While working for one of the publications for which I am a freelance writer, I came across Psalm 66. I am not currently studying the Psalms. I would be afraid to make the Psalms a focus of any academic work. For one thing, classical Hebrew poetry is just hard. Maybe I am lazy, but compared to Hebrew narrative, poetry is almost another language in itself. Sentences do not have to follow rules of grammar (just as in poetry in any language) and the vocabulary is often obscure, so that a guy like me is looking up every three or four words. Yes, I know that software like Accordance makes that easy, but I often feel a need to do a little research myself and not rely on pop-up definitions.
As if that weren’t enough, the Psalms are plagued with so many questions. It’s hard to know when any part of the Bible was written. With the Psalms it seems even more so to me. How were these songs and prayers collected? How were they edited over the centuries? Is there an ancient core to many of the Psalms or were they all written late and attributed to early Israelite history? That’s a morass I’d rather not wade into when I have so many others to explore.
But one benefit of freelance writing is sometimes the topics come to me and I do not choose them. And so it was that I found myself reading Psalm 66 over and over again and checking a few commentaries (I like the ones by Goldingay best overall).
My enthusiasm began to increase quickly as I read and thought about the place of Psalm 66 in the canon. No, I don’t have a theory about when it was written or by whom. Who knows, maybe it is late and post-exilic. Still, I can’t help thinking it is an example of one of those scriptures that seems to be ahead of its time.
Psalm 66 is about the message of God’s kingship to the nations, in other words, the gospel.
In one of my books, The World to Come, I have a chapter explaining the thread of God’s plan to redeem all the nations through Israel. I have listed in that chapter many examples from the Torah to the prophets on the theme of God’s kingship spreading to all nations. I said in The World to Come:
There are a number of myths and understandings about Gentiles and the Torah. Many people think Gentiles were called unclean in the writings of Moses and kept away from God. Part of this confusion comes from the Judaism in the time of the New Testament. The Temple then had a court of the Gentiles which kept Gentiles far away . . . In Torah, there were three ways Gentiles were included: assimilation, participation, and invitation. By assimilation, I mean that a large number of Gentiles became part of Israel, such as Caleb the Kenizzite (not an Israelite by birth) and the mixed multitude at the Exodus. By participation, I mean the sojourner who lived with the Israelites and yet remained separate. He was invited to offer sacrifices and participate almost fully. Though not in the Torah proper, Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8 shows the principle of invitation. Solomon prayed that the prayers of foreigners, directed toward God’s Temple in Jerusalem, would be heard in heaven. Gentiles could join Israel, worship with Israel, or at the very least, pray to Israel’s God.
Psalm 66 is a perfect example of that theme of God’s plan for every nation and people group. Long before Yeshua came and started trouble in Nazareth by speaking of Gentiles as potentially better lovers of God than his fellow Jews (Luke 4), the Israelites were already singing about the nations coming under God’s rule at the worship of the Temple.
Revelation 14:6 speaks of an “eternal gospel” which is about fearing and glorifying God. Psalm 66 is perhaps one of several places John had in mind as he wrote. In Psalm 66 the nations confess the kingship of God:
How awesome are Your deeds, Your enemies cower before Your great strength; all the earth bows to You, and sings hymns to You; all sing hymns to Your name.
Psalm 66 is a call to the nations to believe in Israel’s God. Singing this great work of hope at the Temple, the congregation of Israel would say to the nations, whether symbolically or if guests from far countries had come, “Come and see the works of God.” The Psalm relates the story of Israel’s experience with God to the nations. There is even a sort of apologetic, as if to say, “We know our people has suffered and this might cause you to doubt God’s goodness, but we can affirm that in every case our suffering was a consequence of our own transgression and that in the end God has made us a better nation through these trials.”
There is a lot of confusion about what the gospel really is. For so long it has been popular to limit the gospel to the redemptive act of the cross and our response to mere acceptance in order to attain heaven.
The gospel is a much larger concept. I read here as a dozen Christian bloggers sought to summarize the gospel in ten words. My favorite was, “Whole world sorted, put right, made friends again through Christ” by Andrew Jones.
When you read the gospel from the perspective of the whole Bible, progressively revealed, you find that the cross was a pivotal step, but never the beginning or completion of the gospel. For a short summary, I prefer Yeshua’s message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Psalm 66 is one of those texts which reminds me (Proverbs 2 is another favorite of mine) that the message is far older than most people think and far grander. God will bring us through fire and water. He will bring us to a wide open place.