John T. Willis

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Psalm 66:13-15

The second major part of Psalm 66 is verses 13-20. Whereas the psalmist has been speaking in the first person plural ("we," "us," "our") in verses 5-12 [following the Introduction in verses 1-4], now she or he speaks in the first person singular ("I," "me," "my"). Verses 13-15 contain a prayer addressed to Yahweh:

"I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
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."

1. The composer of Psalm 66 does not specify the "trouble" he or she endured (verse 14). It was clearly overwhelming and much more than the psalmist could possibly handle without God's help. Often, people (even God's people) do not realize how dependent they are on God until "trouble" comes.
2. The psalmist promised Yahweh that she or he would offer Yahweh certain sacrifices if Yahweh would deliver him or her from this "trouble." Yahweh responded with deliverance, and now the psalmist goes to "the house of God" (the temple) to offer these sacrifices. This is not a situation in which a person "made a deal with" God, but a genuine expression of dependence on God and thanksgiving or gratitude for God's deliverance.
3. No human gift (vows, sacrifices, prayers, service, worship, etc.) in and of itself is acceptable to God unless it comes from the heart and is a genuine expression of gratitude to God for all his blessings and gifts (see especially Psalms 50:7-15; 51:15-19). One does not "earn" God's favor by performing any human act of obedience or service (see Ephesians 2:8-10). The song: "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling," captures this thought beautifully.

John Willis

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Psalm 66:8-12

The second part of Psalm 66:5-12 ("Come and see what God has done") is verses 8-12:

"Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
you have brought us out to a spacious place."

1. In verses 5-7, the first "awesome deed" of Yahweh this psalmist mentions is the exodus from Egypt. Now in verses 9-12b, he mentions Yahweh's guidance and protection of his people during the forty years of wilderness wanderings. Following the thoughts of Deuteronomy 8:1-5, the author of Psalm 66 describes the wilderness wanderings as a time of "testing." He compares it with refining silver. A refiner puts silver ore taken from the ground into a hot furnace to melt off the alloys and to purify the silver. In the same way, God, our loving Father, refines us in the furnace of daily living for him in order to discipline us for his service. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the necessity of spiritual "testing" or discipline (see Psalms 11:4-5; 17:3; 26:2; 139:23; Job 23:10; Jeremiah 6:27-30; 12:3; Zechariah 13:9; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Hebrews 12:4-11; James 1:2-4).
2. During times of testing and discipline, it feels like we have been trapped in a net and will never escape, that we are carrying heavy burdens which are about to crush us, that enemies are riding over us mercilessly to trounce us to the ground, and that we are passing through hot and devouring fire and treacherous and rushing waters. But at the end of the testing, God suddenly brings us out into a spacious place--like he brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan, which he gave to them as an inheritance. So, as we are moving along in life experiencing its trials and reverses and disappointments and tragedies, "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

John Willis