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‘For the Chief Musician. A Song, a Psalm.’
This Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician or Choirmaster. It probably indicates that it has been adapted for Temple worship. It is described as both a song and a Psalm, but it is noteworthy that no reference is made to authorship. The dedication of anonymous Psalms to the Chief Musician was rare (only this and Psalms 67:0). The situation in life for the Psalm was probably the amazing deliverance of Jerusalem from the armies of Sennacherib, for it clearly indicates connection with a great deliverance and a short, sharp shock. If this was so the Psalm is written in the time of Hezekiah. Others have, however, suggested that it reflects the deliverance from Exile, in which case we would have to date it after 520 BC, for it refers to the Temple as a going concern (Psalms 66:13-15). But the impression that the people who are delivered are also those who had directly suffered calamity is against this attribution, whilst there is no indication of exile.
A feature of the Psalm is that the first part (Psalms 66:1-12) is in the plural, and clearly has in mind the whole congregation of Israel, whilst the last part (Psalms 66:13-20) is in the singular. This may suggest:
1) That the speaker in the last part was the king acting as intercessor for the people, as a priest after the intercessory order of Melchizedek (Psalms 110:4). Kings regularly described the activities of their subjects in terms of themselves. If the situation was as we have suggested that king would be Hezekiah, and we have an example of his intercessory status in Isaiah 37:1; Isaiah 37:14-20, compare Isaiah 38:0.
2) That the first part is a general call to praise sung by the choir, or spoken out by a priest in authority, and that in the second part the people then respond as individuals, each speaking on his own behalf. The second part would then be seen as a personal and total response in gratitude by the whole assembly, each speaking as an individual (compare how in a modern service we can switch from the general to the personal when each of us recites the Nicene Creed in the first person, although saying the creed together as one people). Priests or Levites might stand among them leading this personal worship line by line so that each would know what to pray (compareNehemiah 8:7-8; Nehemiah 8:7-8), although if it was regularly used it would soon be known by heart.
3) That the singular ‘I’ represented the whole people of Israel seen as one, thus lacking the sense of individualisation found in 2). Against this is the question as to why such a change of tense should suddenly take place.
Note On The Priesthood After The Order Of Melchizedek.
When David captured Jerusalem using his own men it became his possession. It became ‘the city of David’, and was regularly seen as separate from Israel and Judah (see e.g. Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 8:14; Jeremiah 19:3; Jeremiah 27:21; Jeremiah 35:13; Zechariah 1:19; Matthew 3:5). In Jerusalem there would appear to have been a priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (compare Genesis 14:18). This would have been exercised by the priest-king of Jerusalem. Thus David by right of being king in Jerusalem inherited that priesthood. It was seen as an eternal priesthood (Psalms 110:4), and it was as such that he would be honoured by the Jebusite inhabitants of Jerusalem. But by virtue of the fact that only the Levitical priesthood was acceptable to Israel as a sacrificing priesthood, the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek had necessarily to become an intercessory priesthood. This explains why David’s sons could be called ‘priests’ (2 Samuel 8:18 literally). It was a priesthood which continued in the time of the writing of Psalms 110:0 (see Psalms 66:4). It was taken quite seriously, which was why the king would regularly take on himself the responsibility of interceding for the whole people without being seen as usurping the position of the Levitical priests. Consider David in 2 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 24:17; Solomon in 1 Kings 8:0; Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:1; Isaiah 37:14-20; and David’s and Solomon’s intercessory Psalms. Consider also the special position of ‘the Prince’ in Ezekiel’s Temple (Ezekiel 44:3; Ezekiel 45:16-17; Ezekiel 46:2; Ezekiel 46:4-8; Ezekiel 46:10; Ezekiel 46:12). It was this priesthood that devolved on Jesus as the son of David (Hebrews 6:20).
End of note.
Significant is the fact that this Psalm is not headed ‘for David’. If Hezekiah was seen as its author (compare his Psalmic prayer in Isaiah 38:0) this might be seen as militating against the idea that ‘for David’ merely indicated someone of the Davidic line, for then Hezekiah’s authorship could have been seen as ‘for David’.
The theme of the Psalm is clear. Initially, speaking on behalf of the people, the Psalmist reminds the nations of the past actions of God on Israel’s behalf, something which demonstrates God’s sovereignty, and then goes on to praise Him for a special deliverance. After this the king (or high priest, or even the people, each speaking as an individual) takes over and deals with the question of the ritual response to God’s goodness. If it is the king who responds then, as the one who sums up the people in himself, he promises the performing of vows made at the time of trial, and outlines the offerings and sacrifices that will be made. And then again on behalf of his people he declares what God has done for him by answering his intercession. Great stress is laid on the importance of a guileless heart when approaching God. Throughout the ancient East kings were seen as playing an important role in ritual activity as representatives of the whole people, so it would not be unusual for the King of Israel (Judah), to share the same role.
If this is so the Psalm well exemplifies the connection between king and people in Israel’s thinking. All the people (or at least the assembled males) initially offer their worship, and then the king as summing up the people in himself, deals with the ritual side of things. When saying ‘I’ he would be instinctively aware that he was speaking on behalf of all (‘I’ as embodying the people), for he embodied all that they were. To us it may seem strange, but to Israel it would seem perfectly natural. What seems to us to be a startling contrast was to them not a contrast at all. The whole people saw themselves as a composite unity, and the king as summing them up in himself. As the Anointed of YHWH he was their life (see Lamentations 4:20). This was preparing the way for the concept of all true Christians as members of one body (1 Corinthians 6:15-17; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.), summed up in the One Whose body it is, and with Whom we are made one, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). As the body of Christ we are united with Him and made one with Him. We are not separated from Him as though He were the head in Heaven and we the headless body on earth. In 1 Corinthians 12:0 the head is part of the body.
Alternately the idea may of general worship and gratitude for deliverance, followed up by each individual Israelite personalising the deliverance and declaring what his response will be. (Compare how in our worship services we may pray in unison as ‘we’, and then individually recite the Apostle’s Creed as ‘I’).
The Psalm may be divided up as follows:
PART 1). GOD’S CALL TO THE NATIONS (Psalms 66:1-11 ).
This consists of:
o a) A Call For The Whole Earth To Praise And Worship, And To Express Appreciation of God, In View Of The Deliverance That He Has Accomplished (Psalms 66:1-4).
o b) A Call For Them To Remember And Take Note Of What God Has Done For His People In The Past (Psalms 66:5-6).
o c) A Warning To The Nations To Remember In The Light Of His Historic Activity That He Is Observing Them (Psalms 66:7).
o d) A Call To The Nations To Take Note Of The Wonderful Deliverance From A Disastrous Experience That His People Have Experienced (Psalms 66:8-12).
PART 2). ISRAEL’S GRATEFUL RESPONSE TO GOD’S DELIVERANCE REVEALED IN OFFERINGS AND THE FULFILMENT OF VOWS, AND A CALL FOR CONSIDERATION OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN ANSWERING PRAYER (Psalms 66:13-20 ).
This consists of:
o a) Deliverance Having Been Accomplished Each Individual In Israel (Or The King As The Representative Of His People) Approaches God And Glories In The Ways In Which He Himself Will Express His Gratitude Ritually Through Offerings And The Fulfilment Of Vows (Psalms 66:13-15).
o b) A Call To Consider The Way In Which God Has Answered His (or their) Prayer Because His (their) Heart Was Right Towards God (Psalms 66:16-20).
1). God’s Call To The Nations (Psalms 66:1-11 ). a) A Call For The Whole Earth To Praise And Worship, And To Express Appreciation of God, In View Of The Deliverance That He Has Accomplished (Psalms 66:1-4 ).
‘Make a joyful noise (or ‘shout’) to God,
All the earth,
Sing forth the glory of his name,
Make his praise glorious.’
When a king returned in honour after victory over his enemies all the people would give joyful shouts of victory and acclamation as they welcomed him. Indeed it was incumbent upon them. So here all the nations of the world are called on to make such a joyful noise, as God, as it were, returns in victory. They are to sing forth His glorious Name, and His triumphs which gave Him that Name, and give Him splendid and overwhelming praise in accordance with what He deserves. He is to be given the honour due to His Name.
‘ Say to God, “How terrible are your works!
Through the greatness of your power will your enemies submit themselves to you,
All the earth will worship you, and will sing to you,
They will sing to your name. [Selah.’
The peoples are even told what to say. They are to declare how awesome are His works, amazing beyond belief, and terrible for those on whom they were perpetrated and in the eyes of the onlookers. They are to recognise that so great and awesome is His power that it will continually make His enemies submit to Him. And as a consequence the whole world will of necessity worship Him, and sing to Him, and sing to His Name. When Sennacherib returned from besieging Jerusalem to Assyria leaving behind an unconquered Jerusalem, the whole world would have been amazed. Who was this God Who had ensured that Judah remained unbowed and unbroken, when all the other nations in the conspiracy had fallen before Him? And the humiliation of their common enemy Assyria would indeed have filled them with rejoicing, and praise towards the God Who had done this. Note that they sing to His Name, the Name that has been established on the basis of what He has done.
‘Selah.’ A break in the music, or a loud crescendo, indicating ‘Pause, and think of that.’
b). A Call For Them To Remember And Take Note Of What God Has Done For His People In The Past (Psalms 66:5-6 ).
The nations are now called on to consider what God has done in the past (the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan are to some extent combined in the description), in revealing His divine activity in the opening up of the sea and in the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army, demonstrating through it that He is awesome, all-powerful and fierce in His activity.
‘Come, and see the works of God,
He is terrible in his doing toward the children of men.’
The nations are called on to consider what God has done in the past, His great ‘works’. For these reveal that He is mighty and awesome in His dealings with men; towards His people He is great and powerful on their behalf, amazing them by His activity (Psalms 66:6), towards those who would harm them He is fierce and terrible, Someone to be feared. Men do well not to cross Him (Psalms 66:7).
‘He turned the sea into dry land,
They went through the river (flood) on foot,
There did we rejoice in him.’
The emphasis here is on His greatness and might exercised on behalf of His people. He made a way for them over the Sea of Reeds (Rede Sea), turning it into dry land (see Exodus 14:21-22; Exodus 14:29; compare Joshua 3:17), so that they could go through the waters on foot. The main emphasis is on the Red Sea deliverance, but the language of the second line may possibly echo the crossing of the Jordan. The word for ‘river, flood’ (nahar) is found in Joshua 24:2-3; Joshua 24:14-15, speaking there of the Euphrates. It elsewhere regularly refers to the Euphrates. It also often refers to rivers, (even the Nile), but not to the Red Sea. On the other hand its use here might be loose, as a parallel to ‘sea’.
‘There did we rejoice in Him.’ The Psalmist sees himself and his people as ‘one’ with the people of the Exodus. At the Red Sea deliverance they had rejoiced, and they continued to rejoice in that event for they felt that in some way they had been a part of it. We too, as Christians, can rejoice at God’s deliverance of His people through the centuries, for we are truly a part of that too.
c). A Warning To The Nations To Remember In The Light Of His Historic Activity That He Is Observing Them (Psalms 66:7 ).
‘He rules by his might for ever,
His eyes observe the nations,
Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. [Selah.’
And just as God observed what the Egyptians were seeking to do at the Red Sea, so are the nations to recognise that He observes their activity against His people as well. He rules the world by His power, and His eyes sees all that they do (compare Zechariah 4:10). Thus those who rebel against Him by exalting themselves over His people should watch their step. They should recognise that He is not unaware of what they do. Such exaltation of themselves by nations against His people, and the resulting repercussions, are echoed in Isaiah 36-37. Our God sees all.
d). The Nations Are To Take Note Of The Wonderful Deliverance From A Disastrous Experience That His People Have Experienced (Psalms 66:8-12 ).
The words that follow indicate some special trial that His people had faced. Whilst it is possible that these words reflect the Exile, with the people seeing themselves as a continuing unity so that what some suffer their descendants suffer with them, it is more natural to see the words as the expression of people who have themselves gone through deep trial and have themselves been delivered. This would point to some experience like that of the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13 ff.; Isaiah 36-37). It is probable therefore that we are to see in this Psalm an expression of worship in the days of Hezekiah, when the Assyrians withdrew from the siege of Jerusalem, with Hezekiah playing a prominent role. For us it is an assurance that, although He might allow His true people to go through fire and water, He will in the end bring them through into a place of abundance.
‘Oh bless our God, you peoples,
And make the voice of his praise to be heard,
This part opens with this call to give praise and worship to God, which will be immediately followed by an explanation as to why this call to praise God is expressed. All peoples are called on to ‘bless God’ (offer Him praise and worship) and to make the sound of their praise heard.
Who holds our person in life,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.’
And the reason for such praise is that God maintains their lives, not allowing them to be tossed aside. He keeps them alive in dire situations and establishes their way. And there had been no situation more dire than that when the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem, bent on great slaughter once Jerusalem surrendered. (A city which surrendered immediately was usually treated leniently, but once it had shown stubborn resistance it was seen as deserving wholesale slaughter - see Deuteronomy 20:10-14).
‘For you, O God, have put us to the test,
You have tried us, as silver is tried.’
The first illustration is that of metal tested for purity in the fire (compare Psalms 17:3; Psalms 26:2; Proverbs 17:3; Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2-3). God is seen as having tested out the trueness and obedience of His people by putting them through great trial.
‘You brought us into the net,
You laid a sore burden on our loins.’
The next two illustrations are of being captured in a net (compare Job 19:6), and of having been put through a hard time. They had been free like a bird until they had suddenly found themselves ensnared by the surrounding Assyrian armies. And the consequence had been that life had become hard and difficult, almost too heavy to bear.
You caused men to ride over our heads,
We went through fire and through water,
But you brought us out into a wealthy place (‘into abundance’).’
Prior to the siege of Jerusalem Judah as a whole had been trodden down by the Assyrian armies. One by one their great cities had been taken. The land had been trodden underfoot. And they themselves had been mowed down by the advancing Assyrian horsemen. The enemy had ‘ridden over their heads’ as they had yielded before them (compare Isaiah 51:23). Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions both depict their victorious chariots riding over their enemies. And as a consequence the people of Judah, had passed through great dangers, ‘through fire and through water’ (compare Isaiah 43:2). God’s way is never an easy one for His people, because they have to be refined.
But in the end He had brought them out ‘into abundance’, their wealth and freedom restored (in a similar way to Job). This will always be true for His persecuted people, whether it be in this world or the next.
PART 2). ISRAEL’S GRATEFUL RESPONSE TO GOD’S DELIVERANCE REVEALED IN OFFERINGS AND THE FULFILMENT OF VOWS, AND A CALL FOR CONSIDERATION OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN ANSWERING PRAYER (Psalms 66:13-20 ).
a) Deliverance Having Been Accomplished Each Individual In Israel, Speaking In Unison, (Or The King As The Representative Of His People), Approaches God And Explains How He Will Express His Gratitude Ritually (Psalms 66:13-15 ).
The change of person from plural to singular (from ‘we/us’ to ‘I/me’) is vivid and expressive. But there is no reason for seeing it as any other than intended. It expresses the thoughts of each individual worshipper, each speaking individually, but as part of a whole (in the same way as we recite the creed). Alternately it may be seen as the words of the king as he acts in gratitude as mediator for his people. In this sense it would essentially mirror what our Lord Jesus Christ has offered up in the offering up of Himself on our behalf (compare especially Hebrews 10:1-14).
‘I will come into your house with burnt-offerings,
I will pay you my vows,
Which my lips uttered,
And my mouth spoke, when I was in distress.’
The speaker asserts that he will come into God’s house with ‘burnt-offerings’ (‘whole-offerings’), offerings which would be wholly consumed and not partaken of, being the expression of a full-hearted praise and dedication to God.
Furthermore he would fulfil the vows that he had made at the time of his distress. Whilst death, and worse, had threatened at the hands of the enemy, both the king, and every one of the people, would have felt constrained to make promises to God of full-hearted future obedience if only He delivered them. In their case this would include the offering of a multiplicity of offerings as here, but it would also include promises of loyalty and obedience. Now each is assuring God that those vows would be fulfilled.
We are all good at making promises to God when trouble threatens and we feel dependent on Him. Would that we would all afterwards also say, and mean, that we would fulfil those promises. Sadly, for so many, as the danger recedes, so does the likelihood of our fulfilling our promises. When we consider this Psalm we should ask ourselves afresh, ‘have I truly fulfilled the promises which I made to God when I was in distress?’
‘I will offer to you burnt-offerings of fatlings,
With the sweet smelling (or ‘incense’) of rams,
I will offer bullocks with goats. [Selah.’
The multiplicity of offerings suggests either the wide variety of people included under ‘I’ as each individual speaks, whilst conscious of others speaking along with him. Along with him these others will offer other different sacrifices. Alternately the ‘I’ may be the king, who, as representative of his people, offers a wide range of offerings in gratitude for God’s deliverance.
In Psalms 66:13 he had said, ‘I will come to your house with burnt offerings’. Now this idea is expanded on further as the burnt offerings are seen to include:
o The fattest of the lambs (fatlings; the fat was always seen as the best part of the offerings - Genesis 4:4, and regularly).
o The sweet smelling of rams (compareGenesis 8:21; Genesis 8:21 where God smelled the sweet savour of the sacrifices. See also Exodus 29:18).
o The offering of bullocks with he-goats.
Bullocks and rams, and he-goats, were seen as the very best of offerings. Bullocks were the sin offerings required on behalf of priests (Leviticus 4:3) and of the whole people (Leviticus 4:14), and he-goats were required of rulers (Leviticus 4:23; Numbers 7:17 ff.). Rams were a priestly burnt offering (Exodus 29:0; Leviticus 8:18-22; Leviticus 9:2), but also offered as a burnt offering on behalf of all the people (Leviticus 16:5). Thus the thought here is of the offering of the very best.
b) A Call To Consider The Way In Which God Has Answered His (or their) Prayer Because His (their) Heart Was Right Towards God (Psalms 66:16-20 ).
The Psalm ends with an emphasis on the fact that God has answered prayer. The king was an intercessory priest after the order of Melchizedek (see introduction to the Psalm above). But this would do no good unless his heart was pure before God. He recognised that it was only when he approached God as one who was right with Him, that his prayer was heard. God knows nothing of ex opere operato. This may thus be the cry of the king, praying as the people’s representative.
Alternately the cry is that of each individual (as part of the whole) as he recognises the wonderful way in which God has answered his prayer.
‘Come, and hear, all you who fear God,
And I will declare what he has done for my life.’
First he calls on all who ‘fear God’, that is who recognise the Almightiness of YHWH, to come and hear while he declares what God has done for him which has so benefited his life. ‘All who fear God’ acknowledges the fact that even among the godless nations there were those who recognised and acknowledged the greatness of the God of Israel. Whilst Judah were His people ‘the fear of God’ was not limited to them. We can compare here Naaman the Syrian general and the Sidonian widow who succoured Elijah (Luke 4:26-27; 2 Kings 5:17; 1 Kings 17:9 ff.).
I cried to him with my mouth,
And he was extolled with my tongue.’
What he wanted them to recognise was that he had cried to God with his mouth, and had extolled Him with his tongue, and that God had heard him (Psalms 66:19). Note the combination of prayer and praise. The idea is not that we somehow persuade Him to act by praising Him (the extolling comes after the praying), but that we not only look to Him to answer our prayers, but also give Him the worship and gratitude due to Him for His goodness.
‘If I regard iniquity in my heart,
The Lord will not hear,
But truly God has heard,
He has attended to the voice of my prayer.’
However, he stresses the importance of approaching God with a pure heart. Unlike the so-called gods of other nations the God of Israel is concerned with the moral behaviour of His petitioners. He will only hear the prayers of those whose hearts are right with Him as revealed in their response to His covenant requirements and their behaviour towards others. There is nothing automatic about it. They will not be heard for their much speaking, but only when they approach Him with their hearts purified and free from known sin. Cherishing sin in the heart will result in God not hearing them. What they pray for must be right, and so must their attitude of heart. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. It reminds us that God is only ‘bound’ to hear the prayers of those whose hearts are right with Him and whose motives are pure. And in this case God had truly heard his prayer, and had heard him as he prayed, precisely because he had prayed from a true heart and with a cleansed conscience. This was the basis on which their great deliverance had been enjoyed.
Again the idea is not that by our behaviour we somehow earn the right to be heard. Rather it is that a righteous and moral God will only act in accordance with righteousness.
‘Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer,
Nor his covenant love from me.’
He finalises his prayer by blessing God for having heard him in accordance with His covenant. He never turns away from those who approach responsive to His covenant. For He Himself is always faithful to those to whom He has covenanted to act in love, that is to those who have responded to His freely offered love by entering into a covenant relationship with Him.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 66". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany