The unknown author of the psalm seems to have been thinking about the marvellous deliverance of Israel from Egypt at the Exodus (v. 6), which would indicate that the psalm was sung at the annual Passover feast. Although he had not been there personally, he identified himself with those who had experienced it (the last line of verse 6 says, ‘There we did rejoice in him’).
Such a triumph reminded God’s people that he was keeping his eye on their enemies (v. 7). Yet the psalmist wants the nations to come and see what God did back then (v. 5), which raises the question, ‘Where could they see an event that occurred several centuries previously?’ The answer to that question is that they could see it in God’s written account of the event recorded in the Bible.
The psalmist evidently considered that activity of God as having a message for the nations. They were to consider that God easily defeated the most powerful earthly army of the time – the only appropriate response to the display of his power is worship (vv. 1-4). We today are aware of an even greater victory of God over his enemies – the victory obtained by Jesus on the cross when he defeated the powers of darkness.
It is not clear which time of trouble is referred to in verses 8-12. There are many occasions in the history of Israel and Judah which could be described in these verses. His description does not indicate that the described experience was one of divine chastisement. Instead it was a period of severe testing when God, in his providence, allowed their enemies to dominate their lives. Yet he was always in control, and when the time of testing was completed he brought them to a prosperous place. This is often the way the Lord works. Difficulties in our lives are his way of testing us, but he will eventually provide rich consolation.
In the second half of the psalm (vv. 13- ), the scene moves to the temple. The psalmist’s description of what took place there is in two parts. In the first section, found in verses 13-15, the psalmist reveals that he had promised God that he would offer burnt offerings to him (a burnt offering signified total dedication). He explains in the second section (vv. 16-20) why he did so. God had heard his prayers for deliverance. The psalmist mentions two important aspects of answered prayer. One is that we should share with others when God answers our prayers and the other is that sinful thoughts will prevent us from receiving answers to our prayers.