George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 65

1. Structure

The Day of Atonement

The new high priest

God’s care for His people and His land

A Year of Jubilee and its blessings

2. A psalm for the Day of Atonement

Compare Psalms 67, 85, and 103. The early verses of the psalm are decisive regarding this:

Praise waiteth for thee, O God. Here waiteth implies waiting in silence (cp. 62:1; Rev. 8:1, in a strong Day of Atonement context; Hab. 2:20; Zech. 2:13). It is a picture of the multitude of worshippers praying in silence in the sanctuary while the high priest presents their special offering within the sanctuary — hushed in the awed expectation of the coming revelation of God.

Unto thee shall the vow be performed. David’s vow to give the Ark a worthy home in Jerusalem (132:1-5).
Unto thee shall all flesh come. Specially true of one of the great Feasts of the Lord.
Iniquities... transgressions. The entire Day of Atonement has this as its theme.

Thou shalt purge them away. Here purge is the word kaphar, “cover” — from whence is derived Yom Kippur; it is also the s.w. as “make atonement”, which appears 16 times in the Hebrew of Leviticus 16.
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple. “The man whom thou choosest” is, of course, the high priest. The rest of the verse is specially suitable to the Day of Atonement.
By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us. The dominant words here seem incompatible with each other. But on the Day of Atonement they were just right, for it was a day when sin was covered and righteousness imputed; and this was signified by the terrible shining forth of the Shekinah Glory (Psa. 80:1).

The confidence of all the ends of the earth (eretz = Land). As in v. 2, all the nation gathered before God.
Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. The early rains come soon after the Day of Atonement, which itself is preceded by Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, hence...
Thou crownest the year, in that the “head”, or the “beginning”, of the year sees fruitful showers from God.

3. Which Day of Atonement?

See notes on Psalm 133 for suggestions that — immediately after David became king over all the twelve tribes — there was the appointment of a new high priest, the celebration of a Day of Atonement, and the inauguration of a Year of Jubilee. These three ideas dominate Psalm 65. God promised special blessings for the Year of Jubilee which began on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:9):

“And I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years” (Lev. 25:21).
Remarkably, the same combination of phenomena belong also to the year of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army in Hezekiah’s reign. Then, also, it may be inferred that there was a new high priest (Isa. 22:2), a special Day of Atonement (Isa. 58), and a Year of Jubilee (2 Kings 19:29; Isa. 37:30; Isa. 35 — the whole chapter). Thus the pattern repeats itself of a Davidic psalm seemingly being adopted into Hezekiah’s framing of the Psalter, because of the remarkable suitability of its details to the circumstances of that good king’s reign. It may be, as in a few other psalms, that the problematic section (vv. 5b-8) was actually added in Hezekiah’s time.

4. Problem passage?

In the Davidic psalm the section of verses 5b through 8 seems to be out of tune with all the rest. But not so when read as a Hezekiah psalm. There is impressive evidence that the wreck of the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem was by a devastating manifestation of divine power almost unique in human experience (Isa. 29:6; 30:27-33; 31:8,9; 59:16-20; 64:1,2; 66:15,16). The allusive details in the psalm harmonize with this:

Thou art the confidence of all the ends of the Land. From north to south the ravaged Land of Israel sighed with relief that, suddenly, the irresistible enemy had been swept away. Literally, all the limits of the Land, and the sea of far distances... . Is this a hint of Tyrian sailors being impressed, or even overpowered, by the storm of God’s wrath? Compare Psa. 48:7, another picture of the same titanic crisis.
Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power. Mount Zion mocked the military might and intentions of these all-victorious Assyrians. Jerusalem was girded for defense by twelve legions of Passover angels (Isa. 31:5; 26:20,21; 37:36).
Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves. Verse 5 requires a literal reading of these phrases (see note there), but then the tumult of the people(s) requires a figurative reference also, as in several other places (i.e. Psa. 89:9; 93:3,4; cp. Isa. 57:20; Luke 21:25). The Assyrians had doubled their invading force with considerable contingents from other nations (see references, Psa. 47:3). But this word is that which is hundreds of times applied to the twelve tribes. So, possibly: ‘the tumult created in Israel’s Land’ is the meaning.
They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid. This was one of the results of the mighty angelic stroke:

“And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he [i.e. the Lord] was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth” (2 Chron. 32:23).

Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and (ellipsis: add ‘the incoming of the... ’) evening to rejoice. The contrast with v. 8a makes it difficult to apply to neighbors east and west (Moab, Edom, Philistia). Then is the reference to the awesome destruction of Isa. 37:36 and the surge of relief and gladness in God’s salvation, which was felt across the breadth of the Land, “from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof” (i.e. Psa. 50:1; 113:3)?

In the light of the foregoing, it is tempting to read these verses as an addition inserted by one of Hezekiah’s school of prophets.

But there is another possibility: that there was a corresponding crisis and deliverance in the experience of David at the very time when he united all the tribes at the Year of Jubilee (see notes on Psalm 133). 2 Samuel 8 and its tale of wars and near disaster (i.e. Psalm 60) belong to that era in David’s reign. So, quite possibly, this block of verses was an integral part of Psalm 65 from the first after all!

5. Messianic fulfillment

Consider as background the atonement made by Christ, his exaltation as high priest, and the subsequent gospel invitation to the Gentiles (vv. 2,5c,7,8,12). Other details fit in with this framework:

Praise waiteth for thee.

“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many: and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:24-28).
Unto thee shall all flesh come. The time when the Father’s house will truly become “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7).
Literally, as AV mg., Words of iniquity prevail against me — in two different senses: (a) the reviling by his enemies (Matt. 27:39-43), and (b) his numbering with the transgressors (Isa. 53:6,12; Mark 15:28) under the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23).

Our (not: my) transgressions are being purged away (Isa. 53:4-6, 8,11).
A new priesthood in a new temple. This is a very satisfying verse.

Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee. One of the relatively few prophecies of Christ’s ascension.

We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house. True now (1 Pet. 2:4,9); and with a greater fullness yet to come.
By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us. There will be overpowering manifestations of divine might at the Second Coming. Even Acts 2:1-4 was awe-inspiring, and that was just the most meager foretaste (Heb. 6:4,5) of the powers of the age to come.

O God of our salvation... the confidence of all the ends of the earth. These words similarly describe the exhilaration of the gospel now and the even greater blessedness of the Kingdom.
Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains. Here will be another open demonstration, as in David’s and Hezekiah’s time, of the divine permanence of Zion — the “mountain” of the Lord’s house being established in the tops of the mountains (Isa. 2:2-4).

Girded with power. Rev. 1:13; 19:11-16: “Girt about the paps with a golden girdle”.
Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumults of the people. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens. This found extraordinary fulfillment, in the Lord’s ministry, with the stilling of the storm (Mark 4:37-41), the saving of the demoniac Legion (5:1-16), and the fear imparted to Gentiles round about (5:17). “He who could quieten the uproar of one man’s tortured mind can quell the turbulence of peoples; and the linking together of these two miracles reflects the power of God described in this passage” (L.G. Sargent, “Hearer of Prayer”, The Christadelphian, vol. 77 — 1940, pp. 218,219). Furthermore, all of this is a kind of acted parable of the startling events at our Lord’s coming. Then follows...
A delightful symbolic picture of the blessings of Christ’s kingdom, the true and perfect and final “Jubilee”. John Thomas’ section on the salvation symbolism of the water cycle (Eureka, vol. 1, pp. 139-145) may be read with great profit.

6. Other details

Sion. This misspelling derives from Vulgate and the LXX. In spite of various other suggested identifications, in the Old Testament Zion is always the temple mount.
Unto thee. This preposition implies: “as far as”. So also in Psa.100:1.

Shall all flesh come. They come because they are flesh.
That he may dwell in thy courts. Psa. 15:1; 23:6; 24:3; 27:4; 84:4.

Courts (chatser). From a root meaning to wall around, especially ap-plied to the open space within the outer fence of the Tabernacle (Exod. 27:9), or to the different courts of the Temple (1 Kings 6:36; 7:12).
The remarkable similarity to 46:2,3 (a “Hezekiah/Sennacherib” psalm) supports the suggestion made in the first part of Par. 4. So also, Isa. 17:12-14 (Sennacherib again).
“The climax of this psalm, a stanza as fresh and irrepressible as the fertility it describes, puts every harvest hymn to shame as plodding and contrived. Here we almost feel the splash of the showers, and sense the springing growth around us” (Kidner).
The river of God, which is full of water is perhaps the Kidron which then, but not now, rushed boisterously down the valley after the rains (cp. Psa. 46:4, notes; Rev. 22:1). Or may it be the rain which, because it descends from heaven, is called “the river of God”? (Contrast, very significantly, Deut. 11:10-12: Palestine, unlike Egypt, was a land God cared for, because it received its moisture from heaven and not from any river!) The rabbis taught that “God hath four keys which He never entrusts to any angel, and chief of these is the key of the rain.” Compare Job 26:8; 28:26; 38:28.
Thou makest it soft with showers. “Palestine’s summer sun bakes the ground hard so that no oriental plow can break it until the autumn rains” (Sargent).

Showers = rebibim, literally “myriads” — of rain drops.
Thou crownest the year with thy goodness, the greatest blessing of all being the Day of Atonement itself and God’s open sign of sins forgiven.

Thy paths drop fatness. The word for “paths” is literally “the tracks of thy chariot” (RSV) — God rides upon the chariot of His clouds (18:10,11; 68:4; 104:3), a richly-laden wagon which drops the “fatness” of His rains as He passes! See Isa. 55:10-13; Psa. 72:6; 2 Sam. 23:4.
Are clothed... are covered = “Clothe themselves... deck themselves” (RSV). This, along with v. 12b, is the language of animation, as though all creation sings praise to the Almighty. (Isaiah is literally filled with this sort of imagery: 35:1,2; 44:23; 49:14; 55:12.) Even Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like the frailest and lowliest lily of the field, turned out in its best divine attire to worship God (Matt. 6:28-30).

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