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Superscription.—“To the chief Musician.” See Introduction to Psalms 57:0. “A Psalm or Song. See Introduction to Psalms 48:0.
Both the author and the occasion of the psalm are unknown.
Hengstenberg: “The psalm is a song of thanksgiving of the Church of God, after a protracted and severe trial. It is divided into three great parts. In the first, God is praised (1–7), on account of what He does to Israel at all times, in the second (8–12), on account of what He had just now done, and in the third (13–20), the Church vows her gratitude.”
Homiletically we have in the psalm the following themes for meditation, Praise to God for His mighty works (Psalms 66:1-7); Praise for His great kindness in affliction (Psalms 66:8-12); and The declaration of a grateful soul (Psalms 66:18-20).
PRAISING GOD FOR HIS MIGHTY WORKS
I. The reason of this praise. The Psalmist calls upon all lands to praise God because of His mighty and majestic doings. And in so doing he sets forth—
1. The nature of His works. With mighty power God is ever engaged in governing the nations of the world. “He ruleth by His power for ever,” &c. Three features of His government are here indicated by the poet.
(1.) Its perfect knowledge. “His eyes behold the nations.” Moll: “His eyes keep watch upon the nations.” The plans of the enemies of Himself and of His people are all known unto Him. They can conceal nothing from Him; and His people in all their circumstances and all their needs are ever before Him. He has a clear and full view of all things.
(2.) Its subjugation of enemies. In the second verse it is said, “How terrible art Thou in Thy works! through the greatness of Thy power shall Thine enemies submit themselves unto Thee;” i.e., yield a feigned submission unto Him. By His great power they would be compelled to make a hollow and unwilling profession of loyalty to Him. And in the sixth verse there is a reference to the overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea. There are to-day those who submit to God in loving loyalty, and those who submit only outwardly and from slavish fear. And if men will resist Him to the utmost, then, like the tyrannical monarch of Egypt, they will be crushed by His power.
(3.) Its salvation of His people. “He turned the sea into dry land; they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in Him.” His power is exerted for the defence and deliverance of those who put their trust in Him; as was seen in the crossing of the Red Sea, and the passage of the Jordan. In His government the interests of His loyal subjects are specially cared for. He is “mighty to save” all who confide in Him, and to crush incorrigible rebels, however numerous or powerful they may be.
2. The constancy of His works. “He ruleth by His power for ever.” Hengstenberg: “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 happening really 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 exhortation, “Come and see the works of God,” implies that these works are actually present. His rule is continuous and everlasting. Though He no longer manifests His power in miraculous deeds, that power is ever working for the overthrow of evil, the salvation of His people, and the extension of His kingdom.
3. The influence of His works. The mighty deeds of the Most High are calculated,
(1.) To excite awe. “How terrible art Thou in Thy works!… He is terrible in His doing toward the children of men!” His deeds reveal His tremendous majesty, and are fitted to inspire the mind with reverent fear.
(2.) To check rebellion against Him. “Let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” What is the strength of the mightiest when measured against His? The sinner is battling against Omnipotence. “Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like Him?” “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish,” &c.
(3.) To inspire confidence in Him. The Psalmist represents the mighty deeds of God as a reason for praise, an incitement to universal worship, and a cause for rejoicing in Him. These things imply trust in Him. His majestic works quickened the souls of His people into the exercise of a lively confidence in Him. When we mark how righteously and beneficently His almightiness is exercised, we see that it is well fitted to quicken and strengthen our faith in Him.
4. The necessity of observing His works. “Come and see the works of God.” It is only as the glorious deeds of God are thoughtfully and reverently regarded by us, that they will beneficially affect our mind and heart. But when they are attentively and devoutly considered, they will inspire trust and gratitude, admiration and praise in us, even as they did in the poet. Do we thus consider the doings of God in His government of the world to-day? Do these doings enkindle our hearts into resolute trust and holy song? Surely they are well fitted to do so, unless we are in arms against Him.
II. The enthusiasm of this praise. “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands. Sing forth the honour of His name; make His praise glorious.” The praise for which the poet calls is to be offered—
1. Heartily. “Make a joyful noise unto God.” “Shout for joy to God.” The mere “shout” is worthless in the sight of God. But when the shout is the natural expression of the heart’s zeal and fervour, it is acceptable to Him. Languid praises are utterly inadequate to celebrate His doings, and are repugnant to Him.
2. Joyfully. “Make a joyful noise unto God.” “Shout for joy.” To be acceptable to God praise must be offered not as a duty, but as a privilege. To the devout heart praise is pleasure, worship is delight.
3. Openly. “Shout for joy unto God; … sing forth the honour of His name,” &c. We must celebrate the praise of God openly, that men may see that we are not ashamed of doing so, and that they may be encouraged to unite with us in the holy and joyous exercise. When we think of what God is ever doing for us, how enthusiastic should our praise to Him be! When we think of Jesus Christ and the blessings of redemption, how fervent and rapturous and ceaseless should be our songs!
III. The universality of this praise. “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands, … All the earth shall worship Thee, and shall sing unto Thee; they shall sing to Thy name.” The poet was confident that the heathen world would be won from their idolatries and atheism to the worship of the living and true God. His prophetic announcement is not yet fully accomplished. But we are confident that it will be—
1. Because of the character and perfections of God. He is good to all men, and His goodness is calculated to awaken the gratitude of all. His character is fitted to inspire the admiration and adoration of all men. “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
2. Because of the history of His worship amongst men. The worship of many heathen deities has passed away. Men are casting their “idols which they made to worship to the moles and to the bats.” But the number of His worshippers is ever increasing. His empire over human souls grows constantly and rapidly. Its past history is prophetic of its full and final triumph.
3. Because of the predictions of His Word. The Holy Book is clear and triumphant in its declarations on this point. (See Psalms 22:27; Psalms 72:8-19; Isaiah 45:23; Malachi 1:11; Luke 13:29; Romans 14:11; et al.)
CONCLUSION.—Let this glorious prospect—
1. Incite us to toil for its realisation.
2. Encourage us to pray for its realisation.
3. Stimulate us to praise Him who has promised its realisation.
PRAISING GOD FOR HIS GREAT KINDNESS IN AFFLICTION
The Psalmist in these verses sets before us—
I. A great affliction. This affliction is—
1. Variously represented. The poet uses a number of expressive figures to set forth the distress through which the people had passed. These figures represent it as,
(1.) Imprisoning. “Thon broughtest us into the net.” Moll: “Thou hast brought us into the enclosure.” The idea is that of straitness, confinement. The soul sometimes seems surrounded with trouble, from which there is no escape.
(2.) Oppressing. “Thou laidst affliction upon our loins.” Moll: “Hast laid an oppressive burden on our loins.” Barnes: “The loins are mentioned as the seat of strength (comp. Deuteronomy 33:11; 1 Kings 12:10; Job 40:16); and the idea here is, that He had put their strength to the test: He had tried them to see how much they could bear; He had made the test effectual by applying it to the part which was able to bear most. He had tried them to the utmost.”
(3.) Degrading. “Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads.” Hengstenberg: “Thou didst let men ride upon our head.” The head is mentioned as the noblest part. And the idea is that the sufferers had been not only vanquished, but treated by their conquerors with the utmost indignity and tyranny. Their enemies had insulted them, scorned them, degraded them.
(4.) Consuming. “We went through fire.” The passing through fire indicates trial which involves extreme danger. The severest trials we speak of as “fiery trials.”
(5.) Overwhelming. “We went through water.” Barnes: “It was as if they had been made to pass through burning flames and raging floods (comp. Isaiah 43:2). Instead of passing through the seas and rivers when the waters had been turned back, and when a dry and safe path was made for them, as was the case with their fathers (Psalms 66:6), they had been compelled to breast the flood itself.” This representation of the affliction of the people shows that their distresses were numerous, various, and severe. From trials of one kind they passed, and then had to encounter trials of another kind. And some of these trials threatened to destroy their very existence. Their experience in this respect is an illustration of the experience of some of the people of God in all ages.
This severe affliction was—
2. Permitted by God. “Thou broughtest us into the net; Thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused,” &c. They recognised the hand of God in their distresses. The strongest and most daring enemy of the people of God has no power but what is given him from above. These afflictions could not have befallen them without the Divine permission. All sufferings are either sent by God, or permitted by Him. The realisation of this by the unbeliever is an aggravation of suffering; by the believer, a blessing in suffering. “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good.” (See on Psalms 39:9.)
II. Great kindness in great affliction. The kindness of God as celebrated by the Psalmist was manifest—
1. In preserving the afflicted. “Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.” He had protected them amid the dangers which threatened their life; and He had not left their feet to totter or stumble so as to cause them to fall. Their enemies failed to crush them, and the fire to consume them, and the flood to overwhelm them; because God defended them.
2. In the design of the affliction. “Thou, O God, hast proved us; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried.” The design of their affliction was,
(1.) The testing of character. “As silver is tried” in the fire, so God had tested the reality of their faith, and hope, and patience. “When God doth afflict you,” says Caryl, “then He doth bring you to the touchstone to see whether you are good metal or no; He doth bring you then to the furnace, to try whether you be dross or gold, or what you are. Affliction is the great discoverer that unmasks us.… Some will hold on with God as long as the sun shineth, as long as it is fair weather; but if the storm arise, if troubles come, whether personal or public, then they pull in their heads, then they deny and forsake God, then they draw back from Him, and betray His truth; what they, such and such men! Trouble makes the greatest trial; bring professors to the fire, and then they show their metal.” So He tried Abraham and Job, et al.
(2.) The improving of character. Silver is put into the smelting furnace in order to remove its dross. Afflictions are designed to purify and perfect the character. (Comp. Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 48:10; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:3; James 1:2-3; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:7.)
3. In the issue of the affliction. “Thou broughtest me out into a wealthy place.” Margin: “Moist.” Hengstenberg: “Thou didst lead us out to affluence.” Conant: “Thou hast brought us out to overflowing plenty.” Moll: “Thou hast brought us out into abundance.” Calvin: “The sum is, although God at times may chastise severely His own people, yet He always gives them a happy and joyful issue.” M. Henry: “God brings His people into trouble that their comforts afterwards may be the sweeter, and that their affliction may thus yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness, which will make the poorest place in the world a wealthy place.” The troubles of the people of God will be brought by Him to the most blessed and glorious issue.
III. Praise for great kindness in great affliction. “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard.” Three points are here suggested—
1. Praise for general mercies does not supersede the obligation of special praise for special mercies. The poet in the former strophe had called for enthusiastic praise to God for His regular and constant activity for the benefit of His people; now he calls again for praise for the special deliverance and blessing which he commemorates.
2. Praise for the great kindness of God is all the more fervent and delightful when we are assured of our personal interest in Him. “O bless our God!” Blessed indeed are they who can thus regard Him. His mercies to them will be doubly precious. And their praise of Him will be specially hearty and confiding and pleasurable.
3. The heart that is fervent in His praises will seek to engage others therein. “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard.” The grateful and fervent heart would enlist multitudes in this service, and sound His praise abroad on all sides.
1. Let the afflicted wait upon God in patience and hope.
2. Let those delivered from affliction praise Him with gratitude and gladness.
THE DECLARATION OF A GRATEFUL SOUL
“We have now,” says Perowne, “the personal acknowledgment of God’s mercy, first, in the announcement on the part of the Psalmist of the offerings which he is about to bring, and which he had vowed in his trouble; and then, in the record of God’s dealings with his soul, which had called forth his thankfulness.” We have here—
I. Help in trouble implored by man. The poet is speaking of the time “when he was in trouble,” and he says, “I cried unto Him with my mouth,” &c. From his statements we learn that—
1. His prayer was presented in uprightness of heart. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The Psalmist was sincere in his approaches to God. He did not cherish sin in his heart while seeking the help of God. The man who loves sin will not obtain favourable answers to his prayers. On this point the Sacred Scriptures are most explicit. (Job 27:8-9; Proverbs 15:29; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 59:1-2; John 9:31; 1 John 3:21-22.)
2. His prayer was offered with solemn promises. The Psalmist says, “I will pay Thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken when I was in trouble.” Under the pressure of great suffering he had uttered solemn promises to God. It is a very common occurrence when men are suffering some great affliction to make vows of reformation of life, or, in the case of the godly, of more thorough consecration to God, if He will remove the affliction.
3. His prayer was offered in confident anticipation of a gracious answer. “I cried unto Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue.” Hengstenberg: “A song of praise was under my tongue.” The meaning seems to be that the poet was so confident of a favourable response to his prayer that he had in readiness a hymn of praise, which he would sing as soon as the help sought was obtained. He was “enabled by faith and hope to give glory to Him when he was seeking for mercy and grace from Him, and to praise Him for mercy in prospect though not yet in possession.”
II. Help in trouble granted by God. “Verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer.” The Psalmist had received from God a favourable answer to his prayer. The help which he had sought God granted unto him. The answer to his prayer may be regarded—
1. As a proof of the uprightness of his heart. A fundamental condition of acceptable prayer is that the soul shall be sincere and free from secretly-cherished sin. “As it is a settled and universal principle that God does not hear prayer when there is in the heart a cherished love and purpose of iniquity, so it follows that, if there is evidence that He has heard our prayers, it is proof that He has seen that our hearts are sincere, and that we truly desire to forsake all forms of sin.”
2. As a result of his confidence in God. God always graciously hears and answers the prayer of faith. If we honour God by confidently anticipating His blessing, He will reward us by abundantly bestowing that blessing. In our dealings with Him trustful anticipation of His grace will ever lead to joyous celebration of His praise.
III. Help in trouble recounted to men. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Notice—
1. The invitation. “Come and hear, and I will declare.” It is natural for the heart rejoicing in some great deliverance granted, or some great blessing bestowed, to tell to others its glad experience. Because
(1) All great emotions seek expression. Thus the forgiven sinner longs to declare his gratitude and gladness, and thus to honour God.
(2) All godly souls seek to lead others into the possession of the privileges and joys which they have received. The genius of true religion is broad, liberal, generous.
2. The audience. “All ye that fear God.” Barnes: “All who are true worshippers of God—the idea of fear or reverence being put for worship in general. The call is on all who truly loved God to hear what He had done, in order that He might be suitably honoured, and that due praise might be given Him.” The godly man’s experience of the Divine mercy should be recounted to a fitting audience. Many of the experiences of the spiritual life are too tender and sacred to be communicated to any save sympathetic hearers.
3. The testimony. “What He hath done for my soul.” Much that is called “religious experience” and “personal testimony” is repulsively egotistic and conceited—the narrative of the feelings and doings of small and selfish souls, too much given to morbid self-introspection. The world would be much the better if it were rid of such stuff completely and for ever. The Psalmist wishes to recount not what he has done, but what God has done for him. Here is a kind of testimony worth listening to. “When you tell others of the guidances of God respecting your soul, take care lest some hypocrisy or self-love creep in, and that the glory of God be your only aim.”
IV. Help in trouble acknowledged to God. “I will go into Thy house with burnt offerings,” &c. (Psalms 66:13-15; Psalms 66:20). This acknowledgment was characterised by—
1. Faithfulness. “I will pay Thee my vows, which my lips have uttered,” &c. Note:
(1) The frequency with which vows are made in time of trouble.
(2) The frequency with which they are forgotten when the trouble is removed.
(3) The solemn obligation to fulfil them. God does not forget them, but waits their fulfilment. Both gratitude for the removal of the affliction, and faithfulness to the promise made, bind us to their fulfilment. The vows which he made in the night of adversity the Psalmist fulfils in the day of prosperity.
2. Comprehensiveness. “I will go into Thy house with burnt offerings; I will offer unto Thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks, with goats. Blessed be God which hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me.” He resolves to offer fat lambs and bullocks with rams and goats, and to offer them as burnt sacrifices to be wholly consumed to the honour of God. He will “present sacrifices in all the forms required in worship; in all the forms that will express gratitude to God, or that will be an acknowledgment of dependence and guilt; in all that would properly express homage to the Deity.” And He presents the offering of praise as well as of gifts. Both material and spiritual sacrifices he presented unto God.
3. Heartiness. Hengstenberg: “The full enumeration of the animals to be offered in sacrifice, shows the zeal with which the thanks and the offerings are given.” Renschel: “A noble thanksgiving is due to a great benefit.” Great mercies should be acknowledged in fervent and hearty praise.
“King of glory, King of peace,
I will love Thee:
And that love may never cease,
I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me:
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spared me.
Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing Thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
Thou didst clear me;
And alone, when they replied,
Thou didst hear me.
Sev’n whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee.
In my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
To enroll Thee:
Ev’n eternity is too short
To extol Thee.”—Gea. Herbert.
THE EXPERIENCE OF A GODLY MAN
I. The godly man is anxious to impart his experience to others. “Come and hear.”
1. His confession is volunteered, not enforced. There is nothing here to justify that spiritual inquisition which some have sought to establish in the Romish confessional, or its Anglican imitations.
2. Spiritual experiences should be told at suitable times. “Come and hear.” It is wrong to parade soul matters at unseasonable times. Many have brought religion into disrepute by preaching when they ought to have simply and unostentatiously practised its precepts.
3. Spiritual experience should be addressed to congenial hearers. “All ye that fear God.” We should remember that spiritual things can be comprehended only by the spiritually-minded.
4. Spiritual experiences should be strictly personal. “What He hath done for my soul.” In this matter we may properly talk about ourselves without egotism. Much that has obtained currency for “experience,” has been either fiction, or religious scandal.
II. The godly man’s experience includes both penitence and praise.
1. He has to tell of sin mourned over. “I cried unto Him.” This is just the language that would describe the outburst of a penitent soul.
2. He has to tell of trouble endured. The trouble has been greater than he could bear; it has been more than he could fight against; hence he has cried to One higher than he.
3. He has to tell of mercies received. “He was extolled with my tongue.” This He has done for my soul: I sinned, and He forgave me; I was in trouble, and He helped me. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard,” &c.
III. The godly man’s logic. “If I regard iniquity,” &c. The purport of the Christian’s story is—not that he has not sinned; but that God has forgiven the iniquity of his sin, and has given him grace to overcome sin. “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” The Christian’s argument is this: If I cherish sin in my heart, God will not hear my prayer. But God has heard me. Therefore it is clear that His grace has been effective in my heart in subduing the power of sin. The answered prayer is the proof that I have been enabled by grace to overcome sin.
IV. The godly man’s experience always culminates in a song of praise. Even when he has most plainly established his innocence, he ascribes the glory to God, whose mercy has not been withdrawn, and who still hears and answers prayer. This closing song implies three things—
1. That God’s mercy is continuous; else iniquity would prevail, and be cherished in the heart.
2. That God hears prayer unweariedly.
3. That the disposition to pray is also God’s gift.—“The Homiletic Quarterly.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 66". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany