George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 116

1. Structure

God’s help in time of need
A relaxed spirit in face of evil
How shall I thank God for His great goodness?

2. Historical setting

The details of the psalm and also the pronoun “I” dominating nearly every verse fit very well the diverse experiences of Hezekiah. It is easy to trace the following features:

His sufferings (vv. 3,10; Isa. 38:1,2,10,13).
In Isaiah, Hezekiah is repeatedly called “the servant of the Lord” (v. 16), and as such is the prototype of the Messiah.
His prayer for restoration (vv. 1,4; Isa. 38:2,3).
His recovery (vv. 6,8,15; Isa. 38:5,19).
The problems created by evil men (v. 11).
His gratitude for God’s help (vv. 9,12,13,16,17; Isa. 38:20).
His enthusiasm for the praise of God (vv. 2,14,18,19; Isa. 38:19,20).

Verbal contacts between this psalm and the experiences of Hezekiah are as follows:

Psalm 116
“The Lord heard my voice”
“Inclined his ear”
2 (mg.)
“In my days” (s.w.)
“Sorrows of death... pains of hell” / “gates of the grave”
“I shall walk before the Lord”
“In the land of the living”
“The Lord’s house”
38:20,22 (and 2 Kings 20:5)

3. A Messianic prophecy

It is now an easy matter to go through the details of the psalm again, reading them this time with reference to Jesus in his sufferings and resurrection.

I love the Lord. Compare Exod. 21:5 (and Deut. 15:16,17): The servant (cp. v. 16 here: I am thy servant) says, “I love my master... I will not go out free” — i.e., ‘I will not leave him’. The same law is the subject of Psa. 40:6, mg., and Heb. 10:5 — where “body” also = “slave”. For more detail, see Psalms Studies, Psa. 40, Par. 3.
The sorrows (cords: RV, NIV) of death compassed me (Psa. 18:4,5). This is the language of sacrifice — the sacrifice being bound to the horns of the altar (Psa. 118:27; cp. Gen. 22:9; Matt. 26:38).

And the pains (mehtzar, a rare word signifying “constriction” or “straits”, as in Lam. 1:3) of hell (Sheol) gat hold upon me. Peter describes the resurrection of Christ as “God... having loosed the pains (i.e., birth-pangs) of death” (Acts 2:24). The metaphor of “birth-pangs” was doubtless intended to convey the picture of the grave bringing forth its “firstborn” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).
Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. This is Gethsemane: “Let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:35,36; Luke 22:42). Verses 1, 2 tell of a ready answer to Christ’s prayer of distress, but it was not just what was asked for! Instead, he received:

(a) an angel strengthening him (Luke 22:43);

(b) the presence of the Shekinah Glory in his crucifixion (Psa. 18:12 — see notes there); and

(c) resurrection (see also v. 6)!
Our God is merciful. “Our” is the only plural pronoun in the psalm, indicating that centered in Jesus is the salvation of a multitude of others (as also, in a lesser sense, was true of Hezekiah).
The Lord preserveth the simple, who do not remain simple, but rather are made wise by His pure word (Psa. 19:7).
Return unto thy rest, O my soul. The one who so speaks in the “Ark” of God’s covenant (Num. 10:35,36; Psa. 132:8,14)! Yet the word for “rest” is plural, implying that there are others who share this God-given rest (see notes, Psa. 95, Par. 4). Or is this an example of the intensive plural — that is, “the great, or ultimate, rest”?
Thou hast delivered my soul from death. Again, this is more true of Jesus than of Hezekiah.

Mine eyes from tears. The “strong crying and tears” of Heb. 5:7 (and Luke 22:41-44). Other references in Psalms to Christ’s tears: 6:6; 39:12; 42:3; 56:8; and 69:10.

And my feet from falling. That is, Jesus was saved from the consequences of stumbling. Here is the very real and awe-inspiring possibility that Jesus could have failed to be the perfect all-sufficient sacrifice which the human race needed!
I will walk (i.e., without stumbling: v. 8) before the Lord in the land of the living (Psa. 56:13). Implied in this short verse is the Lord’s resurrection, his ascension, and also his change to a higher nature.
I believed, and therefore have I spoken. The ellipses here are tantalizing. Believed what? (Psa. 27:13?) Spoken what? Perhaps this:

‘I believed that which was written concerning me in the Holy Scriptures, and in the strength of that I persisted, against all discouragement, in proclaiming the truth about the Kingdom and its King.’

Contrast Psa. 77:4: “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (when, if ever, was this Christ’s experience?).

Paul quotes the words in 2 Cor. 4:13, and adds the comment: “We [preachers] also believe [like Jesus], and therefore speak [the message of the gospel].” And in v. 14 there the resurrection of Jesus (cp. Psa. 116:8,9) provides the dynamic power needed.
What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. Arguing back from the Hezekiah prototype, the benefits spoken of here are the Lord’s resurrection and divine glory; and the cup of salvation (the cup of “Jesus”!) — also one of the traditional cups of wine at the Passover — will be the fulfillment of Matt. 26:28,29,39.

In v. 13, “salvation” is in fact plural (yeshuoth), possibly another intensive plural: i.e., “the cup of the great, or absolute, salvation”!
I will pay my vows now, in the presence of all his people (Psa. 22:22). Vows were usually acts of thanksgiving. Thus this verse links with “the cup of salvation” in v. 13. In the age to come, will not the glorious Messiah have much to give thanks for in the midst of all his redeemed?
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Again arguing back from Hezekiah, the death referred to is that of Jesus himself. But in him there is also the representative deaths of all the faithful (Rom. 6:3,8; 14:8; 1 Cor. 15:29; 2 Cor. 5:14; 6:9; Gal. 2:20; 6:14); hence “saints” plural. See especially Psa. 72:14:

“He [the King] shall redeem their [the poor and needy’s] souls from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.”

And note the plural of Isa. 53:9:

“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death (deaths, AV mg.).”
O Lord, truly I am... the son of thine handmaid (Psa. 86:16). This is one of the Old Testament anticipations of the Virgin Birth (cp. also Gen. 3:15; 49:1,25; Psa. 22:9; 71:6; 89:26,27; 110:3; Isa. 7:14; 49:1; Jer. 31:22; Mic. 5:1,2; 2 Sam. 7:14). This can be a description, in the fullest sense, of the Messiah only — because Mary was the only true handmaid of the Lord (Psa. 86:16; Luke 1:38,48). (Hezekiah, of course, was the prototypical “Immanuel”: Isa. 7:14; cp. Matt. 1:23).

Thou hast loosed my bonds, i.e., “the cords (RV) of death” (v. 3).
I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. The saints are made immortal in Jerusalem: “There the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psa. 133:3; Isa. 25:7,8; see references, Psalms Studies, Psa. 68, Par. 8).

4. All men are liars: v. 11

Precise interpretation is not easy here because of the brevity of phrasing. The key word is used of deliberate deceit. In the time of Hezekiah this deceit was practiced by the Assyrians, the “treacherous dealers who deal treacherously” (Isa. 21:2; 24:16; 33:1); they accepted the massive tribute sent by the princes of Jerusalem (Hezekiah being out of action due to his illness), but they still continued the invasion just the same until they stood right at the gates of Jerusalem.

But the princes of Judah themselves were also “treacherous dealers”, for whilst feigning friendship and submission to the Assyrians, they secretly plotted to get an Egyptian army to come to their rescue (Isa. 30:1,2; 31:1). This trust in Egypt was a “refuge of lies”, and of liars (Isa. 28:14-17); all that natural men can ever offer are false and illusory hopes of deliverance — and any who put their trust in them will in-variably be disappointed.

I said in my haste is appropriate to the situation, for stricken Hezekiah would feel utterly isolated and helpless: “all” were “liars”; none were righteous. And it was in such circumstances, when all other hope had failed, that personal and national salvation came from heaven.

Jesus likewise found himself facing bitter disappointment from all quarters — his nation hostile (John 8:44), his disciples undependable, and one of them a traitor: all... liars. So great was the discouragement that he could see no purpose in facing the suffering that was already written about him (Psa. 30:9; Isa. 49:4). For “in my haste”, the RV margin reads: “in my alarm”; and the RSV reads “in my consternation”. Here is a hint of the human weakness, and of Jesus receiving no help such as might have been expected from friends, which made so difficult his last hours in Gethsemane.

No matter which translation is correct or best, the word translated “haste” in the AV is the same as is used in Exodus 12:11 to describe the manner of eating the Passover (which, by his own unique application of the command, Jesus had just done with his disciples). This special Passover and the events that followed must have generated, even in one so strong in faith as Jesus, mixed feelings of fear, apprehension, confusion, and agitation. Can we really understand how it must have been?

Finally, Paul appears to be quoting v. 11 in Romans 3:4 (“but every man a liar”), in the general context of ‘proving both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.’ It is significant, therefore, that both Jews (Judas, the high priests and the Sanhedrin, Herod, etc.) and Gentiles (Pilate, the Roman soldiers) had a hand in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus (cp. Acts 4:25-28 and Psalms Studies, Psa. 2, Par. 4).

5. A final note

If it is appropriate to read Romans 6 at a baptismal service, then much more ought Psalm 116:12-19 be read before all the assembly by the one about to be baptized? (Compare v. 17 — “I... will call upon the name of the Lord” — with Acts 22:16: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”) This recommendation deserves to be universally adopted.
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