Psalm 66: Exodus God

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
   Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

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Psalm 66

American scholar Walter Brueggemann says, ‘biblical faith…got its basic form one lost night in ancient Egypt when a slave mother came into the hovel where her children were sleeping, covered their mouths to keep them quiet, awakened them, and said, “Come, we’re going now.”’

The Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez comments that, ‘The memory of the Exodus pervades the pages of the Bible.’ 

Verses 5–12 are about the faith that is foundational for the faith of Israel. The loyalty of Israel’s faith had been severely stretched and sorely tested in Egypt. Centuries of slavery, centuries of suffering under the slave master’s lash, centuries of oppression. It is miraculous that people clung to faith but they did. The Jewish theologian Emil Fackenheim stated that God was with his people in the Nazi death camps and out of the Shoah issued a new commandment in addition to the 613 that had previously given in what Christians call the Old Testament. This was a commandment not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. The Jews were commanded to survive, to honour those who had died, not to despair of God or man, nor to escape into cynicism or otherworldliness. Maybe it was something like that that kept their forefathers and mothers going in Egypt: ‘Keep faith in YHWH alive and don’t concede victory to Pharaoh and his religion of might is right.’

During the long night of slavery, the Israelites had been tested, imprisoned, burdened, trampled upon almost beyond what they could bear and yet YHWH hadn’t forgotten them.

YHWH carved a path through the Sea of Reeds, the slaves escaped, they passed through the death-dealing waters. What is interesting is that the Psalmist then switches from the third person plural, ‘they’ to the second person plural, ‘we’.  This isn’t just a story about other people, once upon a time far, far away, but something which the Psalmist participates in. It is a reality in his life. Around the Passover table today Jewish families still tell the story, ‘We were slaves in Egypt…he brought us from slavery into freedom.’

What God does for nations is what God does for individuals. Verses 13–20 are about what this Exodus God has done in the life of the poet. He was cast down low (v. 14) but God delivered him. In response he makes a joyful offering to God. Bulls and goats (v. 15) are off the Christian agenda but worship still involves a sacrifice of ourselves – not just singing a few praise songs but joyfully offering ourselves, our time, our talents, out intellect, not least our money, for the benefit of those in need.

In response to God’s deliverance the poet offers his words, his witness (v. 16).  Just as Israel’s job was to witness to YHWH’s deliverance (vv. 1–5) so we are to bear witness to all that God has done for us in the greater Exodus, defeating death and the powers of evil through the dying and rising of Christ and taking us to the promised land of his kingdom.