Psalm 66 Formed by Steadfast Love

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Psalm 66

<To the leader. A Song. A Psalm.>

1 Make a joyful[1] noise to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah
5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,
7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations — let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah
8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.
13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,
14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

For the Hebrew people the Exodus is the defining narrative that informs their life as the people of God. Without God’s action to bring them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land they are not a people of their own, merely slaves of the great Egyptian empire. Central to their faith is the trust that God acted in mighty ways to deliver their ancestors in the past and that God continues to act in ways to protect, preserve, purify, and refine so that they might be a treasured possession, a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation. (Exodus 19: 5-6) The people of God participate with the rest of creation in bearing witness to not only the mighty deeds of God but the careful formation of this people into something precious.

The previous psalm ended with the valleys and meadows shouting for joy and singing and now Psalm 66 begins with the imperative for all the earth to shout to God. God’s name and God’s power are lifted up as reasons for that praise and both friend and foe recognize the power of God. The initial stanza of this psalm joins together the voices of humanity with the voices of the creation in an exultant praise of God’s glory and strength while the second stanza invites the hearer to learn the specific actions that the psalmist views as praiseworthy. The invitation to come and see God’s awesome deeds takes the listener to the exodus narrative where God turned the Red Sea into dry land for Israel to cross and, before their entry into the promised land, God does the same with the Jordan river. These actions to bring the people out of Egypt and into the promised land demonstrate for the speaker God’s rule over the nations and God’s ability to execute justice throughout the world. The rebellious ones find themselves overwhelmed by God’s judgment like Korah and the leaders he assembled to confront Moses. (Numbers 16)

The work of God is not completed with the rescue of the people but it continues with the formation of this people to become the holy nation they are set aside to be. The other nations are invited to observe the way that the God of Israel is at work testing and refining the people, training them as one would train an athlete or soldier by giving them additional burdens to bear, and passing them through fire and water that they might be who they were created to be. As Beth Tanner can observe, “The world is eavesdropping on Israel’s formation as God’s people.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 535) The speaker does not resent this formation but rather praises God because of it. God has shaped and formed them to be something special and they respond with an abundant thanksgiving offering of fatlings, rams, bulls, and goats are offered. Presumably this type of offering would take place within a great communal feast celebrating God’s provision and telling again the story of God’s mighty deeds through the Exodus.

The psalm concludes with a move from a highlighting of what God has done for the people to centering on God’s answering of the prayer of the speaker. God has formed the speaker to be pure of heart and God also hears the prayers of this treasured one. God’s promised steadfast love has been there when the psalmist needed it and God has demonstrated that God is trustworthy in God’s relation to the individual as well as the people. Living in the covenant with this God has brought the psalmist to the point where they shout out joyfully with all creation for the mighty work of their God.

This is a psalm that speaks to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would many years later call ‘costly grace.’ The grace (or steadfast love) in this psalm chooses the people without any worthiness of their own, but it also tests and tries the recipient so that they may become something precious. This steadfast love is at work in the work of creation, redemption, and sanctification-forming from slaves and sinners a holy people, a treasured possession, and a priestly kingdom. It is a faith which allows the faithful one to understand the struggles they pass through as a part of their formation to be who they were intended by God to be. It is a faith that can point to God’s mighty deeds in the past but also acknowledges the way that God has given heed to the words of the faithful one’s prayer. Perhaps one of the gifts in this psalm is the way that the steadfast love of God is seen at the conclusion, after the mighty deeds and the passing through fire and water. As Bonhoeffer stated in Discipleship, “Grace as presupposition is grace at its cheapest; grace as a conclusion is costly grace.” (DBWE 4:51) Perhaps it is only looking back through the struggles that one can appreciate the manner in which both the struggles and the mighty works together have been a part of God’s patient formation of the people and the individual through the ever-present steadfast love of God.

[1] This is the Hebrew verb rua (shout) which appears at the end of the last verst of Psalm 65

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.