New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Psa 116:1

I love Yahweh, because He listens to my voice and my cries for mercy-
It is part of the "Hallel Psalms" (Ps. 111-118), chants sung at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which consist of Psalm 113-118. It sounds very much like a Psalm of David, thanking God for delivering him; but it is here appropriated in hope to the restoration of the exiles. But the reality was that as we see implied in Ezekiel's words to the exiles, and in the book of Esther, the exiles for the most part weren't begging God for restoration and mercy in the spirit of David.

The Hebrew grammar here is peculiar; the verb "to love" has no expressed object. 1 Jn. 4:19 may allude here: “We love, because He first loved us".

Psa 116:2

Because He has turned His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live-
"As long as I live" is the term used by Hezekiah after his healing (Is. 39:8), but he doesn't offer to continue calling upon Yahweh in gratitude. We too can so easily forget the wonder of answered prayer, failing to realize that the experience commits us to a lifetime of calling upon Him.

Psa 116:3

The cords of death surrounded me, the pains of Sheol got a hold on me, I found trouble and sorrow-
David felt as if he had been a sacrifice bound to an altar, and therefore about to be pulled into the grave (Ps. 18:5,6; 116:3; 140:5). The allusion is to Isaac and his miraculous deliverance from such cords, thanks to the ram in the thicket whom David is later to understand as representative of the future Messianic saviour; for the Lord quotes David's "My God, why have You forsaken me?" (Ps. 22:1) as the Aramaic sabachthani, "entangled", the word used of the ram entangled in the thicket.

Psa 116:4

Then I called on the name of Yahweh: Yahweh, I beg You, deliver my soul-
To call on Yahweh meant to sacrifice and worship, and yet David rightly understood that prayer is the essence of such sacrifice and worship, rather than the offering of literal animals.
Commonly enough, the New Testament speaks of baptism as a calling upon the Name of the Lord. This must be understood against its Hebrew background- qara' beshem Yahweh, which originally referred to approaching God in sacrifice (Gen. 12:7,8; Ps. 116:4,17). God placed His Name upon places in order to make them suitable places for sacrifice to be offered to Him (Dt. 12:4-7,21; Jer. 7:12). Baptism was thus seen as a sacrificial commitment to Yahweh in solemn covenant.

Psa 116:5

Yahweh is gracious and righteous; yes, our God is merciful-
Mercy and grace indicate that David is recognizing that the answer to his prayer (perhaps at some point after the sin with Bathsheba) was an expression of moral grace and forgiveness to him. And the exiles were to realize this too. But as we see implied in Ezekiel's words to them, their problem was that they considered themselves as good people, and their ancestors as the sinners. "Merciful" is the word for "compassion". But the basis for that compassion was to be Israel's repentance (s.w. Dt. 30:13 etc.). But God remembers that we are dust, and He does have compassion for reasons other than that His people have repented (s.w. 2 Kings 13:23). His compassion is therefore on the basis of His mercy and grace, rather than a proportionate response to steel willed human repentance and self reformation. His compassion is actually always there for His children, even when they are in exiled punishment from Him (s.w. Jer. 31:20; 33:26). Solomon failed to perceive this grace, instead focusing solely upon the aspect of God showing compassion to those who are repentant (s.w. Prov. 28:13).   

Psa 116:6

Yahweh preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me-
David likens himself to the simple who was made wise by God's word (Ps. 19:7; 119:130), and was therefore preserved (Ps. 116:6). To be taught by God's word we have to become "simple", unlearning and placing to one side all our perceived knowledge and understandings. Solomon repeats David's theme by saying that wisdom makes wise the simple (Prov. 1:4; 8:5; 9:4). But he is equating "wisdom" with the words of God, although for Solomon, "wisdom" seems to be what he is saying and teaching. Solomon doesn't direct his listeners back to God's word, as David did, but rather towards loyalty to his teaching. Inspired as it was, his lack of extended reference to God's law places his own teaching of "wisdom" above that law. This is in sharp contrast to David's attitude in Ps. 119.

Psa 116:7

Return to your rest, my soul, for Yahweh has dealt bountifully with you-
Again we have an insight into David's self talk, which should be a pattern for ours. He was not at peace, but he talks to himself, reminding himself of how God had saved his life earlier, and he was thereby obligated to a lifetime of trust in Him, with the associated peace which comes from that. See on :8.

Psa 116:8

For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling-
See on :7. God's past deliverance of his soul from death meant that now, he should dry his eyes from tears regarding his latest crisis.

Psa 116:9

I will walk before Yahweh in the land of the living-
LXX "I shall be well-pleasing before the Lord in the land of the living", an undertaking in response to salvation. This is the language of Hezekiah (Is. 38:11), although unlike David he failed to remember his salvation from death (see on :3,4) and live the rest of his life in trust and praise. The relevance to the exiles is that they hoped they would in their lifetimes come to return to a restored Kingdom of God in Israel, where they would walk in God's presence, truly "in the land of the living".

Psa 116:10

I believed, therefore I said, I was greatly afflicted-
"I believed, and therefore  have I spoken" (Ps. 116:10 LXX) is quoted in 2 Cor. 4:13 concerning the attitude of the preacher; because we have believed, therefore we preach, after Paul’s pattern. We naturally have a debt to preach to all men, as we  have a debt to love all our brethren- because of what has been done for us (Rom. 1:14). But the quotation appears to be taking a phrase out of context. David is recalling how he had felt he "was greatly afflicted" and surrounded by liars (:11), and yet had been saved out of that part of his life (:12). But the New Testament doesn't always quote the Old Testament in context; it uses the style of Jewish midrash, in justifying a thought by taking a Biblical phrase out of context. "Context" can be overworked within the task of Biblical interpretation. The GNB in 2 Cor. 4:13 gets the point: "The scripture says, "I spoke because I believed." In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe". But it could be that Paul perceived that David here was speaking in the spirit of Christ, whom he typified. And so Paul quotes the Messianic Ps. 116:10 about our witness, which is to be a living out of the spirit which Jesus had in His death and present life and being in Heaven.

Psa 116:11

I said in my haste, All men are liars-
There is such a thing as feeling lonely when we needn’t. Elijah is an example of this; he felt that he was “left alone” faithful in Israel- even though there were another 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Rom. 11:3). The Hebrew in 1 Kings is hard to translate. It could mean that God reserved 7,000 of Elijah’s brothers and sisters who potentially would not bow the knee to Baal. Yet Elijah didn’t want to see the potential of his brethren. He set himself in a league above them, like the Psalmist, saying in his haste that all men are liars.

Psa 116:12

What will I give to Yahweh for all His benefits toward me?-
This is a rhetorical question; what can be given back to God for all His giving toward us? The answer is, nothing; but we can praise God and take the cup of salvation at the appointed feast (:13). Our motivation for taking the cup of remembrance (:13) should be the same.

Psa 116:13

I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of Yahweh-
"Salvation" is Yeshua, 'Jesus'. As noted on :1, this Psalm was specifically used at the feasts, and may refer to the associated drink offering (Num. 28:7), similar to the "cup of blessing" at Passover (Mt. 26:27). The salvation commemorated was the "help" (s.w.) of :6. Initially, the reference is to a drink offering offered along with a voluntary thanksgiving offering (see on :17). But in the context of the feasts, it was attached to the Passover, which was the great feast of thanksgiving for deliverance from death. The Jews traditionally sing Psalm 116 after the Passover meal, and the third of the four cups drunk then is called "the cup of salvation". But to take a cup doesn't have to mean to drink it, but rather to accept what had been given from God (Ps. 16:5; 23:5). So the idea may be that by being open to receiving yet more grace, we thereby render thanks for the grace so far received.

Psa 116:14

I will pay my vows to Yahweh, yes, in the presence of all His people-
This is appropriate to the celebration of a feast, which is when the Psalm was used (see on :1). David had vowed to serve God in response to his salvation from death (:3,4) and he wanted to do this in the presence of God's people, at a feast. David's faith was absolutely public, he was no secret believer. These things have application to the Lord Jesus (:16). His keeping of the last supper was in fact a celebration of the deliverance which He believed was so certain to come that it was as if He had already received it. For that is the essence of faith.

Psa 116:15

Precious in the sight of Yahweh is the death of His saints-
The idea may be that David had faced death (:3,4), but his life had been precious in Yahweh's sight. The exiles likewise were precious in the sight of Yahweh (s.w. Is.  43:4), and He would preserve the national life of Israel.  The death and life of Saul had been precious in David's eyes (s.w. 1 Sam. 26:21), and so David's life was precious in Yahweh's eyes. Again we are taught that God's attitude to our salvation and our life is directly related to our attitude to the life and salvation of others; and this is why we are to perceive the value, the preciousness, of human life and salvation. It is why making others stumble from the path to eternal life is so serious to God. The supremely precious death of all was that of the Lord Jesus (1 Pet. 1:19; 2:4,6,7), and this Psalm clearly looks forward to Him (see on :13,14,16).

Psa 116:16

Yahweh, truly I am Your servant, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid. You have freed me from my chains-
This Psalm refers to David and later to the exiles, who were potentially freed from the chains of captivity and are declared as Yahweh's servant throughout later Isaiah. But as noted on :15, it clearly comes to ultimate term in the Lord Jesus. For Mary was the supreme handmaid of Yahweh, and she appears to appropriate this verse to herself (Lk. 1:38).

Psa 116:17

I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call on the name of Yahweh-
As discussed earlier in this Psalm, thanksgiving for deliverance from death committed the psalmist and the audience to calling on Yahweh's Name for the rest of their lives. The next verse (:18) repeats :14, and therefore this verse (:17) reflects :13 "I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of Yahweh". The cup of salvation therefore refers to a thanksgiving offering. Although the Mosaic law didn't require a drink offering for a thanksgiving offering, David was eager to serve God to the maximum, and so offered one too.

Psa 116:18

I will pay my vows to Yahweh, yes, in the presence of all His people-
See on :14.

Psa 116:19

in the courts of Yahweh’s house, in the midst of you, Jerusalem. Praise Yah!-
If the Psalm originated with David, then he is looking forward to the time when a temple would be built in Zion, and he would be there. He would have said this in faith in a resurrection of the body and literal restoration of Zion. The Psalm also has relevance to the exiles. Their temple was then in ruins, but they looked forward to its restoration. The tragedy was that they didn't rebuild it according to the commands of Ez. 40-48, and so these things became reapplied and rescheduled to the things of God's Kingdom to be established at the return of the Lord Jesus.