Blessed Is the One You Choose

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 65

At the heart of the covenant is the grace of God, who has taken the initiative to rescue us from sin and to bring us close to himself.

You can tell a lot about a religion by the songs it sings. If that is so, and I think it is, then the 65th Psalm is a ringing testimony to the robust strength of Israel’s faith. It is a hymn intended for congregational worship. The Bible introduces it by calling it both “A Psalm of David” and simply “A Song.” Many of the Psalms must have been composed as private exercises for personal devotions, poems that express the psalmist’s own inner feelings, and were intended to simply be read or recited alone in private. But some, such as this one, were obviously intended to be public songs of worship and praise, written for the great public festivals when all the people of Israel would gather together and celebrate God’s goodness in the Temple of Jerusalem.

A Song of Thanksgiving

We can learn quite a bit of the background of the 65th Psalm from hints given in the text itself. It was obviously written for the harvest celebrations that came in Palestine during the late summer. In Palestine there are normally two rainy periods during the year. The first is called “the early rains” which come in October or November. These showers prepare the hard ground for planting by softening the soil and breaking up its crust. Then there are the latter rains in the spring which provide the necessary moisture for the crops to grow and ripen. The psalmist here sings of God’s goodness in providing these much-needed rains for the earth:

You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.

vv. 9-10, nrsv

You can almost feel the rain in those verses. As C. S. Lewis once remarked, “This is weather described from the vegetables’ point of view.” The psalmist goes on to speak of the Lord’s bounty in producing the harvest that will sustain his people through the coming year:

You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

vv. 11-13

Listen to that rich imagery. To the psalmist it’s as though God himself has become the farmer driving his wagon through the fields. And wherever he passes, abundance springs forth; his tracks drip fatness. The overflowing harvest crowns the year with bounty like the coronation of a king. The fields and the pastures, the hillsides and the valleys, are dressed up in flocks and crops like people going to a great party, and all the creation sings with joy. If only we had eyes to see, we too would realize that our lives are a continuous succession of miracles. To the ancient Hebrews the annual harvest festival must have seemed literally miraculous. They did not understand the biological process of seed germination and growth. They saw only what looked like dead seeds dropped into the ground and then the miracle of new life and growth.

So they attributed their harvest directly to the Lord, and they rejoiced in his provision. But we too depend no less upon him and our lives too present wonder upon wonder to us. Once again the Lord has met his people’s need. He sent the rains to water the earth so that a bountiful crop now stood ready to reap.

One of the main reasons agricultural communities (rural communities) tend to be so much more religious than urban ones is that living close to the land reminds people of how much their well-being depends on the weather, which is to say, on the God who sends and controls the weather, the Lord of wind and rain, of storm and sunshine. Living in the city, where we don’t think much past the supermarket when considering where our food comes from, tends to insulate us from the realization of our utter dependence upon God. But it should not. We too ought to recognize that “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above” (hymn by Matthias Claudius). And we too should thank the Lord for all his love. Every meal we eat, every good night’s sleep, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sunshine, every refreshing shower, sunny days and gray, days of health and days of sickness, every moment of safety, every deliverance through danger all are gifts from the Lord of life.

So Psalm 65 is a harvest song of thanksgiving to the God who has heard his people’s prayers and has once more sent them all that they needed. And the people have assembled together in the house of the Lord to offer their grateful worship for answered prayer. This is the way the Psalm opens:

Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.

vv. 1-2

A Song of Covenant Love

But there is more here in this psalm than just thanksgiving to the Lord for an abundant harvest. At the heart of Psalm 65 is another idea, the central idea of the whole Bible really, the idea of the covenant. The covenant is a promise-based relationship between God and his people. At the heart of the covenant is the grace of God, who has taken the initiative to rescue us from sin and to bring us close to himself. Listen to Psalm 65 again:

When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

vv. 3-4, niv

Better even than all the good things of the earth food and drink, clothing, houses, lands, even family and friends better than all those good things are what the psalmist calls the good things of God’s house. To draw near to him, to the living God, to enter his presence in worship, to dwell in his house, to experience his forgiveness, to know that we’ve been reconciled to him, that he’s covered our sins and brought us into his own family once more, so that we may live in his courts this is the best good of all. This is the experience at which all our lesser pleasures and earthly joys are merely hinting.

The Psalms are filled with reminders of this ultimate happiness which is found in knowing God and dwelling with him forever. They remind us, perhaps more than any other part of Scripture, of the most important thing for which we can be thankful. Again and again the psalmists point us toward the greatest gift of all, the gift of knowing the Giver himself. Speaking of the joy and delight in God which meet us so frequently in the Psalms, C. S. Lewis wrote in his reflections on the Psalms:

These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that he offered them eternal joy; still less that he would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for him, for his mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians, or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see ‘the fair beauty of the Lord.’ Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and ‘appear before the presence of God’ is like a physical thirst. . . . They crave to be ‘satisfied with the pleasures’ of his house. [In the Psalms] I find an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than his presence, the gift of himself, joyous in the highest degree, and unmistakably real.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

Lest we think this joyous gift of knowing God and experiencing his presence is only for a select few, the psalmist reminds us of one more truth.

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.

v. 5

The God whom we meet in the Bible is the hope of all people everywhere, to the ends of the earth and the farthest seas. That includes you, doesn’t it? For surely you must live somewhere between here and the ends of the earth. “Blessed are those you choose,” says the psalmist, “and bring near to live in your courts.” That could mean you too. Don’t get hung up on the idea of God’s choice. Don’t worry about whether or not he has chosen you (“Has he chosen me? What if I’m not chosen?”). The Lord chooses everyone who responds to his loving invitation. He offers right now to bring you near to himself; to forgive your sins, to receive his love and forgiveness, to come into his presence, to dwell in his courts and taste his everlasting joy. All of those blessings are experienced in Jesus Christ. Answer his invitation. Put your faith and hope in him today!