James Boice says that “Psalm 65 is an extraordinary, exquisite poem about nature. But it is also predominately about the God of nature, who is gracious to man, powerful in his acts, and the source of all nature’s bounty—which is what we would expect of a song written by David, the great poet of Israel.”
The old hymn sums up this psalm very well:
We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land.
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine
And soft refreshing rain.
Psalm 65 is a psalm of thanksgiving and it is most appropriately referred to by many as a “Harvest Psalm.” It is a psalm that celebrates God’s grace, might and provision. Unlike many of the psalms attributed to David, this one contains no lament for mistreatment at the hands of others but rather celebrates that the great God who is often maligned will be honoured one day.
It would seem that the occasion was perhaps one of the harvest festivals prescribed for and observed by the people of Israel. Various suggestions have included Passover and Pentecost as well as the last harvest festival of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles. Though we cannot say for sure, there may be a hint in the opening verses lending credence to the latter suggestion. But regardless, it is clearly a psalm that celebrates God’s past and present goodness with an attendant anticipation of God’s future providential blessings as well.
The dominant theme seems to be God’s bountiful care for His people. Such a meditation will go a long way towards encouraging us as we face various challenges, including material ones, in our very broken world. “Beautiful and bountiful” is a good heading for this song.
It has been said that, of all of the psalms, this one excels in its beautiful description of God’s care for His creation. If you appropriately pay attention to it you cannot but be moved to joyful thanksgiving to our God who cares so well for us. And that is my goal in this study. May our study of these thirteen verses humble us by God’s grace, may it encourage us by His might, and may it make us thankful because of His providence.
The psalm is clearly divided into three sections: vv. 1–4, 5–8, and 9–13. We will study it accordingly.
Praise of our Atoning Gracious God
Verses 1–4 highlight the fact that God is our Redeemer, who deserved our praise.
Praise Awaiting, Preeminence Acknowledged
David begins, “Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion; and to You the vow shall be performed” (v. 1). The first clause is translated in some other versions as, “Praise is due to you” (ESV). Either translation may be correct, but both capture the same idea: The praise that is due to our God will be expressed to Him.
The picture perhaps is that of God’s people gathering at the prescribed harvest festival (see Leviticus 23) to praise God for the good and plenty that He has provided. They are saying, in effect, “We have gathered here in Your city (Zion) and we invite You to receive Your due.” They are in a mood to celebrate, and celebrate they will!
The “vow” that “shall be performed” is, of course, the thankful response to God’s kindness. The Jews were instructed that they could give a voluntary offering to God in response to gratitude to Him (Leviticus 27, etc.). Therefore, the “vows” often spoke of a renewal of God’s favour. This paints a beautiful picture of God’s people gathering at His house and invoking His presence to receive the honour that He is due. Is this not what we should be doing as we gather on the Lord’s Day?
We should be gathering as and with the temple (Ephesians 2:19) with a sense of heartfelt gratitude for God’s bountiful blessings. And our response should include “performing our vows” in the form of praise, expressions of thanksgiving, the exercise of our gifts in service to the temple, and the giving of financial gifts—our “tithes of the harvest”—to the Lord.
In v. 2 we see an anticipation of answered prayer: “O You who hear prayer, to You all flesh will come.”
The prayers answered, of course, were those related to the harvest. These worshippers understood that the harvest they were enjoying was solely because of the Lord who provided it. And apparently He provided plenty of it (v. 13).
What an important reminder for us—and especially for BBC at this time of the year. We have just come through another financial year in which we have experienced a harvest of blessings. Though at one level we of course should be grateful, and even commend the faithfulness of God’s people, yet fundamentally this is all due to God’s faithfulness.
This is why it is important that our mealtimes are worship times. Giving thanks is not some superstitious exercise to protect us from choking or from food poisoning! Rather, it is another opportunity to thank the Lord for the harvest He has supplied for our hungry bodies.
But there is another aspect that I believe is hinted at here. He writes, “To You all flesh will come.” This is not speaking of some type of salvific universalism but is highlighting that, one day, the temple would indeed be a place of prayer for all peoples. Of course, in Jesus Christ the Temple (John 2:19–22), this has come and is coming to pass.
As great as a physical harvest is, it is nothing compared to the spiritual harvest promised by and in Christ. Let us be thankful for the reaping that we are enjoying but let us pray and labour and believe God for a greater harvest to come (see John 4).
In vv. 3–4 we see that the psalmist’s praise is accepted: “Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions, You will provide atonement for them. Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, that he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple.”
There is one reason why these worshippers were empowered to give praise to God, and it had everything to do with God’s grace. They had good reason to believe that their thanksgiving vows would be accepted because of the amazing grace of God. We see this in two areas.
Assured because of God’s Atonement
First, they knew that their vows would be accepted because of God’s atonement (v. 3).
As these worshippers would gather they, like you and I, would be aware of their sin; they would sense their guilt. Leupold comments, “If praise is not to be offered superficially, a man must reckon with his sins. For he is a sinner, and his sins may interpose themselves between him and his God.”1 The inclusion of the word “atonement” is significant at this point in the psalm. They could rejoice that their sins were covered. The word here translated “atonement” is used only three times in the Psalms. Its presence here is indeed significant.
The word “atonement” connotes a covering. God has covered our sins by the substitutionary sacrifice of another. For the psalmist, it was the sacrifice of an animal; for us, it is Christ. And no doubt David, who penned this under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Samuel 23:1ff), knew this.
This truth of atonement significantly instructs us that the blessings that come from God have nothing to do with our merit. We are sinners before holy God; yet He is the one who has provided the way for us to approach Him. Our gratitude to God—for any and all blessings—must be rooted and grounded in the acknowledgement of His grace.
So, when we express our gratitude to God and our conscience condemns us, we need to flee to the gospel.
But there is something else here that is significant. The mention of the word “atonement” makes perfect chronological sense if this psalm was written at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.
According to Leviticus 23:26ff, the Day of Atonement was followed within a few days by the Feast of Tabernacles. The holiest day of the year for the Jews (Yom Kippur) was followed by a time of celebration. They were able to celebrate God’s kindness to them, having been recently reminded of God’s redemptive grace to them. Once again we see that the gospel empowers us; in fact, it emboldens us to draw near to God in worship. We can because of what God has done through His gracious atoning work in His Son.
Listen to this description by J. J. Stewart Perowne
In Zion God is known, there he is praised and worshiped. He is the hearer of prayer; that is his very character, and therefore all flesh comes to him. All who feel their weakness, all who need help and grace, seek it at his hand. It is true that they who thus come, come with the burden of sin upon them: their iniquities rise up in all their strength and might, and would thrust them away from the presence of the Holy One. But he himself, in the plenitude of his mercy, covers those iniquities, will not look on them, and so suffers sinners to approach him. And how blessed are they who, reconciled and pardoned, are thus suffered to draw nigh. Of that blessedness may we ourselves be partakers, may we be filled and satisfied therewith.2
This theme of God’s grace is further highlighted in v. 4. Here we see another reason why these worshippers could be assured of the acceptance of their gratitude.
Assured because of God’s Appointment/Anointing
Verse 4 speaks of God’s appointment of the one He chooses. The language of this verse comes from the priestly realm, where God appoints and anoints one to the priesthood. But here it applies more generally to the nation as a whole, in keeping with Exodus 19:6.
The point, of course, is that the grateful worshippers realise that it is only by God’s free and sovereign grace that they are privileged to be guests in His House. “God is under no compulsion to receive sinners unless it be the free compulsion of His love. Those who are accepted by pardon are His house guests.”3
We would do well to always remember this!
Do we realise the gracious privilege that is ours? It is clear that many who profess to be Christians do not appreciate this. This, in some cases, may simply be due to ignorance, highlighting their need for further discipleship into such an appreciation. But I am afraid that, in other cases, perhaps in many cases, the failure to appreciate God’s household indicates a complete absence of appetite. And this may indicate a complete absence of spiritual life. Those graced by the gospel will be grateful to God for the gospel, and one manifestation of this will be gathering with others who are grateful for the gospel.
Praise of our Awesome, Mighty God
Verses 5–8 speak of God as the mighty Creator.
God our Saviour
David speaks of God our Saviour: “By awesome deeds in righteousness You will answer us, O God of our salvation, You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the far-off seas; who established the mountains by His strength” (v. 5).
The songwriter speaks of God’s awesome answers. Again, in keeping with the harvest theme, the answers have something to do with God’s bountiful blessings, perhaps both materially and spiritually.
Wherever God’s people are, even to “the ends of the earth,” they can be assured of God’s mighty care for them. They can be assured of His just (“righteousness”) treatment of them. It was this assurance that gave such hope to Ezra and Nehemiah when they led the Jews in repentance towards reformation (see Ezra 9; Nehemiah 1; 9).
It must be kept in mind that Israel was constantly surrounded by enemies, and therefore they were particularly aware (or at least they should have been aware) of their need for God’s protection and provision. So, when the harvest came in, they were reminded of God’s power to care for them and to fulfil His purpose. But there is also a reminder here that even those who do not serve the Lord are also completely dependent upon Him. The phrase “far-off seas” indicates this. “The hymn attributes great powers to ‘God our Saviour’ whose works witness to all mankind that he is God our Creator.”4
The Gentile nations, who were so often turbulently opposing God and His people, are alluded to in Scripture by the metaphor of the sea. So here the implication is that the pagans need to come to realise that, apart from God, they would both be and have nothing. God is mighty. God is powerful. Not them. No one is a “self-made” man and no nation is a “self-made” people. The energy they exercise in defying God comes from God Himself.
Christian, take heart! God is in control. We see this further in what follows.
God Our Strength
Verse 6 selects perhaps the most poignant example of majestic stability in creation—“mountains”—to illustrate the powerful might of God “who established the mountains by His strength, being clothed with power.”
The point is this: If God can create these then He can certainly be depended on as a shelter in our time of need. God is our strength.
Again, though the immediate context is the physical harvest of the land, the writer sees beyond this to the implications of a spiritual harvest. The people of God are to be encouraged that God our Saviour is also God our strength as He saves His people and extends His kingdom.
As we witness persecuting atrocities such as the beheading of Christians in Libya, we need to take comfort in the reality that God continues to be in control and that He is mighty to save and mighty to sustain; He is mighty to build His church.
God our Sovereign
Verses 7–8 picture God as sovereign: “You who still the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples. They also who dwell in the farthest parts are afraid of Your signs; You make the outgoings of the morning and evening rejoice.”
Again, the word picture indicated here is of various pagan nations turbulently opposing God, His work and His worshippers. Nevertheless, we are told that He is quite able to still them. This reminds us of the stories in the Gospel accounts of Jesus calming the seas. And you will remember the disciples’ dumbfounded response:
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!
“Who can this be?” Whom else but God!
Again, the purpose here is to impress upon us that God’s harvest will fully come in. And we need to live like we believe this. We need to pray like we believe this. We need to witness and proclaim the gospel like we believe this.
As a friend and I were discussing the other day, local churches need to move beyond “survival mode” into “soaring mode.” God’s sovereignty is not an excuse to justify our inaction but rather it is a motivation to action. Because God is sovereign, we must quit just standing there and rather answer His command to do something!
When the writer speaks of the Lord’s “signs” He is referring to God’s testimony in this world of His sovereign actions in history. One thinks, for instance, of the crossing of the Red Sea after the ten plagues in Egypt.
You will remember perhaps from our recent studies of Hebrews 11 how Rahab pleaded with the Jewish spies to spare her life. She pledged her allegiance to their God, and therefore to them, precisely because she had heard of what the Lord had done (Joshua 2:1–12ff). She had received word of God’s sovereignty as indicated by His powerful signs of judgement. This put the fear of God into her. This is what the psalmist is saying.
There are times when God puts His fear into people’s hearts in order to draw them to bow the knee—either in ultimate condemnation or in full and final salvation. And, according to the writer, this will happen over all of the earth. Verse 8 instructs us that “the whole expanse of earth from east to west, [will be] praising the Creator.”5
A pastor friend recently told me of a man who started attending his church. The man was facing some struggles and felt that God was trying to get his attention. He decided that he should go to church, and walking to a bus stop one Sunday noticed a man reading his Bible. He asked the man if he could attend church with him, and has not missed a service since. God put His fear into the man’s heart and (evidently) brought him to salvation.
I agree with the conclusion of Kirkpatrick who wrote, “In the future, as in the past, God will prove His righteousness by awe-inspiring acts on behalf of His people in answer to their prayers, for He has created and sustains the universe, and controls the forces alike of nature and of the nations.”6
So Christian, be encouraged. God our Saviour is strong and sovereign. In fact, He is our Saviour precisely because He is strong and sovereign!
Praise of our Abundant, Bountiful God
Verses 9–13 speaks of God as provider.
We have here the longest section of the psalm, and understandably so, because it highlights God’s bountiful blessings of the harvest which He provides to His people. C. S. Lewis, in his book, Reflections on the Psalms, makes the observation that the psalmists had an appreciation of nature in a way that most who are “city dwellers” often miss. With reference to Psalm 65, he wrote,
The psalmists, who are writing neither lyrics nor romances, naturally give us little landscape. What they do give us, far more sensuously and delightedly than anything I have seen in Greek [literature], is the very feel of weather—weather seen with a real countryman’s eyes, enjoyed almost as a vegetable might be supposed to enjoy it.7
I love that last phrase. How descriptive! And we are to enter as fully into this inspired scene as is possible. Kidner was spot on when he commented, “Here we almost feel the splash of showers, and sense the springing growth about us.”8
Verses 9–10 is a beautiful scene of God sending the rain that nourishes the crops: “You visit the earth and water it, You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it. You water its ridges abundantly, You settle its furrows; You make it soft with showers, You bless its growth.”
“Visits,” in this context, means God’s decisive moving near to us to bless us. The next time that it rains, realise that God is visiting us with grace. And it is God who then gives the increase as the seeds germinate. Let us never forget that “crops grow because He comes and gives them… Nature does not work autonomously.”9
Verses 11–12 present us with some wonderful poetry: “You crown the year with Your goodness, and Your paths drip with abundance. They drop on the pastures of the wilderness, and the little hills rejoice on every side.”
This poetry paints a picture of God’s wagon filled to overflowing with produce for which He has grown, which He has produced. Kidner remarks, “The line is literally ‘thy cart-tracks drip fatness’” and pictures a “richly laden cart dropping its contents in its track.”
God has given abundantly to His people. Their needs are more than met. His bountiful blessings overflow to His glory and for our good.
Aaron Aaronsohn was a Romanian Jewish agronomist, botanist, and Zionist activist. He was an early Zionist who sought to resettle the nation of Israel in its land. Aaronsohn had a vision to see Israel blossom like a rose, and much of what we see today in terms of Israel’s fertility and irrigation is thanks to Aaronsohn.
What he envisioned, and eventually is credited with, was remarkable. But it does not hold a candle to what God has done for centuries and what He will continue to do and that He one day will forever do in the new heaven and new earth.
Finally, in v. 13, we have a picture of unrestrained worship: “The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered with grain; they shout for joy, they also sing.”
Sheep and grain are said here to praise God. The picture is that of all of God’s creation, particularly that which He provides to His people, joining together with His people (v. 1) in giving praise to God. In other words, not only those who benefit from the harvest but also those who are the harvest are praising God for His abundant goodness.
Though now the shouts of praise seem to be drowned out by the shouts of rebellion, there is coming a day of great harvest when those harvested (John 4; Revelation 14:14–16) will indeed fill this universe with praise to God. As VanGemeren puts it, “The nations will rejoice when the Lord brings justice and peace to earth…. ‘Songs of joy’ will replace the taunts, war cry, and rebellious acts of the nations.”10
I appreciate Kidner’s observation with reference to a future and more “universal” application of these words: “This joy is seasonal and the scene local; but it is no far cry from this to the glimpse … of a final coming of God, and a welcome from the whole creation.”11
So, let us be a people of praise. And as we pray through this psalm, let us do so with the confidence that “the works done for His people and in nature give assurance for the future.”12
Yes indeed, let us praise God for His bountiful blessings.
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 474. ↩
- James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 5:532–33. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 474. ↩
- Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 5:434. ↩
- Derek Kidner, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 2 vols. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 232. ↩
- A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Psalms (Cambridge: The University Press, n.d.), 363. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:530. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 229. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 476–77. ↩
- VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5:435. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 233. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 475. ↩