Several years ago we had an unseasonably warm winter followed by a lost fruit crop. Trees bloomed too early and the buds were killed by frost. The following year though was a boom year as the trees made up for the lost crop by producing in abundance, overflowing. Farmers had a difficult time harvesting the entire crop. It’s a feast or famine situation: some years our work may yield little results; other years there may be more than we can handle.
Psalm 65 is a beautiful psalm of praise and thanksgiving traditionally used for Thanksgiving. It appears to be two separate units brought together: verses 1-8 follow the same poetic pattern with a regular meter whereas verses 9-13 follow an irregular pattern. This leads one to believe these verses were added later for liturgical reasons, perhaps in celebration of the harvest. Also the content is different, verses 1-8 being penitential in nature and 9-13, being verses of thanksgiving. Yet there is a connection.
The psalm starts with praise for God who hears our prayers and forgives our sins – it is awareness of sin that brings people to God. “When our transgressions prevail over us, you forgive them.” (3) The context is a situation of sinfulness and chastisement for sin. Some propose that the perceived punishment for this sin was a time of drought. In Old Testament times, God’s pleasure and displeasure was often shown through nature. God’s disfavor is attributed to the failure of nature to bless the land. In response to the prayers of the people, God blessed them with rain (9-10). The bounteous yield (11-12) is a sign of God restored favor and forgiveness.
In verses 5-8, God’s great deeds, might and power, is praised. God’s strength created the mountains and stills the roaring seas, which then leads all people to awe before God as creator and to shouts of joy.
The psalm then shifts from praise of God’s cosmic power to God’s involvement in the harvest, blessing the fields and flocks with abundance in a beautiful poetic vision. Spring and spring rains come, “You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water . . . You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers and blessing its growth.” (9-10) The rains are followed by a rich harvest, “You crown the year with bounty, the tracks of your chariot drip with fatness.” (11) The harvest is so great that the pastures are covered with flocks of sheep like clothing, the valleys are clothed in rich greens and gold and all nature sings for joy. “The pastures of the wilderness drip, 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.” (12-13) The pastures are overflowing; God will not be out done in giving to his people.
The psalm is thus broken into three parts – praise of God in Zion who forgives sin, praise of the power of the universal God/creator, and praise of God who delivers bounty. We, as God’s people, are invited to join in delight at the wonder of God in nature.
When things go well, during prosperous times, we can forget about God. When we forget God, we no longer participate in God’s delight. Perhaps this is the sin of the people in this psalm. In our psalm we see the need to seek forgiveness. Out of the experience of being forgiven, one naturally turns to praise and thanksgiving. We are filled with delight.
Jesus came that we might have life, but not just getting by, life in abundance. He tells us, “Give and it will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and over flowing, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38)
There are times in our life when we experience famine. God may seem far away, all of our work seems to be in vain. Then comes the feast when we can barely keep up with all of the blessings God is bestowing on us.
Perhaps you are experiencing a time of famine. If so, take heart and rest in anticipation of the bounty that will follow. God will not be outdone in giving good to his people.
How do you deal with famine times in your life? What keeps you going when all of your work seems in vain?
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