The Crown of the Year

Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.--Psalm 65:11

A verse by verse study in Psalm 65

Every year ancient Israel had two "new years." The religious new year was in the month of Nisan (March-April by modern reckoning). The civil new year was in the month Tishri (September-October). Both new years were marked by agricultural harvests--barley in the springtime and fruit in the fall. Both months were celebrated with harvest festivals. In the spring it was the feast of the Passover which, while primarily commemorating the deliverance from Egypt, also included the waving of the first of the barley sheaves. In the fall it was the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast of thanksgiving for both the nation's preservation during the exodus wanderings and for the harvesting of the bountiful fruit crop. The fall festival was also associated closely with the annual Day of Atonement and its sacrifices for sin and the cleansing of the tabernacle (and later the temple) for another year of sacrificing.

Internal evidence suggests that Psalm 65 was written in connection with the fall festivals of harvest thanksgiving, although the psalm includes allusions to the fullness of grain as well as the ripening of grapes.

Both a Psalm and a Song

The titles and subscriptions are a part of the ancient manuscripts in addition to the text of the Psalms. This Psalm is entitled "A Psalm and Song of David" and bears the subscription, "To the chief musician." While "psalm" is used 28 times and "song" 44 times, both are only used together in 14 Psalms. The word "psalm" (Hebrew: mizmor) denotes any writing, in either poetry or prose, that was penned for the purposes of meditation. "Song" (Hebrew: shir) designates a writing that is in poetry and meant to be sung by either a group of singers or the entire congregation.

It was probably the popularity of the 13 psalms which bear both words in their titles that caused the author to set the words to music. The closing notation, "To the chief musician," usually designates a direction to the leader of the singers to preserve both the words and music for use on regular occasions--in this case, at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Introduction--Verses 1 to 3

Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.

The Hebrew verb translated "waiteth" is used only four times, all of them in the Psalms. In two instances (Psalms 22:2; 39:2) it is translated more accurately "silent" or "silence" and is rendered so in this text in the New American Standard. The attitude expressed is of a great hush in the presence of a vastly superior being. In a similar vein (though using a different Hebrew word), the Psalmist declared: "Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation" (Zechariah 2:13).

Israel had been instructed in the Law to bring an offering of their vow unto the Lord to the appointed feasts (Numbers 15:3). The vow they were to make was one of continued fidelity to the keeping of the Law which had been given to them through Moses at Mount Sinai.

Acknowledging the propriety of prayer for all, David in his Psalm called attention to the burden of the prayer. It is to be a prayer for the forgiveness of sin and a proper attitude at all times but especially as the Day of Atonement drew near. The word "iniquity" in this passage is a translation of two Hebrew words. The phrase more properly should be rendered by the phrase "iniquitous words prevail against me." In this context, "iniquitous words" were not those of calumny and condemnation by peers, but the just charges of infidelity by a righteous God. That the charges were just is humbly admitted by the penitent, calling them "transgressions" that need to be purged away. David expressed the same attitude which he had exhibited in his prayer after he had sinned with Bathsheba: "For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me" (Psalm 51:3).

The Blessed Priesthood--Verse 4

Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.

At this point the psalmist turns his attention to those offering the sacrifice. The vocation of priest was designed by God to be an honorable one. Even when the office was filled by dishonorable men, the office itself was to be honored (Acts 23:5; Exodus 22:28).

The priests of ancient Israel represented a future spiritual group of priests. Like David, the revelator also spoke of priests (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6), though those in Revelation are of a different order or line.

The Aaronic line of priests was chosen through heredity, those of the Melchizedec priesthood are individually selected by God. Then they are brought near to God and permitted to dwell in his courts. It is of these courts that the apostle Paul spoke: "And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). What a blessing, indeed, it is for those called to a heavenly calling to dwell in these heavenly courts! It is of these the psalmist wrote: " He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1).

What abundant goodness dwells within these hallowed courts! Israel's priest was surrounded by walls of gold and framed embroidery of cherubim, woven in blue, purple, and scarlet. These are emblematic of the divine and precious promises by which some might eventually attain the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). It is here that one enjoys the enlightenment of the golden candlestick and views the nourishing "bread of presence." It is here that one has the privilege of offering up prayers with the rich incense provided by Christ himself (Revelation 8:4).

The word translated "satisfied" in verse 4 is much stronger than implied by the English. It more properly could be rendered "sated" or "surfeited" according to Prof. W. E. Vine. God's goodness is so abundantly more than could be described that it is hard to find a word strong enough to appropriately express appreciation. The words of the apostle Paul come to mind: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33).

The use of the word "temple" has caused some to state that this Psalm could not have been written by David since the temple was not built until the reign of his son Solomon; however the same Hebrew word is used of the tabernacle in the days of Eli in 1 Samuel 1:9. David uses the same word to describe the tent on the threshing-floor of Araunah in 2 Samuel 22:7.

Nature Controlled--Verses 5 to 8

By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea: Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power: Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.

As with the word "fear" which is sometimes the translation of this Hebrew word yare' (Strong's 3372), "terrible" is open to either a positive or negative definition. Prof. W. E. Vine says about this Hebrew word:

"Used of a person in an exalted position, yare' connotes `standing in awe.' This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God."

David showed his appreciation for the abundant crops of the year by extolling the power of God in controlling the course of nature. From the establishment of the mountains, whose vast reservoirs of water were so important to the nation, to the controlling of the sea waters so they did not flood the coastal plains, David sees a magnificent goodness in the great Creator.

He noted that the same power that holds the seas in their place also stills the stormy hearts of men. Perhaps in this Psalm he is referring to the surrounding nations whose attempts to plunder Israel had been restrained during his reign.

In verse 8 David broadened the lessons learned from the power of God over the elements of nations. God's beneficent goodness in providing the necessary resources for food crops is not limited to Israel. As Jesus said, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).

The final phrase of verse 8 can either mean that the worshippers would praise the Lord from dawn to dusk or, as some read it, that God should be worshipped by all from the west to the east. The Hebrew word for "outgoings" can point to direction and is translated "east" in Psalm 75:6.

God's Abundant Goodness--Verses 9 and 10

Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.

The song of praise continues with direct references to the blessings leading to the rich harvest. Attention first is called to the rains which, during the winter, dropped as snow in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range to the north and flowed down "the river of God" (probably a reference to the Jordan and its four tributaries) which brought a continuous flow of life-giving water to the fertile valleys in the south. There is a similar understanding of this water course in Psalm 133:3 where the precious anointing oil which installed the kings and priests is likened to this flow of water. "As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." Psalm 29 also shows the same comprehension of the rainfall pattern in Israel.

David recognized that God is not only the provider for abundant crops, but also the planner for them. He recognized that corn would come only when God had "so provided for it." Man cannot dictate to God when blessings should be conferred. God is the sovereign and the timing remains with him.

The "ridges" and the "furrows" are both technical agricultural terms. The first refers to the depths of a furrow left by a plow, while the latter to the clods of earth cast up. David notices that the same rain which fills the little man-made valleys of the furrows with water also softens the hard earth of the surrounding clods. Thus the showers prepared the ground for the new grains to spring forth.

The Crown of the Year--Verses 11 to 13

Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.

The word for "crownest" can be translated "circled" or "compassed" as in 1 Samuel 23:6 and Psalm 5:12. Both "crownest" and "circled" fit this Psalm. Although the fatness of the fields is the crowning achievement of the agricultural year, David more likely was praising the fact that the beneficence of nature has been good to the land all year long.

The word translated "goodness" is the same as in the oft-repeated expression in the first chapter of the Bible: "and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:10). David, like God at creation, looked over the lushness of the pastures, the fatness of the flocks, and the abundance of grain and said, "It is good." Therefore it was appropriate that the those receiving these blessings should gather in the appointed harvest feasts and raise their voices to shout and sing.

How much more so, in the lives of the Christian today! The abundant provisions of the heavenly Father are recognized in providing amply for the harvest of the fruits of the spirit. The Christian shows his appreciation for these spiritual gifts by gathering together and joining their voices in songs of praise.