Psalm 116 – Paying the Vow of Gratitude
As another one of the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118), sung by Jesus with His disciples on the night of His betrayal and arrest (Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26), we can say with G. Campbell Morgan: “Whatever the local circumstances which gave rise to this song, it is evident that all its rich meaning was fulfilled, when in the midst of that little company of perplexed souls, the shadows of the One Death already on Him, Jesus sang this song of prophetic triumph over the sharpness of the hour of passion to which He was passing. He has made it over to all His own as their triumph song over death.”
A. A life rescued.
1. (1-2) Loving the LORD who answers prayer.
I love the LORD, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.
a. I love the LORD, because He has heard my voice: The psalmist began his song with the most simple expression of grateful love. He had a great love for Yahweh because He answered prayer in a desperate season.
i. “How vain and foolish is the talk, ‘To love God for his benefits to 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.” (Clarke)
ii. “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.” (Spurgeon)
b. I will call upon Him as long as I live: The singer vowed to never call upon any other supposed deity. His allegiance, love, and prayer would always be to the One who inclined His ear to me.
i. “It is a resolve to trust God exclusively…and worship him explicitly.” (Kidner)
2. (3-4) Prayer from one in the pains of death.
The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
a. The pains of death surrounded me: In the painful grip of death, the psalmist knew nothing but trouble and sorrow. This death crisis may have come from sickness, injury, or persecution.
i. Pains of death…pangs of Sheol: “In Old Testament poetry death and Sheol are aggressive, clutching at the living to waste them with sickness or crush them with despondency; so the singer’s plight may equally have been a desperate illness or (as verse 11 suggests) a wounding and disillusioning experience. Like Job’s, it could well have been both together.” (Kidner)
ii. Many centuries later Peter used the phrase the pains of death to describe the peril from which God the Father delivered Jesus Christ through His resurrection (Acts 2:24). It adds a powerful prophetic and messianic meaning to the psalm, since this was one of the psalms Jesus would have sung with His disciples at the last supper (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26).
iii. Perhaps while singing this phrase Jesus considered the linen windings that would soon be wrapped around His dead body. “…the cables or cords of death; alluding to their bonds and fetters during their captivity; or to the cords by which a criminal is bound who is about to be led out to execution; or to the bandages in which the dead were enveloped, when head, arms, body, and limbs were all laced down together.” (Clarke)
b. Then I called upon the name of the LORD: In his deadly danger, the psalmist cried out to God in light of of all He is and represents (the name of the LORD). His cry was:
· Delivered straight to God: O LORD.
· Deeply felt: I implore You.
· Directly stating the need: Deliver my soul.
i. “This form of petition is short, comprehensive, to the point, humble, and earnest. It were well if all our prayers were moulded upon this model; perhaps they would be if we were in similar circumstances to those of the Psalmist, for real trouble produces real prayer.” (Spurgeon)
3. (5-7) Praising the God who preserves us.
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
Yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
a. Gracious is the LORD, and righteous: In light of his deliverance through answered prayer, the psalmist praised the gracious, righteous, and merciful character of God.
i. Before His obedient surrender to the ordeal of His suffering and crucifixion, Jesus sang these words with His disciples (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26). He testified to the truth that God was gracious, righteous, and merciful before, during, and after His ordeal.
b. The LORD preserves the simple: In humility, the psalmist counted himself as one who did not exalt himself above others and who might be considered simple. He didn’t have to exalt himself, because when he was brought low, God brought His salvation.
i. “The simple; sincere and plain-hearted persons, who dare not use those frauds and crafty and wicked artifices in saving themselves or destroying their enemies, but wait upon God with honest hearts in his way and for his time of deliverance. Such persons he calls simple or foolish, as this word is commonly rendered, not because they are really so, but because the world esteems them so.” (Poole)
ii. The simple: “It is humble of the psalmist to identify with them; it is humble of God to have time for them.” (Kidner)
iii. In its messianic aspect, we consider these words sung and spoken by Jesus among His disciples. He was far from a simple man, but was considered so by the proud and arrogant religious hierarchy, who despised His lack of formal credentials and training.
iv. “Not only is God gracious, he is also gracious to the little people, to the plain, to commoners, to the everyday person on the bus or in the shop – to people like the psalmist. That is one of the great glories of our God. When Jesus called his disciples, he called fishermen and tax collectors. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they appeared to shepherds.” (Boice)
v. He saved me: “The knowledge that David had of God’s goodness was experiential…. A carnal man knoweth God’s excellencies and will revealed in his word only, as we know far countries by maps; but an experienced Christian, as one that hath himself been long there.” (Trapp)
vi. “Happy the man who, like the psalmist, can give confirmation from his own experience to the broad truths of God’s protection to ingenuous and guileless souls!” (Maclaren)
c. Return to your rest, O my soul: For a season, the death-like crisis had troubled the soul of the psalmist. Now he could reflect on how God had dealt bountifully with him, and he had come back to a previous standing of rest. There is true rest for our soul in God’s bounty.
i. “The word ‘rest’ is put in the plural, as indicating complete and entire rest, at all times, and under all circumstances.” (Edersheim, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “Oh, learn this holy art; acquaint thyself with God, acquiesce in him, and be at peace; so shall good be done unto thee.” (Trapp)
iii. “Whenever a child of God even for a moment loses his peace of mind, he should be concerned to find it again, not by seeking it in the world or in his own experience, but in the Lord alone.” (Spurgeon)
4. (8-11) The testimony of the one delivered.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
And my feet from falling.
I will walk before the LORD
In the land of the living.
I believed, therefore I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
I said in my haste,
“All men are liars.”
a. You have delivered my soul from death: The crisis was deep, even unto death. The deliverance was great, bringing comfort to tearful eyes and strength to falling feet. This powerful praise matched the greatness of the deliverance.
i. “He is recalling the agitation which shook him, but feels that, through it all, there was an unshaken centre of rest in God. The presence of doubt and fear does not prove the absence of trust.” (Maclaren)
ii. Once again we are moved by the thought that Jesus sang these words with His disciples on the night of His betrayal and arrest. Knowing all the suffering set before Him, Jesus sang with confidence of deliverance from His coming death, His coming tears, and falling under the weight of the cross soon to come.
b. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living: These were the grateful words of the psalmist after his deliverance. They were also the confident words, sung in faith, by Jesus before every agony of the coming cross. He could go to the cross with full confidence that having been rescued from falling feet, He would once again walk in the land of the living.
i. “To walk before the Lord, like the New Testament expression to ‘walk in the light’, is both demanding and reassuring, since…one is wholly exposed but wholly befriended.” (Kidner)
ii. “By a man’s walk is understood his way of life: some men live only as in the sight of their fellow men, having regard to human judgment and opinion; but the truly gracious man considers the presence of God, and acts under the influence of his all-observing eye.” (Spurgeon)
c. I believed, therefore I spoke: Full of faith, the psalmist trusted God in the depth of his distress. He was a shadowy preview of the greatest faith, demonstrated by Jesus among His disciples before the cross.
i. The Apostle Paul took this line (I believed, therefore I spoke) and applied the principle to his own times of trusting God and speaking from the experience of that trust, even in trying times (2 Corinthians 4:13-14).
ii. “Paul quotes the Septuagint form of the verse: ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ (2 Cor. 4:13), which is stronger than our Hebrew text. But the latter agrees in making faith the underlying attitude of the speaker, even though it is faith hard-pressed.” (Kidner)
iii. “Walter Kaiser remarks from Paul’s quotation of Psalm 116:10 in 2 Corinthians 4:13 that it was the same Holy Spirit who worked in the psalmist, Paul, and all other Christians to believe.” (VanGemeren)
d. All men are liars: The bitter experience of the psalmist made this seem like a logical statement, but that was a hasty conclusion. Though forsaken by all His disciples (and partners in song), Jesus would not come to this hasty conclusion.
i. There is one way in which the statement is true, because “…all men will prove to be liars if we unduly trust in them; some from want of truthfulness, and others from want of power” (Spurgeon). Yet the phrasing makes it clear that the psalmist understood that he was wrong at this time in saying so. The judgment was too harsh in his present circumstances.
ii. I said in my haste: “Speaking in haste is generally followed by bitter repentance. It is much better to be quiet when our spirit is disturbed and hasty, for it is so much easier to say than to unsay; we may repent of our words, but we cannot so recall them as to undo the mischief they have done.” (Spurgeon)
B. A life of gratitude.
1. (12-14) Thankfully receiving and responding.
What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
Now in the presence of all His people.
a. What shall I render to the LORD? Gratitude drove the psalmist to consider what return he could make to the God who had so generously shared His benefits, making the psalmist like the one grateful leper among the ten Jesus healed (Luke 17:12-19).
i. The psalmist wisely considered why God had been so good to him instead of why he had problems at all. He knew that problems were common to all men, but the benefits often only belonged to those who trusted God.
ii. All His benefits: “His benefits are so many, so various, so minute, that they often escape our observation while they exactly meet our wants.” (Spurgeon)
b. I will take up the cup of salvation: Gratitude drove the psalmist to receive from God. Before we can do anything for Him, we begin by gratefully receiving.
i. “It is a profound insight: The only way we can repay God from whom everything comes is by taking even more from him.” (Boice)
ii. “We can do this figuratively at the sacramental table, we can do it spiritually every time we grasp the golden chalice of the covenant, realizing the fulness of blessing which it contains, and by faith receiving its divine contents into our inmost soul.” (Spurgeon)
iii. There is a connection between the phrases, I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD. “The cup of salvation is the cup of blessing, which is given to the soul. Let the soul take it and drink it, but let him remember that the very partaking is in itself of the nature of a pledge of loyalty; it is the oath of allegiance in which he calls upon the Name of Jehovah.” (Morgan)
iv. We continue to marvel at how significant it is that Jesus sang these words on the night of His betrayal and arrest, having instituted the cup of salvation under the New Covenant with His apostles (Luke 22:20). Jesus received that cup of salvation from His Father and gave it unto His people.
v. “Within a very little while after this singing, He, in Gethsemane, spoke of a cup, and in complete surrender to His Father’s will, consented to drink it. That was the cup of sorrows, of bitterness, of cursing. Having emptied it, He filled it with joy, with sweetness, with blessing. When we take that cup let us never forget the cost at which He so filled it for us.” (Morgan)
c. I will pay my vows to the LORD now in the presence of all His people: The singer publically declared – perhaps in a sacrificial ritual of gratitude at the temple’s altar – God’s greatness and faithfulness. He would complete what he had determined to do before God.
i. “He presently resolveth to make the only return in his power, namely, to acknowledge and declare before men the goodness of Jehovah, ascribing all the glory where it is all due.” (Horne)
ii. “This word ‘pay’ importeth that vows lawfully made are due debt; and debt, till paid, is a disquieting thing to an honest mind.” (Trapp)
iii. How moving it was for Jesus to sing these words, when He Himself was about to become that sacrifice!
iv. “Foxe, in his Acts and Monuments, relates the following concerning the martyr, John Philpot: He went with the sheriffs to the place of execution…coming into Smithfield, he kneeled down there, saying these words, ‘I will pay my vows in thee, O Smithfield.’” (Spurgeon)
2. (15-17) A life gratefully pledged.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His saints.
O LORD, truly I am Your servant;
I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant;
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the LORD.
a. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints: This psalm celebrates the deliverance from death, but the singer knew that death is still a reality for every one of God’s saints. When that day comes, God holds the death of His people as a precious thing.
i. “The more usual form of expression for the idea in Psalms 116:15 is ‘their blood is precious’. [Psalm 72:14] The meaning is that the death of God’s saints is no trivial thing in God’s eyes, to be lightly permitted.” (Maclaren)
ii. “God is particularly close to his people when they stand at death’s door. God watches over his people when they are sick or dying, coming close to them and making his presence known so that they have comfort in death’s hour. He also frequently intervenes and does not allow them to perish. In either case, the Lord does what is best.” (Boice)
iii. God regards the death of His martyrs as especially precious. “Though they have been cast to the beasts in the amphitheatre, or dragged to death by wild horses, or murdered in dungeons, or slaughtered amongst the snows of the Alps, or made to fatten Smithfield with their gore, precious has their blood been, and still is it in his sight.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Though death is a curse and an enemy, it is still precious because it removes the remaining barriers between God and His saints, and is the doorway to an eternity of perfect fellowship. “Death to the saints is not a penalty, it is not destruction, it is not even a loss.” (Spurgeon)
v. “When Baxter lay a dying, and his friends came to see him, almost the last word he said was in answer to the question, ‘Dear Mr. Baxter, how are you?’ ‘Almost well,’ said he, and so it is. Death cures; it is the best medicine, for they who die are not only almost well, but healed for ever.” (Spurgeon)
vi. As Jesus sang these words with His disciples on the night before His own death (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26), the words were powerful and prophetic. Jesus was the ultimate holy one and His death precious beyond all reckoning.
b. O LORD, truly I am Your servant: The singer dedicated himself to God’s service on the basis of loosed bonds. Set free by God’s great work, both honor and gratitude led him to forever be Yahweh’s servant.
i. Adam Clarke saw here the words of a bondservant, as in Exodus 21:5-6: “I am a servant, son of thy servant, made free by thy kindness; but, refusing to go out, I have had my ear bored to thy door-post, and am to continue by free choice in thy house for ever.”
ii. The son of Your maidservant: “Bless God for the privilege of being the children of godly parents. Better be the child of a godly than of a wealthy parent. I hope none of you are of so vile a spirit as to contemn your parents because of their piety.” (Manton, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. The son of Your maidservant: “Alas, there are many who are the sons of the Lord’s handmaids, but they are not themselves his servants. They give sad proof that grace does not run in the blood.” (Spurgeon)
c. I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving: Once again (before in verse 14) we find ourselves at the altar of sacrifice with the singer. He was happy and duty-bound to proclaim his gratitude to God and to call upon Him alone.
3. (18-19) Vows gratefully paid.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
Now in the presence of all His people,
In the courts of the LORD’s house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
a. I will pay my vows to the LORD: The repetition of this phrase (before in verse 14) keeps us at the altar with a public sacrifice of thanksgiving. There, in the courts of the LORD’s house, the psalmist would proclaim his praise and gratitude toward God.
i. Now in the presence of all His people: “Once more the lonely suppliant, who had waded such deep waters without companion but Jehovah, seeks to feel himself one of the glad multitude in the courts of the house of Jehovah, and to blend his single voice in the shout of a nation’s praise. We suffer and struggle for the most part alone. Grief is a hermit, but Joy is sociable; and thankfulness desires listeners to its praise.” (Maclaren)
b. Praise the LORD: The psalm ends with Hallelujah, both as a declaration of personal praise and a call to God’s people to join with the proclamation.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org