Psalm 66
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Another Psalm of thanksgiving, probably intended, like Psalms 65, for use at the Passover, but evidently owing its origin to special circumstances which called for more than ordinary rejoicings. It consists of two parts, distinguished by the use of the first person plural (Psalm 66:1-12) and the first person singular (Psalm 66:13-20) respectively; and it contains five stanzas of nearly equal length, marked off (except where the division is obvious at the end of the first part and of the whole) by Selah.

i. 1. All the inhabitants of the world are summoned to praise God and acknowledge His sovereignty (Psalm 66:1-4).

2. They are bidden to contemplate His mighty works on behalf of His people in the past, and to recognise that His sovereignty is still exercised in the government of the world (Psalm 66:5-7).

3. They are invited to praise God for His recent deliverance of His people from a calamity which had threatened to prove their ruin (Psalm 66:8-12).

ii. 1. The people’s representative enters the Temple to pay the vows which he had made in the hour of distress (Psalm 66:13-15).

2. He invites all who fear God to listen to his grateful acknowledgement of God’s answer to his prayer, and concludes with an ascription of praise to God for His goodness (Psalm 66:16-20).

The reader is at once struck by the abrupt change from the first person plural in Psalm 66:1-12 to the first person singular in Psalm 66:13-20. How is it to be accounted for, and who is the speaker in Psalm 66:13 ff?

(1) Some critics have supposed that portions of two Psalms, the one national, the other personal, have been combined. But would not the incongruity, if it exists, have been felt by the compiler? and the similarity of the situation (Psalm 66:9 ff, Psalm 66:14 ff), and of the style (Psalm 66:5; Psalm 66:8; Psalm 66:16) in both parts is strongly in favour of the unity of the Psalm.

(2) In spite of the personal turn of the language in Psalm 66:13 ff, it might be the congregation assembled for worship which lifts up its voice as one man in that consciousness of national solidarity which was so vivid a reality to the mind of ancient Israel.

(3) But this view does not account for the transition from the plural to the singular; and it seems best to hear in these verses the voice of the responsible and representative leader of the nation (not necessarily himself the author of the Psalm), who identifies its fortunes and interests with his own.

Who then was this leader and what was the occasion? The language of Psalm 66:9 ff clearly refers to some wonderful interposition by which God had delivered the nation from a danger which threatened its very existence. Was it the termination of the Assyrian tyranny by the destruction of Sennacherib’s army? or was it the restoration from the Babylonian captivity? If it was the latter, the Psalm must be placed after b.c. 516, for the Temple is standing, and sacrificial worship is being carried on. But there is no distinct reference to the Exile; the language points to a short and sharp crisis rather than to a prolonged humiliation; and the whole Psalm admits of a far more satisfactory explanation in connexion with the earlier occasion, (a) The Assyrian oppression was certainly sufficiently severe, and the danger to Judah sufficiently great, to justify the language of Psalm 66:9 ff. It must have seemed as though Jerusalem’s last hour was come, and the Southern Kingdom must inevitably share the fate of the Northern Kingdom. (b) A distinctive feature of the Psalm is the appeal to the nations to recognise Jehovah as the ruler of the world. In just such a spirit Hezekiah prays for deliverance from Sennacherib “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only” (Isaiah 37:20); and in God’s name Isaiah bids those who are afar off to hear what He has done and those who are near to acknowledge His might (Psalm 33:13) (c) The parallel obviously suggested between the Exodus and the recent deliverance might seem to point to the Return from Babylon which is so often spoken of as a second Exodus: but the parallel between the Egyptian oppression and the Assyrian oppression is constantly present to Isaiah’s mind (Isaiah 10:24, &c.), and he expressly compares the rejoicings with which the deliverance will be celebrated to the rejoicings of the Passover (Isaiah 30:29). (d) The Psalm contains some striking parallels of thought and language with Isaiah 1, and with Psalms 46, 48, 75, 76, which belong to that time.

If then the Psalm is a song for the Passover festival, celebrating the deliverance of Jerusalem from the tyranny of the Assyrians and the menaces of Sennacherib, the speaker in Psalm 66:13 ff (though not necessarily the composer of the Psalm) will be Hezekiah. This may explain the personal, and yet more than personal, character of the language. He speaks as the representative and mouthpiece of the nation in its trial and deliverance; and in Psalm 66:16 ff not without allusion to his own restoration from sickness, which was to him a type and pledge of the nation’s escape from death (Isaiah 38:5 ff). His prayer in his sickness (Isaiah 38:3) presents a striking parallel to the profession of integrity in Psalm 66:18.

This Psalm and Psalms 57 are the only anonymous Psalms which have For the Chief Musician prefixed. It is doubly described as A Song, a Psalm, or perhaps A Song for Music. The LXX adds ἀναστάσεως, of resurrection, probably with reference to Psalm 66:9; Psalm 66:16.

To the chief Musician, A Song or Psalm. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:
1. Make a joyful noise] Or, as the word is rendered in Psalm 47:1, shout: greet Him with the acclamations which befit a victorious king.

all ye lands] Lit. as R.V., all the earth, as in Psalm 66:4.

1–4. All the earth is summoned to worship God and acknowledge the greatness of His power.

Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.
2. Sing forth the honour of his name] Or, Hymn forth the glory Of his name: celebrate in a joyous psalm this fresh revelation of His character.

make his praise glorious] Or, perhaps, ascribe glory to praise him.

Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.
3. How terrible art thou in thy works!] Better as R.V., How terrible are thy works! Cp. Psalm 65:5; Revelation 15:3.

through the greatness of thy power] Rather, of thy strength; cp. Psalm 46:1; Psalm 63:2; Psalm 68:33-34.

submit themselves unto thee] Or, come cringing unto thee. The word, which means literally to lie (hence P.B.V. be found liars unto thee) and so to yield feigned obedience, denotes the unwilling homage paid by the conquered to their conqueror. Cp. Psalm 18:44; Psalm 81:15; Deuteronomy 33:29.

All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.
4. All the earth shall worship thee and hymn thee,

Yea, hymn thy name.

This verse is part of the address to God put into the mouth of the nations.

Come and see the works of God: he is terrible in his doing toward the children of men.
5. Come and see the works of God] Cp. Psalm 46:8, the only other place where the word for works is found.

he is terrible in his doing toward the children of men] The preposition toward implies supremacy over mankind. All men must fear Him (Psalm 64:9); but it depends on themselves whether they will reverence Him as their God, or must dread Him as an enemy.

5–7. The nations are invited to contemplate God’s mighty works for His people in the past, and to learn that the sovereignty to which they bear witness is eternal and universal.

He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in him.
6. The passage of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan are referred to as the most notable of His terrible acts (Psalm 65:5). Cp. Psalm 74:13; Psalm 78:13; &c. Flood, as in Joshua 24:2-3; Joshua 24:14-15, is an archaism for river (R.V.).

there did we rejoice in him] At the Red Sea and the Jordan. The Psalmist can thus identify himself and his contemporaries with the Israelites of ancient time, for he regards the nation as possessing an unbroken continuity of life. This rendering is grammatically justifiable, and it suits the context better than the alternative of R.V. marg., there let us rejoice in him, whether this is understood to mean, “There—on the spot where those old historical events occurred,—there let us take our stand, and renew our praise to Him, our wondrous Benefactor” (Kay); or, “There, pointing as it were to the field in which God had made bare His arm, and where the past history had been repeated in the present, there let us rejoice in Him” (Perowne). For the Psalmist is addressing the nations, not his countrymen, and a historical reference to the rejoicing which took place after the passage of the Red Sea is more natural than an invitation to join in celebrating either that or the recent deliverance. Moreover mention of the recent deliverance appears to be reserved for the next stanza, to which Psalm 66:7 forms the appropriate transition. Bp. Perowne’s explanation would at any rate require the adoption of the LXX reading, ‘who turneth the sea into dry land, they go through the river on foot’; i.e. He is ever doing as He did at the Red Sea and the Jordan, opening ways of escape for His people.

He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah.
7. by his power] By his might (R.V.), as Psalm 65:6.

for ever] What is true for the past is true for the present and the future. God’s sovereignty is eternal. Cp. Psalm 145:13; Jeremiah 10:10.

his eyes behold the nations] Better, as R.V. renders the word in Proverbs 15:3, keep watch upon. He is the world’s watchman, sleeplessly on the watch lest any foe should injure Israel. Cp. Psalm 33:10; Psalm 33:13 ff; Isaiah 27:3; and Hezekiah’s prayer (Isaiah 37:17), “open thine eyes, O Lord, and see.”

let not the rebellious exalt themselves] A warning to those who obstinately resist God’s will (Psalm 68:6; Psalm 68:18) to humble themselves (Psalm 2:10 f), rather than a prayer to God to humble them (Psalm 9:19). Cp. God’s reproof of Sennacherib by Isaiah (Isaiah 37:23), “Against whom hast thou exalted thy voice and lifted up thine eyes on high?”

O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard:
8. ye people] Ye peoples (R.V.). The nations, not Israel, are still addressed. Conscious of Israel’s mission to the world, the Psalmist can call upon them to give thanks for Israel’s preservation to fulfil its work for them.

8–12. A renewed call to the nations to praise God for His deliverance of Israel from dangers which menaced the very existence of the nation.

Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.
9. Who hath set our soul in life,

And not suffered our foot to be moved.

The nation was on the point of death and ruin, but God preserved and upheld it. The tenses indicate that the words are not the statement of a general truth (as A.V. renders them), but refer particularly to the deliverance from the trial described in the following verses.

For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.
10. proved us … tried us] Words used of testing precious metals, and smelting away the dross (Psalm 17:3; Psalm 26:2; Proverbs 17:3; Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2-3). God had declared His intention of smelting out the dross from His people by the Assyrian troubles (Isaiah 1:25).

Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins.
11. Thou broughtest us into the net] God had deliberately brought them into the power of their enemies, to punish them for their sins. Cp. for the figure Job 19:6. Some commentators render into the dungeon, a figure for the loss of freedom (Isaiah 42:22), but the usage of the word is not in favour of this rendering.

thou laidst &c.] Thou layedst a crushing load upon our loins, bowing us down under its weight.

Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.
12. Better: Thou didst cause … we went … but thou hast brought us out. The figure in the first line is clearly that of the vanquished flung down upon the ground, and trampled remorselessly under the horsehoofs or crushed by the chariot wheels of their conquerors. Cp. Isaiah 51:23. Representations of a conqueror driving his chariot over prostrate foes may be seen on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments. The sense of outrage is heightened by the word for men, which means mortal men. Cp. Psalm 9:19; Psalm 10:18; Psalm 56:1. Fire and water are symbolical of extreme and varied dangers. Cp. Isaiah 43:2.

into a wealthy place] Lit., into abundance, the opposite of the privations we endured. But the Ancient Versions point to a different and more suitable reading, a place of liberty. Cp. Psalm 18:19; Psalm 119:45.

I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows,
13. I will go] R.V. I will come, the usual word for approaching God in the sanctuary (Psalm 5:7; Psalm 42:2; Psalm 43:4; Psalm 65:2; &c.). The transition from the plural in Psalm 66:1-12 (‘we,’ ‘us,’ ‘our’) to the singular is more naturally explained by supposing that the king comes forward to speak as the representative of the people than by supposing that the congregation speaks as an individual. He comes with ‘burnt offerings,’ expressing the devotion of the worshipper to God, and ‘peace offerings’ in fulfilment of his vows (Psalm 65:1; cp. Leviticus 22:21).

13–15. The people’s leader and representative enters the Temple to pay the vows which he made in the hour of national distress.

Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.
14. Wherewith my lips opened,

And which my mouth spake, when I was in distress.

For the first line cp. Jdg 11:35 f; but there is no reason to suppose that rash vows are here meant.

I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah.
15. Burnt offerings of fatlings will I offer unto thee,

Together with incense of rams.

‘Incense of rams’ denotes the sweet savour of the sacrifice ascending as it was consumed by fire. Cp. perhaps, though the meaning is not certain, Isaiah 1:13. The cognate verb is used of burning the victim or the fat of the victim on the altar. Thus Exodus 29:18, “and thou shalt burn (lit., if an obsolete verb might be revived, incense) the whole ram upon the altar; it is a burnt offering unto the Lord: it is a sweet savour.” According to the Levitical ritual the ram was to be offered as a burnt offering or peace offering only by the whole people or its princes, by the high-priest or an ordinary priest, or by a Nazirite; never by an ordinary individual (by whom however it was to be used as a trespass offering). He-goats are only mentioned in connexion with the offerings of the princes (Numbers 7:17 ff). Hence it may be inferred that the Psalm refers to sacrifices offered by the nation or its leaders, not by an ordinary private individual. Cp. however Isaiah 1:11, where almost exactly the same animals are mentioned as here; and Psalm 50:9; Psalm 50:13.

I will offer] Lit., dress for sacrifice. Cp. 1 Kings 18:23 ff; Exodus 29:36 ff; &c.: and Gr. ἔρδειν, ῥέζειν, in LXX ποιεῖν: Lat. facere.

Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.
16. all ye that fear God] The whole drift of the Ps., especially Psalm 66:1; Psalm 66:5; Psalm 66:8, is in favour of extending the phrase to include all who fear God wherever they are to be found, whether Israelites, or non-Israelites who have been won to worship Him by the sight of His works, rather than of limiting it to Israel, or an inner circle of the faithful in Israel.

what he hath done for my soul] What he did for me when my very life was in danger. If Hezekiah is the speaker, he may be thinking at once of his own life (Isaiah 38:17) and of the life of the nation whose representative he was. He had prayed for both (Isaiah 37:15 ff; Isaiah 38:2); and the preservation of the one was a pledge of the preservation of the other (Isaiah 38:6).

16–20. All who fear God are bidden to hear what He has done for the speaker. He had prayed in expectation of a favourable hearing, knowing that sincerity is the necessary condition of prayer; and the answer to his prayer had attested his sincerity. In conclusion he blesses God for this continuance of His lovingkindness.

I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.
17. and he was extolled with my tongue] Better as R.V. marg., and high praise (Psalm 149:6) was under my tongue. Even while he prayed, he had praises ready, so sure was he of an answer. Cp. Psalm 10:7, though (see note) the idea there may be different.

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
18, 19. If I had regarded iniquity in my heart,

The Lord would not hear:

But verily God hath heard.

Hypocrisy disqualifies the suppliant, but he is confident that he is no hypocrite, and the answer to his prayer justifies him. There is no self-righteousness in this, but the simplicity of “a conscience void of offence toward God and men.” Cp. Hezekiah’s plea, Isaiah 38:3; and Psalm 17:1 ff; Psalm 18:20 ff; Job 16:17; Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 59:2-3; 1 John 3:21; &c.; and Isaiah 1:13 (R.V.), “I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting”; i.e. tolerate the union of religious observances and iniquitous conduct.

But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.
20. Blessed be God] Cp. Psalm 28:6; Psalm 31:21; Psalm 68:19; Psalm 68:35.

nor his mercy from me] From me must belong to this clause only. It is forced to explain ‘who has not removed my prayer and His loving-kindness from me’ to mean ‘who has not deprived me of the power to pray or of the blessing of an answer’; in spite of the beauty of St Augustine’s comment: “Cum videris non a te amotam deprecationem tuam, securus esto, quia non est a te amota misericordia eius.” Possibly a verb, such as Coverdale (P. B.V.) supplies for the sake of the rhythm, has been lost; so that the clause would read, nor withdrawn his lovingkindness from me.

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