Psalm 66 is a combination of a hymn of praise (vv.1-12) and a song of thanksgiving (vv. 13-20), but they follow parallel patterns of praise-witness-blessing:
a. The earth sings and praises (v. 1-2)/Worshipper brings offerings (13a)
b. Speak/say to God about God’s deeds (v. 3)/Utterance of God’s vows (v. 13b-14)
c. The earth worships (v. 4)/Worshipper offers sacrifices (v. 15)
a. Come and “see” God’s deeds (v. 5)/Come and “hear” what God “has done for me” (v. 16)
b. Wintess to the Past (v. 6-7)/Witness to the Present (v. 17-19)
a. Blessing of God from the “peoples” (v. 8-9)/Blessing of God by individual (v. 20)
The hymn of praise in vv. 1-12 is a corporate act of worship, using plural verb forms and plural personal pronouns. Verses 1-4 open the hymn with a call to corporate praise. It calls all of the earth to “make a joyful noise” and to sing to God (v. 1-2), followed by utterance (what we in the Christian liturgical tradition would define as an act of “word”), followed by a repetition that “all the earth” worships Godf and sing praises (v. 4).
Verses 5-7 is a call to corporate witness (most likely to the nations mentioned in verse 7), beginning with the command to “come and see” God’s deeds on behalf of Israel. Verses 6-7 then recount the exodus tradition as those aforementioned “awesome deeds.” Verses 8-9 in thus a call for corporate blessing, calling the “peoples” to bless God who had acted on behalf of Israel.
Verses 10-12 close out the hymn, shifting the language away from imperative command towards active verbs with God as the subject: “For you…have tested us…You brought us into the net…you have brought us out...” These verses act somewhat like a prayer of confidence, recalling God’s past deeds as the psalm shifts towards the individualistic song of thanksgiving.
That song of thanksgiving spans verses 13-20, and echoes the same structure of verses 1-9 as shown in the outline above. In verses 13-15, the making of vows (the individual act of “word”) is bracketing by the worship act of sacrifices. The worshipper than witnesses to God’s deeds on their behalf, inviting others to come and “hear” about the present deliverance, when the worshipper cried aloud and declares that “truly God has listened” (v. 19). Then the individual worshipper offers a closing blessing to God who has been faithful and not rejected their plea for help. Some suggest that this individual song of thanksgiving in 13-20 is actually a communal song offered by a represenative of the community, like a priest or even possibly the king.
Psalm 66 is a good example of how much of the Old Testament does theology, by interpreting present reality through the lens of God’s past actions on behalf of Israel. You see it throughout the OT; the Ten Commandments begin with a recitation of God’s deeds. The whole book of Deuteronomy is a witness to God’s work and a call to respond in obedience;“for you were slaves in Egypt” is Deuteronomy’s oft-spoken refrain.
In this psalm, you have dual testimony; you have testimony about God’s great deeds in the past alongside God’s great deeds in the present. Especially key to the memory of God’s past doings is the memory of the exodus event, shown here in verses 6-7. As I told my “Invitation to the Old Testament” Disicple class in the fall this past year, to begin to understand the Old Testament, you need to understand the two “ex”-es: exodus and exile.
In Isaiah, the exilic prophet anticipates restoration as a new exodus from Egypt, declaring boldly to the exiles: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (see Isaiah 43:17-21). This same theme and way of understanding the present through the past is at work in Psalm 66 as well, tying the testimony of God’s past deeds (exodus) to the individual testimony of God’s present deeds, seen as a kind of new exodus in the life of the testifier or in the life of Israel who the testifier speaks on behalf of.
The worship found in Psalm 66 is not worship for the sake of worship, but is worship because of the confidence found in God’s deeds on behalf of God’s people. It is not worship so that we might get something in return, but worship because of what God has already done for us. And it is worship intended to do more than just give thanks, but to invite others to share in the celebration: “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me” (v. 16). It is worship as testimony about God, about who God is and what God has done for God’s people. And in response to this kind of God, the psalm suggests, we should freely and joyfully offer praise and thanksgiving and blessing.