This is a thanksgiving psalm. We know neither the author nor the specific occasion that generated this call to thanksgiving.
This psalm is divided into two parts:
- Verses 1-12 constitute a call to all the earth to praise God for his mighty deeds of deliverance.
- Verses 13-20 constitute the psalmist’s personal commitment to offer generous sacrifices (vv. 13-15) and to “declare what (God) has done for (the psalmist’s) soul” (vv. 16-20).
In this psalm, the psalmist uses ‘elohim (god or gods––any god) consistently rather than YHWH (Yahweh––the proper name of Israel’s God). When used in in the plural to refer to Yahweh (as is done consistently in this psalm, ‘elohim means the God (Yahweh) who sums up all that is godly.
Selah (vv. 4, 7, 15) seems to be some sort of musical notation, perhaps signaling a pause or a change of volume or intensity. In this psalm, the psalmist uses Selah to signal transitions.
For the Chief Musician. A song. A Psalm.
“For the Chief Musician” (Hebrew: menasseah––leader). Nasah, the verb form of menasseah, means to lead, and is used for leaders in various fields. In the psalms, menasseah is used often to mean the music leader.
PSALM 66:1-4. MAKE A JOYFUL SHOUT TO GOD!
1 Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
2 Sing to the glory of his name!
Offer glory and praise!
3 Tell God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Through the greatness of your power, your enemies submit themselves to you.
4 All the earth will worship you,
and will sing to you;
they will sing to your name.”
“Make a joyful shout (Heb. rua’) to God (Heb. ‘elohim),
all the earth! (Heb. ‘eres)
Sing to the glory (Heb. kabod) of his name!”
Offer glory and praise!” (Heb. tehillah) (vv. 1-2). These verses are full of exclamatory words––words with a punch––joyful shout, sing, glory, and praise.
The psalmist is proposing vigorous worship––no sitting on one’s hands––no quiet, dignified worship. This is a call to “whoop it up!” (forgive the vernacular, but that’s the feel of these verses). The psalmist is looking for worship that spills out of an overflowing heart and manifests itself in exuberant worship.
The primary meaning of the word rua’ is shout. It could be a war cry, a victory cry, or a joyful shout. The context makes it clear that the psalmist is calling people to shout joyfully to God.
The psalmist calls “all the earth” (Hebrew: ‘eres) to join in this exuberant worship. This would include both insiders (Jews) and outsiders (Gentiles) to be part of the chorus of praise.
The word “glory” (kabod) is used in the Bible to speak of God’s glory––an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans.
The word tehillah (praise) is closely related to the word hallel, which means praise. An interesting aside: Our word hallelujah comes from hallel (praise) and yah (Yahweh or God or the Lord), so hallelujah means “praise the Lord.”
“Tell God, ‘How awesome (Hebrew: yare) are your deeds!'” (v. 3a).
The verb yare (awesome) means fear, awe, or reverence. It is sometimes used for one person fearing another (Genesis 32:7; Daniel 1:10) or being afraid in the face of battle (Deuteronomy 20:3, 8; Judges 7:3).
But a person who fears God (in the sense of wanting to avoid God’s wrath) often finds that fear morphing into respect and reverence. The difference between fear and reverence is found in the relationship that the person has with God. The person who loves God and believes that God loves him/her will find that fear has been superceded by respect and reverence.
In this verse, the psalmist thinks of God’s deeds as yare (fearsome, awesome), because they exhibit the power to create and to destroy––to reshape the world in which we live, and to reshape our lives.
While we know powerful people, they come and go. They hit and miss. We can see their clay feet. Not so with God. He was before the beginning, and will be after the end. Every discovery of science lays bare a small piece of God’s intricate creation, and inspires us to explore that creation in even greater detail. But however far we explore, we always find the potential for exploration expanding. Yes, God’s deeds are awe-inspiring.
“Through the greatness of your power,
your enemies submit (Hebrew: kahas) themselves to you'” (v. 3bc). This verse contrasts God’s power with his enemies’ weakness.
The word kahas (submit) usually means to lie or be deceitful. However, it occasionally means cringe, and that is the case here (see also Psalm 18:44). God’s enemies cringe before him.
The idea that God’s enemies will submit themselves to him is appropriate, given the next verse, which speaks of “all the earth” worshiping God.
“All the earth will worship (Heb. shachah) you,
and will sing to you;
they will sing to your name” (v. 4). As in verse 1, “all the earth” will worship God (see also Psalms 33:8; 47:2; 65:5; 67:4-7; 98:4; 100:1; 148:11).
The root meaning of shachah (worship) is to bow down and to show obeisance. Shachah refers to highly deferential worship.
Selah. See the comments in the Introduction above.
PSALM 66:5-7. COME AND SEE GOD’S DEEDS!
5 Come, and see God’s deeds—
awesome work on behalf of the children of men.
6 He turned the sea into dry land.
They went through the river on foot.
There, we rejoiced in him.
7 He rules by his might forever.
His eyes watch the nations.
Don’t let the rebellious rise up against him.
“Come, and see God’s deeds—
awesome (Heb. yare) work on behalf of the children of men” (Heb. bene) (v. 5). For yare (awesome), see the comments on verse 3a above.
The word bene (translated children of men here) means sons, children or descendants. In this context, it means the human race––all people. That is in keeping with the invitation to “all the earth” to shout praise to God in verse 1.
“He turned the sea into dry land.
They went through the river on foot.
There, we rejoiced in him” (v. 6). The mention of the sea refers to Israel’s crossing the Red Sea (Exodus:14:21-22). The songs of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19) and Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21) celebrated that event.
The mention of the river refers to Israel’s crossing the Jordan River to occupy the Promised Land (Joshua 3:1-17). Joshua had one man from each of the twelve tribes bring one stone each from the middle of the Jordan (which would normally be inaccessible due to rushing water). They set up the twelve stones as a memorial to the miraculous crossing, “that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of Yahweh, that it is mighty; that you may fear Yahweh your God forever” (4:1-24).
“He rules by his might forever.
His eyes watch the nations. (Hebrew: goyim)
Don’t let the rebellious (Hebrew: sarar) rise up against him” (v. 7).
While the word goyim can mean nations in general, it was often use to mean Gentile nations––heathen. God is keeping watch on the heathen nations, most of which would be Israel’s enemies, to see that rebellious people (sarar) didn’t rise up against him. Presumably this would also be to insure that they didn’t rise up against Israel.
The use of sarar (stubborn or rebellious) in this verse is interesting. While it is true that the nations could be stubborn and rebellious in their opposition to Israel, it is also true that the Israelites themselves were often stubborn and rebellious (Deuteronomy 21:18, 20; Psalm 78:8; Isaiah 30:1; 65:2; Jer. 5:23; 6:28; Hosea 4:16).
“Selah.” See comments in the Introduction above.
PSALM 66:8-15. GOD PRESERVES OUR LIVES!
8 Praise our God, you peoples!
Make the sound of his praise heard,
9 who preserves our life among the living,
and doesn’t allow our feet to be moved.
10 For you, God, have tested us.
You have refined us, as silver is refined.
11 You brought us into prison.
You laid a burden on our backs.
12 You allowed men to ride over our heads.
We went through fire and through water,
but you brought us to the place of abundance.
13 I will come into your temple with burnt offerings.
I will pay my vows to you, 14 which my lips promised,
and my mouth spoke, when I was in distress.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fat animals,
with the offering of rams,
I will offer bulls with goats.
“Praise (Hebrew: barak) our God, you peoples! (Hebrew: am––plural)
Make the sound of his praise heard” (v. 8).
The word barak (bless) is closely related to berak (kneel) and berek (knee). When the psalmist calls people to bless Yahweh, he is calling them to kneel in homage to Yahweh as a demonstration of reverence and an expression of praise.
The word am (peoples) is broad, potentially including all the peoples of the earth. That is often the intent when plural, as it is here. However, verse 12 (“through water”) refers to Israel’s deliverances at the Red Sea and the Jordan River––and verses 13-15 refers to Jewish sacrificial practices, so it seems likely that the psalmist is using am (peoples) here to refer only to the people of Israel.
But as in verse 1, the psalmist does not advocate quiet worship. He wants the sound of God’s praise to be heard.
“who preserves our life among the living,
and doesn’t allow our feet to be moved” (v. 9). This is the reason Israel should praise God. Israel was often at the brink of destruction, but God wouldn’t allow that to happen.
“For you, God, have tested (Heb. bahan) us.
You have refined us, as silver is refined” (v. 10). But if God wouldn’t allow the Israelites to be destroyed, he never hesitated to have them tested.
- The most vivid testing was that of Abraham, whom God called to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19; Hebrews 11:17)––a sacrifice that was called off at the last minute.
- The wilderness wanderings were a kind of test (Deuteronomy 8:2).
- Israel had been unfaithful, so Yahweh said, “Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how should I deal with the daughter of my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7).
- Zechariah tells of two-thirds of the people being cut off, and one-third allowed to live. Yahweh said:
“I will bring the third part into the fire,
and will refine them as silver is refined,
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name, and I will hear them.
I will say, ‘It is my people;’
and they will say, ‘Yahweh is my God.'” (Zechariah 13:9)
These examples (particularly the one from Zechariah), show that God’s purpose in testing is not to destroy but to redeem. To accomplish redemption, those who remained unfaithful were sacrificed, but only so the remnant could be saved.
“You brought us into prison. (Heb. mesudah)
You laid a burden (Heb. mu’aqah) on our backs” (v. 11). The word mesudah means a net or snare. The Israelites attributed all things, good and bad, to God (Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7). In this verse, the idea is that God either allowed or caused Israel to be led into a trap.
We don’t know the circumstance that caused the Psalmist to write this verse. It could have been slavery in Egypt or the Babylonian captivity––but there were any number of situations where God meted out harsh punishment for Israel’s sins.
The word mesudah means a net or snare. The idea is that God either allowed or caused Israel to be led into a trap.
- The Hebrew scriptures warned Israel to avoid association with neighboring peoples, lest they be tempted by foreign gods (Deuteronomy 7:16; Joshua 23:13; Judges 3:3; Psalm 106:36; Isaiah 8:14).
- The Lord spread a net before rebellious Israel, which resulted in their being enslaved in Babylon (Ezekiel 12:13; 17:20).
- The wicked walk in darkness so that a snare catches them (Job 18:9).
- But God delivers his people from the snare of the fowler (Psalm 91:3).
The word mu’aqah (burden) means burden or affliction or hardship. The Israelites thought of afflictions as God’s punishment for their sins, but came to understand them as redemptive. The book of Job addresses the issue of the suffering of righteous people.
“You allowed men to ride over our heads.
We went through fire and through water,
but you brought us to the place of abundance” (Heb. rewayah) (v. 12).
The redemptive nature of Israel’s afflictions shines through this verse.
The image of men riding over their heads suggests total dominance. In battle, a rider on a horse stands high above the heads of men on the ground. In battle, the high ground always has the advantage. The rider can also move rapidly and respond to threats from different directions. The horse becomes a weapon in itself, pushing aside men on foot––even knocking them down.
While fire and water are important to human life, both can both be terrible threats. Burns are an especially grievous kind of wound, and people adrift on a boat far from shore can find themselves in grave danger.
But note that the psalmist says that God has brought them “through fire and through water,” and has “brought us to the place of abundance” (rewayah). “Through” is the important word. God didn’t leave them in peril, but brought them through the peril to a “place of abundance.”
The word rewayah (abundance) means abundant or overflowing. It tells us that God has not only saved Israel from oppression, but has also brought them into a place where they have found generous provisions for their needs.
“I will come into your temple with burnt offerings.
I will pay my vows (Hebrew: neder) to you, which my lips promised,
and my mouth spoke, when I was in distress” (vv. 13-14). As noted in the Introduction, with this verse we shift from a call to the community to the psalmist’s individual pledge to honor his vows.
A (neder) vow is 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.
Vows were always voluntary, and the petitioner assumed no obligation unless God granted the requested blessing. Once God did so, the vow became obligatory (Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6)––even if the fulfillment would require an unseemly action (Judges 11:30-40).
Vows in extreme circumstances are not unusual. Many of us have, in an apparently hopeless moment, pledged such a vow.
The psalmist promises to fulfill his vow to “come into your temple with burnt offerings.” That would have been a common vow at that time.
“I will offer to you burnt offerings of fat animals,
with the offering of rams,
I will offer bulls with goats” (v. 15). The Torah prescribed many kinds of offerings. In a burnt offering, the entire offering was burned on the altar. None was consumed by the priest or the person making the offering.
Burnt offerings could be goats, rams, bulls, or oxen (including lambs and calves). They could also be birds, which would accommodate poor people making a sacrifice. The sacrifices had to be without blemish (Exodus 12:5; 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:6; 4:3; etc.).
The psalmist promises to offer fat animals: Rams, bulls, and goats––a generous offering of prized animals.
“Selah.” See the comments in the Introduction above.
PSALM 66:16-20. I WILL DECLARE WHAT GOD HAS DONE!
16 Come, and hear, all you who fear God.
I will declare what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth.
He was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord wouldn’t have listened.
19 But most certainly, God has listened.
He has heard the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer,
nor his loving kindness from me.
“Come, and hear, all you who (Heb. yare) fear God.
I will declare what he has done for my soul” (Heb. nepes) (v. 16). In verse 5, the psalmist said, “Come and see.” Now he says, “Come and hear.”
- The invitees in the earlier instance were not specified, but presumably were “all the earth” (vv. 1, 4).
- The invitees now are “all you who fear (yare) God.” The word yare includes awe and reverence for God.
The invitation is to hear the psalmist “declare what (God) has done for his nepes (soul).” The noun, nepes, means soul or life. The Israelites also used the word nepes to mean breath, the animating force that gives the creature life. The psalmist is inviting people into the core of his being.
“I cried to him with my mouth.
He was extolled (Heb. romam) with my tongue” (v. 17). The word romam means praise or exaltation. The psalmist has praised God with his mouth.
The significance of this verse is found in its connection to the next three verses. The psalmist praised God with his mouth (v. 17). God listened (v. 18). God heard his prayer (v. 19)––and did not turn back his prayer (v. 20).
“If I cherished (Heb. ra’ah) sin in my heart,
the Lord wouldn’t have listened” (v. 18). The word ra’ah means to see or experience. I don’t find justification for translating it “cherished”, but that seems to be a popular translation in this verse. I bow to the scholars.
The point is that God sees the heart, and would have detected evil intentions in the psalmist’s heart. If that had happened, God wouldn’t have listened to his cry for help (see vv. 13-14 above).
“But most certainly, God has listened.
He has heard the voice of my prayer” (v. 19). But God did listen, implying that he found the psalmist innocent of evil intent.
“Blessed (Heb. barak) be God, who has not turned away my prayer,
nor his loving kindness (Heb. hesed) from me” (v. 20). For the meaning of barak, see the comments on verse 8 above.
The word hesed (loving kindness) means loving, kind, and merciful. One of the chief characteristics of God is that his love is enduring. That was true in his relationship with this psalmist.
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.
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
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McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
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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)
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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)
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Copyright 2019 Richard Niell Donovan