Psalms 116

PSALM CXVI

The psalmist praises God for his deliverance from thraldom,

which he compares to death and the grave, 1-9.

The exercises through which he had passed, 10, 11.

His gratitude for these mercies, and resolution to live to

God's glory, 12-19.

NOTES ON PSALM CXVI

This Psalm is also without a title, and its author is unknown.

It appears to have been written after the captivity, and to be a

thanksgiving to God for that glorious event. The psalmist compares

this captivity to death and the grave; and shows the happy return

to the promised land, called here, The land of the living. The

people recollect the vows of God which were upon them, and purpose

to fulfil them. They exhult at being enabled to worship God in the

temple at Jerusalem.

The Syriac, which abounds in conjectural prefaces, supposes this

Psalm to have been written on the occasion of Saul coming to the

mouth of the cave in which David lay hidden; but spiritually

taken, it relates to the bringing of a new people, the Gentiles,

to the Christian faith. In a few MSS. this Psalm is joined to the

preceding. Many think it relates wholly to the passion, death, and

triumph of Christ. Most of the fathers were of this opinion.

Verse 1. I love the Lord because he hath heard] How vain and

foolish is the talk, "To love God for his benefits to us is

mercenary, and cannot be pure love!" Whether pure or impure, there

is no other love that can flow from the heart of the creature to

its Creator. We love him, said the holiest of Christ's disciples,

because he first loved us; and the increase of our love and

filial obedience is in proportion to the increased sense we have

of our obligation to him. We love him for the benefits bestowed on

us. Love begets love.

Verse 2. Because he hath inclined his ear] The psalmist

represents himself to be so sick and weak, that he could scarcely

speak. The Lord, in condescension to this weakness, is here

considered as bowing down his ear to the mouth of the feeble

suppliant, that he may receive every word of his prayer.

Therefore will I call upon him] I have had such blessed success

in my application to him, that I purpose to invoke him as long as

I shall live. He that prays much will be emboldened to pray more,

because none can supplicate the throne of grace in vain.

Verse 3. The sorrows of death] chebley maveth, the

cables or cords of death; alluding to their bonds and fetters

during their captivity; or to the cords by which a criminal is

bound who is about to be led out to execution; or to the bandages

in which the dead were enveloped, when head, arms, body, and limbs

were all laced down together.

The pains of hell] metsarey sheol, the straitnesses

of the grave. So little expectation was there of life, that he

speaks as if he were condemned, executed, and closed up in the

tomb. Or, he may refer here to the small niches in cemeteries,

where the coffins of the dead were placed.

Because this Psalm has been used in the thanksgiving of women

after safe delivery, it has been supposed that the pain suffered

in the act of parturition was equal for the time to the torments

of the damned. But this supposition is shockingly absurd; the

utmost power of human nature could not, for a moment, endure the

wrath of God, the deathless worm, and the unquenchable fire. The

body must die, be decomposed, and be built up on indestructible

principles, before this punishment can be borne.

Verse 5. Gracious is the Lord] In his own nature.

And righteous] In all his dealings with men.

Our God is merciful.] Of tender compassion to all penitents.

Verse 6. The Lord preserved the simple] pethaim, which

all the Versions render little ones. Those who are meek and lowly

of heart, who feel the spirit of little children, these he

preserves, as he does little children; and he mentions this

circumstance, because the Lord has a peculiar regard for these

young ones, and gives his angels charge concerning them. Were it

otherwise, children are exposed to so many dangers and deaths,

that most of them would fall victims to accidents in their

infancy.

Verse 7. Return unto thy rest, O my soul] God is the centre to

which all immortal spirits tend, and in connexion with which alone

they can find rest. Every thing separated from its centre is in a

state of violence; and, if intelligent, cannot be happy. All human

souls, while separated from God by sin, are in a state of

violence, agitation, and misery. From God all spirits come; to him

all must return, in order to be finally happy. This is true in the

general case; though, probably, the rest spoken of here means the

promised land, into which they were now returning.

A proof of the late origin of this Psalm is exhibited in this

verse, in the words limenuchaichi, "to thy rest," and

alaichi, "to thee," which are both Chaldaisms.

Verse 8. Thou hast delivered my soul from death] Thou hast

rescued my life from the destruction to which it was exposed.

Mine eyes from tears] Thou hast turned my sorrow into joy.

My feet from falling.] Thou hast taken me out of the land of

snares and pitfalls, and brought me into a plain path. How very

near does our ancient mother tongue come to this:- [Anglo-Saxon].

For thou he nerode sawle mine of deathe, eapan mine of tearum;

fet mine of slide. And this language is but a little improved in

the old Psalter:-

For he toke my saule fra dede; my eghen fra teres; my fete fra

slippyng.

Verse 9. I will walk before the Lord] ethhallech, I will

set myself to walk. I am determined to walk; my eyes are now

brightened, so that I can see; my feet are strengthened, so that I

can walk; and my soul is alive, so that I can walk with the

living.

The Vulgate, the Septuagint, the AEthiopic, the Arabic,

and the Anglo-Saxon end this Psalm here, which is numbered the

cxivth; and begin with the tenth verse another Psalm, which they

number cxvth; but this division is not acknowledged by the Hebrew,

Chaldee, and Syriac.

Verse 10. I believed, therefore have I spoken] Distressed and

afflicted as I was, I ever believed thy promises to be true; but I

had great struggles to maintain my confidence; for my afflictions

were great, oppressive, and of long standing.

It is scarcely worth observing that the letters called heemantic

by the Hebrew grammarians, and which are used in forming the

derivatives from the roots, are taken from the first word in

this verse, heemanti, "I have believed;" as the prefixes

in that language are found in the technical words Mosheh

vecaleb, "Moses and Caleb;" and the formatives of the future are

found in the word eythan, "strength."

Verse 11. I said in my haste] This is variously translated: I

said in my flight, CHALDEE. In my excess, or ecstasy, VULGATE. In

my ecstasy, εκστασει, SEPTUAGINT. [Arabic] tahayury, in my

giddiness, ARABIC. In my fear or tremor, SYRIAC. [Anglo-Saxon],

I quoth in outgoing mine, when I was beside myself, ANGLO-SAXON.

In myn oute passyng, old Psalter. When passion got the better of

my reason, when I looked not at God, but at my afflictions, and

the impossibility of human relief.

All men are liars.] col haadam cozeb, "the whole

of man is a lie." Falsity is diffused through his nature;

deception proceeds from his tongue; his actions are often

counterfeit. He is imposed on by others, and imposes in his turn;

and on none is there any dependence till God converts their heart.

"O what a thing were man, if his attires

Should alter with his mind,

And, like a dolphin's skin,

His clothes combine with his desires!

Surely if each one saw another's heart,

There would be no commerce;

All would disperse,

And live apart."

HERBERT.

To the same purpose I shall give the following Italian proverb:-

Con arte e con inganno,

Si vive mezzo l'anno.

Con inganno e con arte

Si vive l' altro parti.

"Men live half the year by deceit and by art;

By art and deceit men live the other part."

Who gives this bad character of mankind? MAN.

Verse 12. What shall I render] mah ashib, "What shall

I return?"

For his benefits] tagmulohi, "His retributions," the

returns he had made to my prayers and faith.

Verse 13. I will take the cup of salvation] Literally, The cup

of salvation, or deliverance, will I lift up. Alluding to the

action in taking the cup of blessing among the Jews, which, when

the person or master of the family lifted up, he said these words,

"Blessed be the Lord, the Maker of the world, who has created the

fruit of the vine!"

But it may probably allude to the libation-offering, Nu 28:7;

for the three last verses seem to intimate that the psalmist was

now at the temple, offering the meat-offering, drink-offering, and

sacrifices to the Lord. Cup is often used by the Hebrews to denote

plenty or abundance. So, the cup of trembling, an abundance of

misery; the cup of salvation, an abundance of happiness.

And call upon the name of the Lord.] I will invoke his name,

that I may get more of the same blessings; for the only return

that God requires is, that we ask for more. Who is like GOD? One

reason why we should never more come to a fellow-mortal for a

favour is, we have received so many already. A strong reason why

we should claim the utmost salvation of God is, because we are

already so much in debt to his mercy. Now this is the only way we

have of discharging our debts to God; and yet, strange to tell,

every such attempt to discharge the debt only serves to increase

it! Yet, notwithstanding, the debtor and creditor are represented

as both pleased, both profited, and both happy in each other!

Reader, pray to him, invoke his name; receive the cup-accept the

abundance of salvation which he has provided thee, that thou

mayest love and serve him with a perfect heart.

Verse 14. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence

of all his people.] He was probably now bringing his offering to

the temple. These words are repeated, Ps 116:18.

Verse 15. Precious in the sight of the Lord] Many have

understood this verse as meaning, "the saints are too precious in

the Lord's sight, lightly to give them over to death:" and this,

Calmet contends, is the true sense of the text. Though they have

many enemies, their lives are precious in his sight, and their

foes shall not prevail against them.

Verse 16. I am thy servant] Thou hast preserved me alive. I live

with, for, and to THEE. I am thy willing domestic, the son of

thine handmaid-like one born in thy house of a woman already thy

property. I am a servant, son of thy servant, made free by thy

kindness; but, refusing to go out, I have had my ear bored to thy

door-post, and am to continue by free choice in thy house for

ever. He alludes here to the case of the servant who, in the year

of jubilee being entitled to his liberty, refused to leave his

master's house; and suffered his ear to be bored to the door-post,

as a proof that by his own consent he agreed to continue in his

master's house for ever.

Verse 17. I will offer to thee] As it is most probable that this

Psalm celebrates the deliverance from Babylon, it is no wonder

that we find the psalmist so intent on performing the rites of his

religion in the temple at Jerusalem, which had been burnt with

fire, and was now reviving out of its ruins, the temple service

having been wholly interrupted for nearly four-score years.

Verse 19. In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.] He speaks as if

present in the city, offering his vowed sacrifices in the temple

to the Lord.

Most of this Psalm has been applied to our Lord and his Church;

and in this way it has been considered as prophetic; and, taken

thus, it is innocently accommodated, and is very edifying. This is

the interpretation given of the whole by the old Psalter.

ANALYSIS OF THE HUNDRED AND SIXTEENTH PSALM

This Psalm is gratulatory; for it shows how great straits the

psalmist was brought into, from which God delivered him.

This Psalm has three parts:-

I. The psalmist makes profession of his love, and shows the

reasons of it: God's goodness in hearing and delivering him from

his low and sad condition, Ps 116:1-9.

II. He professes his duty and faith, Ps 116:9-11.

III. He promises to be thankful, and in what manner,

Ps 116:12-19.

I. He begins with the expression of his content and love: "I

love the Lord." And he gives these reasons:-

1. "Because he hath heard," &c. This is reason enough why I

should love him.

2. "Because he hath inclined," &c. An evidence that he was

heard. Upon which experience that he was heard he adds: "Therefore

will I call," &c.

Another reason which moved him to love God was, that he heard

him in the extremity of his deep distress; for,-

1. "The sorrows of death," &c. Death is the king of fear.

2. "The pains of hell," &c. He feared the anger of God for his

sins.

3. "I found trouble and sorrow." The psalmist was sensible of

his condition: though others might suppose him compassed with

prosperity, yet he knew himself distressed.

But he prayed to the Lord.

1. "Then." In these troubles and pangs.

2. "I called upon," &c. Invocation to God was his sole refuge.

3. "O Lord, I beseech thee," &c. He sets down the very words of

his prayer.

And then, that he might show that he prayed to God in faith and

hope, he points out the attributes of God for the encouragement of

others.

1. "God is gracious." It is he who inspires prayer and

repentance, remits sin, and pardons those who fly in faith to him

for mercy.

2. "And righteous and just." He will perform what he has

promised.

3. "Yea, our God is merciful." He mingles mercy with his

justice; he corrects with a father's hand, and loves to forgive

rather than to punish. Of which David gives an instance in

himself: "I was brought low, and he helped me." And all others may

find the same who come in the way that I did to him for pardon.

Another reason he gives for loving God was, the tranquillity of

soul he found after this storm was over: "Therefore, return unto

thy rest, O my soul." Hitherto thou hast been tossed up and down

on the waves of sorrow, finding no port or haven: now faith has

opened to thee a harbour where thou mayest be safe: "For the Lord

hath dealt," &c.: but of his infinite mercy he has given thee joy

for sadness.

He attributes to him the whole of his work.

1. "Thou hast delivered," &c. Turned my heaviness into joy, by

removing all fear of death.

2. "Thou hast delivered my eyes," &c. Made me joyful.

3. "Thou hast delivered my feet," &c. When my infirmity is

great, the devil takes advantage of me that I might fall; but now

thou hast settled my feet-made me able to resist him. And this God

does for all who call upon him, and trust in him.

II. The psalmist, having expressed his sorrows and God's

goodness, now professes his dutiful attachment, 1. By his

obedience; 2. By a faithful confession of his errors, and future

confidence.

1. "I will walk before the Lord," &c. Be careful to please God,

by walking, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

He professes his faith, on which he will evermore rely.

1. "I believed, and therefore," &c. Which confidence came from

faith.

2. "I was greatly afflicted," &c.; but I became docile and

humble to the Spirit of God. When David was tossed between hope

and despair, he found those sorrows were not easily quieted; for

"I said in my haste," &c.

Which clause is differently understood by commentators.

1. Some suppose it to be an amplification of his former grief. I

was so amazed, and overwhelmed with sorrow, that if any one

reminded me of God's promises, "I said in my haste, All men are

liars." I will not believe God; he hath no care for me.

2. Others again refer this clause to the preceding: They talk of

happiness and felicity, but none is to be found in the land of the

living.

3. Some again refer it to Absalom, who deceived David by his vow

at Hebron; or to Ahithophel, who revolted from him.

4. Again, others suppose that he taxed even Samuel himself that

he spoke not by God's Spirit, when he anointed him king over

Israel; because, during Saul's persecution, there appeared so

little hope of it. But the first sense is the most cogent.

III. Henceforth, to the end of the Psalm, David declares his

gratitude: "What shall I render to the Lord," &c. As if he had

said, I acknowledge the benefits God has bestowed upon me; but in

what way can I best evince my gratitude?

1. "I will take the cup of salvation." Here interpreters vary as

to what is to be understood by the cup of salvation. 1. Some refer

it to the ucharistical sacrifices of the old law, in which, when a

man offered a sacrifice to God for some deliverance, he made a

feast to the people, as did David, 1 Chron. i., ii., iii.?? 2.

The fathers understood it of the cup of patience and affliction,

which is often in Scripture called a cup, Mt 20:22. 3. But here

it seems to signify plenty, abundance, &c. See the note.

2. "I will pay my vows," &c. It was usual in God's service to

make vows, or to confess his name in an open assembly. God cares

for all his people, however circumstanced; for precious in the

sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. The servants of God

trouble themselves in vain when they distrust him; for in life he

is with them, and in death he will not forsake them.

The psalmist does not become proud upon God's favours; but in

all humility, though a king, he exclaims,-

1. "O Lord, truly I am thy servant," &c.

2. And yet no slave, but a willing servant: "Thou hast loosed my

bonds,"-taken from my neck the bonds of fear: thou hast made me

thy servant through love.

3. And therefore will I do what thy servants ought to do.

Showing his earnestness he repeats again, "I will offer to thee

the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the

Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all

his people, in the courts of the Lord's house, in the midst of

thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord." Within the Church, and at

all times, he would praise and do him worship. What is not done

according to God's word and Spirit is of little service. He who

neglects public worship is not very likely to keep up private

devotion, either in his family or in his closet. "I will pay my

vows in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem."

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