The Singing Community and the Soloist
Psalm 66 is a psalm of thanksgiving. It begins with the entire congregation of God praising God and calling the world to join in worship (vv. 1‐7). From there it moves to the voice of a single worshiper recounting how God has been faithful to him (vv. 8‐20). When the community is worshiping, they invite the world to
Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind! (v. 5)
When the individual is worshiping, he invites all who follow God to
Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. (v. 16)
We “come” in worship to both “see” and “hear” God’s “awesome deeds” as we tell each other “what he has done for me.”
It is instructive for today’s church to see that this Old Testament model of God’s people applies to God’s people today. We learn our faith and how to worship in the congregation; then at various times, we listen to the voice of a single believer as they give praise and thanksgiving to God for what he has done in their life. That solitary witness is critical in building the faith of the community. It is vital for all believers to raise their praise and worship to God in unison. It is equally vital for the community to learn from the witness of the individual believer.
Warren Wiersbe writes: “This psalm is for the discouraged. ‘Who keeps our soul among the living and does not allow our feet to be moved’ (v. 9). God holds our life in His hand. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). So let’s praise Him” (Day 171). In verse 9, we are told that it is God who keeps us from slipping, either into trouble or into death (Tate 150).
I have difficulty with the concept that God tests us. We know that he tested Job, but that serves as a lesson to all who follow. Wiersbe helps me with his approach to God’s testing in verse 10. “The reason God tries us and tests us is to prove us. He’s proving nothing to Himself. He knows us from top to bottom. Instead, He’s proving something to us. God considers us as valuable as silver, and He puts us into situations that test and strengthen us” (Day 171). This helps me. This sounds more like exercise and conditioning that will make my body stronger. I need that. And, equally I need the testing and refining that will strengthen my spiritual self.
The use of the word “affliction” in verse 11 is unusual. This is the only place it is found in the Bible.
You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs.
Marvin Tate, along with others, suggests that it is derived from the verb “to press.” This fits our culture that seems to know “pressures” more than the preceding generations (146). It is as if the Spirit who inspired the psalmists was reaching ahead to our post‐modern culture to give us a word with which we can clearly relate.
Verse 12 presents a gruesome image of combat. God’s people had suffered a defeat at the hands of the enemy. Now the enemies’ horses and chariots are riding over the dead and injured. A tragic day for God’s people. The next image in this verse is of opposites: fire and water. This is a merism. Alice Linsley breaks it down as follows:
A merism is a figure of speech which references parts that comprise a whole. To express this another way: a merism expresses opposite edges and unity at the same time…To say that “they searched high and low” means that they searched everywhere. The set is often used to express the whole range of experience.
So here the Psalmist paints the picture of God’s people experiencing all of life, from defeat to fire and water and everything in between. However, thanks be to God there is good news at the end of this verse: “but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Hospitality is a spiritual discipline, and God is our host who has distinguished his hospitality with abundance. Consider only two people living in the abundance that was the Garden of Eden. Consider the Israelites dependence on God’s abundant supply of manna, quail and water in the desert. Consider Christ’s generosity at the wedding in Cana and at the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000. Our God is a God of abundance. An alternate translation for “a place of abundance” is “a spacious place” (NRSV). It carries the idea of “overflow” or “running over” that we know from Psalm 23:3.
While the individual worshiper may have been leading the worship from verse 8, the first‐person pronouns from vv. 13‐20 make it clear that a single person is speaking. This may have been a king, priest or some other leader of Israel (Kidner 233). Listen to Derek Kidner:
We may picture the scene of public worship…in which the corporate praise gives way to the voice of this single worshipper, who stands with his gifts before the altar, and speaks of the God whose care is not only world and nation‐wide, but personal: I will tell what he has done for me (233)
This worshiper has brought rams, bulls and male goats to offer as whole burnt offerings (vv. 13‐15). They will be completely burned up except for the skin (Tate 150). According to Lev. 7:8, the animal skins were given to the priest. Perhaps it became a means of income for the priest. John Gill sees the hide as “an emblem of the righteousness of Christ…[it] was also signified by the coats of skins the Lord made for Adam and Eve.” Thank offerings would be shared with the worshippers, but a whole burnt offering is a sacrifice of total destruction. “This suggests a mood of chastened rather than exuberant gratitude, as if to reflect the gravity of the threat that has now been lifted, and the depth of the offerer’s debt” (Kidner 235).
All of this was the result of a promise this Israelite made to God when the man was in deep trouble. In verse 17 he cried out to God for help. How interesting that, although he was crying out for help, he tells us that praise was on the tip of his tongue.1 That’s a powerful witness for all of us. May we reflexively be ready to praise God even while we are seeking his help.
Allow me a personal observation on vv. 18‐20. Once, a number of years ago, as I read this, I suddenly felt that this might have been why King David was “a man after God’s own heart.”
Imagine David stating this:
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!
Did King David actually write or say these words? There is no textual evidence one way or the other. But, what is clear is that God does not listen to us while we are still cherishing our sin. David lived with some terrible consequences for his sins, but he did not cherish his sins. God listened to David, heard his prayer, and did not reject him, but rather loved David. God will listen, hear, and love us too, when we do not cherish sin in our hearts.