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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 66

Psalms 66

THE Psalm is a song of thanksgiving by the church of God, after protracted and severe trial. It is divided into three great parts. In the first, God is praised, ( Psalms 66:1-7), on account of what he does to Israel at all times, in the second. ( Psalms 66:8-12), on account of what he had just now done, and in the third, ( Psalms 66:13-20), the church vows that she will give thanks.

The relation in which the second division stands to the first, which is not that of something old to something new, but that of the general to the special, bears a striking resemblance to the plan adopted in Psalms 46, in which the general idea is first brought out, and then, in the third strophe, the matter of fact is touched upon in which it had been at present specially realized. In the same way also, Psalms 48 and Psalms 76 first describe the general relation of God to Israel, and then the individual instances of the divine favour.

All the three parts contain a significant number; the first, seven, which again breaks up, according to a common custom, into a three and four, the first and second together, twelve, and the whole three, twenty. The first main division is closed with a Selah: at the close of the second, this mark is wanting, because the division is sufficiently well indicated by the context: but instead of this, at the end of the first sub-division of the first and also of the third part, Psalms 66:4 and Psalms 66:16, in both places, as also in Psalms 66:7, before an imperative which introduces a new portion.

The Title is, To the Chief Musician, a song of praise. Its originality is supported by the first verse, which, if taken without the title, seems too short and abrupt, and in which the הריעו forms a sort of parallelism with שיר . The title announces neither the author, nor the occasion, nor the date of the Psalm; and modern criticism therefore is left at full liberty to indulge its diseased propensity to bring down the Psalms to as late a date as possible. It has been pretty generally affirmed, that the deliverance, celebrated in our Psalm, is the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity. The contents, however, are altogether against this idea. The expressions, “he suffered not our feet to slide,” in Psalms 66:9, and, “I called to him with my mouth, and a song of Praise was on my tongue,” i.e. “I had scarcely called upon him, when, by delivering me, he gave me occasion to praise him,” exclude every reference to a calamity so grievous, and so protracted, as the Babylonish captivity. The detailed representation of suffering in Psalms 66:9-12, does not contain one word about the leading away of the people into captivity. The temple appears in Psalms 66:13 as standing, and there is no expression to indicate that it was in ruins: it is impossible to entertain the idea of a re-built temple, inasmuch as the people express their determination to give thanks to God in the temple for their deliverance, immediately after having obtained it, and a succession of years intervened between the completing of the second temple and the return of the exiles. Finally, the idea of the captivity is excluded by Psalms 66:18 th, where the people give great prominence to their innocence, and affirm that God, for this reason, had heard their prayer for deliverance. The captivity in Babylon was throughout distinguished as being an affliction for sin; compare the introduction to Psalms 44.

If we are thus compelled to take our stand on this side of the captivity, we shall be compelled, as appears from another reason, not to fix a date for the composition higher than the time of Hezekiah. The, “come, behold the deeds of the Lord,” in Psalms 66:5, is literally copied from Psalms 46:8; we cannot consider as accidental, the occurrence of מפעלות in both of these passages. But we may quite as well suppose that the (Psalms 46) 46th Psalm refers to the one before us, as that it refers to the (Psalms 46) 46th: and, in favor of the priority of our Psalm, and its composition in the time of David, there is positively the ground, that all the nameless Psalms which stand among the Psalms of David and those of his singers are connection with those that precede them, so as to form with them one whole, and that thus the notices given of the authors of these apply also to the others.

The trouble and the deliverance are, with manifest design, depicted in so generally—under a fulness of figures, out of which only one thing comes forth as a plain matter of fact, viz., that it is a deliverance from the danger of an enemy that is treated of—that we cannot help assuming that our Psalm was intended to be a song of praise which might be used generally on every occasion of deliverance from hostile power. The significant allusion in Psalms 46:8, a Psalm which celebrates the deliverance through the Assyrians, shows how the Psalm before us accompanied the people of God in all ages. Such songs, however, for the church of all times, would ordinarily be sung only in those times, the events of which awakened in the spirits of men a lively sense of their contents.

Verses 1-7

The first strophe is Psalms 66:1-7. After an exhortation to the whole earth to praise God, Psalms 66:1-4, (compare at Psalms 47:1,) there follows, in Psalms 66:4-7, the basis of the same: the Lord manifests his glory in a multitude of mighty deeds, deliverances on behalf of his people, and judgments on the insolent heathen world. The Psalmist, before passing on to what is particular, marks out for it its proper place, by taking a rapid glance at the mighty whole into which it was to be put.

Ver. 1. Shout for joy to God, all lands. Ver. 2. Sing the glory of his name, give glory to his praise. Ver. 3. Say to God, How terrible art thou in thy works, on account of the multitude of thy strength thine enemies must feign (submission) to thee. Ver. 4. All lands worship thee, they sing to thee, they sing thy name. Ver. 5. Come and see the works of God, who is terrible in his deeds on the children of men. Ver. 6. He turns the sea into dry land, they go through the flood on foot, there we will rejoice in him. Ver. 7. He rules eternally by his power, his eyes spy out among the nations, the rebellious may not exalt themselves.

On “the glory of his name”=“the glory which belongs to him according to his glorious deeds and manifestations,” comp. Psalms 29:1-2. The parallel passages, Joshua 7:19, Psalms 29:1, Isaiah 42:12, Jeremiah 13:16, John 9:24, show that we cannot translate the second clause, “make his praise glorious,” but only, “give glory as his praise,” or, “to his praise:” כבוד , is the thing to be given, and the second object, is תהלתו . The angels give formally glory to God, in Psalms 29:9: compare “Holy, holy, holy, all lands are full of his glory,” in Isaiah 6.

In Psalms 66:3 and Psalms 66:4, we have the words in which the nations of the earth should give glory to God. The translation, “how terrible are thy works,” is not grammatically incorrect, but, on comparing Psalms 66:5, it becomes manifest that we must translate, “how terrible art thou in thy works,”—the מעשיך , as well as the עלילה being an accusative; comp. Ew. § 483. The “thou” is wanting, as in Psalms 68:35, “dreadful, God, (art thou,) from out of thy sanctuary.” In reference to “they feign,” compare Psalms 18:44. That all who oppose must be subject to God, must humbly submit, must conceal their aversion, shows how great is his might, how terrible is his doing. Pharaoh’s is an example of such forced submission, comp. Psalms 66:6.

In Psalms 66:4, “they feign,” renders it necessary for us to consider “they worship” as, equivalent to “ they may worship.”

The “come, see the deeds of God,” in Psalms 66:5, to which allusion is so strikingly made in John 1:46-47, indicates the prominent place which the manifestation of the glory of God occupies before the eyes of the whole heathen world: it is not with idle phantoms but with realities that they have to do; and this is the reason why the confident hope is entertained, by the people of the revelation, that the heathen world shall be won over to God through the influence of what has happened. The church still addresses the same language, “come and see,” to all who, whether inwardly or outwardly, stand afar off. The deeds of God are dreadful even to those to whom deliverance is brought. For his tremendous majesty is manifested in them, comp. Psalms 65:5, Psalms 65:8. The על points out the children of men as the object on which the deeds of God are performed:—the patient in opposition to the agent. The preterite הפך in Psalms 66:6, stands, as the following future shows, in the sense of a present. The Psalmist refers to the passage through the Red Sea and the Jordan, but not as to transactions which took place and were concluded at a given period of time, but as to events which are really happening in every age. God’s guidance of his people is a constant drying up of the sea and of the Jordan; and the joy over his mighty deeds is always receiving new materials. The idea, that the sole reference is to those particular transactions, which took place at the origin of the nation, is inconsistent with what goes before, “Come and see the deeds of the Lord,” which implies that it is something actually present that is referred to, with the entirely general contents of Psalms 66:7, with the future ישברו following immediately the preterite, and lastly, even although this in every case could be accounted for by a realization of past events, with the נשמחה which can be translated in no other way than by “we will rejoice,” (comp. Psalms 42:4. Psalms 55:2), a resolution to do that for which God is giving a rich and present opportunity, and where we are not to think, except in a case of absolute necessity, of considering that “we” is used in the sense of national generality. Moreover, there is the less reason to maintain, in spite of all these arguments, the reference to past events, inasmuch as the deliverances which took place in the days of old, are not unfrequently in other passages spoken of as pledges of deliverances yet to come, and the succeeding events of God’s gracious providence are described in figurative language borrowed from former events: comp. for example, Isaiah 11:15-16, where the drying up of the Red Sea and of the Euphrates, are spoken of as events which were expected to take place, Zechariah 10:11, “And the Lord passes through the sea, affliction, and smites the waves in the sea, and all the floods of the Nile shall be put to shame,” and the Christology on these passages, especially on the last. When the sense of the verse generally is correctly defined, there remains no reason for departing from the usual sense in regard to “the flood,” by which is meant of course the Euphrates:—especially, as in Isaiah 11:15, the Euphrates is substituted in room of the little Jordan, and in Zechariah 10:11, the Nile is named for the purpose of announcing that the wonder at the Jordan was to be repeated on a greater scale. “There,” is,—“on the theatre of these glorious transactions.” “We will rejoice,” is an energetic expression for “we may rejoice.”

The expression, “his eyes spy among the heathen,” Psalms 66:7 indicates that the self-sufficiency of earthly power is only apparent. God from his high watch tower beholds every thing, guides every thing, tames every insolence which, imagining that the earth is contained in itself, rises against him and his kingdom. In the last clause, the expression assumes a hortatory character: “they may not exalt themselves,” i.e. “I would advise them not to do so.” For the contest against Omnipotence must bring evil upon them, and pride comes before a fall, as surely as there is a God in heaven. Compare the אל in Psalms 34:5, Psalms 41:2, Psalms 50:3. The למו shows that what is undertaken, with a view to their own advantage, had turned out to their own loss: Psalms 58:7, Psalms 64:5. Instead of the Hiph. to which we must supply the head, or some similar word, ( Psalms 110:7, Psalms 67:4), the Masorites read Kal:—this, however, is unsuitable, as it does not express the idea of action.

Verses 8-12

The second strophe is Psalms 66:8-12. The constant use of the preterites, throughout this passage, makes it evident that we have here a description of some special case, an individual trouble and deliverance, in which had been manifested his glory, which had been described in general terms in the preceding verses. Ver. 8. Praise ye nations our God, and cause the voice of his praise to be heard. Ver. 9. Who sets our soul into life, and does not suffer our foot to slide. Ver. 10. For thou didst prove us, O God, thou didst purify us as silver is purified. Ver. 11. Thou broughtest us into the net, thou laidest affliction upon our loins: Ver. 12. Thou didst let men ride upon our heads, we came into fire and into water, and thou didst lead as out to affluence.

In Psalms 66:9 the calamity is represented as a death, and the deliverance as a putting of the soul into life a revivification: comp. Psalms 30:3, “thou hast brought up my soul from hell,” and at Psalms 63:3. In reference to the “sliding,” see Psalms 15:5, Psalms 55:22.

On “thou didst prove us,” Psalms 66:10, the Berleb. Bible: “Thou hast by many heats of trouble tried the worth and the steadfastness of our faith, hope and patience, as men examine metals by the fire”: compare Zechariah 13:9, 1 Peter 1:7. The “thou didst purify us,” shows that the protestation of innocence in Psalms 66:18 th, has reference only to the fundamental aim, and does not exclude manifold sins of infirmity, which justified divine chastisement. The purification removes the dross: comp. Isaiah 1:25, “I will purify, as with prepared water, all thy dross, and I will take away all thy tin,” Zechariah 13:9. Silver requires a particularly continuous and repeated purification: comp. Psalms 12:6; Isaiah 48:10, “I have refined thee, but not as silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”

The םעוקה , in Psalms 66:11, is straitness, oppression, sorrow: compare עקה in Psalms 55:3. The loins are named as the seat of strength: comp. Deuteronomy 33:11; Psalms 69:23, and Gesen. Thes. When they are weakened, the strength generally is gone, and the man is weak and miserable. Several translate erroneously: straitening, oppressing fetters; others: an oppressing burden. But fetters are not put on the loins, and loins do not carry burdens.

In Psalms 66:12 th, the head is named as the noblest part, without strict regard to whether, in the case of beasts, the rider sits on the head or not. In reference to אנוש , comp. at Psalms 8:4. The more miserable the master is, the more oppressive is the servant. On “we came into fire and water,” comp. Isaiah 43:2. The רויה occurs only here and in Psalms 23:5. Calvin: “The sum is, although God may chastise severely his own people, yet he always gives them a happy and joyful issue.” Arnd: “Many thousands of pious Israelites, under the Old Testament, and many thousands of Christians, under the New, have been literally delivered out of such troubles, but many thousands have had to lay down their lives, whom God has delivered and brought to life as regards their soul, as the pious martyr Babylas said when he was led to death: Be now joyous, O my soul, the Lord is doing good to thee.’“

Verses 13-20

The third strophe is from Psalms 66:13-20. Calvin: “The sum is, the glory of God would be unworthily suppressed, if, as often as he stands by us in trouble, our thanksgivings did not follow upon our obtaining deliverance.” Instead of the “we,” which occurs in the preceding paragraph, we have here “I.” The speaker cannot be the Psalmist, or “any individual heart.” Against this we have the magnificent character of the sacrifice, and the circumstance that the trouble and the deliverance which are here appropriated to one individual, are manifestly the same, as what are spoken of, as belonging to the whole, in the preceding part of the Psalm. In like manner, it cannot be king Hezekiah, because the general character of the whole Psalm is against such a historical view. The speaker is rather an ideal person, the personification of the people. It is evident from the address to the fearers of God, in Psalms 66:16, that we cannot exactly say that it is the people who are introduced as speaking. Similar personifications of the people are frequent: comp. for example, Psalms 60, Psalms 65:3.

Ver. 13. I will come into thy house with burnt offerings, I will pay to thee my vows. Ver. 14. Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken in my trouble. Ver. 15. I will bring to thee burnt offerings of fat lambs with the smoke of rams, I will offer bullocks with goats.

Ver. 16. Come, hear, and let me tell, all ye that fear God, what he hath done to my soul. Ver. 17. I cried to him with my mouth, and a song of praise was under my tongue. Ver. 18. Had I regarded iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have heard me. Ver. 19. But the Lord has heard me and marked my cry. Ver. 20. Blessed be God, who has not removed my prayer nor his grace from me.

This last strophe, like the first, contains the complete number of seven verses: the twentieth is to be considered as a conclusion: and the strophe is divided into two parts, consisting, the one of four, and the other of three verses.

The outward offerings, in Psalms 66:13-15, are to be considered only as embodiment of the gifts of the heart. The soul is the thanksgiving of the heart. Vows have burnt offerings for their subject matter. The full enumeration of the animals, to be offered in sacrifice, shows the zeal, with which the thanks and the offerings are given.

The פצו in Psalms 66:14, is “to open the mouth wide,” and, secondarily, “to talk,” Job 35:16. The expression indicates the pain which called forth the vow, so that the פצו contains in itself the in my trouble of the second clause.—מיחים , fat, in Psalms 66:15, is fat sheep. The smoke of rams, (used only here in this sense: in other passages always of incense), is the kindled fat of the rams. The עשה , to make, then to prepare, to set in order, is frequently used of the bringing of offerings

In Psalms 66:16-19, the reference to the opportunity afforded of rendering thanks to God, namely, the answer which had been vouchsafed to the speaker, prepares the way for passing on to the leading idea of this paragraph, viz. the emphatic declaration that this answer had been vouchsafed to him only on the ground of his innocence, the didactic and hortatory tendency of which is only slightly veiled, viz. that there is no way to salvation except that of well doing. The soul is named in Psalms 66:16 th, because it had been exposed to danger: comp. Psalms 66:9.

The רימם in Psalms 66:17, is a noun,— a lifting up, praise: see its plural, רוממות , Psalms 149:6. “Under my tongue,” compare at Psalms 10:7, indicates the fulness of the song of praise. As soon as the Psalmist cried, he got occasion, through the deliverance vouchsafed, to praise God: comp. Psalms 18:3, “I cried unto the Lord, and I was delivered from my enemies,” Psalms 34:4-6. We cannot translate, “I cried, etc. and now there is”; for the reference to the present would have been clearly intimated. According to the analogy of the first clause, it is only the preterite that can be supplied in the second. Even the deliverance itself belongs now to the past. But still less can we translate: “I praised God in confident expectation of his help.” For in this case, it would not be the result that would be reported, yet in what follows, it is taken for granted that this has been done. The following are parallel passages to Psalms 66:18 th: Job 15:29, “The Lord is far from the wicked, and he hears the prayer of the righteous;” John 9:13; Isaiah 1:15, “Though ye pray ever so much, I will not hear you, your hands are full of blood;” Isaiah 59:2-3, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear, for your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity;” 1 John 3:21 “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God, and whatsoever we ask we receive of him:” compare on the connection between righteousness and salvation, Psalms 17, Psalms 18, Psalms 34:11. The ראה is, as at Genesis 20:10, “to have before the eyes.” The און is always unrighteousness, wickedness, never vanity, in the sense of false gods. The exposition, “if the design of my prayer had been directed to any thing evil,” has resulted from doctrinal scruples. The language does not refer at all to the object of the prayer, but it intimates that the fundamental condition of the answer consisted in this, that notwithstanding all weakness, the inward fundamental aim of the soul is still pure and blameless, that the heart is entirely free from all secret wickedness— recondita malitia.

But God has heard, etc. Psalms 66:19, and therefore has shown that this hindrance to salvation does not exist in my case.

Psalms 66:20 th, if given in full, would have been, “Who has not removed my prayer from him, and his grace from me.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 66". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-66.html.