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Wednesday, September 27th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Psalms 116

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 116

After an Introduction, Psalms 116:1-2, in which the Psalmist declares his love to the Lord, and his resolution to call upon him continually because he has been delivered by him out of great trouble, he describes in the first strophe this deliverance, Psalms 116:3-9, and in the second his thankfulness. The first strophe is completed in the number seven, which is divided by a four and a three: I was near destruction, then the Lord manifested his compassion and his grace in my deliverance, Psalms 116:3-6, so that now I am delivered from trouble and death, and have reached to my rest, Psalms 116:7-9. [Note: The Septuagint and Vulgate recognised the main division to be after ver. 9; they have divided the Psalm at ver. 10 into two poems.] The second strophe is complete in ten, which is divided by a three and a seven, which last is again divided by a three and a four. I placed in my trouble my trust in the Lord, and the Lord has given me according to my faith, how shall I recompense him for his gift? Psalms 116:10-12. I will offer to him out of a full heart praise and thanks, Psalms 116:13-19, in Psalms 116:13-15 the resolution, Psalms 116:16-19 obviously the accompaniment of the giving of the offerings.

The Psalms 117 th Psalm, which, on account of its brevity, cannot with propriety be considered as occupying an entirely independent position, corresponds, as a Conclusion, to the Introduction, consisting like it of two verses. The whole in this case has twenty-one verses, three times seven. In Psalms 116, Jehovah occurs fifteen times, in Psalms 117 twice, in both together therefore we have the important number seventeen. Without the introduction and conclusion Jehovah occurs fourteen times. In the first strophe of Psalms 116 six times; in the second eight times. The six is supplemented by the Jehovah of the Introduction to seven, the eight by the conclusion, Psalms 117 to ten.

After the church of the Lord has raised itself to hope in his assistance in regard to everything which at present oppresses her, she comes at the conclusion of the decade with delivered and lightened mind to her song of thanks for the favour already imparted, which now for the first time reaches its true earnestness when she has cast all her care upon the Lord.

That the Psalm does not belong to the times before the captivity, is manifest from the language, especially from the נגדה and the המותה , with the meaningless paragoge in Psalms 116:14-15, and the Chald. suffix in Psalms 116:12. The danger from which the Psalmist giving thanks was delivered is repeatedly and expressly described as one of entire destruction,—a description in which it is impossible not to recognise a reference to the Babylonish captivity, as the analogy of all the other Psalms of the group, the ( Psalms 116:15) 15th ver., where the plurality concealed behind the unity comes prominently forward (the speaker is the Man of Judah or the Daughter of Zion, therefore an ideal person), and the circumstance of the Psalm which manifestly receive a historical interpretation, being without a name (which does not readily occur in individual Psalms), reader it impossible not to see the national character of the Psalm. A special reference to the deliverance from captivity occurs in “thou hast loosed my bonds” of Psalms 116:16; comp. Psalms 107:14. The melancholy character of the joy also, which it is impossible not to notice, is suitable to the occasion: we everywhere see tears in the eyes of the thankful. Psalmist; thanksgiving suppresses lamentation. The Psalm must at all events have been composed shortly after the deliverance. This is evident from the circumstance that the deliverance is the object of the festive presentation of thank offerings, also from the great tenderness of feeling, in consequence of which the expressions are somewhat of a stammering character, and, finally, from the present יהושיע in Psalms 116:6. The mention of the house of the Lord in Psalms 116:19, does not necessarily bring us down to the time after the completion of the building of the temple. For the holy city got this name before this, comp. Ezra 2:68, Ezra 3:8. The Psalm however, was certainly sung for the first time after the setting up of public worship, Psalms 116:13, ss., and on an occasion of national thanksgiving,—an occasion later than that assigned to Psalms 117; comp. the Introduction to that Psalm. Particulars will be obtained from Psalms 118.

Verses 1-2

Ver. 1 and 2, Ver. 1. I love, because the Lord hears my voice and my supplication. Ver. 2. For he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call upon him as long as I live.

In Psalms 116:1 the future denotes the general truth, which is to be illustrated by the special fact (the preterite in Psalms 116:2). The translation which, after the example of Luther, is commonly given, is: this is delightful to me that the Lord hears my voice. But in favour of the translation given above, the beginning of Psalms 18 is decisive: “I love thee with my heart, O Lord, my strength.” “For the Lord hears,” &c., in the Psalm before us corresponds to “my strength,” in that Psalm, and to the development of that expression which immediately follows. This conclusion is all the stronger, as the main division of our Psalm begins with the words with which that Psalm opens. Hence it follows, that, according to our view, the first verse contains the quintessence of the whole Psalm (comp. the view given above of the contents), and that the first clause corresponds to the second half of Psalms 116:2, exactly as the second clause corresponds to the first half. The abrupt clause, “I love,” is altogether appropriate to the general character of the Psalm; comp. the similar clause, “I will call,” in Psalms 116:2, “the Lord gifts thee,” Psalms 116:7, and also the asyndeton, “my voice, my supplication,” in the verse before us. There appears to be an allusion to Deuteronomy 6:5, and to the parallel passage, “thou shalt love, אהבת , the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” The Psalmist testifies that, by the proofs which he had received of the love of God, the fulfilment of this the first and great commandment had become possible to him. In reality, “I love,” put by the Psalmist into the lips of the people, has, at the same time, a hortatory character; let us love him because he has first loved us.

It is manifest from Isaiah 39:8, that “in my days,” in Psalms 116:2, is to be understood as equivalent to “my life long.” I will call upon, giving thanks for his salvation, Psalms 116:13, and praying in all distresses for his assistance, Psalms 116:4.

Verses 3-9

Ver. 3. The snares of death surrounded me, and the pains of hell found me, I found distress and sorrow. Ver. 4. But I called upon the name of the Lord: O Lord, deliver my. soul! Ver. 5. Gracious is the Lord and upright, and our God is compassionate. Ver. 6. The Lord defends the simple, I was in sorrow and he delivered me. Ver. 7. Return again, 0 my soul, to thy rest, for the Lord hath bestowed gifts upon thee. Ver. 8. For thou didst deliver my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, my foot from sliding. Ver. 9. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalms 116:3 depends upon Psalms 18:4-5. It is not without design that the church, in the description of her trouble, connects herself with David. He was her great example in distress and deliverance. In Psalms 18 he himself extends his own experience to that of his seed, who, at the time of the composition of the Psalm before us, was represented by Zerubabel (comp. Haggai 2:23, Zechariah 4), and, in a certain measure, included in him the whole people; for it was intended that David should, for all eternity, be the soul of the people of God.

To call upon the name of the Lord, in Psalms 116:4, is a stronger expression than merely to call upon the Lord, and is equivalent to, to call upon him in his historically manifested glory.

Upright is the Lord, Psalms 116:5, just because he is gracious and compassionate towards his own people; comp. Psalms 112:4. Allusion is made to the fundamental definition of the divine Being in the Law, which had in this instance been so gloriously verified: the idea meant to be conveyed is: as the Lord has delivered my soul, and thus confirmed the truth of his word, which calls him gracious and compassionate. Instead of narrating historically the consequences of the prayer, the Psalmist breaks out into praise of the grace and mercy of God therein made known.

On פתי , in Psalms 116:6, comp. at Psalms 19:7. The word denotes, in the first instance, a failing, a want, not a virtue (many translate altogether without good reason: that pure mind towards God which expects salvation from him alone), yet assuredly this want is more praiseworthy than the false skill of the world, which always knows to help itself, because it considers everything to be lawful. [Note: The sense of פתאים was given with perfect accuracy by Calvin: “This word is frequently taken in a bad sense for inconsiderate and foolish persons who do not obey right counsel. But now those are called simple who suffer injuries, who are not too skilful in avoiding injuries, who, in fine, are easily circumvented, whereas the children of this world are as strong in sagacity as they are well furnished with expedients for protecting themselves. David therefore confesses himself to be like a child who cannot advise himself, and is not Bible to repel those injuries to which he is exposed. The same is, when believers, in their sufferings, have neither skill nor reason to find out means of escape, God’s wisdom is used on their behalf, and the secret guardianship of his providence meets all the dangers which beset their safety.”] The full form, יהושיע , was probably chosen for the purpose of alluding to the significant name of the first high priest of the new colony, Joshua.

The imper. in Psalms 116:7 stands as in Isaiah 55:1, invites to the enjoyment of the blessings freely furnished by God. The מנוח , possibly a place of rest, is never inward rest and peace (Luther: Be now at peace, O my soul)—the plural is against this—but the outward rest. The מנוחות in Psalms 23:2 also refers to this, and in Matthew 11:29 the rest is the place of rest. The rest for the soul is the land of the Lord, the temple, the building of which was just begun, the delightful home, together with everything which it affords for refreshment to the weary wanderer. Hitherto the soul had been restless and wandering like Cain, Genesis 4:12. On גמל comp. at Psalms 7:4. We may supply “with thy rest,” or, what is better, with everything that is good, comp. Psalms 116:12. [Note: The pious Bishop Babylas of Antioch comforted himself with our verse in prospect of the martyrdom which he suffered under Decius. “From this we learn that our soul comes to rest when it is removed by a happy death from this restless world.”]

Psalms 116:8-9 depend upon Psalms 56:13: “For thou didst deliver my soul from death, my feet from sliding, that I may walk before God in the light of the living.” Even this reference presupposes the character of David as an exemplar. The inserted clause, “my eyes from tears,” contains a designed and a most significant allusion to Jeremiah 31:16. The promise there given, as to the drying up of tears, was now in the way of being fulfilled. Instead of “in the light of the living,” we have here “in the land” ( Ezra 3:3); comp. “in the land of the living,” in Psalms 27:13, Psalms 52:5.

Verses 10-19

Ver. 10. I believed, therefore I did speak, but I was very much plagued. Ver. 11. I said, in my alarm: all men lie. Ver. 12. How shall I now recompense the Lord for all his gifts to me? Ver. 13. I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. Ver. 14. I will pay my vows to the Lord, yea, before all his people. Ver. 15. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.

Ver. 16. O Lord, for I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid, thou hast loosed my bonds. Ver. 17. I will bring thank-offerings to thee, and call upon the name of the Lord. Ver. 18. I will pay my vows to the Lord, yea, before all his people. Ver. 19. In the courts of the house of the Lord, in thee, Jerusalem, Halleluja.

The whole second part is occupied with the thanks, as the first part is with the salvation. Psalms 116:10-11 serve only as a preparation for the question in Psalms 116:12. I believed, Psalms 116:10, after the example of Abraham, Genesis 15:6, and of David, in Psalms 27:13. The חאמין is absolute, just as it is in Isaiah 7:9. The Psalmist, however, has no intention of boasting of his faith, but of giving glory to the Lord who had given him according to his faith. For I did speak,—which is a sure proof of the presence of faith. Confession and faith are inseparably connected; [Note: Calvin: Hence we draw a useful doctrine, that faith cannot exist inoperative in the heart, but must rise into action. For the Spirit connects, by a sacred bond, faith of the heart with external confession: “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”] comp. 2 Corinthians 4:13. The Apostle places, after the example of the Septuagint, therefore instead of for: “I believed, therefore I spoke,” without any material alteration of the sense. What the church of the Lord did speak may be gathered from “I believed” (it was what was according to the faith), and is particularly described in Psalms 116:11. The future denotes the past time just as the אמצא in Psalms 116:3 and the אקרא in Psalms 116:4. “I was very much plagued,” gives the circumstances in which the faith, and speaking which followed it, existed; immediately upon this, the substance of what was said is particularly given in Psalms 116:11. According to the construction of the verse, דבר here and אמר in Psalms 116:11 stand in their usual relation to each other; comp. at Psalms 4:4. [Note: Gesen. on the word דבר : “For דבר is rarely so placed that the words which are reported follow immediately, and לאמר is to be supplied mentally.”] This relation is not attended to in the translation: “I believed although I said; or when I said I am very much plagued.” These senses of כי , moreover, are nowhere to be found. In Exodus 13:17, to which reference has been made for the sense “although,” the כי is simply “because.” That the way through the land of the Philistines was short, was precisely the reason why Moses did not choose it. Israel needed a longer preparation. Luther has committed a mistake in substituting the present throughout in room of the preterite: I believe, therefore I spoke, but I am very much plagued.

In Psalms 116:11, “in my alarm” (properly “in my haste,” the peculiar expression from Psalms 31:22), resumes “I was very much afflicted;” I said in my alarm, the alarm induced by that severe affliction; and also “I said all men lie,” that is, disappoint the trust placed in them, leave in the lurch those who hope in them (comp. Psalms 62:9, Psalms 108:12) resumes, “I believed for I spoke.” From the circumstance that the speaking here is the expression of the faith, the exact import of the words spoken becomes apparent; it is obvious that behind the negative there is concealed the positive: I place my hope hand confidence not in deceitful men, but on my true and faithful God; comp. Psalms 108:8, “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men.”

In Psalms 116:12, exactly as in Psalms 116:5, the Sequence is not expressly mentioned but presupposed: it happened to me according to my faith, how then shall I?

In Psalms 116:13 the cup of salvation (the plural denotes the fulness and the variety of the salvation), is a figurative representation of the salvation which had been imparted to the Psalmist. He will with this, laying it to heart, come before God, and after the example of Abraham, who did so after every great instance of deliverance, call upon the name of the Lord, the only recompense which poor man can render to God. The cup is a frequent figurative representation of what is allotted to each man, his fortune, good fortune, Psalms 16:5, Psalms 23:5, and bad fortune, Psalms 11:6, Psalms 75:8, and at Psalms 60:3. No reference whatever can be understood as made to the cup of thanksgiving at the thank-offering, or to the sacrificial feast connected with it. For this cup is a mere fiction.

On the נא in Psalms 116:14 comp. Ewald, § 246. It is here also a particle expressive of wish, and contains in it “my soul forget not.”

Psalms 116:15 points to the ground why the Psalmist considers himself laid under a sacred obligation to give thanks: for dear to the Lord—this he has shown by my deliverance from death—is the death of his saints (instead of he regards it as important); hence the obligation to bring to him praise and thanks. The words depend upon Psalms 72:14. [Note: Calvin: “When we are brought into danger by the permission of God, the thought steals upon us that we are neglected like vile slaves, and that our life is regarded as nothing.”]

The אנה in Psalms 116:16 is very tender, O yet, Ew. § 262. He prays for permission to give thanks, and considers such permission a great favour, which God, however, imparts to his people along with their election and their deliverance. God must surely permit his servant and his redeemed to give him thanks, he has himself given him this privilege, and in point of fact, by his deeds, has exhorted him to do so. On “the son of the handmaid” comp. at Psalms 86:16.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 116". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-116.html.
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