PSALM 116 OVERVIEW.
SUBJECT. This is a continuation of the Paschal Hallel, and therefore must in some measure be interpreted in connection with the coming out of Egypt. It has all the appearance of being a personal song in which the believing soul, reminded by the Passover of its own bondage and deliverance, speaks thereof with gratitude, and praises the Lord accordingly. We can conceive the Israelite with a staff in his hand singing, "Return unto thy rest, O my soul," as he remembered the going back of the house of Jacob to the land of their fathers; and then drinking the cup at the feast using the words of Psalms 116:13 , "I will take the cup of salvation." The pious man evidently remembers both his own deliverance and that of his people as he sings in the language of Psalms 116:16 , "Thou hast loosed my bonds"; but he rises into sympathy with his nation as he thinks of the courts of the Lord's house and of the glorious city, and pledges himself to sing "in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem." Personal love fostered by a personal experience of redemption is the theme of this Psalm, and in it we see the redeemed answered when they pray, preserved in time of trouble, resting in their God, walking at large, sensible of their obligations, conscious that they are not their own but bought with a price, and joining with all the ransomed company to sing hallelujahs unto God.
Since our divine Master sang this hymn, we can hardly err in seeing here words to which he could set his seal, -- words in a measure descriptive of his own experience; but upon this we will not enlarge, as in the notes we have indicated how the Psalm has been understood by those who love to find their Lord in every line.
DIVISION. David Dickson has a somewhat singular division of this Psalm, which strikes us as being exceedingly suggestive. He says, "This Psalm is a threefold engagement of the Psalmist unto thanksgiving unto God, for his mercy unto him, and in particular for some notable delivery of him from death, both bodily and spiritual. The first engagement is, that he shall out of love have recourse unto God by prayer, Psalms 116:1-2 ; the reasons and motives whereof are set down, because of his former deliverances, Ps 116:3-8, the second engagement is to a holy conversation, Psalms 116:9 , and the motives and reasons are given in Psalms 116:10-13 ; the third engagement is to continual praise and service, and specially to pay those vows before the church, which he had made in days of sorrow, the reasons whereof are given in Psalms 116:14-19 ."
Verse 1. I love the LORD. A blessed declaration: every believer ought to be able to declare without the slightest hesitation, "I love the Lord." It was required under the law, but was never produced in the heart of man except by the grace of God, and upon gospel principles. It is a great thing to say "I love the Lord"; for the sweetest of all graces and the surest of all evidences of salvation is love. It is great goodness on the part of God that he condescends to be loved by such poor creatures as we are, and it is a sure proof that he has been at work in our heart when we can say, "Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee."
Because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. The Psalmist not only knows that he loves God, but he knows why he does so. When love can justify itself with a reason, it is deep, strong, and abiding. They say that love is blind; but when we love God our affection has its eyes open and can sustain itself with the most rigid logic. We have reason, superabundant reason, for loving the Lord; and so because in this case principle and passion, reason and emotion go together, they make up an admirable state of mind. David's reason for his love was the love of God in hearing his prayers. The Psalmist had used his "voice" in prayer, and the habit of doing so is exceedingly helpful to devotion. If we can pray aloud without being overheard it is well to do so. Sometimes, however, when the Psalmist had lifted up his voice, his utterance had been so broken and painful that he scarcely dared to call it prayer; words failed him, he could only produce a groaning sound, but the Lord heard his moaning voice. At other times his prayers were more regular and better formed: these he calls "supplications." David had praised as best he could, and when one form of devotion failed him he tried another. He had gone to the Lord again and again, hence he uses the plural and says "my supplications," but as often as he had gone, so often had he been welcome. Jehovah had heard, that is to say, accepted, and answered both his broken cries and his more composed and orderly supplications; hence he loved God with all his heart. Answered prayers are silken bonds which bind our hearts to God. When a man's prayers are answered, love is the natural result. According to Alexander, both verbs may be translated in the present, and the text may run thus, "I love because Jehovah hears my voice, my supplications." This also is true in the case of every pleading believer. Continual love flows out of daily answers to prayer.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. -- A Psalm of Thanksgiving in the Person of Christ. He is imagined by the prophet to have passed through the sorrows and afflictions of life. The atonement is passed. He has risen from the dead. He is on the right hand of the Majesty on High; and he proclaims to the whole world the mercies he experienced from God in the day of his incarnation, and the glories which he has received in the kingdom of his Heavenly Father. Yet, although the Psalm possesses this power, and, by its own internal evidence, proves the soundness of the interpretation, it is yet highly mystic in its mode of disclosure, and requires careful meditation in bringing out its real results. Its language, too, is not so exclusively appropriate to the Messiah, that it shall not be repeated and applied by the believer to his own trials in the world; so that while there is much that finds a ready parallel in the exaltation of Christ in heaven, there is much that would seem to be restrained to his condition upon earth. It therefore depends much on the mind of the individual, whether he will receive it in the higher sense of the Redeemer's glory; or restrict it solely to a thanksgiving for blessings amidst those sufferings in life to which all men have been subject in the same manner, though not to the same extent as Jesus. The most perfect and the most profitable reading would combine the two, taking Christ as the exemplar of God's mercies towards ourselves.
- (Ps 116:
- Enthroned in eternity, and triumphant over sin and death -- I -- Christ -- am well pleased that my Heavenly Father listened to the anxious prayers that I made to him in the day of my sorrows; when I had neither strength in my own mind, nor assistance from men; therefore "through my days" -- through the endless ages of my eternal existence -- will I call upon him in my gratitude, and praise him with my whole heart.
< li 1:1 116:3 ) In the troublous times of my incarnation I was encircled with snares, and urged onwards towards my death. The priest and ruler; the Pharisee and the scribe; the rich and the poor, clamoured fiercely for my destruction. The whole nation conspired against me. "The bands of the grave" laid hold of me, and I was hurried to the cross.
< li 1:1 116:4 ) Then, truly did Christ find heaviness and affliction. "His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." He prayed anxiously to his Heavenly Father, that "the cup might pass from him." The fate of the whole world was in the balance; and he supplicated with agony, that his soul might be delivered.
< li 1:1 116:5 ) The abrupt breaking off in this verse from the direct narrative of his own sorrows is wonderfully grand and beautiful. Nor less so, is the expression "our God" as applied by Christ to his own disciples and believers. "I called," he states, "on the name of the LORD." But he does not yet state the answer. He leaves that to be inferred from the assurance that God is ever gracious to the faithful; yea, "our God" -- the protector of the Christian church, as well as of myself -- "our God is merciful."
< li 1:1 116:6 ) Instantly, however, he resumes. Mark the energy of the language, "I was afflicted; and he delivered me." And how delivered? The soul of Christ hast returned freely to its tranquillity; for though the body and the frame perished on the tree, yet the soul burst through the bands of death. Again in the full stature of a perfect man Christ rose resplendent in glory to the mansions of eternity. The tears ceased: the sorrows were hushed; and henceforward, through the boundless day of immortality, doth lie "walk before Jehovah, in the land of the living." This last is one of those expressions in the Psalm which might, without reflection, seem adapted to the rescued believer's state on earth, rather than Christ's in heaven. But applying the language of earthly things to heavenly -- which is usual, even in the most mystic writings of Scripture -- nothing can be finer than the appellation of "the land of the living," when assigned to the future residence of the soul. It is the noblest application of the metaphor, and is singularly appropriate to those eternal mansions where death and sorrow are alike unknown.
I felt confidence, although I said, "I am sore afflicted." I said in my sudden terror, -- "All mankind are false." French.
It alludes to the eve of his crucifixion, when worn down with long watchfulness and fasting, his spirit almost fainted in the agony of Gethsemane. Still, oppressed and stricken as he was in soul, he yet trusted in Jehovah, for he felt assured that he would not forsake him. But, sustained by God, he was deserted by men, the disciples with whom he had lived; the multitudes whom he had taught; the afflicted whom he had healed, "all forsook him and fled." Not one -- not even the "disciple whom he loved" -- remained; and in the anguish of that desertion he could not refrain from the bitter thought, that all mankind were alike false and treacherous.
- 116:12 ) But that dread hour has passed. He has risen from the dead; and stands girt with truth and holiness and glory. What then is his earliest thought? Hear it, O man, and blush for thine oft ingratitude! I will lift up "the cup of deliverance" -- the drink offering made to God with sacrifice after any signal mercies received -- and bless the Lord who has been thus gracious to me. In the sight of the whole world will I pay my past vows unto Jehovah, and bring nations from every portion of the earth, reconciled and holy through the blood of my atonement.
The language in these verses, as in the concluding part of the Psalm, is wholly drawn from earthly objects and modes of religious service, well recognized by the Jews. It is in these things that the spiritual sense is required to be separated from the external emblem. For instance, the sacramental cup was without a doubt drawn and instituted from the cup used in commemoration of deliverances by the Jews. It is used figuratively by Christ in heaven; but the reflective mind can scarcely fail to see the beauty of imagining it in his hand in thankfulness for his triumph, because "he has burst his bonds in sunder": the bonds which held him fast in death, and confined him to the tomb: the assertion that "precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints" specially includes the sacrifice of Christ within its more general allusion to the blood shed, in such abundance, by prophets and martyrs to the truth. In the same manner the worship of Jehovah in the courts of his temple at Jerusalem is used in figure for the open promulgation of Christianity to the whole world. The temple services were the most solemn and most public which were offered by the Jews; and when Christ is said to "offer his sacrifices of thanksgiving" to God in the sight of all his people, the figure is easily separated from the grosser element; and the conversion of all people intimated under the form of Christ seen by all. William Hill Tucker.
Verse 1. I love. The expression of the prophet's affection is in this short abrupt phrase, "I love," which is but one word in the original, and expressed as a full and entire sentence in itself, thus -- I love because the Lord hath heard, etc. Most translators so turn it, as if, by a trajection, or passing of a word from one sentence to another, this title Lord were to be joined with the first clause, thus -- (hwhy [mfy yk ytbha), "I love the LORD, because he hath heard," etc. I deny not but that thus the sense is made somewhat the more perspicuous, and the words run the more roundly; yet are they not altogether so emphatic. For when a man's heart is inflamed, and his soul lavished with a deep apprehension of some great and extraordinary favour, his affection will cause interruption in the expression thereof, and make stops in his speech; and therefore this concise and abrupt clause, "I love," declareth a more entire and ardent affection than a more full and round phrase would do. Great is the force of true love, so that it cannot be sufficiently expressed. William Gouge, 1575-1653.
Verse 1. I love the LORD. Oh that there were such hearts in us that we could every one say, as David, with David's spirit, upon his evidence, "I love the LORD"; that were more worth than all these, viz.; First, to know all secrets. Secondly, to prophesy. Thirdly, to move mountains, etc., 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 , etc. "I love the LORD"; it is more than I know the Lord; for even castaways are enlightened, ( Hebrews 6:4 ); more than I fear the Lord, for devils fear him unto trembling ( James 2:19 ); more than I pray to God ( Isaiah 1:15 ). What should I say? More than all services, than all virtues separate from charity: truly say the schools, charity is the form of all virtues, because it forms them all to acceptability, for nothing is accepted but what issues from charity, or, in other words, from the love of God. William Slater, 1638.
Verse 1. I love the LORD, because, etc. How vain and foolish is the talk, "To love God for his benefits towards 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. Adam Clarke.
Verse 1. He hath heard my voice. But is this such a benefit to us, that God hears us? Is his hearing our voice such an argument of his love? Alas! he may hear us, and we be never the better: he may hear our voice, and yet his love to us may be but little, for who will not give a man the hearing, though he love him not at all? With men perhaps it may be so, but not with God; for his hearing is not only voluntary, but reserved; non omnibus dormit: his ears are not open to every one's cry; indeed, to hear us, is in God so great a favour, that he may well be counted his favourite whom he vouchsafes to hear: and the rather, for that his hearing is always operative, and with a purpose of helping; so that if he hear my voice, I may be sure he means to grant my supplication; or rather perhaps in David's manner of expressing, and in God's manner of proceeding, to hear my voice is no less in effect than to grant my supplication. Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 1. Hath heard. By hearing prayer God giveth evidence of the notice which he taketh of our estates, of the respect he beareth to our persons, of the pity he hath of our miseries, of his purpose to supply our wants, and of his mind to do us good according to our needs. William Gouge.
Verse 1-2. The first [mfy is more of an aorist. The Lord hears always; and then, making a distinction ygwa hjh. He has done it hitherto: adqa Therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live, cleaving to Him in love and faith! It should be noticed, in addition, that adq here is not simply the prayer for help, but includes also the praising and thanksgiving, according to the twofold signification of hwhy ~fk arq, in Psalms 116:4 Psalms 116:13 Psalms 116:17 ; therefore, Jarchi very excellently says: In the time of my distress I will call upon Him, and in the time of my deliverance l will praise Him. Rudolph Stier.
Verse 1-2. I love. Therefore will I call upon him. It is love that doth open our mouths, that we may praise God with joyful lips: "I will love the Lord because he hath heard the voice of my supplications"; and then, Psalms 116:2 , "I will call upon him as long as I live." The proper intent of mercies is to draw us to God. When the heart is full of a sense of the goodness of the Lord, the tongue cannot hold its peace. Self love may lead us to prayers, but love to God excites us to praises: therefore to seek and not to praise, is to be lovers of ourselves rather than of God. Thomas Manton.
Verse 1, 12. I love. What shall I render? Love and thankfulness are like the symbolical qualities of the elements, easily resolved into each other. David begins with, "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice"; and to enkindle this grace into a greater flame, he records the mercies of God in some following verses; which done, then he is in the right mood for praise; and cries, "What shall I render unto the Loud for all his benefits?" The spouse, when thoroughly awake, pondering with herself what a friend had been at her door, and how his sweet company was lost through her unkindness, shakes off her sloth, riseth, and away she goes after him; now, when by running after her beloved, she hath put her soul into a heat of love, she breaks out in praising him from top to toe. Song of Solomon 5:10 . That is the acceptable praising which comes from a warm heart; and the saint must use some holy exercise to stir up his habit of love, which like natural heat in the body, is preserved and increased by motion. William Gumall.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- Present -- "I love."
- Past -- "He hath."
- Future -- "I will."
Verse 1-2. Personal experience in reference to prayer.
- We have prayed, often, constantly, in different ways, etc.
- We have been heard. A grateful retrospect of usual answers and of special answers.
- Love to God has thus been promoted.
- Our sense of the value of prayer has become so intense that we cannot cease praying.
Verse 1-2,. 9. If you cast your eyes on the first verse of the Psalm, you find a profession of love -- I love the Lord; if on the second, a promise of prayer -- I will call on the Lord; if on the ninth, a resolve of walking -- I will walk before the LORD. There are three things should be the object of a saint's care, the devotion of the soul, profession of the mouth, and conversation of the life: that is the sweetest melody in God's ears, when not only the voice sings, but the heartstrings keep tune, and the hand keepeth time. Nathanael Hardy.