According to the writer of Psalm 116, he loved the Lord because, “He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me…” (Psalm 116:1, 2). How we read this verse will determine how we understand the rest of the Psalm. We could understand that the writer is self-centered, and he loves the Lord because the Lord pays attention to him, and because the writer is important. Or we could understand that the writer is humbled by the fact that the Lord hears even him with all his sins, faults, and frailties. I am going with the idea that the writer is humbled and appreciative that God hears and helps him, and even though he should be punished and not rewarded by God.
The rest of the Psalm gives much evidence that the writer sees God in the right light of humility and not the wrong light of self pity. In verse 5, he views God as gracious, “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate,” which we know is that state of treating others not according to the evil they deserve but the mercy God desires to bestow.
In verse 6 the Psalmist tells us, that God treats man with understanding and kindness because man is simple, untrained, and naive. “The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.” God does not excuse sinful behavior, but he does judge according to the light we receive, which means that God is always fair.
In verse 7, the writer sees God as benevolent, “Return to your rest, Oh my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” not because he deserves it as previously stated, but because God gives freely and out of grace. So the writer tells himself to rest because God is good and giving.
We all fear death, but the Psalmist gives prays to God, in verse 8, because his soul was delivered by Him from death. “For You have rescued my soul from death…” It is one thing for the body to die and quite another for the soul to die. Salvation is from the Lord, and the Psalmist praised God for the salvation of his soul, and did not look to himself for a right standing before Him.
In verses 13 and 14 he lifts up the cup of salvation by calling upon the Lord. “I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord…” The greatest act of faith is to pray, and we are told, the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). It is out of appreciation for God’s goodness and grace that the Psalmist pays what he has vowed. In other words, he is not earning his favor before God but he lives obediently because he is already saved and thankful for it. I will never forget the day I sat in the doctor’s office waiting for my wife; it was there that I saw so much of Romans was written in the past tense. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). “Having been” is past tense, and because we have been justified we have peace with God. We never have peace when we try to earn favor with God, we only have peace when we have been made right with God. Praise the Lord!
In verse 15, the writer continues in praise because the Lord is attentive to life threatening events. “Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones.” The soul that sins shall die we are told in Ezekiel 18:4, however, God in His grace and mercy cares that we live.
In verse 16, the Psalmist understood the true nature of freedom. He understood that in his slavery to God, he was set free from the slavery to others. The worst task master is sin, and Paul understood that he was set free from sin for the purpose of serving God. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).
Psalm 116 is a Psalm of praise! We can praise God with our lips, which is a wonderful thing in the sight of God; and we can praise Him by paying Him what we owe Him. Of course, if we never vow anything to Him we will have nothing to pay, which is one way to live. However, the life God desires of us is that we determine to give to God and then pay what we have determined. Like Daniel, “But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). By God’s grace and power that is exactly what Daniel did.
Psalm 116 ends with the words, “I shall pay my vows to the Lord, Oh may it be in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, Oh Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!” God has so ordered that His people dwell together, that they love one another, and act toward one another in the same way that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit act toward one another. It is in the midst of God’s temple, where God’s people dwell that the Psalmist wants to give praise to God. The devil’s greatest weapon is to divide God’s people. How are you doing in advancing a love among the brethren?