Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Psalm 65

EXEGESIS:

INTRODUCTION:

Verses 1-4 acknowledge overwhelming sin and Yahweh’s forgiveness. There may have been a drought that the people interpreted as punishment for their sins. If so, verses 9-13 show their redemption in the form of rain that resulted in excellent crops––and great joy.

Verses 5-8 acknowledge Yahweh’s saving power and creative power.

Verses 9-13 celebrate bounteous crops made possible for Yahweh’s provision of rain.

  • The psalmist may have intended this psalm for a first fruits observance in the Spring or a harvest festival in the Fall.
  • It could have been used in any of the major Jewish festivals.
  • It could have been prompted by relief from a drought, which the people interpreted as punishment for their sins.

Because stanza one (verses 9-13) has a somewhat different structure than stanzas two and three (verses 1-4 and 5-8), some scholars have suggested that verses 9-13 might be an addition to the original psalm (vv. 1-8). However, blessings received from Yahweh constitute the unifying theme throughout the psalm:

  • Atonement for sin (v. 3).
  • Access to Yahweh (v. 4).
  • Salvation and hope (v. 5).
  • Mountains and seas (vv. 6-7).
  • Water (rain) (vv. 9-10abc).
  • Crops (vv. 10d-12).
  • Flocks and grain (v. 13).

This unifying theme doesn’t prove that the psalm could not have been written in two parts (vv. 1-8 and 9-13). A second author could have followed the original theme. However, I choose to believe that this psalm is the product of one author.

A secondary theme appears in the psalm––an acknowledgement that Yahweh’s grace extends beyond the nation of Israel. This is reflected in several verses:

  • “To you all men will come” (v. 2).
  • “You are the hope of all the ends of the earth” (v. 5).
  • “the turmoil of the nations” (v. 7)
  • “They also who dwell in faraway places” (v. 8).

SUPERSCRIPTION:

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David. A song.

“For the Chief Musician.” This is also found in Psalms 65-68.

“A Psalm by David.” For a discussion of Davidic authorship, see the commentary on Psalm 103.

“A song.“This note is also found in Psalms 65-68.

PSALM 65:1-4. YOU ATONED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS

1 Praise waits for you, God, in Zion.
To you shall vows be performed.

2 You who hear prayer,
to you all men will come.

3 Sins overwhelmed me,
but you atoned for our transgressions.

4 Blessed is one whom you choose, and cause to come near,
that he may live in your courts.

We will be filled with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.

“Praise (Heb. tehillah) waits (Heb. dumiya ) for you, God (Heb: ‘elohim––plural), in Zion” (v. 1a). The noun tehillah (praise) means praise, adoration, or thanksgiving.

The noun dumiya means silence. Scholars have debated its meaning in this verse. It could have something to do with a period of silence as preparation for worship.

The noun elohim means a god or gods (note the small g). When used in in the plural to refer to Yahweh (as in this verse), it means that Yahweh sums up all that is godly.

Zion is the mountain upon which Jerusalem was built, and is also used to identify the city itself. Zion is also the location of the temple, and the people of Israel thus thought of Zion as the place where Yahweh dwells.

The reference to Zion might suggest that the psalmist intends this psalm to be part of a celebration at the temple. If so, that would argue against Davidic authorship.

“To you shall vows (Hebrew: neder) be performed” (v. 1b). A neder (vow) was a solemn promise to God, often made as part of a bargain where the petitioner promises a specific action in return for a blessing from God.

The payment of a vow acknowledges that the person paying the vow is indebted to the recipient of the payment. In this case, the recipient is Yahweh and the payment is praise.

“You who hear prayer” (Heb. tepillah) (v. 2a). The Hebrew language has several words for prayer. The noun tepillah means a beseeching prayer.

That Yahweh hears prayers implies that he also answers prayers.

Verse 1 begins with tehilla (praise) and verse 2 ends with tepillah (prayer). The psalmist may have intended this as poetic wordplay.

“to you all men (Heb. kol basar––all flesh) will come” (v. 2b). The word basar means flesh, to include both humans and animals (Genesis 7:15-16, 21; 8:17).

As noted in the Introduction above, the mention of “all flesh” (kol basar) is one of four places in this psalm where the psalmist acknowledges Yahweh’s relationship to people outside the nation of Israel (see also vv. 5, 7, 8.

“Sins (Heb. awon) overwhelmed (Heb. gabar) me” (v. 3a). The word ‘awon (sins) means iniquities or particularly grievous sins. The verb gabar means to prevail or overwhelm. The psalmist is confessing that he has succumbed to overpowering temptation and has committed terrible sins.

Who among us, if we are at all spiritually sensitive, have not felt the same remorse over our own sins.

“but you atoned (Heb. kapar) for our transgressions” (Heb. pesa’) (v. 3b). The verb kapar (atone) means cover or forgive. When used in relationship to sin, kapar goes beyond “sweep it under the rug” covering––cosmetic covering that can easily be undone. Kapar covering is more like burying sins in a deep hole, never to be seen again––or sinking them to the bottom of a deep ocean. When Yahweh covers our sins, our sin and guilt are eradicated––made to disappear. It is as if they never existed.

The word pesa’ (transgressions) means rebellions as well as transgressions. While it can be used for transgressions against individuals or nations, in the Hebrew scriptures it is usually used for transgressions or rebellion against Yahweh and Yahweh’s laws (Isaiah 58:1; Amos 5:12).

Although the psalmist acknowledges his grievous sin and rebellious transgressions in this verse, he speaks from the standpoint of one who no longer bears the burden of guilt. Yahweh has atoned for his sin––has forgiven him––and that’s the final word. The psalmist feels the lightness of one who has carried a heavy burden but has felt it lifted, nevermore to return.

“Blessed (Heb. ‘eser) is one whom you choose, (Heb. bahar) and cause to come near, that he may live in your courts” (Heb. haser) (v. 4a). The noun ‘eser means one who is blessed––blissful––joyful. It is an exclamatory word––the kind of word that causes a person to clap hands or shout. It exudes exuberance. Oh, the joy of being ‘eser!

In this verse, the verb bahar (choose) suggests a chosen people––those whom Yahweh admits into his presence.

The noun haser (courts) could refer to the temple courts, to which access was limited:

  • The Court of the Gentiles (open to Gentiles).
  • The Court of Women (open to Israelite women).
  • The Court of Israelites (open to ritually pure Israelite men).
  • The Court of Priests (restricted to priests).

But it seems more likely in this verse that the psalmist means “your courts” to mean “Yahweh’s presence” or “the place where Yahweh dwells.”

In this verse, the psalmist says that the person whom Yahweh chooses to come near––to live in Yahweh’s courts–– has reason for great joy––exuberance.

To get the feel of that, imagine that the president invited you to the Oval Office. Wouldn’t you feel honored? Wouldn’t that be an occasion to remember for the rest of your life?

But presidents are human––each flawed in his or her own way. While I respect some of the 14 presidents who have served during my long life (FDR thru Trump so far), all have disappointed me––some monumentally.

But Yahweh rules over kings, queens and presidents. While I would be honored to be invited into the inner court of a president (something contrary to fact), I am especially honored to be invited into Yahweh’s inner court (something NOT contrary to fact). I feel privileged to go to Yahweh in prayer any hour of any day to state my concerns and plead my case. We tend to forget what an honor that is, but need to recover the wonder that such an honor should inspire.

“We will be filled with the goodness (Heb: tob) of your house,
your holy temple”
(v. 4b). The first time we encountered this word tob (good or goodness) was in the creation account. “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (tob) (Genesis 1:31). “Good” in that account meant pleasing, proper, and as it should be.

So also we will find Yahweh’s house to be good (tob)––pleasing, proper, and as it should be.

I recently finished reading Ernie Pyle’s book, Brave Men. Pyle was a newspaper correspondent during World War II, and inserted himself into the thick of the fighting in North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. He was known as a GI’s friend––GI meaning ordinary soldier. Pyle wrote about those GIs––their lives and deaths. He shared their foxholes and slogged through the same mud that weighed down their boots. He heard the same shells explode nearby––and the bullets that cracked as they passed near his head.

But he also told of being present at the liberation of Paris––getting to sleep in a hotel with clean sheets and running water. It was a temporary reprieve. Soon he would be returning to the front, but for a day or two he could enjoy carpeted floors and room service. That must have felt heavenly.

If those few days in a French hotel felt heavenly to Pyle, shouldn’t we have the same kind of awe when invited into the presence of the King of Kings!

PSALM 65:5-8. YOU FORMED THE MOUNTAINS & THE SEAS

5 By awesome deeds of righteousness, you answer us,
God of our salvation.

You who are the hope of all the ends of the earth,
of those who are far away on the sea;

6 Who by his power forms the mountains,
having armed yourself with strength;

7 who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.

8 They also who dwell in faraway places are afraid at your wonders.
You call the morning’s dawn and the evening with songs of joy.

“By awesome (Heb. yare) deeds of righteousness, you answer us,
God of our salvation”
(v. 5a). The verb yare (awesome) means fear, awe, or reverence. Awesome is a good translation in this verse. The psalmist believes that the God who answers prayer (see v. 2a above)––the God of their salvation––will answer their prayers with awesome deeds. These deeds will be righteous, in keeping with the nature of Yahweh, who is a righteous God.

“All men” (v. 2b) and “all the ends of the earth” (v. 5) and “the nations” (v. 7) and those “who dwell in faraway places” (v. 8) can be expected to observe these awesome and righteous deeds of Yahweh––with the result that they “will come” to Yahweh (v. 2b) and find confidence in Yahweh (v. 5) and be awed “at (Yahweh’s) wonders (v. 8). There is a missionary spirit in these verses.

“You who are the hope (Heb. mitbah––confidence) of all the ends of the earth” (v. 5b).

The noun mitbah means trust or confidence. Hope is too weak a translation. In this verse, the psalmist affirms that Yahweh is the one who gives confidence to “all the ends of the earth.”

“The hope/confidence of all the ends of the earth” is one of four places in this psalm where the psalmist acknowledges Gentiles (see also vv. 2, 7, 8).

“of those who are far away on the sea” (v. 5c). This phrase echoes “of all the ends of the earth” (v. 5b)––but the mention of the sea takes the matter further. In the psalmist’s day, ships were small and made of wood instead of steel. They were much more vulnerable to storms and other hazards than today’s huge ships.

The great waters of the psalmist’s experience would have been the the Sea of Galilee or the Mediterranean Sea, small bodies of water compared with the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Nevertheless, sailors had a healthy respect for the seas ability to turn rogue at any time. People envisioned the great sea (the Mediterranean) as the home of frightening sea monsters.

So it would have great meaning to a sailor to have mitbah (confidence) In Yahweh. He could sense Yahweh’s presence with him on dangerous seas far from home––and be strengthened by his faith that God was with him.

“Who by his power forms the mountains,
having armed
(Heb. ‘azar––girded) yourself with strength” (v. 6). This translation is somewhat confusing. A better translation would be, “You (Yahweh) establish the mountains by your power, girded (or clothed) with strength.”

In this and the next verse, the psalmist contrasts the mountains (fixed, stable, immovable, silent) with the seas (always in motion, roaring).

“who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil
(Heb. hamon) of the nations” (v. 7). Yahweh exhibited his power by creating the mountains––and by stilling the roaring seas––and by stilling the turmoil of the nations.

The word hamon (turmoil) has several meanings. In this verse, the psalmist is talking about the turmoil or confusion found in the nations. Yahweh has the power to still that turmoil as certainly as he has the power to still the roaring of the seas.

The mention of “the nations” is one of four places in this psalm where the psalmist acknowledges Gentiles (see also vv. 2, 5, 8).

“They also who dwell in faraway places are afraid (Heb. yare) at your wonders” (v. 8a). For the meaning of yare, see the comments on verse 5a above. The people in far places are awestruck when contemplating the wonders that Yahweh has created.

“They also who dwell in faraway places” is one of four places in this psalm where the psalmist acknowledges Gentiles (see also vv. 2, 5, 7).

“You call the morning’s dawn (Heb. mosa) and the evening (Heb. ‘ereb) with songs of joy” (v. 8b). The noun mosa (dawn) means going forth or proceeding. It came to mean the rising of the sun or the east.

The noun ‘ereb (evening) means evening, night, sunset, or west.

When those two words (mosa and ‘ereb) are used together, they constitute a merism (two contrasting words that stand for everything that exists). Examples include A to Z––or east to west––or left to right.

In this verse, mosa (dawn) and ‘ereb (evening) mean east and west––or dawn and dusk––or from the rising to the setting of the sun––in other words, everything that exists.

So the psalmist is saying that Yahweh’s creative work brings songs of joy to all the world.

PSALM 65:9-13. YOU VISIT THE EARTH AND WATER IT

9 You visit the earth, and water it.
You greatly enrich it.

The river of God is full of water.
You provide them grain, for so you have ordained it.

10 You drench its furrows.
You level its ridges.

You soften it with showers.
You bless it with a crop.

11 You crown the year with your bounty.
Your carts overflow with abundance.

12 The wilderness grasslands overflow.
The hills are clothed with gladness.

13 The pastures are covered with flocks.
The valleys also are clothed with grain.

They shout for joy!
They also sing.

This is a great harvest hymn.

“You visit (Heb. paqad) the earth, and water it.
You greatly enrich it”
(v. 9a). The verb paqad means to visit or attend to something.

In this verse, Yahweh’s visit reminds me of our doctor’s visits, back in the days when physicians made house calls. Our doctor carried a black leather bag with a stethoscope and a few other medical tools––and some pills. He came dispensing medical care, a gentle touch, a smile, and a kind word. His presence was reassuring and put our minds at ease.

So also Yahweh’s visit to the earth in this verse was a kindly one. He came to water and enrich it––and accomplished that.

“The river of God is full of water” (v. 9b). Some rivers fail to live up to their billing. When a friend saw the Rio Grande (big river) at El Paso, she was disappointed. She had pictured a grand river in her mind, but the river she was seeing was anything but grand. I suspect that irrigation had seriously depleted it.

But “the river of God is full of water.” In an arid climate, water is life, so the river of God is full of life––life for crops––life for flocks––life for people.

You provide (Heb. kun) them grain, for so you have ordained (Heb. kun) it” (v. 9c). The verb kun (provide, ordained) means to establish––to prepare––or to fix something in place.

God’s river and God’s rain cause the grain to grow and the people to prosper, for so God has ordained it.

“You drench its furrows.
You level its ridges.
You soften it with showers.
You bless it with a crop”
(v. 10). A furrow is a long trench made by a plow to receive seed or to carry irrigation water. A typical field would have many furrows running parallel to each other. The psalmist says that God fills those furrows with rain. In that arid land, those rain-filled furrows would equate to prosperity.

The rain would also soften hard ridges and clods, making the soil receptive to growing seed.

“You crown the year with your bounty.
Your carts
(Heb. ma’gal) overflow with abundance” (v. 11). Farmers work most of the year, hoping for a good crop at the harvest, which is the crowning glory of the year (if everything works well).

The word ma’gal means a path. In God’s wake, he sows abundance.

“The wilderness grasslands overflow.
The hills are clothed with gladness”
(v. 12). It is not only the farmer’s fields that benefit from God’s rain. The prosperity brought by God’s rain extends even to the wilderness and the hills––bringing great joy.

“The pastures are covered (Heb. labas––clothed) with flocks.
The valleys also are clothed
(Heb. ‘atap––covered) with grain” (v. 13ab). This translation gets “covered” and “clothed” backwards. It should be “clothed with flocks” and “covered with grain.”

The point, of course, is that the rains that God provided have brought about great prosperity, as represented by abundant flocks and grain.

“They shout for joy!
They also sing”
(v. 13cd). Farmers would celebrate such a harvest, of course, but the psalmist pictures the wilderness, hills, pastures, and valleys joining in the chorus.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated. We are using the WEB because we believe it to be the best public domain version of the Bible available.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

COMMENTARIES:

Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)

Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999

Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)

Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)

DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)

Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)

Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, Vol. 14a (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)

Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000

Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)

McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)

Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 42-89, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2013)

Tate, Marvin E., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990)

Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)

DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:

Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)

Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)

Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)

Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)

Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)

Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)

Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)

Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)

Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)

Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)

VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)

Copyright 2019 Richard Niell Donovan