(16) Come and hear, all you who fear God, and let me tell you what he has done for my soul. (17) To him I cried with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. (18) If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened, (19) but surely God has heard. He has paid attention to the voice of my prayer. (20) Blessed be God because he has not turned away my prayer nor his steadfast love from me.
The psalmist uses several skillful word repetitions to establish the emphasis of this final segment of Psalm 66. We find God’s name four times: “God” or “Elohim” (vss. 16, 19, & 20) and “Lord” or “Adonai” (vs. 18). “Hear” is first used with the accompanying verb, “come,” (vs. 16) and then repeated alone (vs. 19). In the first case, the psalmist calls on all who fear God to approach him in worship. In the second, the psalmist praises God for having heard his prayer. Two synonyms for “hear” are also used: “listen” (vs. 18) and “paid attention” (vs. 19). Finally, “prayer” is mentioned in the context of the psalmist extolling God for responding to his petitions (vss. 19 & 20).
One other repetition, not so easily observed in English, should be pointed out. In the first part of the psalm, the author’s exhortation was “come and see (gaze upon) what God has done” (vs. 5). In this final segment he uses the same Hebrew word (vs. 18), which, in this context, carries the nuance of “cherish” or “look at with pleasure or desire.” It is the psalmist’s way of warning us against being enticed by the lust of our eyes to commit sin.
I. Testimony: come and hear what God has done. (16 & 17)
II. Truth: God will not listen to those who cherish sin. (18)
III. Thanksgiving: God in love has heard my prayer. (19 & 20)
When we cry out to God with sin-cleansed hearts, we can have confidence that he will hear and answer our prayers.
Psalm 66:18 is a well-known verse that many believers have memorized as children. Some, including this author, learned it in KJV English: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The key word is the verb translated “regard” or, as other versions express it, “cherish.” In paraphrases we find “If I had not confessed the sin of my heart” or “If I had been cozy with evil.” In Hebrew, the word, as pointed out in the observation section above, is actually the familiar verb, “to see.”
To understand why the author chose this particular word, it helps to think about what art lovers do when they visit a museum. They take time to really observe what they are looking at. They gaze at the works on display, studying, contemplating every detail, every brush stroke, every nuance, in order to appreciate the beauty of the work and the skill of the artist. This is precisely what we are to avoid with any kind of evildoing, especially in fantasizing about how we might act in a given situation. That is why Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Mt. 5:27 & 28). Jesus was not referring to a passing glance but rather to someone who gazes at length and fantasizes lustfully.
Psalm 66:18 serves as a warning to discipline our eyes and our thoughts. Rather than contemplate evil, we should “come and see (gaze upon) what God has done” (vs. 5). This is similar to the exhortation the author of Hebrews gave us: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:2 & 3). When we keep him as the focus of our hearts, our lives will be pleasing in his sight.