THIS is another song of thanksgiving, and is connected with a special deliverance (Psalms 66:10-12). The composer is about to offer a sacrifice to God in his holy place, in performance of a vow which he had made when he was in trouble (Psalms 66:13-15), and has prepared the psalm as a liturgical formula to be used on the occasion. It is an ode in four strophes: an opening one of four verses—a simple rendering of praise (Psalms 66:1-4); then a short strophe of three verses, celebrating God's might against his enemies (Psalms 66:5-7); next a statement in general terms of the deliverance experienced, and a description of the sacrifices to be offered for it (Psalms 66:8-15); and finally an address to the people, calling on them to "hearken"—together with a protestation of sincerity, and an appeal to God as witnessing to it (Psalms 66:16-20). The psalm, not being ascribed to David in the "title," and having no especial traces of his manner, is generally assigned to a later Judaean king, as Ass, Jehoshaphat, or Hezekiah.
Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands; literally, all the earth—an invitation to the whole world to join in the joy of Israel, wherein they too are interested (comp. Psalms 60:2, Psalms 60:5).
Sing forth the honour of his Name; rather, the glory of his Name. Make his praise glorious; or, recognize his glory in your praise of him; i.e. do not merely thank him for his kindness to you personally, but magnify him for his greatness and majesty.
Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! rather, How terrible are thy works! God's deliverances, while rejoicing the persecuted, are "terrible" to the persecutors. Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee. God's enemies, compelled against their will, have to submit themselves, but it is a feigned submission (comp. Psalms 76:12).
All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy Name (see above, Psalms 66:1, and compare the passages quoted in the comment ad loc.). Dr. Kay notes that "the universality of the Church is clearly contemplated" in all the psalms from Psalms 65:1-13 to Psalms 68:1-35.
Come and see the works of God. Contemplate, i.e; the terrible "works of God," spoken of in Psalms 66:3. See how, to save his people, he has to smite their enemies. Truly, on such occasions, he is terrible in his doing toward the children of men (compare the next verse for an example).
He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot; there did we rejoice in him. The passage of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus was one of the most wonderful of God's works. To the Israelites it was altogether a matter of joy and rejoicing (see Exodus 15:1-21). But how terrible a thing was it to the Egyptians! "The waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them" (Exodus 14:28).
He ruleth by his power forever; his eyes behold (or, observe) the nations. God keeps perpetual watch upon the heathen nations, whose general attitude is that of hostility to his "peculiar people," lest his people should suffer at their hands. Although they may professedly be submissive (Psalms 66:3), their submission is not to be depended on. Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. At any time rebellion may break out, his people be attacked, and "the nations" endeavour to "exalt themselves." All such attempts, however, will be in vain, since "by his power God ruleth forever."
Here we reach the heart of the psalm. The people are called upon to praise God for a recent deliverance from a long period of severe affliction and oppression at the hand of enemies (Psalms 66:8-12), and to join in the sacrifices which are about to be offered to God in payment of the vows made during the time of trouble (Psalms 66:13-15). As the writer ascribes to himself both the making of the vows and the offering of the sacrifices, he must have been the leader of the nation at the time of the oppression and of the deliverance.
O bless our God, ye people; literally, ye peoples—but the plural form here can scarcely point to the "nations," who have just been called, not 'ammim, but goim (see Psalms 66:7). And make the voice of his praise to be heard (comp. Psalms 33:3; cf. 5). The heartiness of the soul's devotion was made apparent by the loudness of the voice.
Which holdeth our soul in life; rather, which setteth (or, hath set) our soul in life—implying a previous condition of great danger. And suffereth not our feet to be moved. In allusion, perhaps, to a threatened captivity.
For thou, O God, hast proved us. The calamity bad been sent as a trial, to prove and purify (comp. Psalms 7:9; Psalms 11:5). Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried (comp. Psalms 12:6; Proverbs 17:3; Proverbs 25:4; Isaiah 1:22, Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 48:10; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:3). Silver, according to ancient methods, required a prolonged process of refining before it could be pronounced pure. The calamity under which Israel had suffered had been of long duration.
Thou broughtest us into the net. Professor Cheyne translates "into the dungeon." But m'tsudah has nowhere else this meaning. It is always either "a net" or "a stronghold." Thou laidst affliction upon oar loins; or, a sore burden (Revised Version). The meaning is, "Thou crushedst us down under a heavy weight of oppression."
Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads. See the Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures passim, where the king in his chariot gallops over the bodies of his dead and wounded enemies. We went through fire and through water; i.e. through dangers of every kind—a proverbial expression (comp. Isaiah 43:2). But thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place; or, "a place of refreshment" ( εἰς ἀναψυχήν, LXX.). Dr. Kay renders, "a place of rich comfort;" Professor Cheyne, "a place of liberty" (comp. Psalms 23:4 and Jeremiah 31:25).
I will go into thy house with burnt offerings; I will pay thee my vows. In the old world the strict performance of vows was always held to be one of the main obligations of religion. A vow was of the nature of a compact with God, and to break it was an act of flagrant dishonesty, from which men shrank. The Mosaic Law sanctioned vows of various kinds, as the vowing of children to the service of God (Le Psalms 27:1-8; 1 Samuel 1:11); the vow of the Nazarite (Numbers 6:2-21); and vows of clean or unclean animals (Le Psalms 27:9-13, 27-29), etc. Clean animals, when vowed, must be either redeemed or sacrificed. The importance of performing vows is borne frequent witness to by the psalmists (see Psalms 22:25; Psalms 1:1-6.14; Psalms 56:12; Psalms 61:8; Psalms 65:1-13 :l; Psalms 116:14, Psalms 116:18; Psalms 132:2).
Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. Vows were commonly made in a time of trouble, or, at any rate, of difficulty (see 11:30, 11:31; 1 Samuel 1:11).
I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings; i.e. of fatted beasts. With the incense of rams; i.e. the smoke, or savoury odour of rams. I will offer bullocks with goats; literally, I will prepare—i.e, dress for sacrifice (see 1 Kings 18:23, 1 Kings 18:26).
In conclusion, the psalmist calls on all pious Israelites to "hearken," while he explains to them how it is that his prayers and vows have been so effectual. It has been because his prayers and vows proceeded from a sincere and honest heart, one which was free from "iniquity" (Psalms 66:18). As Hengstenberg points out, this portion of the psalm is didactic, and inculcates the lesson "that there is no way of salvation except that of well doing." God, by answering the psalmist's prayer, and giving the deliverance for which he had entreated, had set his testimony to the fact of the psalmist's integrity (Psalms 66:19, Psalms 66:20).
Come and hear, all ye that fear God. The address is scarcely to all that have any sense of religion anywhere, as Professor Cheyne suggests, but rather to the religious section of his own nation—the "righteous" or "godly" of other psalms. They are invited to draw near, and be received into the psalmist's confidence. And I will declare what he hath done for my soul. What God had done for the psalmist was to give him confidence and assurance. He knew that his prayers would be ineffectual unless his heart was pure. God heard him, and then he became sure that he was free from the "great transgression" (Cheyne).
I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue; rather, and praise was under my tongue; i.e. I was so confident of being heard that a song of praise was already in my mouth, on the point of bursting forth.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. This is the inward conviction of every simple, unsophisticated soul. It is confirmed by numerous passages of Holy Writ (Job 27:9; Job 31:27; Proverbs 15:29; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:15; Zechariah 7:13; John 9:31, etc.).
But verily God hath heard me. The psalmist's prayer had been answered so unmistakably, so directly, that he could not doubt of the result, which had been brought about, being the consequence of his vows and supplications (Psalms 66:13, Psalms 66:14). He hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Strange as it might seem to be that God had attended to the voice of a man (Job 7:17; Psalms 8:4; Psalms 144:3; James 5:14-18), yet so it was; the psalmist did not and could not doubt it.
Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. The psalm of thanksgiving appropriately concludes with a special blessing of God by the psalmist, who felt that such especial mercy had been shown to himself (Psalms 66:16-20).
Holy fear a reasonable element of true spiritual worship.
"Come and see," etc. Joy and terror seem so diverse and contrary, that one might seem to shut out the other. Yet this psalm, which opens with a note of exultant joy, follows it with a note of terror (Psalms 66:1-3). So in Psalms 2:11, "Rejoice with trembling."
I. AS INSPIRED BY GOD'S CHARACTER AND GLORY. "Perfect love casteth out fear." "Ye have not received," etc. (1 John 4:18; Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7). But there is a fear which love does not cast out, which is not tormenting or slavish, but salutary and akin to "a sound mind." To contemplate the infinite greatness, majesty, power, wisdom, and eternal unchangeableness of God, and the fact that we and all creatures live, move, and have our being in him, with no emotion of profound awe and sacred fear, argues rather clodlike insensibility than childlike confidence. Hence in so many passages, "the fear of the Lord" stands for the whole of true piety. The word here (Psalms 2:3, Psalms 2:5) translated "terrible," and in very many other passages, is elsewhere rendered "reverend," or "to be had in reverence" (Psalms 111:9; Psalms 89:7).
II. GOD'S DEALINGS. "Terrible things in righteousness" (Psalms 65:5). These especially referred to here (Psalms 2:3-5). As the cloud which gave light to Israel in their flight was darkness to their pursuers, so the redemption of Israel involved the destruction of their tyrants. They trembled as they rejoiced (Exodus 14:30, Exodus 14:31). God's holiness must needs have a severe side of justice, as well as a gracious side of redeeming mercy. The cross reveals both. Christ would not have "died for our sins," but that "the wages of sin is death." As the psalmist says of the Egyptian plagues, the Red Sea and Sinai, so we, of the cross, and of the place where the Lord lay, "Come and see!"
III. THE SENSE OF OUR OWN UNWORTHINESS AND SIN. (See Job 42:5, Job 42:6; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8.) To this is sometimes added personal experience of troubles in which faith and joy find it hard to stand ground against terror and despair (Psalms 2:10-12; 2 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 1:9). Yet the outcome is to be joy in God. "There did we rejoice" (Psalms 2:6); or, as margin of Revised Version, "let us rejoice." This is the strict translation, but has been set aside because of supposed difficulty as to meaning. But "Faith makes the past as well as the future her own" (Perowne). What the greatest heathen historian wished his work to be (Thuc; 1:22), is incomparably truer of the record of God's mighty works for his Church—it is "a possession forever."
1. Holy fear must not lose its place in our religion.
2. But must not eclipse joy in God.
3. Faith must call memory to her aid, and joy and gratitude.
Prayer hindered by allowed sin.
"If I regard iniquity," etc. If we read the text as in the margin of Revised Version, "If I had regarded … God would not hear [or, 'have heard'];"—this makes no practical difference. It only substitutes a special for a general statement. The lesson taught is the same—Sin allowed in the heart a fatal hindrance to our prayers being answered.
I. SIN CONSCIOUSLY INDULGED DISABLES FROM PRAYER. Inconsistent with that sincerity essential to the reality of prayer (1 John 3:19-21). One has known men who were afterwards discovered to have been living in secret a wicked life, fluent in the language of what seemed fervent prayer. But such prayer is "abomination" (Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 28:9). It is a fearful aggravation of guilt.
II. EVEN SINS IGNORANTLY, OR WITH PARTIAL KNOWLEDGE, indulged, put the spirit out of tune for prayer; grieve and quench the Holy Spirit, by whose teaching alone we can pray aright; put coldness between the heart and God.
III. SIN INDULGED HINDERS THE ANSWERS TO PRAYER.
1. By rendering us incapable of spiritual blessing. As long as David refused to confess his sin to God, forgiveness and spiritual joy were impossible (Psalms 32:3-5).
2. By rendering it often unwise for God to grant the temporal blessings we ask. God could not grant David's prayer for the life of his child, even after he had repented, because of the scandal his crimes had brought on religion (2 Samuel 13:1-39, etc.). All David's great after troubles sprang from his sin. A Christian who has sinned, repented, and been forgiven is not to regard his troubles as punishment—except, indeed, that they may be sin's inevitable fruit and consequence. But they may be a wise and needful, though merciful, chastisement (1 Corinthians 11:31, 1 Corinthians 11:32).
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
God in history.
It has been said that "History is philosophy teaching by example;" but we are taught in the Psalms to take a higher view, and to recognize God in history. It is only as we do this that we can rejoice and give thanks.
I. GOD'S HAND SHOULD BE SEEN IN HISTORY. First there is the call (verses 1, 2). Then the reason is given (verse 3). We are brought face to face with God. We are confronted with the awful manifestations of his power. The world is not a world of confusion and misrule, where we see only the working of human passion. Behind all is the hand of God. So it is still. Our Lord said, "My Father worketh hitherto." If men everywhere were brought to this faith, that this is not a forsaken and fatherless world, but a world under the benign rule of God, they would bow their hearts in worship, and rejoice to sing praise to the Most High (verse 4).
II. GOD'S SPECIAL DEALINGS WITH NATIONS SHOULD BE SEEN IN HISTORY. (Verses 5-7.) It is said of the ungodly, that "the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands" (Isaiah 5:12). But the psalmist was of a different spirit. He had seen much that had thrilled his heart with admiration and delight, and he would have others to enter into his joy. "Come and see the works of God" (verse 5). Israel may be called the model nation. As "a city set on a hill." Israel has been set on high for the instruction of other nations and peoples (1 Corinthians 10:11). The principles and laws by which God governed and judged Israel are the principles and laws according to which he deals with his people everywhere, in all times and in all lands. God changes his methods, but not his laws. His dispensations alter, but he himself is the same. Hence his judgments of Israel and of the nations are full of instruction to us. Israel was the chosen people, "unto whom were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). God is represented as keeping guard over them. He was their Watchman, and his eye was ever on "the nations" (verse 7) around, ready to warn and defend his own people. Let us be sure that in like manner he is now standing in watch over the interests of truth and righteousness, and that he will overrule all things for the advancement of the kingdom of his Son (Ezekiel 21:27).
III. GOD'S GREAT MORAL PURPOSES SHOULD BE SEEN IN HISTORY. (Verses 8-20.)
1. First, we are called upon to bless God for our preservation. If one is taken and the other left, it is not without a reason. It is God that keeps both nations and individuals alive.
2. Further, we are taught that all trials are part of God's discipline. (Verses 10-12.) Even in the injustice, the oppression, and cruelty of men, we should discern the purposes of God. We are being educated by trial. When we see God's love behind and over all, we learn to be patient and to hope to the end (Deuteronomy 8:1). The outcome of Israel's trials was Canaan; and "there is a rest that remaineth for the people of God."
3. Lastly, we are admonished how God works to bring us ever nearer to himself in love and service. What the psalmist did is an example to us.
"New mercies, each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
"Only, O Lord, in thy dear love
Fit us for perfect rest above;
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray."
The best evidence for Christ.
It has been said that "the evidence for Christianity is not the evidences." This may be true of much that is technically called "evidences;" but it is not true of the evidence brought before us here. Facts are facts. Effects must have sufficient causes. Godliness can only be rightly accounted for by being traced to God. Christianity witnesses for Christ. Wherever you find a man saved by Christ, there you have the best evidence for Christ.
I. THIS EVIDENCE IS THE MOST ACCESSIBLE. Like the facts of science, it is before our eyes. If you want to know the truth, "come and see." As St. Paul argues, "the works of the flesh are manifest," and a black catalogue he gives of some of them. But the works of the Spirit are also manifest; and they are so contrary to the works of the flesh, that when a man changes his life, to walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, the evidence is conclusive as to the transcendent and beneficent power of Christ. The great conversions of St. Luke, as recorded in his Gospel and in the Acts, are evidences of the highest kind; but they are but samples. From that time down through the ages there is an ever-increasing cloud of witnesses. There is much evidence that is only accessible to the learned, and to such as have leisure and capacity for investigation; but here is evidence open to all—clear, relevant, and unmistakable.
II. THIS EVIDENCE IS THE MOST CONVINCING. It is so to the individual Christian himself. There may be arguments you cannot answer, and difficulties and doubts you cannot remove; but if you have felt the power of Christ for good, you have proof which is better than all else, that Christ is from God (1 John 5:10). You know the Bible to be true. You know salvation to be a reality. It is not something you have heard of or seen in others, but something which God has done for your own soul Like the man who had his sight restored, you can say, "Whereas I was blind, now I see." Or like the woman healed of the issue of blood, you can, solicited by love, bear witness, even "before all the people" (Luke 8:47), as to the great things which Christ has done for you. This evidence is the most convincing to others besides ourselves. When we find a real change of mind, a transformation of character, a life made beautiful by self-denial and virtue where formerly it was otherwise, and self-ruled instead of Christ, we cannot but confess the hand of God (Galatians 1:23; Acts 4:13; 2 Corinthians 3:1; I Corinthians 14:21).
III. THIS EVIDENCE IS THE MOST ENDURING. It is not limited to one time; it runs through the ages. Here is the true apostolic succession, and it has never been broken. In spite of all opposition and hostility, Christianity lives and prevails. At home and abroad, in every department of business and in every kind of society, it has its witnesses. Wherever we go, we may find brethren in Christ; and when, like Paul, we meet them, perhaps, when we are in trouble or in unexpected places, let us thank God, and take courage (Acts 28:14). Let us also, in our several places, see that we are found faithful. If we are called of God, it is that we may live for God. If we have been enlightened by Christ, it is that we may let our light shine where he has given us our lot. What an honour to be a witness for Christ! The more closely we imitate him by holy living, by faithful work, by loving service to the poor and needy, the greater shall be our power with God and men, and the greater our reward in heaven (John 20:21; Matthew 19:28).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The psalm would seem to have been composed on the occasion of some special deliverance; but the expressions used are too general to indicate the time or the occasion of its being written.
I. THE WORSHIP OF GOD SHOULD BE JOYFUL AND FERVENT AS WELL AS SOLEMN. (Psalms 66:1.) Love and reverence are the perfection of worship.
II. THE GLORY OF GOD'S NATURE IS THE INSPIRATION OF ALL TRUE WORSHIP. (Psalms 66:2.) His name is his nature; and the glory of his nature is his greatness and goodness.
III. GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL WORK IN HISTORY COMPELS THE RELUCTANT HOMAGE OF EVEN HIS ENEMIES. (Psalms 66:3.) "Thine enemies feign allegiance unto thee".
IV. THE WHOLE EARTH IS THE TEMPLE OF GOD, WHEREIN HIS PRAISES ARE CELEBRATED. (Psalms 66:4.) Prediction of faith, that not only in Zion, but in the whole world, the praises of God should be uttered.—S.
An invitation to study God's marvellous works towards men.
I. WE SHOULD STUDY THE PHYSICAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD. (Psalms 66:6.) He turns the sea into dry land still, and the dry land into sea.
II. WE SHOULD STUDY HIS PROVIDENTIAL RULE IN THE HISTORY OF NATIONS. How he humbles and overthrows those who rebel against his will, and exalts and establishes the people who obey his laws.
III. WE SHOULD STUDY GOD'S WORK OF SALVATION IN THE WORLD. (Psalms 66:8, Psalms 66:9.) "Who putteth [not 'holdeth'] our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved."
IV. WE SHOULD STUDY GOD'S METHODS OF TRIAL AND DISCIPLINE FOR MAKING US SPIRITUALLY RICH. (Psalms 66:10-12.) "We went through fire and through water; but thou broughtest us out to abundance." - S.
Vows fulfilled and experiences related.
I. Vows FULFILLED. (Psalms 66:13-15.)
1. When we are in trouble we make solemn vows of amendment and service. As the psalmist had done in his distress.
2. The fulfilment of our religious vows will often call for great sacrifices. Not burnt offerings from us, but the more costly sacrifices of the heart and spirit. "The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit."
II. EXPERIENCES RELATED. (Psalms 66:16-20.) He proclaims what God had done for him in answer to his praises and prayers.
1. It is only those who fear God that have any sympathy with spiritual experience. Only these would care to listen.
2. Only those who are conscious of integrity of heart expect any answer to prayer. (Psalms 66:18; Job 27:8, Job 27:9.)
3. God will assuredly answer and bless those who call upon him in sincerity and in truth. The psalmist knew from experience that God had heard him and manifested his loving kindness towards him. His faith in God had the warrant of his experience, and was not an unfulfilled expectation.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 66". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany