At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee
Because of thy righteous judgments (Psa 119.62).
The psalmist’s divinely-inspired testimony here sets forth a praiseworthy example of gratitude. These words were, in that miracle of prophetic utterance, infallibly given by the Spirit through fallible man, so that the very words of the text are as much the Word of God as if He had breathed them out of His own mouth. The result is a text with God’s own authority which is profitable for instruction, reproof, correction, and disciplined training in righteousness (2 Tim 3.16-17). Yet only if the Lord is pleased so to work in our hearts will we benefit eternally from studying it (1 Cor 2.13-16). Jesus is praying for you who believe to that end (John 17.17). May He awaken the rest of you.
The world’s “gratitude,” such as it is, is severely defective. It is rarely heartfelt, never directed to the true and living God, and typically expressed for mundane things. Only when grace transforms a sinner can one sincerely render such thanksgiving as we have in our text, which is ardent, divine, and so supremely warranted.
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks.” Gratitude is something you feel, an inner virtue; thanksgiving is something you do, an activity heard and seen outwardly.
We have many different schedules. Some of us cannot “rise at midnight” to give thanks, because typically, we have not yet gone to bed. Unless you were staying up for a “night watch” in the ancient Hebrew culture, things were much different. In that agrarian culture, nightfall was bedtime, and dawn was time to get up. Thus “midnight” was actually the middle of the night. “In the middle of the night I arise to thank you for your just regulations” (NET Bible, here quite literal). So the sense is that when he had spent about half his sleeping hours in bed, he somehow managed to rise, engage in this brief act of worship, and then, presumably, retire for the rest of the night. This middle-of-the-night praise was not an isolated incident, but his routine, spiritual discipline. “The psalmist uses an imperfect verbal form to emphasize that this is his continuing practice” (NET Bible notes). For me, this would be like setting my alarm and rising at 4:00 a.m.
Such a habit would be neither convenient nor easy. You might even consider somebody who did this a little nuts. We are so accustomed to “spare time worship”—really, an oxymoron, as true worship is by definition a priority and a sacrifice. The psalmist’s devout practice strongly implies his ardor in worship, since it was “expensive” in a manner of speaking. He was not simply biding time during a bout of insomnia, for he said, “I will RISE to give thanks,” that is, rise from my warm, comfortable bed. It was no more agreeable to his body or sinful flesh than it would be to yours!
In this verse he shows not only that he approved and embraced with his whole heart whatever the Divine law contains, but that he also gave evidence of his gratitude to God for having made him partaker of so great a blessing. . . . The prophet, however, does not simply declare that he magnifies God’s righteous judgments; he also affirms that he rose at midnight to do so, by which he expresses the earnestness of his desire; for the studies and cares which break our sleep necessarily imply great earnestness of soul (Calvin, in loc.).
This is the man who said he would not offer to God that which cost him nothing, refusing to accept as a gift Araunah’s oxen and wood for offering a burnt sacrifice to the Lord, and paying handsomely for them instead (2 Sam 24.18-25). The principle he understood is that worship which costs nothing is worth nothing—it is not true worship.
Midnight thanksgiving also suggests sincerity of faith before God, as Calvin also mentions.
He also, at the same time, intimates, that in bearing his testimony in behalf of the Divine law, he was far from being influenced by ostentation (show), since in his secret retirement, when no human eye was upon him, he pronounced the highest encomiums [praises] on God’s righteous judgments (Calvin, in loc.).
We should recall immediately how Jesus commended private prayer to His disciples as especially pleasing to God, as the product of true faith and humility (Matt 6.5-6). It is not that public prayer is forbidden, for Jesus Himself prayed aloud publicly, though much less often and protracted than His closet prayers. Nevertheless, we can be more reasonably assured of our pure intentions when praying in private than we can be in public.
Notice also that the substance of the psalmist’s midnight prayers mentioned here was thanksgiving, not petition. While petition is a completely legitimate and necessary form of prayer, it may be more easily be prompted by a self-centered preoccupation with need, while thanksgiving is more explicitly God-centered and directly God-glorifying. In the new heavens and the new earth when all need of saints will be forever banished because we will be enjoying God’s all-sufficient fullness, still there will be prayers of thanksgiving. John beheld this scene in heaven:
And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Rev 4.9-11).
Does this mean you should begin middle-of-the-night devotions? Maybe, but the spirit of the worship is more significant than the time of it. This text certainly calls us to ardent, sacrificial, sincere, humble, grateful worship, both private and public.
Some Christians complain of sleepiness during times of worship, whether alone or in company. By all means do all you can to be physically vigorous and healthy, because this will make you more energetic in general. But candidly, brethren, is not this problem often a symptom of coldness and worldliness? Does it not often reveal that we lack any fervency and determination in our worship, that it has become a perfunctory thing we maintain by the inertia of old habits more than anything else? Oh! May the Lord save us from drifting away, and inflame our hearts again with our first love for Him!
“I will rise to give thanks to THEE,” he said. His midnight thanksgiving was more than feelings of thankfulness. It was directed to God as the Author of the blessing in view, not to mention, the Sum and Substance of all blessings (Gen 15.1). That is why I would characterize this midnight thanksgiving as divine.
God seeks people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, and that includes praising Him with gratitude (John 4.23). Do you realize that many professing Christians who speak about God and even “say prayers” go throughout the whole course of their lives without ever really praying in this way? They may say, “Lord we thank you,” and etc., but they are not consciously and deliberately addressing the Deity, for there is no real faith and joy and “connection” in their prayers. They are spiritually dead, and so are their devotions, or their experience of prayer would be different (Psa 16.11).
Every word that fell from Jesus’ lips and is now preserved in Scripture is precious, but sometimes the smallest touches contain a mountain of wisdom for meditation. For example, He described a typical Pharisee going through the motions of worship this way, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself” (Luke 18.11).1 What a censure! Hypocrites keep up a form of prayer but God is left out! Further, the first words were, “God, I thank thee . . .,” supposedly a prayer of thanksgiving. If I have heard one prayer begun this way, I have heard a thousand, except that in the church we use a plural pronoun. Let us make sure that we are not just praying to be heard of men, but rather truly speaking to God.
For what did the psalmist offer such ardent praise to God? “Because of thy righteous judgments.” In the context of Psalm 119, this surely refers to the written Word of God, Scripture, the subject of almost all its 176 verses. The Hebrew noun “judgments” is used 23 times in this psalm and its object is clear (cf. vv. 7, 13, 160, etc.).
The psalmist’s enthusiastic midnight praise was entirely warranted because of the greatness of the blessing itself. Forgive one more quote from Calvin:
It seems to be quite a common thing professedly to assent to God when He teaches us by His law; for who would dare to lift up his voice against Him? But still the world is very far from acknowledging that the truth which He has revealed is in all respects reasonable. In the first place, such is the rebellion of our corrupt nature, that every man would have somewhat either altered or taken away. Again, if men had their choice, they would rather be governed by their own will than by the Word of God. In short, human reason, as well as human passions, is widely at variance with the Divine law. He then has profited not little, who both obediently embraces revealed truth, and, taking sweet delight in it, gives thanks to God for it (in loc.).
Thus you who believe will always have ample matter for thanksgiving, whatever the trials of your life, for God’s Word is yours, too.
Let us, then, exhibit the same godliness exemplified for us by this eminent saint David. The Lord help us by His Spirit. Amen.
1. Bock translates, “prayed these things to himself” (in loc.).
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