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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 116

Psalm 116 sings of the salvation of the faithful who have been on the verge of death. An example is Hezekiah who was near death because of an illness, but was healed (2Kgs 20:1-11).

Prophetically, the psalm describes the history of the remnant in the end time. We hear the Spirit of Christ speaking in it. This psalm is a votive offering (Psa 116:14; 18) and a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psa 116:17) because of the answer to the prayers of the remnant of Israel (Psa 116:1-2). The sacrifice is offered in the temple in Jerusalem (Psa 116:19) in the presence of all Israel, all twelve tribes (Psa 116:14; 18).

Verses 1-4

Loving the LORD


The psalm begins with a passionate declaration of love by the psalmist for the LORD (Psa 116:1). Literally the verse reads, “I love, for the LORD hears my voice [and] my supplications”. The first words “I love” has no object, just as in 1 John 4: “We love” (1Jn 4:19). It is with it as with Mary Magdalene’s statement when she asks where the body of the Lord Jesus lies: “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away” (Jn 20:15b). Mary believes that the person to whom she is speaking is the gardener. She loves the Lord so much that she speaks of “Him”, assuming that everyone will know of Whom she is speaking. So it is also in this psalm: “I love.” The psalmist supposes that everyone would know of Whom he is speaking.

The psalmist is deeply impressed by the LORD’s salvation from death. He cannot help but respond in this way, “because”, so he explains his declaration of love, “He hears my voice [and] my supplications” (cf. Jona 2:1-3). What a God He is, Who listens and saves in this way! That can have no other consequence than that you love that God. Every answer and rescue from need is a new reason to love Him.

With another “because” he indicates why he loves the LORD: “He has inclined His ear to me” (Psa 116:2). This goes even further than God hearing his voice. It means that God is listening with great attention, turning His head toward him to come with His ear to the mouth of the psalmist so as not to miss a word of his complaint. That is how God is, how inviting He is to listen. “Therefore” he shall call upon Him as long as he lives on earth and is in the land of the living.

The psalmist tells of the distress that compelled him to call upon the LORD (Psa 116:3; cf. Psa 18:5-7). He stood before the gate of death. He was encompassed by “cords of death”. That is, he was in the grip of death from which it was impossible for him to extricate himself. Inside, inwardly, “terrors of Sheol” had come upon him. He “found distress and sorrow”. Death and Sheol – Sheol is the realm of the dead – are represented as hunters who catch and kill their prey with a snare. The psalmist felt like powerless prey in the hands of powerful hostile hunters.

In this great distress he “called upon the Name of the LORD” and pleaded, “O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” (Psa 116:4). He had no recourse other than “the name of the LORD”, which is His Being, all that He is. If the LORD did not intervene to save him, it would be over with him. Therefore, he pleads with Him to save his soul, that is, to release him from his mortal danger and keep him alive.

Verses 5-11

Believing and Speaking


He is delivered from the cords of death and the terrors of Sheol because the LORD is “gracious …, and righteous” (Psa 116:5). These two attributes of God are part of His nature. They seem to be in opposition to each other, but they are always in harmony (cf. Jn 1:17b). God can show grace and forgive sins because His Son met all the requirements of God’s righteousness on the cross. Even the sins of Old Testament believers could be forgiven on the basis of the blood Christ would shed (Rom 3:25). Grace reigns through righteousness (Rom 5:21). This also means that God will never change what He has promised in grace.

That God “is compassionate”. In connection with this, the psalmist speaks of God as “our God”. Literally it says: “Our God relieves.” That means: because He is gracious and righteous, He takes care of the afflicted. Next, the psalmist describes himself as the afflicted: he belongs to the simple and those who are brought low.

Here he connects with all who, like him, are in a living relationship with Him and, like him, have been in mortal danger. Here we clearly hear the Spirit of Christ in the remnant. In the time of the great tribulation they have come to know that God is compassionate.

We also see the faithful remnant in “the simple”, which are the little ones, preserved by the LORD during the great tribulation (Psa 116:6). The simple are those who do not have a high opinion of themselves. They are upright and God-fearing. They have a ‘clear or simple eye’ (Mt 6:22) that is, they pay attention only to the LORD and His will and have a simple and unshakable trust in God and in His Word.

Next, the psalmist again uses the I-form. He is speaking of himself and also expresses the feelings that the remnant also has, saying: “I was brought low, and He saved me.” It does indicate clearly how bad off he was. One who is brought low has absolutely no reserve left to do anything. However, the LORD did not let him perish, but saved him from his great need.

Now that he has been saved, his soul can also return to the rest he had before the tribulation came upon him (Psa 116:7). The outward distress may have been resolved, but sometimes more time is needed for the soul to come to rest. For example, the soul of Elisha, saddened by the unequal yoke of King Jehoshaphat, needed time to come to rest and prophesy (2Kgs 3:15). The psalmist reminds his soul that the LORD has dealt bountifully with him. The thought of the Lord’s goodness helps the soul to come to rest. It is also good for our peace of mind to remind ourselves again and again how good God is to us again and again.

Then the psalmist turns to the LORD in gratitude (Psa 116:8). After all, it is He Who has “rescued” his “soul from death”. He has experienced the compassion and redemption of the LORD from physical and spiritual pain, for his “eyes”, which were wet with tears, have been rescued “from tears”. He can also come to rest regarding his walk, for the LORD has rescued his “feet from stumbling”. He was brought low, but has been able to continue on his way.

Salvation is described here in threefold:
1. His soul/life is rescued from death.
2. His eyes are rescued from tears.
3. His feet are rescued from stumbling.

The result is that he can “walk” with his feet (Psa 116:9). He can do that “before the LORD”, as it were, face to face with Him. He can do that “in the land of the living”, for he has been rescued from death. That he is still in the land of the living is a special blessing to him. It means that he can still praise God and enjoy God’s blessing. Death is still for him “the king of terror” (Job 18:14), who takes him away from the land of light and blessing and brings him to the land of darkness and silence.

In the tribulation, the psalmist learned the lesson of true faith (Psa 116:10). He put his trust in the LORD during the tribulation of Psa 116:3, which is why he spoke what he said in Psa 116:1-2. In Psa 116:10 he looks back. The psalmist explains why he cried out to the LORD in his distress, namely because of his faith. Therefore, he prayed, supplicated, cried out to the LORD.

He spoke in the presence of the LORD. He has believed just when he was “greatly afflicted”. That is what he is speaking about now. Paul quotes this verse in the second letter to the Corinthians (2Cor 4:13). The context in which he does so makes it clear that this is about the testimony given by Christ. Again, this is about speaking in the presence of God. The difference is that the psalmist spoke of his life, while the apostle spoke of “the life of Jesus” that it would be manifest in his body (2Cor 4:10).

Paul speaks of the dangers of death into which he has repeatedly come because of his preaching. The threat of death did not silence him, for he knows in Whom he believes. Therefore, he had to speak. The spirit of faith that Paul possesses is the same spirit that the Old Testament believer possesses. He who believes will speak to God when he is in distress because he believes that God is able to rescue from distress.

And if the opposition results in his being killed, then that is not the end. Paul then points to the Lord Jesus (2Cor 4:14). Christ paid for His testimony with death. But God raised Him up. Paul mentions this to encourage the believers. The encouragement is that as surely as God raised up Christ, He will also raise up every one who has to pay for his testimony with death. This is secured in the power of God. The psalm is therefore broadly applicable to the suffering that Christians may undergo.

Psa 116:10 of this psalm is translated in different ways. In our opinion, the best translation and consistent with the content of this psalm, as also the Septuagint translates, is: “I believed, therefore I spoke.” That is, the psalmist’s faith was the reason he spoke to God while he was still in mortal danger. It is not about speaking after he had been rescued from this mortal danger.

That the psalmist says something “in his alarm” is not a confession of sin, as if he had been too quick with his mouth to say anything (Psa 116:11). The Hebrew word for ‘alarm’ literally means “to terrify”. The word is better translated ‘fear’ (cf. Psa 31:22).

He says in his alarm that he is convinced that “all men are liars”. He quickly learned in his tribulation that God alone is true and trustworthy. Those in need quickly find out that people cannot help and that their promises to help are lies. God helps everyone who calls out to Him in his distress.

The hostile people who persecute the psalmist use the lie to snare him with cords of death (Psa 116:3). We see an example with Jeremiah, who was deceived by his fellow villagers and even family (Jer 11:15-19; Jer 12:6). The lie is pre-eminently the mark of the devil (Jn 8:44) and is therefore also the mark of those under his power. The lie is the misrepresentation of Who God is (Gen 3:1-7).

Verses 12-19

Thanksgiving


The psalmist is now overflowing with gratitude. He struggles with the question of how to express his gratitude for such a great proof of grace (Psa 116:12). Fortunately, in the law the LORD gave the Israelites the option of expressing gratitude through sacrifice of thanksgiving and through a votive offering (Lev 7:11-21). A sacrifice of peace offerings or of thanksgiving is a sacrifice brought out of gratitude. A votive offering is a sacrifice promised by the offeror as a vow in his distress, and is thus a mandatory sacrifice.

The psalmist does not speak of one benefit, but of “benefits”, which presupposes a multitude of benefits. God has delivered him not only from death, but also from fears, distress, grief, tears and stumbling. He preserved him and took care of him.

But how could He repay all these benefits? After all, that is impossible. There is no quid pro quo that could serve somewhat as compensation. Yet there is a way in which God can be thanked for what He has done. That is by lifting up “the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD” (Psa 116:13).

Psa 116:13-14 parallel Psa 116:17-18. The cup of salvation of Psa 116:13 runs parallel to the sacrifice of thanksgiving of Psa 116:17. A cup is all about the content. The content here is the salvation that has been experienced. The lifting up of the cup is a symbolic act that expresses gratitude for salvation (cf. 1Cor 10:16a). This is a drink offering that is to accompany an offering by fire, such as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and a votive offering (Psa 116:14; 17-18). The drink offering is poured out at the foot of the altar of burnt offering in the presence of all the people.

It is like a heave offering: gratitude is lifted up, above everything, and offered to God. At the same time, the name of the LORD is invoked, now not to ask Him for His help, but to worship and praise Him for what He has done. New Testament believers do this during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

In his distress, the psalmist made vows (Psa 116:14). These he now wants to fulfill (cf. Psa 66:13-14). His vows he has made personally to God. He wants to fulfill them by bringing the votive offering with its accompanying drink offering in public, “in the presence of all His people”, to God. The whole people of God need to hear of His help and the blessing He has given, so that they can share in the joy of all the benefits of God. Then they can join to give Him the praise due for it.

The psalmist is rescued from death. But there are faithful ones who do die. It may seem that their prayers have not been answered. The psalmist then points out, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that their death is “precious in the sight of the LORD” (Psa 116:15). The enemies have dealt with people they like to get rid of, but to God they are “His godly ones”. They are in His special favor.

The death of the wicked is no joy to the LORD (Eze 18:23; Eze 33:11). The death of His godly ones – Hebrew chasid, that is those who are faithful to the covenant – is. The word “precious” has the meaning of “rare”. The LORD has shown this by delivering the psalmist, who has been in “cords of death” and in “terrors of Sheol” (Psa 116:3), from them (Psa 116:8). This will be said by God’s godly ones, the remnant who will enter the realm of peace.

We can apply this prophetically in another sense, namely, to the second group of martyrs in the book of Revelation (Rev 13:7). [The first group is mentioned in Revelation 6 (Rev 6:9-11).] About them a voice from heaven says: ““Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them”” (Rev 14:13). Paul compares his own martyrdom to the pouring out of the drink offering over the burnt offering (Phil 2:17).

The death of God’s godly ones is not beyond God’s will. Their death does not put an end to God’s plans for them, but rather helps bring about His high plans for them. They will have part in the resurrection of the righteous. Then He will reward their faithfulness unto death with “the crown of life” (Rev 2:10b) and “then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43a).

After this interlude about the death of God’s godly ones, the psalmist goes on in Psa 116:16 to describe his own situation. He solemnly and with great gratitude declares to the LORD that he is His servant. He does so in the awareness of all the benefits the LORD has given him. We too will desire to serve the Lord when we are aware of how many benefits we have received from Him through His work on the cross.

In his great gratitude for what the LORD has done for him, he also mentions the role his mother played in his upbringing (cf. Psa 86:16). That the psalmist calls her “Your servant” means that she has been a God-fearing woman who has served God. She will have taught him in the things of God (cf. 2Tim 1:5).

If we are to do anything for the Lord, it is good to remember to whom we owe much for our spiritual upbringing. That may be our parents, it may also be mature believers who have helped us in our spiritual growth (cf. 1Thes 2:7; 11). It prevents us from boasting about our qualities and activities. The Lord has prepared everything to make us His servant and to do the work He has had in mind for us (Eph 2:10).

That freedom to serve Him is His work. He has loosened the bonds with which the psalmist was imprisoned. The psalmist experienced his deliverance as a release from prison. Thus, we were imprisoned in the bonds of sin. The Lord Jesus has freed us from those bonds (Rom 6:17) and now we may live for Him and serve Him in our lives.

Psa 116:17-18, except for the opening phrase, are similar to Psa 116:13-14. In Psa 116:17 it is about the sacrifice of thanksgiving, in Psa 116:18 about the votive offering. The deliverance from prison, the loosening of the bonds, is cause to offer God “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psa 116:17). A sacrifice of thanksgiving is offered when a vow has been made (Lev 7:16). Others may eat of such a sacrifice. It is a meal offering. This is reflected in the next verse.

In his captivity, the psalmist made vows (Psa 116:18; cf. Psa 56:12-13; Jona 2:9). These he now wants to fulfill. He made his vows personally to God. He wants to fulfill them publicly, “in the presence of all His people”. The whole people of God need to hear of the deliverance He has given, so that they can share in his joy of all the benefits of God (cf. Psa 107:10-18).

He says this for the second time (Psa 116:14; 18), which emphasizes it and underscores its importance. This second time makes it clear that he can only do so in the place the LORD has chosen to establish His name there for His dwelling (Deu 12:5-14), namely the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, where the LORD Himself now dwells.

The place where the praise happens and where the meal is held is “in the courts of the LORD’s house” (Psa 116:19). It is a feast in the presence of the LORD. He is the Host, it is about Him. He has turned everything around for the better and He is worthy of all thanks.

Then the psalmist spontaneously addresses the word to Jerusalem, where the house of the LORD stands, saying: “In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.” The heart of the God-fearing Jew is intimately bound up with the city of Jerusalem, the city of the great King, where God dwells. No greater joy can be imagined for him than to be in the midst of that city, because there he can experience fellowship with God in the most intimate way. He ends, therefore, with another “hallelujah!”, “praise the LORD!”.

In Psalm 115, the first hallel-psalm after the Passover meal, the praise is because of the omnipotence of the LORD. In Psalm 116, the praise is because of the LORD’s grace (Psa 116:5), because of His righteousness and compassion.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 116". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-116.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.