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Psalm 66 (cont.) -
“Shout with Joy to God, All the Earth”
For the director of music.
A song. A psalm.
13I will come to Your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to You—
14Vows my lips promised
and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
15I will sacrifice fat animals to You
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats. Selah
16Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what He has done for me.
17I cried out to Him with my mouth;
His praise was on my tongue.
18If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19But God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
20Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld His love from me!
As we mentioned in the previous issue, the author of this psalm has been exhorting praise, from the macro to the micro. First (in vss. 1–7), he exhorts the whole earth to praise God: “Shout with joy to God, all the earth!” (vs. 1). Later (in vss. 8–12), he exhorts specifically God’s people to praise Him: “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard” (vs. 8). Here in the final section (vss. 13–20), the psalmist himself praises God for what God has done for him personally.
He begins: “I will come to Your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to You—Vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble. I will sacrifice fat animals to You and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats” (vss. 13–15). Since God is a holy God, praise to Him cannot be effective without first taking care of sins against Him, and obligations owed Him. In the Old Testament law, God provided a system offerings and sacrifices to atone for sin, so the Psalmist begins his personal praise to God: “I will come to Your temple with burnt offerings.” Since the time of Christ, our burnt offering is Jesus. He paid the price for our sins. “Never attempt to come before God without Jesus, the divinely promised, given, and accepted burnt offering” [Spurgeon].
After taking care of his sin, the psalmist speaks of taking care of obligations owed God: “…and fulfill my vows to You—Vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble” (vss. 13–14). It certainly must be true that the great majority of vows to God are made “when we are in trouble.” “It is very common, when we are under the pressure of any affliction, or in the pursuit of any mercy, to make vows and solemnly to speak them before the Lord, to bind ourselves out from sin and bind ourselves more closely to our duty” [Henry]. It is a natural tendency when in trouble to promise God something in exchange for getting you out of trouble—as if God needed your payment to do His work. Be very careful when making vows to God: you are absolutely bound to any vow made to God. I would say avoid them. Our God of love does not need to be paid for His works of grace. However, I do believe some vows are appropriate. There may be times when the Holy Spirit brings you to a place where you will be led by Him to make a vow, so as to bind you closer to the will and service of God.
The Psalmist’s praise for God overflows into his life, so that he wants to tell others about the goodness of God: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me” (vs. 16). “We should take all occasions to tell one another of the great and kind things, which God has done for us” [Henry].
In this case, the Psalmist is telling others about and praising God for answered prayer: “I cried out to Him with my mouth; His praise was on my tongue” (vs. 17). The Psalmist tells of a time of trouble, when he “cried out to [God] with [his] mouth”. Yet, though he was in need of prayer, notice that the Psalmist maintained his attitude of praise: “His praise was on my tongue.” “It is well when prayer and praise go together” [Spurgeon].
The Psalmist was praying for a righteous cause: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (vs. 18). Prayer is not mindless magic. Rather, it is interaction between intelligent beings. God listens to prayer, and considers the petitions of the one who prays. Being a holy God, of course, He cannot grant evil petitions.
God’s attention is real, and personal: “But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer” (vs. 19). God is a sentient being, who “listens” and “hears”. Some people deny a personal God. They imagine God as some sort of senseless spirit. Such thinking is folly. The mere fact that we ourselves have ears to hear and eyes to see implies that our Creator hears and sees. As another Psalmist points out elsewhere: “Does He who implanted the ear not hear? Does He who formed the eye not see?” (Ps. 94:9).
The Psalmist ends with an expression of praise for answered prayer: “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld His love from me!” (vs. 20). We should certainly feel obligated to praise God, after He, the Lord of the Universe, has chosen, in His love, to answer our prayers. “What we win by prayer, we must wear with praise” [Henry]. Let us never forget that God is not obliged to answer our prayers. It is an expression of “His love”, and His mercy, that He does so. “There is no more proper ground of praise than the fact that God hears prayer—the prayer of poor, ignorant, sinful, dying men. When we consider how great is His condescension in doing this; when we think of His greatness and immensity; when we reflect that the whole universe is dependent on Him, and that the farthest worlds need His care and attention; when we bear in mind that we are creatures of a day and know nothing; and especially when we remember how we have violated His laws, how sensual, corrupt, and vile our lives have been, how low and groveling have been our aims and purposes, how we have provoked Him by our unbelief, our ingratitude, and our hardness of heart—we can never express, in appropriate words, the extent of His goodness in hearing our prayers, nor can we find language which will properly give utterance to the praises due to His name for having condescended to listen to our cries for mercy” [A. Barnes].