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Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. 

I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. 

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: 

But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. 

Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.

Psalm 66:16-20

There is no heading to this Psalm that indicates who the writer was or what occasioned his writing of it. The Psalm itself suggests that it was occasioned by the great work of God to deliver Judah from Assyria during the days of Hezekiah, during which time the Lord also spared Hezekiah’s life from his illness. If this was not the occasion, it must have been something of similar magnitude.

This Psalm was most likely written to encourage the church when she finds herself in similar emergencies.

The Psalm is divided into three sections.

The first section (vv. 1-7) is a general celebration of God’s wonderful dealings with His people in all ages. Special mention is made of how God delivered Israel from Egypt by parting the Red Sea.

The second section (vv. 8-12) is an acknowledgment of how God preserved His people in the troubles that had just befallen them.

The final section (vv. 13-20) is a promise of thanksgiving by the psalmist personally. This section concludes with a summons by the psalmist to all those who fear God to hear what God had done for his soul. That summons is the focus of this meditation.

The psalmist speaks of his prayers to God in the time of trouble.

There had been great trouble that faced the nation, which also brought great trouble to the psalmist’s own soul.

This great trouble could possibly have been the Assyrian invasion and siege of the city of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. And Hezekiah could well be the psalmist. If this is the case, we can imagine the despair of Hezekiah’s soul. Judah was doomed as a nation, unless the Lord would somehow deliver them from insurmountable odds. And if He did not? What would this mean for the covenant that God had made with Judah? And then during this siege God told Hezekiah that he had but three days to live and that he must get his house in order. That only compounded Hezekiah’s troubles. What was to happen to Judah in this terrible crisis? More importantly, Hezekiah had no son. How would the Christ who was to come from the royal line of David be born?

If this was not the background and occasion for this Psalm, the psalmist must have been someone who found himself in some other personal distress because of terrible things that threatened the nation and his very salvation.

We can find ourselves in similar situations. God in His providence and wisdom sometimes brings great adversity into our lives. We may experience this adversity in connection with war that He brings to our nation. Or we may experience this adversity in connection with division and infighting in the church. It may be adversity suffered in connection with disaster God brings to our family. But it is adversity that brings great distress to our soul, so much so that we fear for our soul and salvation.

The psalmist cried out to God in prayer.

Twice the psalmist mentions his prayers in this passage. The psalmist writes, “But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.”

His prayers consisted, first, in crying out to God. The psalmist writes, “I cried unto him with my mouth.” The word “cry” means to call out for help.

The psalmist’s soul was sinking fast. He cried out to God in prayer for help. The psalmist’s prayer consisted also in praise. The psalmist writes, “And he was extolled with my tongue.” The phrase “he was extolled by my tongue” means that the psalmist used his tongue as an instrument to praise God. He praised God for the works of salvation God had accomplished in the past for His people. He also praised God for the deliverance and salvation he anticipated in this current situation. This speaks of the great faith of the psalmist.

Notice that the psalmist prayed not just in his heart but also aloud. The psalmist writes, “I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.” This indicates how serious the situation was with the psalmist’s soul. When one is in great distress his prayers are generally not silent but uttered out loud. They are cries for help.

Notice also that the psalmist prayed to God (Elohim) and the Lord (Adonai). Both these terms emphasize the power and rule of God. The psalmist turned his heart in prayer to the almighty God and Lord that alone could rescue him.

This is what we must do also in time of great distress that threatens to destroy our very soul.

We must cry out to God in prayer.

We must also in prayer use our tongue as an instrument of praise to God. We must praise Him for works of salvation past. We must also praise Him for the work of salvation that we anticipate by faith in our current distress.

The psalmist celebrates the fact that God heard his prayer and answered him in mercy.

God had not turned away his prayer. The psalmist writes, “Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.” When God turns away one’s prayer, He does not hear that prayer but simply ignores it. That is a terrible thing. This the Lord does to some who pray. But with the psalmist, He had not turned away.

Instead, the psalmist can write, “God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.”

To “attend” means to prick up the ears. Think of an animal that pricks up his ears at a sound he hears. Nothing can distract him until he has investigated that sound. In like manner, God had attended to the psalmist’s prayer, giving careful attention to his cry.

And the Lord heard the psalmist’s prayer by bringing him deliverance and salvation. We know not whether God brought deliverance to the psalmist by delivering the nation from its horrible crisis or whether He simply strengthened the psalmist’s soul so that he was able to weather the crisis and even grow in his faith. But God answered the psalmist’s cry for help.

And the psalmist attributes this to God’s mercy. Writes the psalmist, “Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.”

God’s mercy is His compassion for His people in distress. It is also the power to deliver His people in their distress so that they find the joy and peace of His salvation. All the mercies of God are found in Jesus Christ. In His mercy God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the cross to cover the sins of His people. In that perfect sacrifice we find all the blessings of God’s mercy. On the basis of that sacrifice God in His mercy delivers His people for all their sins and all the woes that sin brings, and He makes them forever blessed. It was to this mercy that the psalmist appealed in his prayer. And in mercy God delivered him.

It is to that mercy in Jesus Christ that we also must appeal in our prayers for help in time of need.

The psalmist also speaks of how he received God’s mercy.

Writes the psalmist, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”

The word “iniquity” views sin as vanity, nothingness. Sin neither satisfies nor fulfills but leaves one empty.

Due to our sinful nature, all of us must contend with such iniquity.

The psalmist speaks of regarding iniquity in his heart. To regard iniquity in one’s heart is to set one’s heart on sin. It is to cherish sin and do so in such a way that one cultivates sin in his life. We are often inclined to do this because we find sin pleasurable.

The psalmist was a sinner, as we all are. Had he cherished that sin and cultivated it in his life, the Lord would not have heard him and helped him, as He was doing. The reason for this is simple. The mercies of God’s deliverance and salvation are received and enjoyed only by faith. One who cherishes his sin is not living in faith. And God turns away his prayers for help.

But God had heard and was hearing the psalmist’s prayers and cry for help.

The psalmist was one who feared God.

This is suggested by the fact that he summons those who fear God to come and hear what God had done for him.

That he feared God means that he stood in loving awe and reverence of God for His greatness, His goodness, and His faithfulness to His people.

This fear determined his attitude toward sin in general and his own sins in particular. Fearing God, he did not cherish sin. Instead, he hated his sin. He confessed his sin in godly sorrow and remorse. And he sought deliverance from his sin in the coming Savior, i.e., forgiveness and strength to turn from sin.

This is the activity of faith that is found in all those who truly fear God.

In that way of faith the psalmist found the Lord’s mercy to deliver him in his time of need.

That is how we will find the mercy of God as well.

The psalmist gives out a summons: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.”

Notice that the psalmist summons those who fear God. He himself is one who fears God. In the fear of God he had cried out to God for help and he had received the mercies of God to save and preserve his soul. Now he summons those who fear God as he does. He will declare to them what God had done for his soul. “To declare” means to declare in a spirit of celebration. The psalmist will therefore proclaim to those who fear God what God had done for him. He will celebrate this great salvation with his fellow believers. He will do that for the honor of God, whom he fears, and for the edification of his fellow believers.

Let us who fear God hear this summons. Let us hear what God did for the psalmist and celebrate his great salvation. And let us also learn from his experience so that we too cry out to God in faith in time of need and receive His mercies.