Psalm 65
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
A hymn of praise, intended probably to be sung at the presentation of the firstfruits at the Passover (Leviticus 23:10-14) in a year of exceptional promise. It is clear from the allusions to the gathering of the people to the Temple (Psalm 65:2; Psalm 65:4) that it was composed for use at one of the great festivals, and as the corn was still in the fields (Psalm 65:13) the later festivals of Pentecost or Harvest and Tabernacles or Ingathering are excluded.

Was the Psalm written for any special occasion? Not only does the poet see before him the promise of a more than ordinarily bountiful harvest, but the recollection of a great national deliverance seems to be fresh in his mind (Psalm 65:5 ff). Accordingly Delitzsch thinks that the spring of the third year foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 37:30), when the retreat of the Assyrians had left the Israelites once more free to till their fields in peace, offers the most appropriate historical basis for the Psalm. This view gains support from the coincidences of thought and language with Psalms 46, which belongs to that time, and with Isaiah, as well as from the general similarity of the Ps. to Psalms 66, which there are good reasons for connecting with the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians.

The Psalm consists of three nearly equal stanzas.

i. It is meet that a grateful people should gather in the Temple to offer their praises to the Hearer of prayer to whom all mankind may have access. Sin indeed unfits them to approach God, but He Himself will make atonement for them. In the blessings of His house they will find their highest happiness (Psalm 65:1-4).

ii. Israel’s God is the one true trust of all mankind. He created and sustains the world; and He controls the nations in it as He controls its natural forces. The signs of His power inspire universal awe and joy (Psalm 65:5-8).

iii. And now in particular Israel has to acknowledge God’s loving bounty in the rich abundance with which He has blessed the year (Psalm 65:9-13).

Some MSS. of the LXX and the Vulg. contain the curious addition to the title; ‘a song of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the people of the captivity (lit. sojourning) when they were about to set forth,’ but it does not appear to have been part of the original LXX.

This and the three following Psalms bear the double title Song and Psalm. Cp. 48, 75, 76, &c. Song is the older term for a hymn intended to be sung in public worship. Cp. Isaiah 30:29; Amos 8:3.

To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David. Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.
1. Praise waiteth for thee] The phrase beautifully suggests the idea of a grateful people, assembled to render thanks to God, and only waiting for the festival to begin. But this can hardly be the meaning of the original. The renderings, For thee praise is silent, or, silence is praise, give no appropriate meaning, for though prayer may be silent (Psalm 62:1), praise calls for vocal expression. The R.V. marg., There shall be silence before thee and praise, O God, involves a harsh asyndeton. It remains to follow the LXX (πρέπει, Vulg. te decet hymnus), which preserves a slightly different tradition as to the vocalisation of the Hebrew, and to render, Praise beseemeth thee, O God, in Zion.

the vow] Or, collectively, vows. Cp. Psalm 66:13; and for vows and praises coupled together see Psalm 22:25; Psalm 61:8. At the end of the verse P.B.V. adds in Jerusalem, from the LXX (most MSS. though not the Vatican) and Vulg., completing the parallelism, as in Psalm 102:21; Psalm 147:12.

1–4. It is the duty of a grateful people to render thanks to God in the Temple, assembling to pay its vows to the universal Hearer of prayer. The consciousness of manifold sins might deter them from approaching a holy God, were not He Himself graciously ready to purge their guilt away. In the blessings, of which the welcome to His house is the pledge, is to be found man’s truest happiness.

O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.
2. O thou that hearest prayer] God is thus addressed, because He has given His people cause for the present thanksgiving by hearing their prayers. But the words are more than a reference to a particular answer to prayer. They proclaim that it is His inalienable attribute, His ‘nature and property,’ to hear and answer prayer.

unto thee shall all flesh come] At first sight the context seems to limit ‘all flesh’ to Israel, contemplated in its weakness and frailty as needing the strength of God (Joel 2:28). But it seems more consonant to the spirit of this and the two following Psalms to take it in the wider sense of all mankind. Already the Psalmist beholds the Temple becoming a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17). It is no larger hope than was entertained by Isaiah and Micah (Isaiah 2:2 ff; Micah 4:1 ff) if not by some earlier prophet whom they both quote. Cp. Jeremiah 16:19; Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 66:23; Psalm 22:27; Psalm 86:9; Psalm 94:10.

Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.
3. Iniquities] Lit., words, or, matters of iniquities: many various items of iniquity. Cp. for the same idiom Psalm 105:27, Psalm 145:5. Virtually the clause is a protasis to the second line:

Though manifold iniquities are too strong for me,

As for our transgressions, Thou wilt purge them away.

In the singular ‘me’ we may hear the voice of the Psalmist himself, or of some representative of the nation, the king or high-priest, who, like Daniel or Nehemiah, confesses his own sin as well as the sin of his people (Daniel 9:20; Nehemiah 1:6 : cp. Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 7:27): but more probably it is the assembled congregation which speaks of itself first as an individual (‘against me’), then as an aggregate of individuals (‘our transgressions’). For a similar change from sing. to plur. cp. Numbers 21:22, and many other passages. Its sins are an enemy which it cannot defeat (Genesis 4:7; cp. Psalm 38:4; Psalm 130:3; Psalm 143:2); yet God who “forgives iniquity and transgression and sin” will purge away their transgressions. thou is emphatic. He, and He alone, can do it. The word for purge away is that commonly rendered ‘make atonement for’ (whether its primary meaning is ‘to blot out’ or ‘to cover’ is disputed), and it would be natural to see in it an allusion to the Day of Atonement which immediately preceded the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 23:34), and to suppose that the Ps. was intended for use at that Festival, did not Psalm 65:13 speak of the corn as still standing in the fields.

Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
4. Blessed &c.] Or, Happy is he whom thou choosest, as in Psalm 1:1; &c. The language is that which is used of the priests who were ‘chosen,’ and ‘brought near’ to God (Numbers 16:5; cp. Jeremiah 30:21; Zechariah 3:7). Here however it is not limited to the sons of Aaron, but applied to all the nation as ‘a kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). They are God’s guests in His house, members of the ‘household of God.’ The visit to the Temple was for the devout Israelite a sacrament of his membership in God’s household, and the sacred feasts symbolised the spiritual blessings prepared by God for His people in fellowship with Him. Cp. Psalm 15:1; Psalm 23:5 f; Psalm 27:4 f; Psalm 36:8; Psalm 63:5.

we shall be satisfied] Or, O let us be satisfied. Cp. Psalm 17:15; Psalm 22:16; Psalm 63:5.

even of thy holy Temple] Better, as R.V., the holy place of thy temple. See Psalm 46:4; and cp. Psalm 63:2.

By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:
5. By terrible things &c.] The R.V. gives a better order: By terrible things thou wilt answer us in righteousness. As God Himself is ‘a terrible God’ (Psalm 47:2; Psalm 76:7 ff), so His acts are ‘terrible,’ inspiring His enemies with dread, and His people with reverent awe. The epithet is often applied to the mighty works of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 10:21; 2 Samuel 7:23; Isaiah 64:3; Psalm 106:22; Psalm 145:6); here to all similar deliverances, granted in answer to prayer. ‘Righteousness’ is the principle of the divine government; and it is closely related to ‘salvation’; for by it God’s honour is pledged to answer prayer and deliver His people. Cp. Psalm 48:10; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 51:5; &c.

who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth] R.V. (cp. P.B.V.), thou that art the confidence &c. This may mean that He is the object of their unconscious trust, although they know Him not, because it is He who provides for their wants and rules their destinies (Psalm 67:4; Amos 9:7; Acts 17:23 ff); but the further thought is certainly included that His mighty deeds on behalf of His people in destroying their tyrannical oppressors will lead all the oppressed and needy throughout the world to turn to Him with a conscious trust. Cp. Isaiah 33:13.

and of them that are afar off upon the sea] Better, and of the sea afar off. A slight change of text would give the phrase of Isaiah 66:19, the isles, or coastlands, afar off. But the change is unnecessary; land and sea naturally stand for the entire world.

5–8. In the future, as in the past, God will prove His righteousness by awe-inspiring acts on behalf of His people in answer to their prayers, for He has created and sustains the universe, and controls the forces alike of nature and of the nations.

Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:
6. setteth fast the mountains] The mountains poetically represent the strongest and most solid parts of the earth (Psalm 18:7; Psalm 46:2 f). These He has created and sustains. Comp. the appeals of Amos to the phenomena of nature as the evidence of God’s power, Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8; Amos 9:5-6.

being girded with power] Girding himself with might. Cp. Psalm 93:1.

Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
7. Who stilleth the roaring of the seas,

The roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples.

He controls alike the turbulent elements of nature (Jeremiah 5:22), and the tumultuous hosts of the nations which they symbolise. Cp. Psalm 46:2 f, 6; Isaiah 17:12-14.

They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.
8. They also &c.] Better, So that they who dwell in the ends of the earth are afraid at thy signs. These mighty works impress them with awe, as ‘signs’ of the irresistible power of God.

the outgoings of the morning and evening] The term outgoings which strictly speaking is appropriate to the east only (Psalm 19:5 f.) is applied, by a kind of zeugma, to the west also. From the furthest east to the furthest west He makes earth with all its inhabitants to shout for joy (Psalm 5:11; Psalm 67:4). Awe gives place to triumph as they watch the downfall of their tyrants and welcome the establishment of God’s kingdom of peace (Psalm 46:9 f), and all nature sympathises with them.

Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.
9. Thou hast visited the land, and made it plentiful, greatly enriching it:

The stream of God is full of water;

Thou preparest their corn, for so thou preparest it.

The A.V. visitest turns the special thanksgiving into a general statement. The rendering waterest follows the Ancient Versions, which may however have read the word differently. The use of the verb in Joel 2:24; Joel 3:13, points to the meaning made it overflow, made it plentiful. God’s ‘stream’ (Psalm 1:3) is the rain, with which He irrigates the land as out of a brimming aqueduct (Deuteronomy 11:11; Job 38:25), providing corn for men by preparing the earth, as the next verse goes on to describe:

9–13. The special object of the Psalm—thanksgiving for the plenty of the year. First, grateful acknowledgment that the rains which have fertilised the soil were God’s gift; then a charming picture of a joyous landscape rich with promise.

Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.
10. Saturating its furrows, levelling its ridges:

Thou softenest it with showers, thou blessest its springing growth.

The poet looks back upon the ‘early rain’ of autumn and winter (Nov.–Feb.), which had prepared the ground for the seed and fostered its growth. It had been abundant, and now (Psalm 65:11 ff) he gazes upon crops of unusual promise ripening for the harvest.

Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.
11. Thou crownest &c.] Thou hast crowned the year of thy goodness, added fresh beauty and perfection to a year already marked by special bounty, and thy paths drop fatness, rich blessings fall as Thou traversest the land, an allusion probably to an unusually copious fall of the ‘latter rain,’ which was more uncertain than the early rain, and was most anxiously looked for as a special blessing (Job 29:23; Proverbs 16:15; Jeremiah 3:3; Zechariah 10:1).

P.B.V. clouds (Great Bible, not Coverdale, who has fotesteppes) seems to be intended as an explanation of paths. Cp. Nahum 1:3.

They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.
12. the pastures of the wilderness] Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 23:10; Joel 1:19-20; Joel 2:22. ‘Wilderness’ denotes the open uncultivated country used for pasturage, in contrast to the cultivated land or ‘field.’

and the little hills &c.] R.V., And the hills are girded with joy. For the personification of nature cp. Psalm 96:11 ff; Isaiah 44:23; &c.

The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.
13. The meadows are clothed with sheep;

And the vales are decked with wheat;

They shout for joy, yea sing.

With the last line cp. Isaiah 55:12. The vales (Heb. ‘çmek) denote “the long broad sweeps sometimes found between parallel ranges of hills” (Sinai and Pal., p. 481) which were the natural cornfields of Palestine (1 Samuel 6:13). The graphic touch of the Heb., which represents the pastures and vales as shouting one to another, can hardly be preserved in translation.

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