It was my first time riding this section of the Falling Waters Trail. The path was tree covered, providing ample shade from the sun, when to my right I glimpsed blue. Lime Lake? I had been looking for the lake but so far had only seen a swampy pond. As I road further, more blue appeared to the right and then on the left as I rode into sunlight between two bodies of water. And I thought, is this what heaven is like? The tree covered path was pretty in its own way, but this was magnificent. Life on this earth is good, but heaven . . . ? There is no comparison.
Psalm 66 is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. As summer fades into autumn and the trees take on a headdress of color, it is natural to praise our God. The psalm begins with the command to make a joyful noise to God. All of creation is to join in this song of praise. “All the earth worships you, they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” (4)
The author then recounts the marvelous deeds that God has done. He led the Israelites across the Red Sea, “He turned the sea into dry land; men passed through the river on foot,” (6) a defining moment in their history. He reminds them of how God kept them alive through difficult times, “Who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.” (9) God brought them through many trials and tests, “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (10) Yet in the end, God brought them to safety, “Yet you have brought us forth to a spacious place.” (12)
The author then offers his own personal hymn of praise, vowing that he will make offerings to God in recognition for all God has done. He invites others to listen to his witness, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.” (16) He concludes with a doxology—a short hymn of praise to God, “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (20)
Scripture scholar, Walter Brueggemann, divides the psalms into three categories: orientation, dis-orientation and re-orientation. Psalms of orientation are confident hymns of praise and thanksgiving; God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. In disorientation psalms, all is not right with the world, there is suffering and sorrow. These are the psalms of lament. In re-orientation psalms, the people have gone through a time of disorientation to a time of orientation, all is right with the world again after having gone through a time of trial and testing. The first is a child-like faith, the latter, a mature faith. Psalm 66 is a psalm of disorientation. The writer has made it through a time of testing to a time of renewed faith in God, a spacious place.
What is this spacious place? In King James it is translated as a “wealthy space.” In the New American Bible it is translated as refreshment. Other translations are freedom or a broad space. The word also appears in Job 36:16, “He also allured you out of distress into a broad place where there was no cramping, and what was set on your table was full of fatness.” There it refers to a place of opulence where Job enjoyed all that the earth could offer. The promise of this psalm is that God will lead us into this broad space. It could be material wealth, but it could also be a mental state of freedom from attachment to possessions. It is better appreciated because of the trials that preceded it.
In this life, we will encounter times of testing. We go through darkness into dawn. This world, with all of its wonders, is but a glimpse of what God has in store for us. If we remain faithful through these times, our faith will be stronger from the testing and God will lead us to a broad place.
Have you experienced times of testing? What got you through those times? Are you on the other side? What do those times teach you now that they are in the past?