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The author and date of this psalm are unknown. It seems to be rather of a private than a public character, and there are expressions in it which must have been drawn from the personal experience of its writer. It is adapted to public use only because in all public assemblages there are those who would find their own experience represented by the language of the psalm. It may have been composed after the return from Babylon, but there is nothing in the psalm to limit it to that time, and the language is such that it may have been composed at any period after Jerusalem became the place of public worship, Psalms 116:19.
The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, which combined the two previous psalms into one, divide this into two, at the end of Psalms 116:9. The reason why this was done is unknown.
The psalm appears to have been composed in reference to a dangerous sickness, or some deep affliction which threatened life, Psalms 116:3, Psalms 116:8-9, Psalms 116:15; and it expresses a purpose to praise and serve God in view of the fact that the author had been delivered from impending death, and that his days had been lengthened out upon the earth.
The psalm embraces the following points:
I. An expression of love and gratitude in view of the mercies of God, and of a purpose to serve him as long as life should last, Psalms 116:1-2.
II. A description of his sufferings, as if the pains of hell had seized him, Psalms 116:3-4.
III. A description of the mercy and goodness of God as interposing in answer to his prayer, and delivering him, Psalms 116:5-11.
IV. A solemn declaration of his purpose to praise God for all his mercies; to take the cup of salvation and call on his name; to pay his vows in the presence of the people of God; to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving; to worship in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of Jerusalem, Psalms 116:12-19.
I love the Lord - The Hebrew rather means, “I love, because the Lord hath heard,” etc. That is, the psalmist was conscious of love; he felt it glowing in his soul; his heart was full of that special joy, tenderness, kindness, peace, which love produces; and the source or reason of this, he says, was that the Lord had heard him in his prayers.
Because he hath heard ... - That is, This fact was a reason for loving him. The psalmist does not say that this was the only reason, or the main reason for loving him, but that it was the reason for that special joy of love which he then felt in his soul. The main reason for loving God is his own excellency of nature; but still there are other reasons for doing it, and among them are the benefits which he has conferred on us, and which awaken the love of gratitude. Compare the notes at 1 John 4:19.
Because he hath inclined his ear unto me - See the notes at Psalms 5:1. Because he has been gracious to me, and has heard my prayers. This is a pood reason for serving God, or for devoting ourselves to him, but it is not the only reason. We ought to worship and serve God whether he hears our prayers or not; whether he sends joy or sorrow; whether we are favored with prosperity, or are sunk in deep affliction. People have worshipped God even when they have had no evidence that he heard their prayers; and some of the most pure acts of devotion on earth are those which come from the very depths of darkness and sorrow.
Therefore will I call upon him as long as I live - Margin, as in Hebrew, “in my days.” Encouraged by the past, I will continue to call upon him in the future. I will retain a firm faith in the doctrine that he hears prayer, and I will express my practical belief in the truth of that doctrine by regular and constant habits of worship. When a man once has evidence that God has heard his prayer, it is a reason why he should always call on him in similar circumstances, for God does not change.
The sorrows of death - What an expression! We know of no intenser sorrows pertaining to this world than those which we associate with the dying struggle - whether our views in regard to the reality of such sorrows be correct or not. We may be - we probably are - mistaken in regard to the intensity of suffering as ordinarily experienced in death; but still we dread those sorrows more than we do anything else, and all that we dread may be experienced then. Those sorrows, therefore, become the representation of the intensest forms of suffering; and such, the psalmist says, he experienced on the occasion to which he refers. There would seem in his case to have been two things combined, as they often are:
(1) actual suffering from some bodily malady which threatened his life, Psalms 116:3, Psalms 116:6,Psalms 116:8-10;
(2) mental sorrow as produced by the remembrance of his sins, and the apprehension of the future, Psalms 116:4. See the notes at Psalms 18:5.
And the pains of hell - The pains of Sheol - Hades; the grave. See Psalms 16:10, note; Job 10:21-22, notes; Isaiah 14:9, note. The pain or suffering connected with going down to the grave, or the descent to the nether world; the pains of death. There is no evidence that the psalmist here refers to the pains of hell, as we understand the word, as a place of punishment, or that he mean, to say that he experienced the sorrows of the damned. The sufferings which he referred to were these of death - the descent to the tomb.
Gat hold upon me - Margin, as in Hebrew, “found me.” They discovered me - as if they had been searching for me, and had at last found my hiding place. Those sorrows and pangs, ever in pursuit of us, will soon find us all. We cannot long escape the pursuit Death tracks us, and is upon our heels.
I found trouble and sorrow - Death found me, and I found trouble and sorrow. I did not seek it, but in what I was seeking I found this. Whatever we fail to “find” in the pursuits of life, we shall not fail to find the troubles and sorrows connected with death. They are in our path wherever we turn, and we cannot avoid them.
Then called I upon the name of the Lord - Upon the Lord. I had no other refuge. I felt that I must perish unless he should interpose, and I pleaded with him for deliverance and life. Compare the notes at Psalms 18:6.
O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul - My life. Save me from death. This was not a cry for salvation, but for life. It is an example for us, however, to call on God when we feel that the soul is in danger of perishing, for then, as in the case of the psalmist, we have no other refuge but God.
Gracious is the Lord - This fact was his encouragement when he called on God. He believed that God was a gracious Being, and he found him to be so. Compare the notes at Hebrews 11:6.
And righteous ... - Just; true; faithful. This, too, is a proper foundation of appeal to God: not that we are righteous, and have a claim to his favor, but that he is a Being who will do what is right; that is, what is best to be done in the case. If he were an unjust Being; if he were one on whose stability of character, and whose regard for right, no reliance could be placed, we could never approach him with confidence or hope. In this sense we may rely on his justice - his justness of character - as a ground of hope. Compare the notes at 1 John 1:9 : “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us Our sins.”
The Lord preserveth the simple - The Septuagint renders this “babes” - νήπια nēpia. The Hebrew word has reference to simplicity or folly, as in Proverbs 1:22. It then refers to those who are the opposite of cautious or cunning; to those who are open to persuasion; to those who are easily enticed or seduced. The verb from which the word is derived - פתה pâthâh - means to open, to expand; then, to be open, frank, ingenuous, easily persuaded or enticed. Thus it may express either the idea of being simple in the sense of being foolish, easily seduced and led astray; or, simple in the sense of being open, frank, ingenuous, trustful, sincere. The latter is evidently its meaning here. It refers to one of the characteristics of true piety - that of unsuspecting trust in God. It would describe one who yields readily to truth and duty; one who has singleness of aim in the desire to honor God; one who is without guile, trick, or cunning. Such a man was Nathanael John 1:47 : “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” The Hebrew word used here is rendered simple, Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130; Proverbs 1:4, Proverbs 1:22, Proverbs 1:32; Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 9:4; Proverbs 14:15, Proverbs 14:18; Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 21:11; Proverbs 22:3; Proverbs 27:12; Ezekiel 45:20; and foolish, Proverbs 9:6. It does not elsewhere occur. The meaning here is, that the Lord preserves or keeps those who have simple and unwavering trust in him; those who are sincere in their professions; those who rely on his word.
I was brought low - By affliction and trial. The Hebrew literally means to hang down, to be pendulous, to swing, to wave - as a bucket in a well, or as the slender branches of the palm, the willow, etc. Then it means to be slack, feeble, weak, as in sickness, etc. See the notes at Psalms 79:8. Here it probably refers to the prostration of strength by disease.
And he helped me - He gave me strength; he restored me.
Return unto thy rest, O my soul - Luther, “Be thou again joyful, O my soul.” The meaning seems to be, “Return to thy former tranquility and calmness; thy former freedom from fear and anxiety.” He had passed through a season of great danger. His soul had been agitated and terrified. That danger was now over, and he calls upon his soul to resume its former tranquility, calmness, peace, and freedom from alarm. The word does not refer to God considered as the “rest” of the soul, but to what the mind of the psalmist had been, and might now be again.
For the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee - See the notes at Psalms 13:6.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death - My life. Thou hast saved me from death. This is such language as would be used by one who had been dangerously ill, and who had been restored again to health.
Mine eyes from tears - Tears which he had shed in his sickness, and in the apprehension of dying. It may refer to tears shed on other occasions, but it is most natural to refer it to this. Compare the notes at Psalms 6:6.
And my feet from falling - From stumbling. That is, he had not, as it were, fallen by the way, and been rendered unable to pursue the journey of life. All this seems to refer to one occasion - to a time of dangerous illness.
I will walk before the Lord ... - Compare Psalms 27:13, note; Isaiah 38:20, note. This expresses a full belief that he would live, and a purpose to live “before the Lord;” that is, as in his presence, in his service, and enjoying communion with him.
I believed, therefore have I spoken - This, in the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, begins a new psalm, but without any good reason. This language is borrowed by the Apostle Paul to express his confidence in the truth of the gospel, and the effect which that confidence had on him in causing him to declare the truth. 2 Corinthians 4:13. The meaning here is, that in the time of his affliction the psalmist had true faith in God; and, as a result of that, he was able now to speak as he did. At that time he trusted in God; he called on him; he sought his mercy, and God heard his prayer; and now, as the consequence of that, he was enabled to give utterance to these thoughts. Faith was at the foundation of his recovery, and he was now reaping the fruits of faith.
I was greatly afflicted - In danger of death. The psalmist reviewed this now, and he saw that all that he had felt and dreaded was real. He was in imminent; danger. There was occasion for the tears which he shed. There was reason for the earnestness of his cry to God.
I said in my haste - The Hebrew word used here means to flee in haste; to be in alarm and trepidation; and the idea seems to be, that the assertion referred to was made under the influence of excitement - or that it was not the result of sober reflection, but of an agitated state of mind. It does not necessarily imply that that which was said was false, for many true statements may be made when the mind is agitated and excited; but the meaning is, that he was then in such a state of mind as to suggest the belief, and to cause the assertion that all people are liars. Whether calm reflection would, or would not, confirm this impression of the moment would be a fair question after the excitement was over.
All men are liars - Are false; no one is to be relied on. This was said in the time of his affliction, and this added much to his affliction. The meaning is that, in those circumstances of distress, no one came to his aid; no one sympathized with him; there was no one to whom he could unbosom himself; no one seemed to feel any interest in him. There were relatives on whom he might have supposed that he could rely; there may have been those to whom he had shown kindness in similar circumstances; there may have been old friends whose sympathy he might have had reason to expect; but all failed. No one came to help him. No one shed a tear over his sorrows. No one showed himself true to friendship, to sympathy, to gratitude. All people seemed to be false; and he was shut up to God alone. A similar thing is referred to in Psalms 41:5-9; Psalms 88:18; compare also Job 19:13-17. This is not an unnatural feeling in affliction. The mind is then sensitive. We need friends then. We expect our friends to show their friendship then. If they do not do this, it seems to us that the entire world is false. It is evident from the whole course of remark here that the psalmist on reflection felt that he had said this without due thought, under the influence of excitement - and that he was disposed, when his mind was restored to calmness, to think better of mankind than he did in the day of affliction and trouble. This also is not uncommon. The world is much better than we think it is when our own minds are morbid and our nerves are unstrung; and bad as the world is, our opinion of it is not unfrequently the result rather of our own wrong feeling than of just reflection on the real character of mankind.
What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? - All his “recompences,” - the same word which in Psalms 116:7 is rendered “hath dealt bountifully.” The question here has reference to that. What return can be equal to his bounties; what will be a proper acknowledgment of them; with what can I repay him for them all? The question is a natural and a proper question. It is one which we naturally ask when we have received a favor from our fellowmortals; how much more proper is it in view of the favors which we receive from God - especially in view of the mercy of God in the gift of a Saviour; the love manifested in the redemption of the soul! What can be an adequate return for love like that - for mercies so great, so undeserved?
I will take the cup of salvation - Compare the notes at Psalms 11:6. The “cup of salvation” means the cup by which his sense of the greatness of the salvation might be expressed - the cup of thanksgiving. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 10:16. The reference seems to be to a custom in festivals of drinking a cup of wine as a special expression of thanks or of obligation. The act would be more solemn, and the truth more deeply impressed on the mind, when accompanied by some religious rite - some ceremonial, as in the Lord’s Supper, expressly designed to call the mercy of God to remembrance.
And call upon the name of the Lord - Engage in a solemn act of devotion; make it a matter of special ceremony or observance to call the mercy of God to remembrance. This was one way of rendering to the Lord a return for the benefits received at his hands; as it is now. Christians do this at the table of the Lord - in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
I will pay my vows ... - I will perform or execute. The word vows here refers probably to the solemn promise which he had made in his sickness - the promise to devote himself to God, should he be restored to health. Compare the notes at Isaiah 38:15, notes at Isaiah 38:20. Such promises are commonly made in sickness, and, alas! almost as commonly disregarded and forgotten on a restoration to health. Yet such vows should be sacredly observed, for
(a) They are right and proper;
(b) they are made in most solemn circumstances;
(c) they are usually sincere;
(d) they are of the nature of a covenant with God;
(e) they are made when we are in the best position to take just views of life - of this life, and of the life to come;
(f) the subsequent life would be happier and better if they were faithfully carried out.
Compare Psalms 22:25, note; Psalms 66:13-14, notes.
In the presence of all his people - Publicly. The vows were made in private; on the sick bed; when alone; in the silence of the night-watches; when no eye was upon him who made them but the eye of God. There is a propriety, however, that the expression of thanksgiving should be public. Compare Isaiah 38:20. Indeed, nothing is more proper than public thanks for a restoration from sickness; and as in our public assemblies prayer is often specially offered for the sick at their own request, so it would be equally proper that, at their request, public thanks should be rendered for their recovery.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints - Of his people; his friends. Luther renders this, “The death of his saints is held to be of value” - (ist werth gehalten) - “before the Lord.” The word rendered “precious” - יקר yâqâr - means costly, as precious stones, 1 Kings 10:2, 1 Kings 10:10-11; dear, beloved, as relatives and friends, Psalms 45:9; honored, respected, Ecclesiastes 10:1; splendid, beautiful, Job 31:26; rare, 1 Samuel 3:1. The idea here is, that the death of saints is an object of value; that God regards it as of importance; that it is connected with his great plans, and that there are great purposes to be accomplished by it. The idea here seems to be that the death of a good man is in itself of so much importance, and so connected with the glory of God and the accomplishment of his purposes, that he will not cause it to take place except in circumstances, at times, and in a manner, which will best secure those ends. The particular thought in the mind of the psalmist seems to have been that as he had been preserved when he was apparently so near to death, it must have been because God saw that the death of one of his friends was a matter of so much importance that it should occur only when the most good could be effected by it, and when the ends of life had been accomplished; that God would not decide on this hastily, or without the best reasons; and that, therefore, he had interposed to lengthen out his life still longer. Still, there is a general truth implied here, to wit, that the act of removing a good man from the world is, so to speak, an act of deep deliberation on the part of God; that good, and sometimes great, ends are to be accomplished by it; and that, therefore, God regards it with special interest. It is of value or importance in such respects as the following:
(1) as it is the removal of another of the redeemed to glory - the addition of one more to the happy hosts above;
(2) as it is a new triumph of the work of redemption - showing the power and the value of that work;
(3) as it often furnishes a more direct proof of the reality of religion than any abstract argument could do.
How much has the cause of religion been promoted by the patient deaths of Ignatius, and Polycarp, and Latimer, and Ridley, and Huss, and Jerome of Prague, and the hosts of the martyrs! What does not the world owe, and the cause of religion owe, to such scenes as occurred on the death-beds of Baxter, and Thomas Scott, and Halyburton, and Payson! What an argument for the truth of religion - what an illustration of its sustaining power - what a source of comfort to us who are soon to die - to reflect that religion does not leave the believer when he most needs its support and consolations; that it can sustain us in the severest trial of our condition here; that it can illuminate what seems to us of all places most dark, cheerless, dismal, repulsive - “the valley of the shadow of death!”
O Lord, truly I am thy servant - In view of thy mercy in delivering me from death, I feel the obligation to give myself to thee. I see in the fact that thou hast thus delivered me, evidence that I am thy servant - that I am so regarded by thee; and I recognize the obligation to live as becomes one who has had this proof of favor and mercy.
The son of thine handmaid - Of a pious mother. I see now the result of my training. I call to my recollection the piety of a mother. I rememberer how she served thee; how she trained me up for thee; I see now the evidence that her prayers were heard, and that her efforts were blessed in endeavoring to train me up for thee. The psalmist saw now that, under God, he owed all this to the pious efforts of a mother, and that God had been pleased to bless those efforts in making him his child, and in so guiding him that it was not improper for him to speak. of himself as possessing and carrying out the principles of a sainted mother. It is not uncommon - and in such cases it is proper - that all the evidence which we may have that we are pious - that we are living as we ought to live, that we are receiving special favors from God - recalls to our minds the instructions of early years, the counsels and prayers of a holy father or mother.
Thou hast loosed my bonds - The bonds of disease; the fetters which seemed to have made me a prisoner to Death. I am now free again. I walk at large. I am no longer the captive - the prisoner - of disease and pain.
I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving - I will publicly thank and praise thee. See the notes at Psalms 107:22.
And will call upon the name of the Lord - Will worship and praise the Lord.
I will pay my vows ... - See Psalms 116:14.
In the courts of the Lord’s house - See the notes at Psalms 65:4. Compare Psalms 84:2; Psalms 92:13; Psalms 96:8; Psalms 100:4; Psalms 135:2.
In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem - Where the tabernacle, and afterward the temple, was reared.
Praise ye the Lord - Hallelujah. A call on others to join in the praise of God. The psalmist felt his own heart drawn to the service of praise by all the mercies of God; he desired, as an expression of his own feelings, that others should unite with him in that sacred exercise. When our own hearts are filled with gratitude, we wish that all others may partake of the same feeling.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 116". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14