For my weekly quiet time this week, I will comment on select verses of Psalm 66. I will use the King James Version, which is in the public domain.
To the chief Musician, A Song or Psalm.
For some reason, the Septuagint’s superscription says that Psalm 66 concerns the resurrection. Augustine ran with this view by applying the Psalm to the resurrection of Christ and the church. When v 3 says that God’s enemies will lie to God, Augustine interprets that in light of the Jewish leaders paying the Roman soldiers to lie about why Jesus’ tomb was empty (Matthew 28). Psalm 66:6 talks about crossing the sea on dry land, and many interpreters have viewed that in reference to the Israelites crossing the sea during the Exodus. But Augustine applies v 6 to believers crossing the sea of mortality through their resurrection.
1Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:
In the Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Brettler comment: “Universal acclamation for God for his deliverance of Israel (Josh. 2.9-11).” Indeed, the lands are being told to make a joyful noise to God, and Psalm 66 does appear to be relevant to the Exodus because v 6 seems to recall Israel’s crossing of the sea. But Joshua 2:9-11 does not present the nations of Canaan acclaiming the God of Israel as a result of the Exodus; rather, they are terrified of Israel and her God. At the same time, Rahab does appear to acclaim the God of Israel when she not only fears God, but also seeks God’s mercy and protection. In v 1, perhaps the lands are being told to rejoice in God on account of what God did in history for Israel at the Exodus, to (in the words of Keil-Delitzsch) “share in Israel’s Gloria.” I should also note that, in Second Isaiah, God’s deliverance of Israel from exile is hoped to bring the Gentiles to the worship of Israel’s God. Could Psalm 66 relate to that theme, on some level?
2Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.
3Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.
The word that the KJV translates as “submit” often means to lie (i.e., Genesis 18:15; Joshua 7:11; Hosea 4:2). Marvin Tate maintains that the word in Psalm 66:3 pertains to unwilling submission, on the basis of such passages as Psalm 18:45 and 81:16. But others have sought to go with the interpretation that the word in this verse relates to lying, deception, or denial. The medieval Jewish exegete Rashi says that God’s enemies are so terrified of God that they are lying to God about their sins, as they wrongfully maintain their innocence. And the Targum says that God’s enemies are denying God.
4All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.
Does this mean that all the earth will worship God after the wicked are destroyed, meaning that “all the earth” refers to those who are not wicked? Or will the wicked, too, sing to God and worship God, albeit reluctantly at first?
5Come and see the works of God: he is terrible in his doing toward the children of men.
6He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in him.
7He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah.
Orthodox rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that God’s destruction of the Egyptian soldiers at the sea during the Exodus should discourage the wicked from exalting themselves against God. Psalm 66 may be going that route, in a sense, in that it says that the God who demonstrated his power at the sea still rules and watches the nations. One can ask why the nations should fear God on account of the Exodus, when there is no evidence that the Exodus actually happened. Not surprisingly, the Israelites hoped for fresh and current displays of God’s power on their behalf.
8O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard:
9Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the sort of verse that influenced the Septuagint to apply Psalm 66 to the resurrection. This verse is most likely about God’s protection of God’s people in this life. But one could easily take that concept a step farther and say that God will protect his people even through death, seeing them through to the other side.
10For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.
The Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary discusses the purification of gold and silver. On Proverbs 17:3, it states: “An additional 338 degrees is necessary to allow the metal to be poured without freezing and not so hot that a destructive crystalline structure forms or alloys are dissipated before the metal cools. It is also important to avoid oxygen infiltration as much as possible during the melting process so that the structure of the metal will not become porous. The refining process requires expertise and an intimate knowledge of the tools and metals involved.”
That reminds me of I Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Taking into consideration our individual temperaments, experiences, and situations, God gives us afflictions to purify us, but God does not seek to destroy us. Actually, God through purifying us is cleansing us of destructive tendencies and things that compromise our beauty and usefulness to God. Do I believe this? I will admit that my trials make me more compassionate towards others. At the same time, trials can also make a person bitter, and perhaps even break him or her. Why else are there suicides?
11Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins.
A targum applies this verse to Israel’s captivity under the Egyptians and (later) the Babylonians.
12Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.
Regarding the first part of the verse, the Hebrew can be literally translated as “you cause to ride man to our head”. Tate interprets this to mean that God ordained Israel a leader, Moses, to travel at Israel’s head across the sea at the Exodus. Others, however, argue that this means that God is enabling Israel’s enemies to trample her down—-to ride over the heads of corpses or to clamp down on Israel’s neck. According to this kind of interpretation, going through fire and water refers to purification, for metal is purified in fire and water. The idea, according to this view, is that God is afflicting Israel in order to purify her. In Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Thomas Adams states that “There is desolation and consolation in one verse: a deep dejection, as laid under the feet of beasts; a happy deliverance”, and Adams goes on to affirm that we can only appreciate God’s deliverance if we have experienced hard times. Adams’ use of the terms “desolation” and “consolation” caught my eye because of the “Desolation and Consolation” scene in Joan of Arcadia (see here).
13I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows,
14Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.
15I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah.
In vv 13-15, we move from “we” to “I”. This may mean that the Psalmist is a leader of a congregation, or that he is drawing from the experiences of Israel as a whole as he seeks to assure himself that God will deliver him personally.
16Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.
I liked what Frederick Gaiser said in an article he wrote for the Spring 2006 Word&World: “The contemporary worshiping community needs to hear the witness of its individual members for the same reasons the people of Israel did. Such witness points to the ongoing reality of God’s deliverance; it provides the response to the petitions of God’s people that God act now. Faith is strengthened, and praise is elicited. Dietrich Bonhoeffer discovered this in his life together with other Christians in a time of great tribulation, noting that we ‘need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation. [We] need them solely for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Christ in [our] own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians.’”
17I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.
The second part of v 17 translates literally as “and praise under my tongue”. What’s it mean for praise to be under the tongue? Job 20:12 talks about wickedness being under the tongue, Psalm 10:7 says that mischief and vanity are under the tongue of the Psalmist’s enemy, and Song of Songs 4:11 affirms that honey and milk are under a tongue. Tate states that the idea in Psalm 66:17 may be that praise is creating a good taste in the Psalmist’s mouth. Keil-Delitzsch, however, says that the Psalmist means that he is so sure that God will deliver him that praise is ready on his mouth, prepared for the time when God will deliver him.
18If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
I listened to sermons (including an entertaining one by Dr. John Gerstner) saying that this verse does not mean that God refuses to hear sinners, for, if that were the case, God wouldn’t listen to any prayers, since all of us sin. Rather, they maintain, the verse is saying that God does not hear those who like sin or fail to struggle against it. I find this problematic, for I’d say that everyone who sins likes it on some level, otherwise they would not do it. And it’s possible for one to, say, hate one’s own bitterness and resentment and yet hold on to bitter and resentful thoughts. How much must one dislike sin before God can hear his or her prayers, for there are very few people who dislike their sins utterly.
At the same time, I can sympathize with the notion that one should not just be praying to God to save one’s own skin—-that there should be a commitment to a righteous path. David Corder talks some about that issue here.
19But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
20Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.