We tend to pause and reflect at the turn of the calendar year. The writer of Psalm 65 pauses and reflects at the climax of the agricultural year.
Praise awaits the LORD in Zion (v.1). David is asserting the centrality of God among his people. We are not the centre, waiting for God to deal with us on our terms. The LORD is the centre. He sets the agenda. ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ God does not wait for praise as though he needed it to be fulfilled. He has a right to expect it from the congregation of his people. Praise befits God; praise is suitable for him. ‘Praise is due to you, O God’ (ESV).
A centripetal force is at work in verse 2. All flesh will come to him. All are accountable to him. History is moving towards him. Many are fleeing to him for refuge, calling upon him. Soon all will have to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. All humanity is drawn irresistibly, whether by grace to be saved or by force to be judged. ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen’ (Rom. 11:36).
What is it that puts God at the centre, what creates the obligation to praise?
A God who provides atonement (v.3)
I don’t know what have been the high points and low points for you since 1 January 2014. Perhaps there will have been loss of some kind, perhaps serious disease or chronic illness, financial pressures, family tensions. Perhaps there have been joys and pleasures in the natural and spiritual spheres. As we read Christmas newsletters from friends and family, there will be a variety of stories.
But one thing is certain – that we have sinned. 2014 has its own catalogue of sins. Sin has been in our speech, our thought and our deeds that has been shameful and sordid. Probably you have struggled with certain sins in the past year. At times you have felt overwhelmed by sins – you have felt you were losing the battle. Sin has been so huge, so entrenched. It has become an intolerable burden. You have despaired. You are not alone. This is authentic Christian experience (Rom. 7:22-24).
But, says David, ‘you atone for our transgressions’. This God alone is willing and able to provide atonement. No other religion has a God who delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18). ‘Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more’ (Romans 5:20).
The New Testament explains how the atonement is achieved at the cross. The Jesus who shed his propitiatory blood continues to intercede, to minister on our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary. He is a merciful and faithful high priest. There is not a day when his blood does not atone for our sin.
A God who grants access (v.4)
In 2009, to the embarrassment of the US Secret Service, a couple gatecrashed a White House state dinner in honour of the prime minister of India. They shook hands with President Obama and put the photos on Facebook. They weren’t on the guest list – but even those invited didn’t necessarily get to spend time with the President. Through Christ’s work of atonement we have access into God’s presence. ‘Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!’ (v.4).
Access here is seen as:
- a right bestowed by a sovereign, not achieved or contrived by man’s initiative or ability.
- the right of dwelling on a permanent basis ‘in the courts of the Lord’
- a place of delight in fellowship with God: ‘We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple’ (cf 84:10).
It has been our privilege throughout the year to be able to approach God. How have we used this access bought for us? ‘Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith’ (Heb. 10:19-22).
A God of awesome deeds (vv.5-8)
Our God is the God of all the earth. The nations are Christ’s inheritance. The Son is the Saviour for all peoples. In far-spread lands God’s wonders are made known and rejoiced in. The psalmist seamlessly weaves together God’s dominion over the natural world and his dominion in the moral and spiritual sphere: ‘Who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations’ (v.7). Compare with Isaiah 17:12-14.
The one who stills the storm is able to subdue unruly, disobedient, threatening peoples, to rule the nations with a rod of iron. He is the head over all things for his church. These awesome deeds form the answer to the cries of his people – God acts in righteousness. All that he does bears this hallmark. His people will not be forgotten. He has intervened and will intervene to deliver us.
A God of abundance (vv.9-13)
The idyllic pastoral scene presented in these verses couldn’t be more different from the bleakness of midwinter in the UK. But again, what holds true in the natural realm is also true in the spiritual. What God had so visibly done for the land, in its seasonal fruitfulness and abundance, he does invisibly for us. He is ‘The Lord who daily loads us with benefits’ (Ps. 68:19), seen and unseen. We may have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by abundance over Christmas – food and drink in plenty, presents everywhere. All too quickly they disappear! But God has inexhaustible stores of blessing for us in Christ.
The year is said by the Psalmist to be ‘crowned’ with God’s bounty. How quickly the year goes by! And how slow we are to acknowledge God’s goodness and be thankful!
This article first appeared in Grace Magazine, January 2010.