of time will have the goodness to let this passage alone. However, whether they do or not, we shall believe in endless mercy—mercy to eternity. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the grand incarnation of the mercy of God, calls upon us at every remembrance of him to give thanks unto the Lord, for “he is good.”