Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2. sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
3. Say to God, 'How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4. All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.' Selah

5. Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
6. He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him,
7. who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations -
let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah

8. Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
9. who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
10. For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11. You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
12. you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

13. I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
14. those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15. I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16. Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
17. I cried aloud to him,
and he was extolled with my tongue.
18. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19. But truly God has listened;
he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

20. Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me.

This is a psalm of praise. The psalmist pictures first what God had done among the nations of the world, then what he had done for Israel, and he says, "Come and see ---". Finally he says, "Come and hear --- what God has done for me." It is like many services of worship in Nigeria and perhaps in other parts of the world, where there is the worship and praise of God by all, and then opportunities for individuals to come with family and friends publicly to make their personal thanksgiving for God's special blessings on them. It is important to praise and thank God in our hearts privately, but there is special blessing and added joy in praising God by giving public testimony to his goodness "in the congregation of his people".

Lord of all nations

The psalm begins with "all the earth" being called to worship God. Everyone should worship because of God's glory and God's name, that is, because of who he is, and for the way that he has revealed himself in greatness and power, in holiness and love. The leaders of powerful nations in the world often think that they can do as they please and oppress others, but God's "eyes keep watch on the nations" (verse 7, and compare Psalms 11:4 and 33:13-15). So this is the warning to them, "let the rebellious not exalt themselves". When powerful nations do exalt themselves and rebel against God's ways, what happens and indeed has often happened in history, is that they are brought down. Such are God's judgments in the world, what the psalmist calls the "awesome deeds" of the Lord (verses 3 and 5, and compare Psalms 46:8-9, 47:2-3 and 65:5).

God of Israel

The Old Testament tells especially the story of God's dealings with Israel. Israel could always look back with thankfulness on what God had done for them. He had set them free from slavery in Egypt, and when in their escape it seemed that they would be captured by the Egyptian army, "he turned the sea into dry land" (verse 6), and so they went free (see Exodus 14). Then, so that they could come into the land that God was giving to them, "they passed through the river (Jordan) on foot" (see Joshua 3). They could say, the Lord "has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip" (verse 9). But that did not mean that they would enjoy his favour whatever they did. When they turned away from him, they had to suffer, being chastened and disciplined as a child is disciplined by wise parents. That meant "burdens" on their backs (verse 11), the nations around them gaining victories over them (verse 12). It was like going through fire and water, but the fire and water did not destroy them (see Isaiah 43:2). They were brought out safely, but the experience was a testing of their faith in God. As silver is refined and purified by being heated to very high temperatures, so God refined and purified them through what they had to suffer. Yes, fiery trials do make our characters nobler. Problems sent to us from God or resulting from our commitment to the will of God and desire to reflect the character of Christ can be spiritual promotions. The story of Job expresses this, and the New Testament abounds with teaching on patient endurance and the blessing of not avenging ourselves or retaliating (see especially Job 42:10-12, Romans 12:14-21 and 1 Peter 3:8-17).

My God

It is a great thing when a person can not only think of God as "Lord of all nations", and "God of Israel", but be able to say in a personal way, "You are my God", "the Lord is my Shepherd". In Israel, and perhaps in many situations today, people often recognise the existence of God. Some even go as far as to address him as 'our God', or think of him as 'the God of our religion' or 'church'. But to know and address the Almighty as "my God" - with filial, yet holy, affection - requires personal experience and encounter, what Jesus describes as rebirth (John 3:3-5; see also John 1:11-12). Of that personal experience the psalmist can speak here. In a time of trouble he had called on the Lord and made a vow (verses 13-14, and for the meaning of these vows see notes on Psalm 61). Now he could celebrate the fact that God had been very good to him. And there were two things for which he had special cause for thanksgiving.

a. He knew that sin always separates a person from God and is a hindrance to prayer (verse 18). But he knew that God forgave his sin when he turned to him.

b. Then he knew that when he "cried aloud to" God, God heard and answered his prayer. So the psalm ends on a note of joyful confidence in God, "Blessed be God" he affirms, because, "he has not rejected my prayer", and "he has not --- removed his steadfast love from me". Trials and difficulties drive us back to God in prayer and meditation, to understand him better and more deeply, and to trust him with greater confidence for the future.

There is a final thing that we should notice about this psalm. Its writer wants other people to realise the mighty acts and the loving acts of God. So in relation to God's mighty acts in the world he says, "Come and see what God has done" (verse 5). In relation to God's loving acts towards him he says, "Come and hear, --- and I will tell what he has done for me" (verse 16). If we know God's power and love, we should want others to come to that knowledge too.

Meditation: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

For further thought and study

a. What in the New Testament (and so for Christian people today) corresponds to what people in the Old Testament did in the way of making vows and offering animal sacrifices? See especially Romans 12:1-2.

b. Consider what other Bible passages say about sin being a barrier between us and God and a hindrance to our prayer. See, for example, Isaiah 1:12-17, 59:1-2, John 9:31 and 1 John 3:21-22.

c. In what ways does it help us to understand the trials and sufferings that we face in life, when we see that it is God's purpose to refine and purify our lives in order to make us more the people that he wants us to be. Along with verse 10 see Isaiah 48:10, Jeremiah 9:7, Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:2-4, and in the New Testament 1 Peter 1:6-7.


Constantly in their annual festivals (like the Passover) and in their worship at other times, the people of Israel thought back to the Exodus and the crossing of the sea and then later the crossing of the river Jordan to come into the land of Canaan. This is what we read in verse 6 and in other psalms and other Old Testament passages. "There we rejoiced in him" they said, and they acted as if God was doing that great work of salvation before their eyes. It is in the same way that Christian people recall the death and resurrection of Christ in worship, and especially as we celebrate the Lord's Supper, the Holy Communion service .