Theme: The Individual before God
From this week’s lessons we see that Psalm 66 tells us to praise the Lord and gives us an example of one who is doing just that.
Scripture: Psalm 66:1-20
In the final two stanzas of the psalm (vv. 13-15 and 16-20) the joyful tumultuous praise of the nations, including the praise of Israel, fades away and the individual psalmist himself remains standing on the stage. Then he speaks two times, first to God, then a second time to anyone who may be listening.
The psalmist’s words to God (vv. 13-15). I mentioned earlier in this study that although the participants in the psalm shrink from the many peoples of the world to the single nation of Israel to the individual psalmist, the passion and intensity of the psalm actually grows. That is very clear in this stanza where the psalmist is going to bring a variety of sacrifices to God’s temple.
He says that these will be “burnt offerings” (v. 13). Burnt offerings were distinguished from fellowship offerings in that they were to be entirely consumed by fire on the altar while only parts of fellowship offerings were consumed. The other parts were eaten by the worshiper and his friends. Fellowship offerings were something like a religious party or even a barbecue held for religious reasons. By its very nature a burnt offering was more serious, signifying something like the complete dedication or consecration of himself to God by the worshiper. The psalmist is saying that what he intends to do is as serious as anything could possibly be.
He also lists the variety of animals he intends to offer, and they are rams, bulls and goats (v. 15). That is a lot of animals—two of each at least—and they would have been costly. So this is no casual rite that the writer is pursuing. As he says, he was in great trouble, he cried to God in his trouble, promising such offerings if he should be delivered. He was delivered, and now he intends to pay his vow. Moreover, all this is directed to God himself. Unlike most of us who make promises easily and then just as easily forget them, the psalmist intended to carry his religious resolutions and devotions through to the end.
The psalmist’s testimony (vv. 16-20). Having spoken to God of what he intends to do, the writer now turns to those who may be looking on and invites them to hear what God has done for him. In other words, he gives a testimony. He tells what God has done, how he heard his prayer and delivered him from trouble. Therefore, he concludes, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me (v. 20)!
John Bunyan did exactly what the psalmist is doing when he invited people to read his great spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. That classic testimony to God’s grace has as its motto or theme sentence verse 16 of this psalm: “Come and hear all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul” (KJV).
The psalm ends with a striking, redirected syllogism. Syllogisms have three parts: proposition “a,” proposition “b,” and a conclusion drawn from putting the two initial statements together. Here is an example: 1) All men are mortal; 2) Socrates was a man; 3) therefore, Socrates was mortal. Now notice the psalmist’s syllogism. The first proposition is in verse 18: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” That is a sound statement; it is exactly what is also affirmed in Isaiah 59:1, 2 (“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear”). The second proposition is seen in verse 19: “But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer” (v. 19). That is also a sound statement, the proof of which is the psalmist’s previous testimony. The very fact that he is present to testify and not dead is the evidence.
But now, what is the expected conclusion? 1) If I had sinned God would not have heard my prayers, but 2) he has heard my prayers. Therefore, what? Obviously: “I have not cherished sin in my heart.” Ah, but this is not the psalmist’s line of logic. Instead of reverting to himself with what would be a self-serving conclusion to his syllogism, he concludes instead: “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” In other words, he ends with God and God’s grace. Thomas Fuller, one of the older commentators on the psalms, noted this twist, saying, “David hath deceived, but not wronged me. I looked that he should have clapped the crown on his own, but he puts it on God’s head. I will learn this excellent logic; for I like David’s better than Aristotle’s syllogisms, and whatever the premises be, I make God’s glory the conclusion.”1
So should we all! For whatever our triumphs may be, they are always by the grace of God and we must always say “to God alone be glory.”
1Quoted by C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 126.
What was the difference between burnt offerings and fellowship offerings?
Why does the psalmist choose burnt offerings to demonstrate his devotion to God?
Why does he list the animals he will offer to God?
What is a syllogism? How is it used in our psalm? How did David conclude his syllogism and end the psalm?
Application: How can you, like the psalmist, focus on God’s grace and make his glory the conclusion of all we think and do?
For Further Study: To see another kind of sacrifice that the Christian is to offer to God, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from Romans 12, “Living Sacrifice, Its Nature.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)