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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 65

Verses 1-4


‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm. A Song of David.’

The heading is brief noting the regular dedication to the Chief Musician. It is described both as a Psalm, and as a song of David. ‘Song’ is the more ancient term and refers to a song intended to be sung at public worship. This double ascription occurs also in the three Psalms which follow. (The two following Psalms have no ascription to David confirming that the words ‘of David’ were not included casually, otherwise they would have been added to those Psalms. This supports the idea that where Psalms are ascribed to David this should be taken seriously, indicating Davidic connection, even if not Davidic authorship).

The Psalm does not appear to have arisen out of any particular situation in life, but rather appears to be a Psalm celebrating the fruitfulness of the expected harvest (Psalms 65:9-13). This may suggest that it was written to celebrate the gathering of the firstfruits at the Passover (Leviticus 18:10-14). That it is a Festal Psalm (Psalm to be sung at one of the great feasts) is suggested by Psalms 65:4.

However, some see in it an indication that God has recently given His people a great deliverance so that they are now at peace (Psalms 65:5-8) and anticipating an abundant harvest (Psalms 65:9-13). If so, this could have been celebrating any one of David’s great victories, through which he brought Israel into a settled peace. Continuing peace would then introduce good harvests as men were able to give their whole time to the land.

The Psalm divides naturally into three parts:

1) The Psalmist Informs God That His People Have Gathered to Bring Him Praise And Perform Their Vows, And, Admitting Their Sinfulness, He Expresses Their Confidence In God’s Forgiveness, A Forgiveness Which Will Enable Them To Approach God And Spend Time Before Him In His Courts (Psalms 65:1-4).

2) Having Approached God In A Personal Way David Now Gives A Description Of His Mighty Power Exercised Over All Creation, And Over All Peoples. He Emphasises The Fact That God’s People Are Safe Under God’s Protection Whether The Threat Comes From Land Or Sea (Psalms 65:5-8).

3) As Well As Exercising Iron Control The Almighty Creator Also Makes Full Provision For The Needs Of His Creation Making The Fields And Pasturelands Blossom And Flourish (Psalms 65:9-13).

1). The Psalmist Informs God That His People Have Gathered to Bring Him Praise And Perform Their Vows, And, Admitting Their Sinfulness, He Expresses Their Confidence In God’s Forgiveness, A Forgiveness Which Will Enable Them To Approach God And Spend Time Before Him In His Courts (Psalms 65:1-4 ).

Psalms 65:1

‘Praise waits for you, O God, in Zion,

And to you will the vow be performed.’

On this translation the Psalmist (and the singers) assure God that the people have gathered in Jerusalem to praise Him, and that each will perform his vow to God. The feasts would be a time of great vow making as the people sought to set their hearts, and themselves, right with God.

But the initial words are literally, ‘praise is silent for you’. This may suggest:

o The silence of expectation before their praise begins as they gather in His house, which is then seen as resulting, having performed their vows (Psalms 65:1), which would include offerings and sacrifices, and consequently the receiving of forgiveness where their hearts were true (Psalms 65:2), in all the people coming to Him in praise

o Praising in the silence of their hearts as they wait reverently before Him.

o The congregation approaching in silence because of their awareness of their sinfulness, resulting in the fulfilling of their vows, and their consequent forgiveness, which then results in praise as they all come to Him.

It is a reminder that worship should not be taken lightly. We do not just sweep into His presence and commence worship. We need first of all to reverently consider the state of our hearts before Him, setting right in our hearts any wrong done. It is then that we can obtain forgiveness and enter His presence in praise with the assurance that our praise is acceptable.

Some would revocalise the consonants and translate as ‘praise is seemly for you, O God, in Zion’ (as LXX). It is certainly true that it is seemly for us to praise Him, and that He is worthy of such praise.

Psalms 65:2

‘O you who hear prayer,

To you will all flesh come.’

He addresses God as ‘the hearer of prayer’. This is why they have such confidence in their approach, and such a certainty that He will listen to them. And it is as such that to Him will the whole of His people come, as they gather for the feast. The mention of ‘all flesh’ may well have in mind the coming expected Davidic kingdom (Psalms 2:8) when all nations would be called on to worship the God of David (compare Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4.

Psalms 65:3

‘Matters of iniquities prevail against me,

As for our transgressions, you will forgive (atone for) them.’

He does not see himself and God’s people as approaching God lightly. He is deeply aware of his own sin and failures, and how they have control over his life, and the same applies to the people. He recognises that sin regularly overcomes him in its various forms. But he declares to God his confidence, and the confidence of His people, that He will forgive their transgressions. The YOU is emphatic. It recognises that YHWH is basically a forgiving God. The whole sentence imbues the certainty of God’s forgiveness.

Thus the people come with dedication in anticipation of forgiveness, sure that God will welcome them as they come to worship Him in His place of worship.

It is an open question as to whether the ‘me’ refers to the Psalmist himself, or to Israel as a whole speaking as one. Such changes from the singular to the plural when the people as a whole are speaking occur regularly elsewhere. See, for example, Numbers 21:21-22.

The word translated forgive regularly means ‘to make atonement for’. God cannot just overlook sin. Atonement has to be made. This would be accomplished in those days by the offering of God-provided offerings and sacrifices. Today we can come through the One Who made full atonement for us at the cross. That is why forgiveness is so freely available, and so certain if we come in true repentance.

Psalms 65:4

‘Blessed is the man whom you choose,

And cause to approach to you,

That he may dwell in your courts.’

We will be satisfied with the goodness of your house,

The holy place of your temple.’

In consequence the state of those who seek Him truly are ‘blessed’ (comparePsalms 1:1; Psalms 1:1). They are happy and content as God acts in goodness towards them. For it is God Who has chosen them (see Exodus 19:5-6), and caused them to approach Him so that they can dwell in His courts and be content in His presence. And as a result they will be fully satisfied with what they enjoy in His house, in the holy place of His Temple which exudes goodness.

So David makes clear that men come to God because God chooses them and works in their hearts, which is why they can be sure of a welcome. He had no illusions about the sinfulness of men, nor doubts about God’s willingness to forgive, and to pour blessing on, those who sought Him.

The mention of ‘the Temple’ may be an updating, but in fact the Tabernacle was also spoken of as ‘the Temple’ (e.g. 1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 3:3; 2 Samuel 22:7), so that David may well have spoken of it as God’s ‘holy temple’.

Whilst Israel were well aware that “even the heaven of heavens cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27), they were also aware that God had chosen His Tabernacle/Temple to be the place where He dwelt invisibly on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. That is why they could lift up their voices to God anywhere on earth, but regularly assembled to worship at the Tabernacle/Temple. But notice in 1 Kings 8:0 that whilst the people ‘prayed towards this place’ (1 Kings 8:29), God ‘heard in heaven’ (1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:32, etc). They did not see God as limited to His Temple.

Verses 5-8

2). Having Approached God In A Personal Way David Now Gives A Description Of His Mighty Power Exercised Over All Creation, And Over All Peoples. He Emphasises The Fact That God’s People Are Safe Under God’s Protection Whether The Threat Comes From Land Or Sea (Psalms 65:5-8 ).

The Psalmist now moves on to consider God as ‘terrible’ (awesome and powerful), in relation to the whole of creation, and in relation to the people indwelling that creation. His people can be sure that He will answer them with ‘terrible things, because as the creator Who established the mountains, and as the Lord Who controls the raging seas, nothing is outside His purview. They reveal His awesomeness as active in the maintenance and control of His creation, and also in relation to the maintenance and control of all mankind. Some have seen in these words an indication that the people had gathered to celebrate a great victory and deliverance, but it is not required by the words. The picture is rather of God as in control of all things, and as Lord over all men, and especially as the One Who acts on behalf of His people. It is the voice of certainty in a tumultuous world. God’s people may only be a small people, but their God is a great God. Therefore, as long as they are obedient to His covenant (Psalms 65:4), they need fear nothing.

Some see an explicit reference to the fact that God watches over men no matter where they are, both on land and at sea, the idea being that He is the One in Whom all mankind places its confidence whether on land or sea. Others translate as ‘you are the confidence of all the ends of the earth and of the sea far off’, stressing that it is the whole of creation that has confidence in God.

Israel especially feared the sea. As they stood on the land and watched the fearsomeness of the sea it appeared to them that the sea was constantly seeking to engulf the land. It was only God Who held it back. To them the sea was a foreign element mainly outside their purview, and their history told how it had once burst its bounds and had engulfed the land (Genesis 6-9). And they feared that it might once more engulf the land (which is why God had covenanted that it would not in Genesis 9:21-22). But they recognised that God controlled it and held it in check, something which to them especially revealed His greatness. The land threatened to engulf them because of their adversaries who lived on the land, but the sea threatened to engulf them because of what it was in itself, a threat to be feared. However, says David, they need fear neither, for God is Lord of both land and sea.

Psalms 65:5

‘By terrible things you will answer us in righteousness,

Oh God of our salvation,

You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth,

And of those who are afar off on the sea (or ‘and of the sea far off’).’

Coming to ‘the One Who hears prayer’ (Psalms 65:2) they could be confident that their prayers would be heard and that by His mighty hand He would respond to their cry of need in righteous deliverance when their enemies assailed them. He could do this because the whole of creation depended on Him. He could thus act in a ‘terrible way’, that is, in a way that was awesome to His people, and fearful to their enemies. He would do ‘terrible things’, things which would make men wonder. And this because He was their delivering God. There are echoes here of the plagues in Egypt when God did terrible things to the Egyptians when they refused to let Israel go. Note how in the following Psalm (Psalms 66:0) God’s terrible doings are specifically related to the Exodus (Psalms 66:5-6).

However, it should be noted that the assumption is that He would do so in righteousness. ‘Righteousness’ and ‘deliverance (salvation)’ are often used as parallel words (e.g. Psalms 98:2; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; etc), and intrinsic in this is the fact that God’s deliverance is always in accordance with His righteousness. God does not act arbitrarily, favouring His people at all costs in spite of what they are. He acts in righteous deliverance because they are a people who have responded to Him and who seek to live righteously in that they seek to observe His covenant (Psalms 65:4). Once they forgot that they could no longer depend on Him to hear them as their future history would show. He was no longer the God of their salvation, their saving God, until, of course, He brought them again to repentance.

‘You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the sea far off (or ‘of those who are afar off on the sea’).’ The question here is as to whether, in speaking of ‘the ends of the earth’ (compare Psalms 2:8) and ‘the far off sea’, the Psalmist has in mind the whole of nature (land and sea) or the whole of humankind. Thus he may be saying, ‘all nature is confident in you, and relies on you, both distant lands and far off seas’. Alternately he may be speaking of the confidence that far off peoples on both land and sea can have in God. The idea may then be that unconsciously they rely on Him for the stability of their world. In other words, although with their false gods and idols they know it not, their instinctive confidence is in Him. Compare the words of Paul, ‘the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, even His eternal power and Godhead’ (Romans 1:20).

In a similar way today men who reject the laws of God can lay great emphasis on, and have confidence in, ‘the laws of nature’. But strictly speaking there are no laws of nature. There is only a reliance on the ‘hope’ that things will continue on as they always have, following the pattern that is discernible. But there is no solid reason, apart from theory, why they should. Christians on the other hand know that that pattern arises from the fact that God holds all things together in an orderly way. And the Psalmist may be saying that this is something that the idolater and the atheist rely on, even though they are not aware of the fact. For apart from God there is no real reason why from tomorrow onwards reality might not permanently change with all the ‘laws’ that we speak of turning out to be temporary. The atheist assumes it will not be so because he relies on what has happened in the past. But rationally he can have no certainty. The Christian knows that it will not be so because he knows that Jesus Christ ‘holds all things together’ (Colossians 1:17). His confidence is in God.

But the Psalmist may have had a further thought in mind, and that is that one day, through Israel’s witness, and through God’s activity on their behalf, the whole world would patently know and acknowledge God, something already latently true. For it was David’s God-given confidence that one day the whole world would bow the knee to YHWH through His chosen king (Psalms 2:8-9; Psalms 72:8; Psalms 89:27; compare Isaiah 11:1-4; Isaiah 45:23).

Psalms 65:6-7

‘Who by his strength sets fast the mountains,

Being girded about with might,

Who stills the roaring of the seas,

The roaring of their waves,

And the tumult of the peoples.’

David now explains why God can do awesome things. Confidence in God arises from the fact that it is He Who by the exertion of His strength ‘sets fast the mountains’, the most permanent thing that men knew. And for this purpose He ‘girds Himself with might’. He, as it were, rolls up His sleeves and exerts His mighty power (compare Psalms 93:1; for the idea of being ‘girded with strength’ compare Psalms 18:32; Psa 18:39 ; 1 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 22:40). It was by His mighty power that they were established. (‘He spoke and it was done’). To the ancients nothing was more permanent and immovable than the high mountains. And the point here is that they were made so by the power of God. They thus reveal His greatness, His mighty strength, His permanence and His total reliability. Indeed the way in which He reveals the greatness of His anger is by moving and shaking the foundations of the mountains (Psalms 18:7), thus putting men in fear of the disintegration of their world because He has removed His constraining hand. And, indeed, the earth’s permanence is not for ever (‘heaven and earth will pass away) for the end of all things will result in those seemingly permanent mountains fleeing away (Revelation 16:20). God will remove His control. After that there will be no more earthly permanence.

And as well as establishing the mountains He controls the violent sea. He stills the roaring of the waves. Nothing is outside His control. To Israel the sea was a feared enemy. They had little to do with it, and saw the way in which it sought to encroach on the land, as once before it had done fatally at the Flood, and they were afraid. The fact that these words follow reference to land and sea in Psalms 65:5 b confirms that we are to see the reference to the sea as having to be taken literally, and not just as a picture of the tumult among the nations, even though the thought of its tumult leads on to a reference to the tumult of the nations. Thus God has made permanent the land and controls the sea. Creation is safe in His hands.

‘And the tumult of the peoples.’ Furthermore He even controls something more violent than the waves, He controls ‘the tumult of the peoples’. It will be noted that this clause is added on as a fifth line. It is an added comment, although this does not diminish its importance. The God Who established the permanence of the mountain, and controls the raging tumult of the seas, is also the One Who can deal with tumults among the peoples. The nations might rage (Psalms 46:6), but like the sea they are under His iron control, even though they might not appear to be so. (For the tumult of the seas being compared to the tumults of the peoples, both being under God’s control, compare Isaiah 17:12-14).

Psalms 65:8

‘They also who dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at your tokens,

You make the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.’

The terrible things that He will do on behalf of His people (Psalms 65:5) will establish His control of the nations. They will thus be afraid at what He has revealed Himself to be and as a consequence their tumult will be stilled (Psalms 65:7 b) because they are moved by fear as a result of the signs (tokens) that He has performed. The primary reference may be to David’s mighty victories, and the consequent security of his kingdom, but we are almost certainly additionally to see here a reference to God’s redeeming power as it was revealed in the deliverance from Egypt, for this brought fear on the nations whom Israel would have to face in Canaan (Exodus 15:11-16). There the deliverance from Egypt by God’s mighty acts was seen as filling the nations with dread of Israel. And His terrible acts will do the same here.

‘You make the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.’ In contrast, when God goes forth to perform His terrible acts His people rejoice, for He is acting on their behalf. Assuming it to close this part of the Psalm (a case could be argued for attaching this clause to the verses that follow), it indicates that as life goes on His people are not afraid but can rather rejoice at what life brings them at His hand. The ‘outgoings of the morning and the evening’ may refer to the passage of time, as the sun ‘goes out’ in the morning, and the moon in the evening, in which case the rejoicing is done by those who are blessed by what God does during those outgoings, in other words the rejoicing is by God’s people whom He makes to rejoice as He acts on their behalf. The rejoicings of dawns and dusks are the rejoicings of God’s people. Whilst the far off peoples are afraid at what God can do, for His people who trust in Him it is a matter of rejoicing. For they know He is on their side. So the stilling of the tumults of the peoples on behalf of Israel results in continual rejoicing for His people, because the consequence for them will be that their future is rosy.

Alternately the outgoings of the morning and the evening may refer more strictly to what results from them. It makes little difference. The consequence is the same. What results from the passage of time will produce nothing but rejoicing, because God is with them in all that they do. He holds the nations in check (as He had the seas), leaving Israel safe and secure. David sees Israel as secure in God’s hands because He acts on their behalf against their possible adversaries. This all, of course, is on the assumption that they walk truly in His covenant.

For us it is a reminder that with God on our side we need fear nothing. The God of creation will exert His mighty power and make plain His power to our adversaries, and control their ragings (compare Psalms 2:1), so that in both the coming of morning and of evening we can rejoice, secure in His hand. Nothing can touch us without His permission.

Verses 9-13

3). As Well As Exercising Iron Control The Almighty Creator Also Makes Full Provision For The Needs Of His Creation Making The Fields And Pasturelands Blossom And Flourish (Psalms 65:9-13 ).

As well as exercising iron control, God makes full provision for the needs of His creation. These verses may well have been sung in anticipation of good harvests of both grain and livestock, and in order to encourage God to provide them, but the words are general and suggest universality. God makes provision for His whole creation. We are reminded of the words of Jesus, ‘your Father in Heaven -- makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Terrible He may reveal Himself to be, but He also reveals Himself as compassionate towards all. The descriptions, however, clearly reflect conditions in Palestine.

Psalms 65:9

You visit the earth, and make it plentiful,

You greatly enrich it,

The river of God is full of water,

You provide them grain,

When you have so prepared the earth.’

The Psalmist makes clear the people’s gratitude for the abundance of the early (October/November) rain which had made their fields produce abundantly. This is the rain that helps to prepare the ground for ploughing and sowing, and sustains the early growth. He recognises that it is God Who has visited the earth (or ‘land’) and made it plentiful, Who has greatly enriched it so that it will produce abundant crops. And He has done it from His ‘river’ which is ‘full of water’. ‘The river of God’ refers to the source from which God provides the rains. It is not to be taken literally as though there was a river in Heaven. The point is that God has a plentiful supply of water which He pours out on behalf of His people. There are no droughts as far as He is concerned unless He chooses for there to be so. As a consequence it is He Who has provided their grain by pouring out fruitful water on their land.

Psalms 65:10

‘You water its furrows abundantly,

You settle its ridges,

You make it soft with showers,

You bless its springing.’

The celebration continues. They praise God for watering the furrows of the land abundantly, and ‘settling its ridges’ (judicious watering holds the soil together on the terraces and makes it firm so that it does not slide down onto the ground below. Many grain crops were sowed on hillsides where terracing was a necessity). He is making the soil soft with showers so that it breaks up easily under the plough rather than being unhelpfully resistant. ‘You bless its springing growth.’ The grain comes forth from the ground and flourishes because God blesses the process. It is a description of ideal conditions for harvest. Note how God is seen as personally involved in ensuing the fruitfulness of the harvest

Psalms 65:11-12

‘You crown the year with your goodness,

And your paths drop fatness,

They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,

And the hills are girded with joy.’

. Not only are the fields fruitful but the pastureland is clothed in plenty. God is not lacking in any provision. Having made the fields fruitful He crowns it by making the pasture abundant. He personally acts to make it more fruitful, adding that something extra to the year’s growth, and making it a perfect year. The reference here is probably to abundant ‘late rain’, something always hoped for to crown the year, but not always forthcoming. Note that He is seen as personally overseeing the growth, walking on invisible paths above the pastureland and dropping fatness (a plentiful supply of fruit producing rain) on it. The hills are girded with joy because God has crowned them with plenty and they are covered with vegetation. Thus His people rejoice (Psalms 65:8), and the hills rejoice, at what God does.

Psalms 65:13

‘The pastures are clothed with flocks,

The valleys also are covered over with grain,

They shout for joy,

They also sing.’

As a consequence of the fruitfulness of the pastures they are covered with sheep and goats which are like garments spread over them. And the valleys, the indentations between the hills, are covered with grain. Like the worshippers in the Temple the pastures and valleys shout for joy and sing at the goodness of the Lord. As a consequence of that goodness all creation praises God.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 65". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.