Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Psalm 66 bears an inscription “of Resurrection,” which Augustine reminds us looks both to the resurrection of Christ and to the eventual resurrection of the Christ and to the eventual resurrection of the Church, which is our great hope (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328462). As the Jews held to a hope of resurrection, so do Christians. For this reason, in verse one, the Psalm calls “every land” to rejoice in God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328472). The Psalm continues in verse two to speak of playing instruments. Augustine observes that when we plan an instrument it is not for us and God. The music is heard by others as well, thus testifying to those around us about God’s presence (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328483).
Augustine notes the tension between doing our works to be seen by others and letting our good works shine before others. The solution to the problem is to play “not to your own name, but to the name of the Lord your God” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328488). To prevent the arrogance of doing things for ourselves, Augustine says, God chose fishermen rather than orators as his apostles. He chose poor before rich, humble before noble (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328493).
Verse three makes a striking statement by acknowledging that God’s works are to be feared, rather than to be loved. Augustine elaborates on this idea by describing numerous times when God humbled the mighty. His conclusion is that we must recognize we are doing God’s works, not our own. We fear lest we should become arrogant through God’s blessings (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328503). Augustine circles back to the theme of resurrection as the great sign of God’s power, not of the power of a prophet or priest (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328528).
Because of the lies of those who opposed Jesus, then, Augustine takes verses four and five to call for all nations to worship the true God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328553). Christ, while being put to death on the basis of lies, was able to blind the eyes of the nations to the power of His resurrection. Through that power he overturned nature itself, as evidenced by verse six, turning the sea into dry land. Augustine reflects briefly on the waters as a place of danger and turmoil and the dry land as a place of safety. What appears to signify mortality becomes a path for immortality (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328569). This, again, is a source of joy for those who are in Christ. For those who are not in Christ, who trust in themselves, the world remains a place of sin and turmoil. In contrast, in verses eight and following, the refrain is praise to God. He is the one who has given life (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328610).
Verse 10 changes the metaphor to that of refining. God has refined His people as silver, removing uncleanness (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328615). The trials of this world would try to catch God’s people, as in a trap. Augustine notes that in verse 11 God has even placed people in authority, who would seek our harm. We face fire and water, both of which can bring harm. Augustine compares exorcism to fire and baptism to water, both used by God for our purification (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328635). The motif of fire is continued in verse 13, when the Psalmist speaks of a whole burnt offering. Augustine finds it important that this is the whole, not simply a ceremonial portion. “All that is mine let Thy fire consume, let nothing of mine remain to me, let all be Thine” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328646). That which is corruptible will be swallowed in Christ’s victory.
Once all is done, in verse 14, the Psalmist is free to render vows to the Lord (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328656). God becomes the one who is praiseworthy. Verse 15, with its language of “marrow,” points to that which is internal. Augustine therefore takes the offering to be that of the whole person. Likewise, the idea of offering oxen and rams he finds as symbolic of our surrender of all (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328671).
In verse 16, then, all who fear God hear of his works. Those who reject God close their ears and do not hear (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328681). Verse 18, however, reminds us that we will not be wholehearted. There is censure all around, and we deserve it. The cure, according to Augustine, is to pour out our hearts to God once again (Augustine Psalms, loc. 328696). As we do this, in verses 19-20, God hears our prayer and shows us his mercy. Augustine sees him as doing this for us as partakers of His resurrection, which we receive in hope.