God’s grace, 1-4

Psa 65:1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. A song.

Williams reminds us of the charge made by J. B. Phillips: ‘Your God Is Too Small‘; and also of Lesslie Newbigin’s comment that the Christian church has been in retreat from secular society since the Reformation.  Williams adds: ‘Little by little, Christians have turned over economics, philosophy, health-care, and education to society. We seem to have abandoned all else to the devil except for our interior piety and personal code of ethics.’  Psalm 65 offers a potent antidote to our small-mindedness.

As Kidner remarks, this psalm celebrates the God of Grace, the God of Might, and finally the God of Plenty.

Wilson (NIVAC): ‘The psalm is a thanksgiving for forgiveness of sin (Psa 65:3), for God’s provision of security and stability in the midst of turmoil (Psa 65:7), and especially for his abundant provision of the necessities of life for humankind and beasts (Psa 65:9–13).’

This psalm may celebrate deliverance after famine or drought. Some real reminder of God’s mercy had taken place, leading to an awakening of a sense of gratitude.  Alternatively, it may have been penned for the Feast of Tabernacles, a long (8-day) and joyous feast, which served as the Jewish Harvest Festival.

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled. 2 O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come. 3 When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. 4 Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.

This opening section of the psalm emphasises the personal dimension of the relationship between the worshipers and their God: ‘He is the one to whom they have made promises (vows), the hearer of their prayers, the atoner of their transgressions, the one who has chosen and summoned them, and the host at whose house they are satisfied.’ (Broyles)

Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion – if this is a correct translation, the idea is that God’s people are making their way to Jerusalem in order to offer sacrifices and thanksgiving.

However, the sense may be: ‘praise is silent for you;’ or, ‘for you, God, silence is praise’ (cf. Hab 2:20).

You who hear prayer – Here is the greatest encouragement of all – God hears prayer. Whatever else God might be, if he were deaf to our cries, where would we be?

‘Men may become tired of listening to people, but God’s ears are never satiated—He is never wearied by men’s prayers.’ (MacArthur, Alone With God)

As Williams remarks, prayer ‘can be merely a cry to the Lord or it can be a long formal liturgy’.  Either way, we can be assured that God hears, and that he answers.

To you all men will come – Cf. v5, which celebrates God as ‘the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas’.  The same scope of vision is found in Isa 66:18-24.  Tate suggests that ‘the idea of all flesh coming to Yahweh fits well with such passages as Pss 22:28; 86:9; Isa 2:2–4; Joel 3:1–4 (EVV 2:18–22) Isa 40:5; 66:23; Jer 32:27; Ezek 20:44; Zech 2:10–13.’

On coming into God’s presence with delight, see also Psa 84:10.

True universalism

Boice remarks that a psalm such as this, composed (quite possibly) for a national feast, might have turned inwards and become narrowly nationalistic.  ‘But however special the relationship between Jehovah and his specially chosen people may be, the God of Israel is nevertheless the God of all other peoples too, and this important balance is maintained in the opening verses. Verse 1 declares that praise awaits God “in Zion”—that is, in Jerusalem, where the great Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was held. But the next verse, verse 2, recognizes that God is a prayer-hearing God “to whom all men will come.”’  See also v5 and v8.

The kind of universalism celebrated in the psalm, observes Boice, is not that which supposes that all religions are equally valid ways to God.  It is, rather, that which welcomes all people, from whatever race, to love and serve the one true and living God.  ‘This is exactly the position Jesus took with the Samaritan woman whose story is told in John 4. When she asked him to compare the religion of the Samaritans with that of the Jews, he replied by saying that the Jewish God was the true God and that he was to be worshiped in Jerusalem, as he had commanded: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22). That is a “narrow” statement. But at the same time, Jesus welcomed the woman, as well as pointing to a day when people would worship neither in Jerusalem or Samaria but in spirit and truth because of the changes he himself would bring about. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth,” he said (v. 24).’

You forgave our transgressions – ‘Forgave’ is lit. ‘provided atonement’; ‘covered over’; ‘appeased’.  The expression occurs on three times in the Psalms (Ps 65:3; 78:38; 79:9).  Boice thinks that it is ‘inexplicable’ that the NIV uses the language of forgiveness, rather than that of atonement, here.  God has made provision for the removal of the barrier between himself and ourselves, caused by our transgressions.  Boice notes that the Feast of Tabernacles just five days after the Day of Atonement, making this reference to the putting away of sins all the more pertinent.

We must approach God with a deep sense of unworthiness but also with a profound appreciation of divine mercy.  ‘According to this psalm, a characteristic assumption of “coming to God” is that worshipers will confess their sins and seek God’s atonement.’ (Broyles)

‘The word atonement (kopher) actually means “a covering” and refers to the way the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the cover of the ark of the covenant by the Jewish high priest. Since the ark held the two stone tablets of the law, containing the Ten Commandments, which we have broken, the blood covered over those transgressions, shielding our sins from the gaze of the thrice holy God and pointing to the coming, only sufficient sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross.’ (Boice)

Blessed are those you choose – Israel would, naturally, have thought of herself of God’s elect.  But this psalm insists that God chooses from ‘all men’, v2; that he is ‘the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas’, v5; and that he is held in awe for ‘those living far away’, v8.

The nature of true faith, v4 – it is rooted in divine election, and issues in a real communion with the living God (chosen and brought near).

Plumer notes that ‘it is to be greatly regretted that a truth, which has often caused the hearts of God’s servants to break forth into thanksgivings, should have been rejected by some and by others received with suspicion.’

The good things of your house, of your holy temple include, perhaps, ‘the “spiritual refreshment” (Cohen) of festival worship, especially in the forgiveness of sins and the fellowship of sacrificial meals, along with the celebration of the divine blessings on the year in terms of rain, abundant agricultural production, and economic well-being.’ (Tate)

Courts…house…holy temple – Williams thinks that there may be progression of thought here, with movement being from the outer courts of the temple, to the building itself, and then to the holy place.

The provision of atonement is not merely negative, so that our sins are no longer counted against us, but also positive, so that we may dwell in God’s presence.  Cf. Psa 16:11.

The mention of ‘your holy temple’ seems to be inconsistent with the idea of Davidic authorship.

Williams summarises: ‘submission, sacrifice, and prayer are offered to God on Zion because He provides atonement. He is the Savior who welcomes us into His presence. All of this has now been fulfilled for us by Christ. He offered Himself as the final sacrifice “once for all” (Rom. 6:10). Thus “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). It is this blood which has made atonement for us (Rom. 3:25).’

God’s greatness, 5-8

Psa 65:5 You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, 6 who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, 7 who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. 8 Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.

As Boice observes, ‘in this stanza the psalm mentions three specific displays of God’s power: (1) in raising the mountains, (2) in calming the seas, and (3) in quieting the nations.’

Awesome deeds of righteousness – as in the divine judgements upon the enemies of God’s people, the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, and so on. God’s judgements are awesome not only to those on whom they fall, but also to those who observe them. Although we do not ‘despise the day of small things’, we recognise also the extraordinary ways in which God has preserved and protected his people.

God is an awesome Judge, v5. Recall the judgements upon the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, and so on. That God stays his hand even now is due to his forbearance. Their purpose is to summons those far and near to put their hope in God. Can we detect the hand of God in protecting and vindicating his people?

The hope of all the ends of the earth – not that all people do trust God, but that they may and should. ‘God is called the confidence of all the ends of the earth, in reference to what he is actually in himself, not in reference to his being acknowledged as such’ (Hengstenberg). As Jonah discovered reluctantly, and the Psalmist joyfully, God is not limited by any constraints of distance or location. He is the hope, and the only hope, of all people, near and far, noble and lowly. ‘One may run over the wide world, even to its utmost extremity, yet thou, O Lord, art the only foundation on which the trust of man’s heart can stand and remain’ (Luther).

‘In An Humble Attempt, [Jonathan] Edwards argued for the great advance of the kingdom of God on earth. He cited as evidence the promises that all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14), all nations would serve the Messiah (Ps. 72:11, 17), all nations would come to the Lord (Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17), true religion would prevail throughout the world (Pss. 22:27; 65:5, 8; 67:7; 98:3; 113:3; Isa. 11:9; 54:1, 2, 5; Mal. 1:11), idols and idolatrous nations would perish from the earth (Isa. 60:12; Jer. 10:11, 15), and the full number of Jews and Gentiles would be saved (Rom. 11:12, 25). In typical Puritan fashion, Edwards urged believers to turn these promises into prayers, calling upon the Lord to extend the kingdom of His Son. Christ’s victorious   p 765  position at God’s right hand should move us to pray for God to establish Christ’s royal dominion (“the rod of thy strength”) in the very midst of His enemies (Ps. 110).’ (A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life)

Who formed the mountains by your power – We should never gaze upon the mighty and immovable mountains without thinking of the infinite power and unchangeableness of the God who made them. Who can look at the lofty mountains, the surging seas, or the starry heavens, and doubt that there is a God, and that God is almighty?

God’s power is revealed in the wonders of the physical world, v6f. Who can gaze upon the lofty mountain, the surging seas, or the starry heavens, and not be moved by the almightiness of God?

Who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves – The linking of the roaring of the seas with the turmoil of the nations provides a notable reminder of the turbulence of much of human society. Think of the violence, instability, tyranny and corruption of humankind in every age and generation. But the all-powerful God can still the unquiet elements both in physical nature and in human nature.

Longman notes that the motif of the chaotic sea is picked up in various ways in the NT: Jesus calms the waves (Mk 4:35-41); the Lord stills the tumultuous waters at the end of the age (Lk 21:25); and the new Jerusalem is devoid of such chaos (no more sea, Rev 21:1).

The implacable mountains and the turbulent seas represent the awesome displays of nature.

The turmoil of the nations – ‘This is a way of saying that God is the only real source of world peace—not the cunning of this world’s statesmen, not peace treaties, but God. Hence, it is right to pray for peace and to try to live righteously as a people so God will grant it.’ (Boice)

Where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth sons of joy – poetically, the east and the west.  God’s wonderful deeds invite praise from the uttermost parts of the earth.  To be sure, there is silent praise from nature (v13), but how much real praise is drawn from our lips?

Broyles remarks that whereas we tend to have a static view of God’s creative power – he made the universe and established its laws at the beginning – this psalm’s depiction of God as Creator is much more dynamic: ‘As creator, God did not merely create matter and put it in order; he established order by warring against chaos. Thus, natural law is not self-enforcing and the order of creation cannot be taken for granted—this order requires God to exert his strength regularly.’

God’s goodness, 9-13

Psa 65:9 You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. 10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. 11 You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. 12 The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. 13 The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.

Here we have a matchless description of the fertile and fruitful earth, climaxing in the picture of the hills and fields putting on their finery and marking merry together.  ‘Everything,’ (says Wilson) ‘is described in terms of excess.’  And this excess is repeatedly attributed to God (‘you care…you enrich..you drench…you crown…’, etc.).

God cares for the land, v9. We are but stewards of the earth. It is God who ‘visits’ it in the perpetual march of the seasons. Remember, God is caring for the land just as much in winter, when all is cold and apparently lifeless, as in the spring and summer, when the earth is teeming with life and vitality.

It is God who is the first cause of the earth’s abundant richness. At harvest-time these riches adorn the earth as a crown, v11.

If the entire landscape dresses up in its best clothes, in order to celebrate God’s goodness, v12f. How much more should we offer intelligent and obedient praise to him to whom we owe all things?

You care for the land – AV ‘Thou visitest’, upon which Spurgeon comments, ‘God’s visits leave a blessing behind, this is more than can be said of every visitor.’ God can be thought of a ‘visiting’ the land in the cycle of the seasons, and especially in the blossoming of spring. But do not forget that each season has its own importance, for God has built a tendency to periodicity into the whole of his creation. The sleep of winter is no less a necessity than the germination of spring, the ripening of summer and the gathering-in of the autumn.

‘He visits the land and moves through it like a conqueror, but unlike human conquerors he does not leave it desolate. His trail through the land leaves fertility and well-being behind.’ (Tate)

‘There are second causes, but above all these is the First Cause, intelligent, loving, and free, God rules in all, over all, and above all. He is not displaced or supplanted by the forces and agencies which he employs, he is not absorbed by care of other worlds, he is not indifferent toward the earth. A personal superintendence and providence are not beneath his dignity, or in anywise distasteful to him.’ (Samuel Martin)

And water it – We take plentiful rain and copious clean water more or less for granted.  Not so in ancient Palestine, where the coming of the rains to water the crops was literally life-giving.

You enrich it abundantly – No earthly fortune could enrich the earth as the rain does. The water enriches the soil, which then yields its treasures to humankind. But God is the great Giver behind all of this.

The streams of God – The picture is of heavenly rivers, storing up water for the earth. We are ever reliant upon heaven for even the physical blessings of this life.

How wise, and how generous, is God in his provision of life-giving, refreshing, cleansing, water! Not surprising that water is a leading symbol of the Holy Spirit. Origen understood this verse as foretelling the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

For Tate, ‘the strongest impact of the psalm is surely in the joy over the gift of rain and the flourishing growth which results. In dry areas like Palestine, rain produces an amazing coming forth of grass, flowers, and crops. The joy and wonder of such results can hardly be overemphasized in agricultural communities, where rain means the difference between life and death.’

How faithful is our God! Centuries have rolled by since this psalm was penned. But still the hand of God has blessed the nations of this earth with seed-time and harvest, with joy and plenty, whether their hearts were thankful or no. It has been truly said that ‘the very steadfastness of the Almighty’s liberality, flowing like a mighty ocean through the infinite vast of the universe, makes his creatures forget to wonder at its wonderfulness, to feel true thankfulness at its immeasurable goodness. The sun rises and sets so surely, the seasons run on amid all their changes with such inimitable truth, that we take as a matter of course that which is amazing beyond all stretch of the imagination, and good beyond the wildest expansion of the noblest human heart…From age to age, amid his endless creatures of endless forms and powers, in the beauty and the sunshine, and the magnificence of nature, God seems to sing throughout creation the glorious song of his own divine joy, in the immortality of his youth, in the omnipotence of his nature, in the eternity of his patience, and the abounding boundlessness of his love…Let a moment’s failure of his power, of his watchfulness, or of his will to do good, occur, and what a sweep of death and annihilation through the universe! How stars would reel, planets expire, and nations perish! But from age to age, no such catastrophe occurs, even in the midst of nation crimes, and of atheism that denies the hand that made and feeds it. Life springs with a power ever new; food springs up as plentiful to sustain it, and sunshine and joy are poured over all from the invisible throne of God, and the poetry of the existence which he has given. If there come seasons of dearth, or failure they come but as warnings to proud and tyrannic man…And then, again, the sun shines, the rain falls, and the earth rejoices in a renewed beauty, and in a redoubled plenty.’ (William Howitt)

Well might we pray that God would visit his church in just such a manner as is described here; that he would pour down the showers of his blessing on our parched lives.

This verse in close detail records how God makes the earth ready for the crops it is to produce. Yet, ever since the fall, the earth has been under a curse, and there have been periods of famine and drought, as well as the times of abundance so vividly noted here. But we look forward to the day when the curse shall be lifted. ‘The future of this world, agriculturally, socially, civilly, politically and religiously, is far brighter than any part of its history, since the first pair forsook the path of duty’ (Plumer).

You crown the year with your bounty – a clear reference to harvest-time, the richest and most fruitful time of the year.

Your carts – referring to farm wagons. The scene is of ‘a richly-laden cart dropping its contents in its track’ (BDB). Kidner explains this as ‘a poetic figure for God’s pouring out the”latter rains” as he passes by, bringing abundance in their wake.’

See how the whole landscape (grasslands, hills, v12, meadows and valleys, v13) ‘has turned out in its best, as if to sing and keep festival’. (Kidner)

The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain – The picture is of the coutryside putting on its finery and celebrating the bountiful goodness of God.

They shout for joy and sing – As Wilson says, the land throws a party! (see also v8).

‘Since inanimate objects cannot literally praise God, we who are made in God’s image and can praise God, should!’ (Boice)

vv9-13 ‘I do not know any picture of rural life that in any measure comes up to the exquisite description here brought before us, and which every one’s heart at once recognises as so true to nature in all its branches. In the brief compass of five verses we have the whole scene vividly sketched, from the first preparation of the earth or soil; the provision of the corn-seed for the sower; the rain in its season, the former and the latter rain, watering the ridges, settling the furrows, and causing the seed to swell and to spring forth, and bud and blossom; then the crowning of the whole year in the appointed weeks of harvest, and men’s hearts rejoicing before God according to the joy in harvest, the very foot-paths dropping with fatness, and the valleys shouting and singing for joy. Our harvest-homes are times of rejoicing too, but I would that our tillers and reapers of the soil would as piously refer all to God as the psalmist did. “Thou waterest the earth, Thou greatly enrichest it, Thou preparest the corn, Thou waterest the ridges, Thou settlest the furrows, Thou makest it soft with showers, Thou blessest the springing thereof, Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.” Not one word of man, of man’s skill, or of man’s labour, not one thought of self. How different from him whose grounds brought forth abundantly, and whose only thought was, “I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, drink, and be merry.”’ Barton Bouchier.

Reviewing the psalm as a whole, Broyles writes: ‘Modern readers may wonder what links the psalm’s various sections and topics have with one another. What connections are there between Yahweh’s temple and atonement, his control over mountains and seas, and his care for the land with its crops and flocks? Here we moderns, who tend to compartmentalize life, can learn from the integrated world view of this psalm. Each strophe makes a distinct emphasis in connection with the psalm as a whole. In the first, we learn that the people’s status before God at the temple can influence the fertility of the land. In the second, we see that creation order is not to be taken for granted—its preservation is an answer to the congregation’s prayer, an act of salvation, and an expression of Yahweh’s righteousness. In the third, creation is not merely an object; it responds to God with song.’

Broyles adds that God’s goodness is perceived both in the temple (v4) and in the land (v11).

Broyles again: ‘This psalm should act as a pair of glasses for us moderns to see the world neither as a scientific accident nor as a mere commodity to be used at our convenience. It is nurtured by God and here personified as responding to him with song. This psalm invites us to hear something we have perhaps never heard: creation “singing” (v. 13, cf. 96:12; 98:8; Isa. 55:12). Singing for joy is here characteristic of creation and can be characteristic of Yahweh’s worshipers if they partake of this insight and sing this psalm (called “a song” in the superscription).’

Wilson notes that this psalm motivates a worldwide missionary enterprise.  This is confirmed by Jesus himself in the Great Commission, Mt 28:19f.  Wilson adds that ‘Since Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (John 4), the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7), and the Roman centurion (Matt. 8), and since Philip instructed the Ethiopian eunuch and Paul and Barnabas began their mission to the Gentiles, the church has viewed going to the world as part of their purpose for being in the world.’

But (says Wilson) in recent years the world has been coming to us: ‘With all the problems it brings—diversity, cultural and religious pluralism, conflicting values and agendas, conflicts of identity—the influx of peoples represents a great opportunity to the church (and each of us individually) to understand how we can work to fulfill the vision of Psalm 65 in our own communities, cities, and nation.’

Reviewing the psalm as a whole, Williams comments: ‘If the church is to be renewed today, she must recover this cosmic, comprehensive sense of our sovereign God, which is now to be found in the face of Jesus.’  See Col 1:15-17.

This psalm:-

  1. directs attention first of all to God, away from any preoccupation with secular good fortune.
  2. insists that thanksgiving is a theological work whose subject is God, not ourselves.
  3. sets the priorities in the right order and begins with God, who answers our prayers and forgives our sins.
  4. leads the congregation to come to God first of all in its neediness and failure.
  5. is an antidote to self-satisfaction and self-congratulation.
  6. sets thanksgiving in a universal context and breaks open the proclivity to celebrate our national identity.
  7. binds the congregation to people in the most distant places who also rejoice at the signs of the creation’s beauty and goodness.
  8. gives us language to celebrate our dependence on the good earth and its produce in a poetic and personal way.
  9. transcends our growing habit of thinking of productivity in a technological fashion and allows us to speak to the one upon whose gift of a fertile earth all our science and economies depend.

(Mays; lightly edited and with numbering added)