Posted on

Jubilate Deo

Like a set of nesting Russian dolls, so Psalm 66 moves from the universal to the particular. In its summons to all nations to the Lord’s praise, it is a psalm of the Epiphany, Christ’s manifestation to the nations. Christ belongs to the world, and the world belongs to him:

 

O Be joyful in God, all ye lands; * sing praises unto the honour of his Name; make his praise to be glorious.

2 Say unto God, O how wonderful art thou in thy works! * through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies bow down unto thee.

3 For all the world shall worship thee, * sing of thee, and praise thy Name.

 

Again we are summoned to praise, and this time for the salvation he accomplished on behalf of his people – the exodus of Israel from bondage, the victory over unbelieving Pharaoh at the Red Sea. In these events was foreshadowed the greater salvation he accomplished in his death and resurrection, in which his sovereign power is revealed. Christ belongs to the Church, and the Church belongs to him.

 

4 O come hither, and behold the works of God; * how wonderful he is in his doing toward the children of men.

5 He turned the sea into dry land, * so that they went through the water on foot; there did we rejoice thereof.

6 He ruleth with his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: * and such as will not believe shall not be able to exalt themselves.

 

A third time we are called to praise, and this time for the Lord’s faithfulness amid trials, which in his hands are instruments of grace. He turns them to our benefit, purifying our faith and love for him, making the souls of the faithful into something beautiful for God:

7 O praise our God, ye peoples, * and make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8 Who holdeth our soul in life; * and suffereth not our feet to slip.

9 For thou, O God, hast proved us; * thou also hast tried us, like as silver is tried.

10 Thou broughtest us into the snare; * and laidest trouble upon our loins.
11 Thou sufferedst men to ride over our heads; * we went through fire and water, and thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.

 

So far the psalm has spoken in the church’s corporate voice, but now it changes, and becomes individual: we hear the voice of the lone believer, moved to gratitude by particular blessings, and ready to offer sacrifices of praise “not only with our lips but in our lives”, because the best sacrifice is not a dead beast but a living soul, in vice slain and virtue brought to life. Christ belongs to the individual Christian, and the individual Christian to Christ.

 

12 I will go into thine house with burnt-offerings, and will pay thee my vows, * which I promised with my lips, and spake with my mouth, when I was in trouble.

13 I will offer unto thee fat burnt-sacrifices, with the incense of rams; * I will offer bullocks and goats.

 

In the final stanza, we come to the innermost core of this call to praise, and that is the experience of answered prayer:

 

14 O come hither, and hearken, all ye that fear God; * and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul.

15 I called unto him with my mouth, * and gave him praises with my tongue.

16 If I incline unto wickedness with mine heart, * the Lord will not hear me.

17 But God hath heard me; * and considered the voice of my prayer.

18 Praised be God, who hath not cast out my prayer, * nor turned his mercy from me.

This stanza teaches us at least two things about answered prayer. First, that prayer must be mingled with praise. Great as the psalmist’s need was, he also confessed the greatness of God, so that the prayer is made in faith, and the heart is settled in confident trust even before the answer comes. Second, the Lord will not hear the prayer when the heart is still cherishing sin. Perfect holiness is not required, a willingness to turn away from sin is. Humble dependence on grace goes with holy desires to do his will and show forth his praise.

In this psalm, as in all psalms, Christ speaks for us, and speaks in us, as we speak in him; his grace is manifested to us, that it be manifested in us, both corporately as a Church and individually as believers engaged in the disciplined practice of praise and prayer. May his word dwell in us richly.


This essay by Fr. Dunbar was published in St. John’s Parish Paper on Jan. 15, 2023.