Psalms 116 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 116
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

The late date of composition of this psalm is shown both by the presence of Aramaic forms and the use made of earlier portions of the psalter. It was plainly a song of thanksgiving, composed to accompany the offerings made after some victory. The most important question arising from it is whether it is personal or the voice of the community. As we have seen in other cases a strong individual feeling does not exclude the adaptation of a psalm to express the feelings of the people of Israel as a whole. The rhythm is unequal.

I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.
(1) I love the Lord.—Besides this rendering, where Jehovah is supplied as an object, this poet being given to use verbs without an object (see Psalm 116:2; Psalm 116:10), there are two other possible translations.

1. I have longed that Jehovah should hear, &c—For this meaning of the verb to love see Jeremiah 5:31, Amos 4:5; and for the construction see Psalm 27:4-6. So the Syriac and Arabic versions.

2. I am well pleased that Jehovah hears (or will hear).—So LXX. and Vulg.

Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
(2) If we take translation (1) of Psalm 116:1 this verse will state the ground of the longing to pray. “I have longed for Jehovah to hear me now, for He, as in past times, inclines His ear to me.” The latter clause of the verse offers some difficulty. The literal rendering of the text, given by the LXX. and Vulg., is, “and in my days I will call (for help). But there is none.” 2 Kings 20:19 does not, as suggested, confirm the explanation “all the days of my life.” It would seem more natural to take the text as an equivalent of the common phrase “in the day when I call” (Psalm 56:10; Psalm 102:3, &c), and render the verse:

For He inclines His ear to me,

And that in the day when I call.

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
(3) The pains of hell.—Or, oppressions of Sheôl, if we retain the text. But a very slight change in a single letter brings the clause into closer correspondence with Psalm 18:5-6, whence it is plainly borrowed, the nets of Sheôl. We may reproduce the original more exactly by using, as it does, the same verb in the last two clauses of the verse:

Nets of Sheôl caught me,

Trouble and sorrow I catch.

Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.
(6) The simple.—Inexperienced, in a good sense, as often in Proverbs. LXX. and Vulg., “babes.”

Brought low.—See Note, Psalm 30:2.

Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.
(7) Return . . .—In a very different spirit from the fool’s address to his soul in the parable. The psalmist’s repose is not the worldling’s serenity nor the sensualist’s security, but the repose of the quiet conscience and the trusting heart.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
(8) Falling.—Or, stumbling. (See Psalm 56:13, the original of this passage.)

I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted:
(10, 11) I believed, therefore have I spoken.—This is the rendering of LXX. and Vulg., and it has become almost proverbial from St. Paul’s adaptation of it (2 Corinthians 4:13; see New Testament Commentary). And no doubt this is the sense of the words, though the particle khî has been taken in a wrong connection. Mr. Burgess has certainly given the true explanation of the use of this particle. It sometimes follows instead of preceding the verb affected by it. We must render, It is because I believed that I spoke (of God’s graciousness, &c.). What follows then comes in as an antithesis. I was in great trouble; I said in my pain, “All men are untrustworthy or deceitful” Or (LXX.), In an ecstasy of despair I said, “The whole race of mankind is a delusion.” The meaning of the whole passage may be thus put: It is through trust in God that I thus speak (as above—viz., of God being glorious and righteous, and of His preserving the souls of the simple). It was not always so. Once in distrust I thought that God did not care for man, and that the whole of humanity was a failure. The word chāphez, rendered in Authorised Version haste, more properly alarm, is in Job 40:23 contrasted with trust, as it is here with faith. For the sense failure or vanity for the word rendered in Authorised Version liars, see Isaiah 58:11 (“fail;” margin, “lie or deceive”).

I said in my haste, All men are liars.
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.
(13) I will take.—Or, lift up.

Cup of salvation.—The drink offering or oblation which accompanied festival celebrations (Numbers 29:19, &c). Others think of the Passover cup mentioned Matthew 26:27, when this psalm as part of the Hallel was sung. Others, again, take the figurative sense of cup—i.e., portion, lot, as in Psalm 16:5.

I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
(15) Precious . . .—This is only another form of the statement in Psalm 72:14. But again we have to ask why the thought of death should intrude upon the psalmist at this moment. (See Note, Psalm 115:17.) The answer is that, as in Psalm 116:8, a recent deliverance from death is spoken of. It is natural to take this psalm as a thanksgiving song for the safety, perhaps victory, of the survivors in some battle, but then the grateful community naturally and dutifully remember the dead.

O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.
(16) Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid.—Comp. Psalm 86:16. Not only himself but his family were in the covenant, and, as very commonly in the East, the mother is selected for mention instead of the father.

I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.
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. Praise ye the LORD.
Courtesy of Open Bible