Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 65


THIS psalm represents the people gathered together in the Temple to praise and thank the Lord for His favours; (a) for forgiveness of sin which had called for punishment (verses 2-4);
(b) for His merciful providence in nature and history (verses 5-9); and, (c) for His most recent blessing a springtime full of promise. Apparently a season of drought, which the people acknowledge to have been deserved by their sins, has been followed by favourable rains. The thanksgiving which the people had vowed to the Lord (verse 2), should He hear their prayers, is conveyed in this hymn. It is one of the most beautiful of the nature-poems of the Psalter. It resembles Ps. 67 in its main motif.

The superscription of the psalm in the Septuagint and Vulgate connects the poem with the exilic prophets Jeremias and Ezechiel, and apparently assigns its composition to the period of the return from the Babylonian Exile. The ascription to Jeremias and Ezechiel, and the reference to the Exile are absent from the Massoretic text. All three texts agree in ascribing the psalm to David. It is obvious, however, that the poem could not have for its author David, Jeremias and Ezechiel, nor any two of these sacred writers. Hence we may safely disregard this title in so far as it speaks of authorship. That the people are not in Babylon, but in Palestine, follows from verse 10 and following verses, if they are taken as a description of the effects of fertilising rains sent by God in answer to prayer. Verses 3, 6, 9 are very universalistic in tone and are regarded by many modem critics as proving the post-exilic origin of the psalm. It is, however, very dogmatic to assert that the idea of God s universal rule and providence was not familiar in the pre-exilic period.

Attempts have been made to take literally the reference to the return from Exile in the title, and to explain the psalm as a song composed to be sung by homesick exiles on their way to Jerusalem. In Sion, not in Babylon, the exiles may sing again the songs of home. The Temple will be set up again and all men will come to visit it. “Sinners” have prevailed over the exiles until now; but Israel s sins are now forgiven, and the exile is loosed from the yoke of the stranger. How splendid it will be to live again in the shadow of the Temple! The mighty God of Israel will do wonders once more and will raise His people into power again. The rise of Israel is foreshadowed under the symbol of a wonderful spring that has followed on a season of drought.

This view of the origin and meaning of the psalm is possible. Support for it might be found in Joel 2:21-26, where the return of fertility and abundance as a token of the return of Yahweh s favour after a season of famine (Israel s punishment for sin) is similarly described.

It is, however, easier and better to take the psalm simply as a hymn of thanks sung during a service of thanksgiving which the people had vowed unto God if He would graciously send them rain in a season of drought. Such a hymn might, obviously, belong, as far as its theme is concerned, to any period of Jewish history. As a song of Sion it would, of course, be sung in Jerusalem ; and, as a song of thanks for a springtime of promise, it would thank the Lord for His mercies towards the people dwelling in His own land.

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One Response to Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 65

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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