The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 116

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 11, 2012


In Ps 116:14 and Ps 116:17 we have references to vows and to thanksgiving sacrifice in the Temple. The calix salutaris, “the cup of rescue” in Ps 116:13 also suggests the connection of the Psalm with a sacrificial offering. It is, probably reasonable, then, to regard it as a song chanted during, or in connection with, the public offering of a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The occasion of the offering is mentioned in Ps 116:3 and Ps 116:8. It was, apparently, the recovery of the psalmist from a dangerous illness, or his rescue from a deadly peril. In the time of illness or peril the psalmist had invoked the help of Yahweh, and had promised to the Lord a thanksgiving-offering in the event of his rescue. This psalm we may suppose to have been composed for use at the sacrifice which the psalmist had vowed. The psalm is at once a song of fervent thanks for favours received, and an expression of triumphant faith in the Lord. The psalmist, in deeply religious fashion, speaks of Yahweh as the “rest” of his soul, and tells of his unshaken faith in Yahweh even at a time when he was broken with grief and affliction (Ps 116:10). The deep piety and proud confidence of the psalm remind us of Ps 73.

The structure of the psalm is fairly obvious.

It begins with a confession of indebtedness to Yahweh, and a promise of ceaseless thanksgiving (Ps 116:1-2). Then the danger from which the psalmist had been rescued is described (Ps 116:3-4). The influence of Ps 18 is manifest here.

In Ps 116:5-7 the kindness, goodness, and justice of the Saviour, who heard the psalmist’s cry for help and rescued him, are celebrated. God is, above all things, just, and His justice is seen strikingly in His care for the “simple (parvuli). The psalmist reckons himself among the “simple,” and, therefore, he exhorts his soul to seek its rest only in the Lord.

In Ps 116:8-9 the psalmist speaks again of the death from which Yahweh has rescued him, and of the joy which he now experiences at walking freely again in the brightness of life. In verses Ps 116:10-11 he glances back once more at the wretchedness from which he has been delivered, and declares that, even when things were at their worst, he had clung to his faith in Yahweh. Men had proved unreliable and hostile. They were liars all, and God alone was faithful and trustworthy. Thus his misfortunes had but purified and strengthened his faith.

In Ps 116:12-19 he deals immediately with the thanksgiving sacrifice which he had vowed. Words he cannot find to express his gratitude, and so, he will raise up the cup of offering with which the ceremony of sacrifice begins, and will cry aloud the name of his Saviour—Yahweh! Yahweh is wont to be well pleased with the praise and offerings of His devoted servants (sancti), and therefore, suffers not lightly the slaying of any one of them. For this reason, among others, He has kept the psalmist alive. The psalmist is not an ordinary servant or slave of Yahweh: he is like the son of a slave girl born in his Master’s house, and belongs in a peculiarly intimate way to the Lord. With deepest gratitude, then, for favours received, and with intensely affectionate loyalty, he discharges his vow of thanksgiving-sacrifice before all the people, in the House of Yahweh, in the midst of Jerusalem.


2 Responses to “Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 116”

  1. […] Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 116. […]

  2. […] Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 116. […]

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