"I Will Praise You, for You Have Answered Me, and Have Become My Salvation" January 18-19
Psalm 116 is a song of thanksgiving to God for deliverance from "the pains of death...the pains of Sheol [the grave]" (verse 3). The circumstances of its original composition are unknown. In similar language to that of some of David's psalms, the author here speaks of personal rescue by God from some severe life-threatening situation. However, the "I" in the song eventually came to represent all of Israel, being sung on the occasion of Passover-the second of those psalms sung after the traditional Jewish meal, as explained in previous comments. In that sense, the song came to be seen as celebrating deliverance from Egyptian bondage (compare verse 16).
Interestingly, in Jewish interpretation every follower of God is to view himself as having been personally delivered from Egypt, making the "I" in the song all the more fitting for that occasion. We could say the same in a spiritual sense for those who make up God's Church-as Egypt represents the evil world we live in and its sin leading to death. In any case, the song certainly has application to all of God's saints (verse 15)-His holy ones-even today. And it particularly applies to the quintessential saint-the One who offered Himself up in sacrifice on Passover as the true Passover sacrifice-Jesus the Messiah. Jesus Himself was miraculously saved more than once from attempts against His life-until it was time for Him to make the supreme sacrifice and die. Yet even after He died, God the Father nevertheless rescued Him from death by resurrecting Him to eternal life. Just the same, God will often intervene throughout the physical lives of His people to keep them from untimely death. But should He choose to allow them to die before they have reached old age-or even if they do reach old age and die naturally-He will ultimately rescue them later through the future resurrection.
Looking at some of the specifics of the psalm, verse 6 says that God preserves the "simple." Whereas this word often means naïve, here it could probably better be translated "innocent, clean, or untarnished" (The Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 6). Perhaps the person intended is uncomplicated in manner of thought because he is not trying to spin and maintain a web of deceit. The NIV translates the word in this instance as "simplehearted," which could imply "those who are childlike in their sense of dependence on and trust in the Lord" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on verse 6).
Having been rescued from death's clutches (verses 3-6, 8), the psalmist is able to find rest and peace of mind (verse 7). He knows that he "will walk before the LORD in the land of the living" (verse 9)-similar to words used elsewhere by David (Psalm 27:13; Psalm 56:13). Indeed, it appears that the psalmist believed in this outcome even during his ordeal, as his next words, "I believed, therefore I spoke" (verse 10a), are probably to be linked with the statement in verse 9 (contrary to the NKJV punctuation). "The belief in v. 10 is the hope, articulated in v. 9, that the psalmist would walk in the land of the living" (Nelson, note on verses 9-10). This interpretation we may surmise from the apostle Paul's quotation of the first part of verse 10 in 2 Corinthians 4 as a profession of faith, explaining why he risked his life preaching the gospel (see verses 7-14). Note Paul's words in verses 13-14: "And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I believed and therefore I spoke,' we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you." Paul in this statement may imply that the psalmist himself had faith not only in being presently rescued, but ultimately even in the future resurrection of the dead.
The latter part of Psalm 116:10 should probably not be within the quotation of what the psalmist had earlier spoken. Rather, it is likely just a statement of fact, as Green's Literal Translation presents it: "I was greatly afflicted." In verse 11, the word rendered "haste" could be interpreted "dismay" (NIV) or "alarm" (Green's). And the despairing statement that "all men are liars" could mean that all are "vain" or "unreliable" (see Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 10-11)-in contrast to God, who is always true and trustworthy, the only one who can be absolutely counted on to come through on His promises.
In verse 12, the psalmist considers what he will give to God for the good that God has done for Him. Of course, none of us could ever repay God for the blessings He has given us. That is not the point. Rather, our obligation to our Maker and Savior is to do all that He requires of us-to give to Him what He expects of us-to submit our lives wholly to His will. This is the context to bear in mind for the rest of the psalm.
The first thing the psalmist answers with is that He will "take up the cup of salvation" (verse 13a). Some see here a drink offering (compare Numbers 28:7). However, it appears that the psalmist is taking up this particular cup to drink from it himself rather than pouring it out as a drink offering. The figure of the "cup" occurs elsewhere in the Psalms as signifying one's lot in life-what has been apportioned to him (see 16:5). In 23:5, as part of dining at the Lord's banquet, the cup is shown to be running over with blessings. Here in Psalm 116 it offers salvation. The meaning, then, would seem to be that the psalmist will embrace this salvation that God has apportioned to him. As his duty to God, he will accept God's offer of eternal life and blessing along with all the terms that accompany it.
There may be more to the imagery here as well. Some view the "sacrifice of thanksgiving" in verse 17 to mean a thank offering-a special peace offering-and see the cup as "the cup of wine drunk at the festal meal that climaxed a thank offering (cf. 22:26, 29; Lev 7:11-21)-called [it is presumed in this case] the 'cup of salvation' because the thank offering and its meal celebrated deliverance by the Lord" (Zondervan, note on Psalm 116:13).
Furthermore, recall that this psalm became associated with the Passover-and consider that this verse may have given the psalm its special place in the Jewish liturgy of the evening. As The Nelson Study Bible comments: "At Passover this psalm is read after the meal, immediately following the third cup of wine, called the cup of salvation. How appropriate that this Passover psalm would call to mind God's cup of salvation the very night that the Savior was betrayed (Matt. 26:27; Luke 22:14-22)" (note on Psalm 116:12-13). We do not eat a meal as part of the Passover service today, recognizing that Jesus implemented new symbolism. But the truths expressed in these psalms readily correspond to the spiritual meaning of this sacred memorial of Christ's death. The psalmist's sufferings certainly prefigured those of Jesus. And there may well be a relation between the cup of salvation here and the cup of the New Covenant that Jesus instituted at the Passover. Indeed, all of God's people must accept the redemption and salvation that comes through it.
Hearkening back to his question of verse 12, concerning what he will render to God, the psalmist next answers that he will call on the name of the Lord (verse 13b). That is, he will look to God as his source of help-as his God. Next he says he will pay his vows to God (verse 14)-honor the promises and commitments he has made-in the presence of all God's people, as a witness and example.
The psalm then makes what may seem a strange, non-sequitur statement in verse 15: "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints." Some think the word for "precious" here should be translated "costly"-meaning that God takes it as a heavy loss-so that He does not readily allow it. Yet God does not lose His faithful saints. Those who die are preserved for His Kingdom, and for Him the time passes quickly. So how are we to understand the verse? The Zondervan Student Bible comments: "This verse, often read at funerals, in no way implies that God enjoys the death of his people. Instead, it means that he carefully watches over their death, and that it matters deeply to him" (note on verse 15). While true, this does not explain how the verse fits here. Indeed, if the psalmist were glad of God rescuing him from death, why is he saying this at all?
Recall the context of verse 12: "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?" Immediately after saying he will render the paying of his vows in verse 14, we find this statement in verse 15 that God considers the death of His saints to be precious or valuable. In context, it too is something rendered to God. The point would seem to be that the giving of ourselves wholly to God-unto death if necessary-is highly valued in His sight. After all, in such death God does not lose His servant. Just the opposite, it is a moment of immense gain. For when saints die their salvation is assured-surely a very precious thing in God's sight, as in their next conscious moment they will be immortal spirit members of His family, faithful through all eternity to come. Even though God has rescued him, the psalmist knows that God could still require the sacrifice of his life-which he is willing to give, knowing that God will resurrect him in the future. Here, of course, is a very strong parallel with Jesus Christ, who willingly submitted to the sacrificial death God required of Him in anticipation of life with the Father yet to come.
Following on in the listing of what he will give to God, the psalmist next commits himself to being God's humble servant. Interestingly he points out in this context that God has loosed his bonds. God has released him from death's grip not to wild abandon, but to freely and fully serving the true God. Israel shared this responsibility in the Exodus and throughout its national history. And Christians have likewise been freed from their sinful past to obey God from now on (compare Romans 6:15-22).
The psalmist next declares that he will offer the "sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Psalm 116:17). As mentioned above, this could refer to the giving of a special thank offering (Leviticus 7:12). Yet it could more generally apply to simply thanking and praising God, at least in a figurative sense. We should be extremely grateful for all that God has done for us and express our gratitude to Him regularly and often when we call on Him in prayer.
Throughout this section, we see a loving relationship in action. God loves the writer, providing him with many blessings, including instruction on his obligations to his Creator. The author loves God, responding with a willing heart eager to fulfill his responsibilities in living according to God's Word. In the briefest of terms, God commands and man obeys. But there is more-a loving relationship exists, as illustrated throughout the psalms. The New Testament further develops this relational aspect of mutual love between the Father and the believing son or daughter.
Verse 18 may be only a reiteration of verse 14. Yet it could well be more than that, signifying that the psalm itself, in its composition and later actual performance in the temple (compare verse 19), is a fulfillment of paying vows made to God. On a prophetic level, the wording may also foreshadow Jesus' offering of Himself in Jerusalem as the true Passover sacrifice-and the witness and example given to His followers.