“There are shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the righteous… The Lord disciplined me severely but did not give me over to death.” (Psalm 118: 15, 18)
Joyous discipline – sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it? Those two would seem to be as compatible as oil and water. Yet, just three verses apart, we find those two thoughts expressed by the same man in the same context. So, what’s up with this?
Psalm 118 is a victory song. It expresses exuberant thanksgiving to God for a military victory. Israel defeated their enemies, and the faithfulness and power of God was extolled in this psalm. After the battle, back in their tents, Israel erupted with shouts of joy and victory, maybe much the way those attending a sports event erupt with shouts of victory when their team wins the game.
So, where does discipline fit into this?
The word translated as “discipline” can also be translated as “chastised” or “punished.” We normally associate discipline with painful correction. Correction isn’t very much fun, but we know it’s important. Pain is no fun either, but we know it is sometimes necessary. It can help to reinforce the correction. Those who have received discipline understand that they ultimately benefitted from it because they learned something important that strengthens them and improves their life.
If we look at Psalm 118 as an expression of what David learned through discipline, it clears up a bit for us. In the first four verses he called for Israel to give thanks to God for God’s faithful love, because God is good and His love endures forever. Maybe before or during the battle David lost sight of that. He went on to say that he called on this Lord in his distress, and the Lord answered and led to victory. Maybe earlier David should have sought the Lord’s favor before the battle, but it was only when he was in distress that he then turned to the Lord.
In verse 8 and following he notes that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man or nobles. Maybe he had been putting his trust in the strength of his army rather than in the Lord, and then here he expresses what he learned – through discipline.
We do not know just what the chastisement or discipline was – maybe a severe wound, or the loss of trusted colleagues, or the loss of lives in general? – but we do know that whatever it was, God used it to teach and reinforce that He alone is the only real Source we have for joy and victory on any level or arena of life.
Lord, We recognize that You alone have the strength to lead us to the life victories we need. May we trust always in You first for our strength. Amen.