Psalm 65 – A Lesson in Holism by Rev Keith Innes

Psalm 65 – A Lesson in Holism

This exuberant hymn of praise breaks out in worship of God, who is the God equally of Zion, of the whole world, and of the fertile earth. It is a corrective to our too-often compartmentalised thinking.

God of Zion  (verses 1-4)

Rev Keith Innes

Zion was originally the mount where the Temple was built in Jerusalem – though the same name is often used more broadly to denote the city as a whole. Zion is here the place where people make vows to God and prayer is answered; where all humanity is invited to draw near to God; where God overcomes the power and guilt of human wickedness; where God invites people to live in God’s presence, and where they enjoy the spiritual nourishment that comes from communion with God.

The New Testament fulfilment of Zion is the living Church of Jesus Christ.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24 NRSV).

This is the spiritual environment in which Christians live.

God of the world (verses 5-8)

The God of the redeemed community is also the God of creation and of history, to whom ultimate power belongs. The very existence of our earthly home is God’s work.  By divine power the mountains were set up, and the roaring of the waves subdued. By the same power both the waves of the seas and the ‘tumult of the peoples’ are silenced (6-7). Old Testament Israel saw the same power at work in creation and in history.

God is not only sovereign over his chosen people but is also ‘the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas’ (5).  One way or another, everything will conform to God’s loving purpose. Creation reveals God’s power even to distant peoples (8a). God makes ‘the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy’ (8b).

God of the earth (verses 9-13)

God is at work in the world not only in spiritual blessing and in the ordering of creation, but also in the interaction between human beings and their natural environment. The water needed by the earth is supplied from God’s unlimited supply (9). God, the ‘cosmic farmer’ (James L Mays) so orders the course of nature that the needs of its inhabitants are met. As Mays remarks, the imagery of the psalm ‘transcends our growing habit of thinking of productivity in a technological fashion and allows us to speak to the one upon whose gift of a fertile earth all our science and economies depend’. [1] The abundant fecundity of the earth constitutes an expression of exuberant jubilation.

The evocation of the boundless abundance of the fertile earth makes this psalm a favourite for harvest festivals, especially in rural communities.

 

You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
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 (10-13).

 

This is, of course, an idealised picture (for example, the fruitfulness of the ‘pastures of the wilderness’ is normally limited).[2] It can be read as a picture of God’s ultimate will for the created world. If so, then it also represents an ideal towards which we should strive now. God’s purpose is that the whole creation, including humans, should flourish.

Such a faith entails an urgent call to work for the just distribution of natural and human resources in the face of natural disruption and human suffering. The gross inequalities of our world call us to respond in a manner that reflects God’s love and justice.

Looking at the psalm as a whole, its biggest challenge perhaps lies in its uniting of religion, ecology and fruitfulness. Like the Bible as a whole, it refuses to separate life into compartments. This observation remains true even if, as many scholars think, the last section was originally separate from the first two. The holistic vision is then transferred from an original author to a later editor.

We too must guard against the tendency to separate different aspects of life. Industry, art, science and spirituality belong together in a truly biblical worldview. Psalm 65 still calls out to us to unite in praise for God’s saving love, power and generosity towards the whole earth community.

Keith Innes

Keith Innes was in parish ministry from 1958 until his retirement in 1997. Since then he has studied and written on biblical eco-theology. His notes “God, the Earth and Humanity in the Book of Micah” and “British and American attitudes to nature” are available on the JRI Briefings page of this website

Photo: Sussex Prairie Garden (P.D. Lickiss).

Notes:

[1] James L. Mays. Psalms. Interpretation, Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994. Pages 220-221.

[2] Marvin E. Tate. Word Biblical Commentary 20: Psalms 51-100. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990. Page 143.