What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits toward me?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Psalm 116:12 - Psalm 116:13.
There may possibly be a reference here to a part of the Passover ritual. It seems to have become the custom in later times to lift high the wine cup at that feast and drink it with solemn invocation and glad thanksgiving. So we find our Lord taking the cup-the ‘cup of blessing’ as Paul calls it-and giving thanks. But as there is no record of the introduction of that addition to the original Paschal celebration, we do not know but that it was later than the date of this psalm. Nor is there any need to suppose such an allusion in order either to explain or to give picturesque force to the words. It is a most natural thing, as all languages show, to talk of a man’s lot, either of sorrow or joy, as the cup which he has to drink; and there are numerous instances of the metaphor in the Psalms, such as ‘Thou art the Portion of mine inheritance and of my cup, Thou maintainest my lot.’ ‘My cup runneth over.’ That familiar emblem is all that is wanted here.
Then one other point in reference to the mere words of the text may be noticed. ‘Salvation’ can scarcely be taken in its highest meaning here, both because the whole tone of the psalm fixes its reference to lower blessings, and because it is in the plural in the Hebrew. ‘The cup of salvation’ expresses, by that plural form, the fulness and variety of the manifold and multiform deliverances which God had wrought and was working for the Psalmist. His whole lot in life appears to him as a cup full of tender goodness, loving faithfulness, delivering grace. It runs over with divine acts of help and sustenance. As his grateful heart thinks of all God’s benefits to him, he feels at once the impulse to requite and the impossibility of doing so. With a kind of glad despair he asks the question that ever springs to thankful lips, and having nothing to give, recognises the only possible return to God to be the acceptance of the brimming chalice which His goodness commends to his thirst.
The great thought, then, which lies here is that we best requite God by thankfully taking what He gives.
Now I note to begin with-how deep that thought goes into the heart of God.
Why is it that we honour God most by taking, not by giving? The first answer that occurs to you, no doubt, is-because of His all-sufficiency and our emptiness. Man receives all. God needs nothing. We have all to say, after all our service, ‘Of Thine own have we given Thee.’ No doubt that is quite true; and rightly understood that is a strengthening and a glad truth. But is that all which can be said in explanation of this principle? Surely not. ‘If I were hungry I would not tell thee; for the world is mine and the fulness thereof,’ is a grand word, but it does not give all the truth. When Paul stood on Mars Hill, and, within sight of the fair images of the Parthenon, shattered the intellectual basis of idolatry, by proclaiming a God ‘not worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all men all things,’ that truth, mighty as it is, is not all. We requite God by taking rather than by giving, not merely because He needs nothing, and we have nothing which is not His. If that were all, it might be as true of an almighty tyrant, and might be so used as to forbid all worship before the gloomy presence, to give reverence and love to whom were as impertinent as the grossest offerings of savage idolaters. But the motive of His giving to us is the deepest reason why our best recompense to Him is our thankful reception of His mercies. The principle of our text reposes at last on ‘God is love and wishes our hearts,’ and not merely on ‘God has all and does not need our gifts.’
Take the illustration from our own love and gifts. Do we not feel that all the beauty and bloom of a gift is gone if the giver hopes to receive as much again? Do we not feel that it is all gone if the receiver thinks of repaying it in any coin but that of the heart? Love gives because it delights in giving. It gives that it may express itself and may bless the recipient. If there be any thought of return it is only the return of love. And that is how God gives. As James puts it, He is ‘the giving God,-who gives,’ not as our version inadequately renders, ‘liberally,’ but ‘simply’-that is, I suppose, with a single eye, without any ulterior view to personal advantage, from the impulse of love alone, and having no end but our good. Therefore it is, because of that pure, perfect love, that He delights in no recompense, but only in the payment of a heart won to His love and melted by His mercies. Therefore it is that His hand is outstretched, ‘hoping for nothing again.’ His Almighty all-sufficiency needs nought from us, and to all heathen notions of worship and tribute puts the question: ‘Do ye requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?’ But His deep heart of love desires and delights in the echo of its own tones that is evoked among the rocky hardnesses of our hearts, and is glad when we take the full cup of His blessings and, as we raise it to our lips, call on the name of the Lord. Is not that a great and a gracious thought of our God and of His great purpose in His mercies?
But now let us look for a moment at the elements which make up this requital of God in which He delights. And, first I put a very simple and obvious one, let us be sure that we recognise the real contents of our cup. It is a cup of salvations, however hard it is sometimes to believe it. Of how much blessing and happiness we all rob ourselves by our slowness to feel that! Some of us by reason of natural temperament; some of us by reason of the pressure of anxieties, and the aching of sorrows, and the bleeding of wounds; some of us by reason of mere blindness to the true character of our present, have little joyous sense of the real brightness of our days. It seems as if joys must have passed and be seen in the transfiguring light of memory, before we can discern their fairness; and then, when their place is empty, we know that we were entertaining angels unawares. Many men and women live in the gloom of a lifelong regret for the loss of some gift which, when they had it, seemed nothing very extraordinary, and could not keep them from annoyance with trifles. Common sense and reasonable regard for our own happiness and religious duty unite, as they always do, in bidding us take care that we know our blessings. Do not let custom blind you to them. Do not let tears so fill your eyes that you cannot see the goodness of the Lord. Do not let thunderclouds, however heavy their lurid piles, shut out from you the blue that is in your sky. Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full. Do not let a hard place here and there in the bed destroy your rest. Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life. Take full account of all the pains, all the bitter ingredients, remembering that for us weak and sinful men the bitter is needful. If still the cup seem charged with distasteful draught, remember whose lip has touched its rim, leaving its sacred kiss there, and whose hand holds it out to you while He says, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ The cup which my Saviour giveth me, can it be anything but a cup of salvations?
Then, again, another of the elements of this requital of God is-be sure that you take what God gives.
There can be no greater slight and dishonour to a giver than to have his gifts neglected. You give something that has, perhaps, cost you much, or which at any rate has your heart in it, to your child, or other dear one; would it not wound you if a day or two after you found it tossing about among a heap of unregarded trifles? Suppose that some of those Rajahs who received presents on a royal visit to India had gone out from the durbar and flung them into the kennel, that would have been insult and disaffection, would it not? But these illustrations are trivial by the side of our treatment of the ‘giving God.’ Surely of all the follies and crimes of our foolish and criminal race, there is none to match this-that we will not take and make our own the things that are freely given to us of God. This is the height of all madness; this is the lowest depth of all sin. He spares not His own Son, the Son spares not Himself, the Father gives up His Son for us all because He loves, the Son loves us, and gives Himself to us and for us, and we stand with our hands folded on our breasts, will not condescend so much as to stretch them out, or hold our blessings with so slack a grasp that at any time we may let them slip through our careless fingers. He prays us with much entreaty to receive the gift, and neglect and stolid indifference are His requital. Is there anything worse than that? Surely Scripture is right when it makes the sin of sins that unbelief, which is at bottom nothing else than a refusal to take the cup of salvation. Surely no sharper grief can be inflicted on the Spirit of God than when we leave His gifts neglected and unappropriated.
In the highest region of all, how many of these there are which we treat so! A Saviour and His pardoning blood; a Spirit and His quickening energies; that eternal life which might spring in our souls a fountain of living waters-all these are ours. Are we as strong as we might be if we used the strength which we have? How comes it that with the fulness of God at our sides we are empty; that with the word of God in our hands we know so little; that with the Spirit of God in our hearts we are so fleshly; that with the joy of our God for our portion we are so troubled; that with the heart of God for our hiding-place we are so defenceless? ‘We have all and abound,’ and yet we are poor and needy, like some infatuated beggar, in rags and wretchedness, to whom wealth had been given which he would not use.
In the lower region of daily life and common mercies the same strange slowness to take what we have is found. There are very few men who really make the best of their circumstances. Most of us are far less happy than we might be, if we had learned the divine art of wringing the last drop of good out of everything. After our rude attempts at smelting there is a great deal of valuable metal left in the dross, which a wiser system would extract. One wonders when one gets a glimpse of how much of the raw material of happiness goes to waste in the manufacture in all our lives. There is so little to spare, and yet so much is flung away. It needs a great deal of practical wisdom, and a great deal of strong, manly Christian principle, to make the most of what God gives us. Watchfulness, self-restraint, the power of suppressing anxieties and taking no thought for the morrow, and most of all, the habitual temper of fellowship with God, which is the most potent agent in the chemistry that extracts its healing virtue from everything-all these are wanted. The lesson is worth learning, lest we should wound that most tender Love, and lest we should impoverish and hurt ourselves. Do not complain of your thirsty lips till you are sure that you have emptied the cup of salvation which God gives.
One more element of this requital of God has still to be named, the thankful recognition of Him in all our feasting-’call on the name of the Lord.’ Without this the preceding precept would be a piece of pure selfish Epicureanism-and without this it would be impossible. Only he who enjoys life in God enjoys it worthily. Only he who enjoys life in God enjoys it at all. This is the true infusion which gives sweetness to whatever of bitter, and more of sweetness to whatever of sweet, the cup may contain, when the name of the Lord is pronounced above it. The Jewish father at the Passover feast solemnly lifted the wine cup above his head, and drank with thanksgiving. The meal became a sacrament. So here the word rendered ‘take’ might be translated ‘raise,’ and we may be intended to have the picture as emblematical of our consecration to all our blessings by a like offering of them before God and a like invoking of the Giver.
Christ gave us not only the ritual of an ordinance, but the pattern for our lives, when He ‘took the cup and gave thanks.’ So common joys become sacraments, enjoyment becomes worship, and the cup which holds the bitter or the sweet skilfully mingled for our lives becomes the cup of blessing and salvation drank in remembrance of Him. If we carried that spirit with us into all our small duties, sorrows, and gladnesses, how different they would all seem! We should then drink for strength, not for drunkenness. We should not then find that God’s gifts hid Him from us. We should neither leave any of them unused nor so greedily grasp them that we let His hand go. Nothing would be too great for us to attempt, nothing too small for us to put our strength into. There would be no discord between earthly gladness and heavenly desires, nor any repugnance at what He held to our lips. We should drink of the cup of His benefits, and all would be sweet-until we drew nearer and slaked our thirst at the river of His pleasures and the Fountain-head itself.
One more word. There is an old legend of an enchanted cup filled with poison, and put treacherously into a king’s hand. He signed the sign of the Cross and named the name of God over it, and it shivered in his grasp. Do you take that name of the Lord as a test. Name Him over many a cup of which you are eager to drink, and the glittering fragments will lie at your feet, and the poison be spilled on the ground. What you cannot lift before His pure eyes and think of Him while you enjoy is not for you. Friendships, schemes, plans, ambitions, amusements, speculations, studies, loves, businesses-can you call on the name of the Lord while you put these cups to your lips? If not, fling them behind you-for they are full of poison which, for all its sugared sweetness, at the last will ‘bite like a serpent and sting like an adder.’Psalm 116:12-14. What shall I render unto the Lord — Yet, notwithstanding all my dangers, and my distrust of God also, he hath conferred so many and great blessings upon me, that I can never make sufficient returns to him for them. I will take the cup of salvation — Or of deliverance, as Bishop Patrick renders ישׁועות, thus interpreting the clause: “I will call my friends together to rejoice with me, and taking the cup, which we call the cup of deliverance, (because, when blessed and set apart, we are thus wont to commemorate the blessings we have received,) I will magnify the power, goodness, and faithfulness of God my Saviour before all the company.” The phrase is doubtless taken from the common practice of the Jews in their thank-offerings, in which a feast was made of the remainder of the sacrifices, and the offerers, together with the priests, did eat and drink before the Lord; and among other rites, the master of the feast took a cup of wine into his hand, and solemnly blessed God for it, and for the mercy which was then acknowledged, and then gave it to all the guests, who drank successively of it. According to Dr. Hammond, this cup, among the Jews, was two-fold; one offered in a more solemn manner in the temple, Numbers 28:7, the other more private in families, called the cup of thanksgiving, or commemoration of any deliverance received. This the master of the family was wont to begin, and was followed by all his guests. On festival days it was attended with a suitable hymn, such as that sung by our Lord and his disciples on the night when he advanced that cup into the sacrament of his blood, which hath ever since been to Christians the cup of salvation; and which all penitents should now receive in the church of Christ, with invocation, thanksgiving, and payment of their vows made in time of trouble.Psalm 116:7 is rendered "hath dealt bountifully." The question here has reference to that. What return can be equal to his bounties; what will be a proper acknowledgment of them; with what can I repay him for them all? The question is a natural and a proper question. It is one which we naturally ask when we have received a favor from our fellowmortals; how much more proper is it in view of the favors which we receive from God - especially in view of the mercy of God in the gift of a Saviour; the love manifested in the redemption of the soul! What can be an adequate return for love like that - for mercies so great, so undeserved?
for all his benefits towards me; or, "all his benefits are upon me" (m). This being a clause of itself; and shows what moved him to put the question he did; a sense of divine favours was impressed upon him, a load of benefits lay on him, and he wanted to ease himself in expressions of gratitude. These benefits were the blessings of nature and providence; his being, and the preservation of it, food, raiment, &c. and the blessings of grace; spiritual blessings, all things pertaining to life and godliness, sanctification, adoption, pardon, justification, and eternal life. These may well be called "benefits", since they spring entirely from the free grace of God; and they were many, more than could be counted and reckoned up, and set in order before the Lord; and yet he was desirous that none of them might be forgotten, but that praise might be rendered to the Lord for them all.What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)12. ‘Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi?’ was the question which Richard of Bury, bishop of Durham 1334–1345, the most learned man of his country and age, asked himself repeatedly, and answered by making provision for a band of poor scholars to serve God and His Church. See Lightfoot’s Leaders of the Northern Church, p. 105.Verses 12-19. - The psalm closes with a thanksgiving for the deliverance vouchsafed. What return can the psalmist make? First, he will accept the blessing joyfully; next, he will ever continue to call upon God (ver. 13; comp. vers. 4, 17); thirdly, he will pay his vows openly in the temple, in the presence of the whole congregation (vers. 14, 18); fourthly, he will offer continually the sacrifice of thanksgiving (ver. 17) for the benefits vouchsafed him. The enumeration of his pious intentions is itself a song of praise to the Almighty. Verse 12. - What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? Natural piety suggests a return for favors received. What shall this be? the psalmist asks, and then proceeds to give the answer. Psalm 112:4, the term "righteous," which comprehends within itself everything that Jahve asserts concerning Himself in Exodus 34:6. from the words "and abundant in goodness and truth" onwards. His love is turned especially toward the simple (lxx τὰ νήπια, cf. Matthew 11:25), who stand in need of His protection and give themselves over to it. פּתאים, as in Proverbs 9:6, is a mode of writing blended out of פּתאים and פּתיים. The poet also has experienced this love in a time of impotent need. דּלּותי is accented on the ultima here, and not as in Psalm 142:7 on the penult. The accentuation is regulated by some phonetic or rhythmical law that has not yet been made clear (vid., on Job 19:17).
(Note: The national grammarians, so far as we are acquainted with them, furnish no explanation. De Balmis believes that these Milra forms דּלּותי, בּלּותי, and the like, must be regarded as infinitives, but at the same time confirms the difference of views existing on this point.)
יהושׁיע is a resolved Hiphil form, the use of which became common in the later period of the language, but is not alien to the earlier period, especially in poetry (Psalm 45:18, cf. Psalm 81:6; 1 Samuel 17:47; Isaiah 52:5). In Psalm 116:7 we hear the form of soliloquy which has become familiar to us from Psalm 42:1; Psalm 103. שׁוּבי is Milra here, as also in two other instances. The plural מנוּחים signifies full, complete rest, as it is found only in God; and the suffix in the address to the soul is ajchi for ajich, as in Psalm 103:3-5. The perfect גּמל states that which is a matter of actual experience, and is corroborated in Psalm 116:8 in retrospective perfects. In Psalm 116:8-9 we hear Psalm 56:14 again amplified; and if we add Psalm 27:13, then we see as it were to the bottom of the origin of the poet's thoughts. מן־דּמעה belongs still more decidedly than יהושׁיע to the resolved forms which multiply in the later period of the language. In Psalm 116:9 the poet declares the result of the divine deliverance. The Hithpa. אתהלּך denotes a free and contented going to and fro; and instead of "the land of the living," Psalm 27:13, the expression here is "the lands (ארצות), i.e., the broad land, of the living." There he walks forth, with nothing to hinder his feet or limit his view, in the presence of Jahve, i.e., having his Deliverer from death ever before his eyes.
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