Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 116

What shall I render unto the LORD?

This question is the very personal response of the heart of the saint to the LORD’s redemptive blessing in their lives. It is not asked out of duty, but out of love, and this opening declaration sets the tone for the whole psalm. 

I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications: because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live … Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.’ (v1,2,5)

The reasons given are that the Lord has heard and answered prayer, but ultimately it is because ‘God is merciful’. As we mentioned previously, OT mercy is a very broad concept that includes compassion and loving kindness, and so John can write in a similar vein:

‘we love Him, because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19)

Delivered from Death

The first part of the psalm looks back to a time when ‘The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow’ (v2), and the theme of death runs through the psalm.

Examples could be given of those, such as Peter, who faced such situations of almost certain death and who called ‘upon the name of the LORD’ with a desperate plea – ‘Lord, save me’ (Mt 14:30) – similar to the psalmist’s ‘O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul’ (v4). These could then give testimony to the LORD that ‘thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling’ (v8).

In response to this salvation, the psalmist speaks both to himself and to the LORD. He charges his soul, to ‘return unto thy rest’ (v7). Then he vows to the LORD, that he will ‘walk before the LORD in the land of the living’ (v9).

We will come back to this response shortly, but first there’s one further thought of death we need to consider.

‘Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints’ (v15)

This verse explains the reason why the psalmist was delivered from death. It is that the LORD values ‘His saints’ such that He will not look upon their ‘death’ with a trivial indifference. He values them because they are ‘His saints’ – representatives of His holy character in a wicked, sinful and rebellious world. This leads to the question: how do we represent His holiness?

Delivered from out of Death

As we consider again our Saviour singing this psalm on the night He was betrayed, we marvel once more. To think that the LORD so often stepped in to deliver ‘His saints’ from death, yet when it came to His Son, He was to go on into death. Yet, this psalm still must have been precious to the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, He could associate with the sentiment, for He knew His prayer was heard and He would be delivered – not from death, but ‘from out of death’, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear. I wonder if the writer had this psalm in mind.

‘when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from (out of) death, and was heard in that he feared’ (Hebrews 5:7)

It is interesting that the word ‘saints’ in verse 15, mentioned above, is also used in Psalm 16:10, though in the singular and translated ‘Holy One’, in a prophesy of Christ’s resurrection.

‘For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’

And if ‘the death of His saints’ is costly to the LORD, how much more the death of His Holy One? 

Personal Charge

‘The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.’ (116:6)

In view of this verse, and the above truths, why should we worry about the troubling times we face? There is no need, and yet we do … so often. 

But in this case, after the psalmist has once again experienced the LORD’s deliverance, he gives himself a good talking to: ‘Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee’ (v7).

The ‘rest’ used here is in the plural form, which indicates a fullness or abundance of rest. It only occurs 3 times in our OT: here in Psa 116; in Isa 32:18 referring to Millenial rest; and in Psa 23:2 which is more relevant to our present psalm.

‘He leads me beside restful waters’ 

Like in so many aspects of our spiritual lives, we see in these two psalms both divine and human action at work. The LORD our Shepherd will lead us to restful waters – this we can be sure of – but we as His sheep, tend to wander astray from these restful waters. Though our Shepherd will not allow us to wander out of the fold, if we are to enjoy the constant benefit of this rest, we must ‘return’ close to the waters, and to Christ Himself.

Spiritual Pledge

Now that we are once again enjoying the spiritual blessedness of divine rest, our thoughts turn to serving our LORD, and the psalmist concludes with five ‘I will’ statements:

‘I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living (v9). I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD (v13). I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD (v17). I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people (v14,18)’.

1) This brush with death has made the psalmist re-evaluate, and he makes the pledge that the rest of his life will be lived for the Lord and His glory.

‘Only one life, ‘twill soon be past! Only what’s done for Christ will last!’ [C.T.Studd]

2) It’s difficult to know what ‘the cup of salvation’refers to, but many think it a reference to the drink offering that would be poured out upon the sacrifice (Lev 23:13). 

This typifies a life fully given over to the Lord, and fits well with our previous point. That emphasised a life lived for Christ. This a life given wholly to Christ, until the last breath, as Paul would exemplify: ‘I am now ready to be offered’ (2 Tim 4:6).

I like Plumer’s suggestion, quoting Morison, that these spiritual pledges of thankful response work from the inside out; “from the closet (v9,13) … to the family altar (v13,14) and thence … to the sanctuary of the Most High (v17,18)”.

3) And so we come to the temple, and in the presence of all the people, the psalmist would offer his ‘sacrifice of thanksgiving’. This is most likely referring to the peace offering (Lev 7:11,12) the most communal of the offering. 

‘And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’ (Col 3:15-17)

4 & 5) We conclude with the repeated phrase ‘I will pay my vow’ which identifies the indebtedness felt by the psalmist to the LORD. This debt would be repaid ‘in the presence of all His people’, and when we come to the NT, we find that it is through serving all people that we serve the Lord.

‘Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law’. (Roms 13:8)

And, ‘when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.’ (Luke 17:10)

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