116:0We do not know who wrote Psalm 116. We call him ‘the psalmist.’ But we do know that God saved him from death. Maybe he was very ill, and in much pain, (verse 10). Maybe his enemies were trying to kill him, and this gave him pain in his mind. We call this ‘worry’ or ‘grief.’ Perhaps he was in prison, waiting for execution. Execution is when the prison authorities kill people. They kill them because they have done something very bad. But the psalmist prayed to God – and the Lord saved him. Lord is a special name for God that God's people use. It is the covenant name. A covenant is when two people (or groups of people) agree. God agreed to love and give help to his people; his people agreed to love and obey God.
Some old Bibles make Psalm 116 into 2 psalms: verses 1-9 is the first, verses 10-18 the second. The old Greek Bible does this. But most Bible students think that Psalm 116 is just one psalm, all by the same psalmist.
We do not know when the psalmist wrote Psalm 116. It is the fourth of the 6 Egyptian Hallels. The Hallels are Psalms 113-118. They are called ‘Egyptian’ because they remember the story of God saving his people from Egypt. The story is in the Bible Book of Exodus. But this psalm is about one man's trouble, not the whole country. It is a ‘hallel’ because the word ‘hallelujah’ is in verse 19.
He Saved Me!
1 I love the Lord, because he listens to me.
He listens to me when I pray to him.
2 I will always pray to him, because he hears what I say.
3 The danger of death was all round me.
I began to be afraid of Sheol.
I was sad because I had so much trouble.
4 Then I prayed to the name of the Lord.
I said, ‘Lord, please save me!’
116:4Verses 1-4 tell us that the psalmist nearly died – but God saved him. In verse 1, the Hebrew Bible says, ‘he hears my voice and my cries.’ This tells us that the psalmist cried aloud when he prayed. And in verse 2, the Hebrew Bible says, ‘God turns his ear to me.’ This is a Hebrew way to say, ‘God listens to me.’ Hebrew is the language that the psalmist spoke. Sheol is in verse 3. Jews believed that they went to Sheol when they died. But the psalmist did not want to go to Sheol. He did not want to die. So he prayed, ‘Lord, please save me!’ (verse 4). ‘Save’ here means ‘save me from death.’ It is not the same ‘save’ as Christians now use. Christians mean ‘save me from hell when I die.’ Hell is a bad place where God sends bad people.
We can also translate the end of verse 4 as ‘Lord, save my soul.’
5 The Lord is kind and good to people.
Our God shows us that he loves us.
6 The Lord gives help to those people that need it.
When I was in danger, he saved me!
7 So I could say to myself, ‘Now you are safe,
because the Lord has been kind to you.’
116:7Verses 5-7 tell us about God. He loves people, and he is kind and good to them, (verse 5). He gives them help when they need it, (verse 6). ‘He saved me’ here means ‘saved from dying’, not ‘saved from hell.’ The words ‘me’ in verses 4 and 8, and ‘myself’ in verse 7, are all the same in Hebrew. It is the Hebrew word ‘nafeshi.’ It means ‘the part of me that stays alive when my body dies.’ Some people translate it ‘my soul.’ So another translation of the beginning of verse 7 is ‘My soul, go back to your rest.’ Before God saved him, the psalmist could not rest, or sleep at night. Now he can – he is safe!
8 Yes, Lord, you saved me from death!
You saved my eyes from crying and my feet from falling.
9 Now I can serve the Lord in this world where people live
and not in Sheol.
10 I believed that God would give me help.
I believed this even when I said, ‘I have much pain.’
11 When I was very sad, I said, ‘Everybody says what is not true.’
116:11Verses 8-11 tell us more about what God did. Again, we can translate the beginning of verse 8 as ‘Yes, you saved my soul from death.’ ‘Lord’ is not in the Hebrew Bible. It is there to give us help to understand the verse. ‘Serve’ in verse 9 means ‘do what God tells me to do.’ The psalmist can now be God's servant on earth, not in Sheol. Again, Sheol is not in the Hebrew Bible. It gives us help to remember what God saved the psalmist from. But verses 10-11 tell us about the psalmist. God saved him when he was in much pain. God saved him when he thought that nobody told him what was true. This made him very sad. But that was when God saved him!
12 What can I give to the Lord because he has been so kind to me?
13 I will offer a cup of wine to the Lord.
And I will thank him because he saved me!
14 I will do everything that I have promised to the Lord.
I will do it in front of all his people.
15 It hurts the Lord very much when one of his servants dies.
16 Lord, I really am your servant.
I am your servant just as my mother was.
You have saved me from death!
17 I will offer you my special ‘thanks’ when I pray to the name of the Lord.
18 I will make special promises to the Lord.
I will do this in front of all his people.
116:18Verses 12-18 tell us what the psalmist promises to do. He asks what he can give (or pay) to God, (verse 12). His answer is in verses 13-18. He will offer a cup of wine to the Lord, (verse 13). He will say ‘thanks’ to the Lord in front of all the people, (verse 14). He will do this in the courts of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, (verse 18).
The cup of wine. We can translate this ‘cup of safety.’ Safety means being in a safe place. This cup of safety was part of the Jewish Passover Dinner. The Passover was when they remembered that God saved them from Egypt. They drank several cups of wine at this special dinner, or feast. Wine is a drink with alcohol in it. The cup of safety was the fourth cup of wine at the Passover Dinner.
– The house of the Lord. This was the temple in Jerusalem. Only men from the tribe (or family) of Levi could go into the temple. Everyone else stayed in one of the yards (or courts) outside. There everybody would hear him say ‘thanks!’ to the Lord.
19 I will do this in the courts of the house of the Lord.
I will do this in the centre of Jerusalem.
Hallelujah! or, Tell the Lord that he is very great!