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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-64--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
The following Psalms (59-72) comprise the second part of Book Two (Psalms 42-72). The Book of Psalms divides up into five Books, of which this is the final part of the second, each of which ends with a special ‘blessing, which are as follows:
In this second book of Psalms it is noticeable that the greater emphasis throughout, as compared with the first section, is on God as ELOHIM. But this, while noticeable, must not be over-exaggerated for the name YHWH certainly does appear fairly often (42.8; 46.7, 8 11; 47.2, 5; 48.1, 8; 50.1; 54.6; 55.16, 22; 56.10; 58.6; 59.3, 5, 8; 64.10; 68.4 (YH); 68.7, 16, 20; 69.13, 16, 31, 33; 70.5; 71.1, 5, 16; 72.18, as also does ‘Lord’ (ADONAI), and it should be noted that the name YHWH appears in the verse which ends the section (72.18). Indeed, there it is specifically associated with ELOHIM, for there He is YHWH ELOHIM. So in the end this section also is dedicated to YHWH. It is only in contrast with the first section (1-41), where YHWH predominates, that we particularly notice the change of title/Name.
This Second Book contains Psalms from two main sources, firstly from a collection entitled ‘of the sons of Korah’ (42-49), and the remainder from a collection entitled ‘of David’. Apart from these there are two which are simply dedicated ‘for the Chief Musician’ (66; 67), one headed ‘of Asaph’ (50; see next section where there are more songs ‘of Asaph’), and the final one which is entitled ‘of Solomon’. The dedication of most of the Psalms to ‘the Chief Musician’ or ‘Choirmaster’, indicates that where necessary they have been adapted for Temple worship, in the case of David probably by David himself (he had a great interest in Temple worship). Interestingly the section ends with the note ‘the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended’ (72.20). But this ascription need only be seen as applying to this section (or the collection from which the Psalms were obtained), as more Psalms of David will follow in later sections. It would appear to refer to the fact that the group of Psalms which are ‘of David’ in this particular section is now coming to its conclusion, and may be seen as indicating that the Psalms of ‘the sons of Korah’ and others have been included under his supervision. It might, however, seem to add strength to the idea that, at least in this section, if a Psalm is said to be ‘of David’, this is intended to indicate authorship by David himself. On the other hand the final Psalm is ‘of Solomon’ (the son of David), which could easily have been be seen as ‘a prayer of ‘David’, because he was of the Davidic house.
Like the last two Psalms this is another Psalm which is dedicated to the Choirmaster or Chief Musician, and set to the tune of ‘Do Not Destroy’. It is a Psalm of David, a Michtam (plea for ‘cover’ or protection).
The provenance of the Psalm is said to be when Saul sent some of his men to watch David’s house in order to kill him (1 Samuel 19.1, 8 ff.). Compare our interpretation of Psalm 55. And there can be do doubt that in spite of its reference to the nations, the Psalm is of a very personal kind. Note the contrast between ‘me’ (regularly) and ‘my people’ (verse 11). Indeed, the references to the nations could arise from the fact that those who came to kill David were mainly mercenaries recruited by Saul for his standing army. Israel’s farmers would not want to be part of a standing army for they had wok to do in the fields. Such mercenaries may well be in mind in 1 Samuel 14.21, for ‘Hebrews’ (compare Habiru) is an unusual term for Israelites except as used by foreigners, (it is rarely if ever used by Israelites of themselves), and they are described in that verse as contrasted with Israelites. Furthermore we know that in those days foreign mercenaries were sometimes known as Habiru (stateless persons). Compare how many of David’s men also appear to have been foreigners.
David Prays For Deliverance From Armed Men, Including Foreign Mercenaries, Sent By Saul, Who Seek His Life As They Watch His House With A View To Killing Him When He Emerges (59.1-5).
As a prominent commander David’s house would be well guarded. He was also married to Saul’s daughter Michal, who was, of course, in the house with him. And he was popular with the people. Thus Saul had three good reasons for not simply openly sending in his soldiers to kill David. He therefore sent them to watch David’s house with a view to killing him surreptitiously when he emerged (1 Samuel 19.11). In view of David’s own possible escort, this would require a good number of men.
Michal, who would know her father well, appears to have been suspicious of the men who had gathered outside the house, which as befitted David’s position would have been a large one, and warned David of what was afoot (1 Samuel 19.11). Indeed, her father may have sent her a warning to make sure that she kept out of the way. Thus she had good grounds for being suspicious.
So, aware of what was happening, David calls on God to deliver him, declaring his innocence, and describing the unscrupulous and bloodthirsty men who are out to assassinate him.
He calls on God to deliver him from ‘his enemies’, ‘the workers of iniquity’, ‘bloodthirsty men’. With that in view he asks to be ‘set on high’ by God, out of danger’s reach, so that they will not be able to touch him. The thought is of his being secure, as though in a fortified tower (see verses 9, 16).
He knew that that his adversaries were not just soldiers sent to perform their duty of arresting him so that he could have a fair trial, but men who hated him, selected because of their willingness to be part of a plot against him, and not averse to shedding innocent blood. At this stage Saul dared not attack him openly, for there were too many who might have come to David’s support, including his own son Jonathan. But in his jealousy, and because he suspected David of having an eye on the throne, he was determined to kill him, even though he had promised Jonathan that he would not (1 Samuel 19.6). Thus Saul had had to find men willing to be a part of his plot, some of whom would no doubt be mercenaries who only therefore owed loyalty to him.
Having been made a public Psalm, the Psalm was a reminder to all that when trouble beset them, in whatever form, they could look to God for help. We all find ourselves at times beset by troubles, and even possibly the target of influential people. At such times we can call on this and similar Psalms for comfort, as they lift us up to God for protection under His wings.
David points out to God that these mean are lying in wait for his life (an indication of the personal nature of the Psalm), although not for anything that he has done because he is innocent. It is not because of any particular sin or rebellion of which he is guilty, for in this regard he is without fault. He is totally loyal to Saul.
And he stresses the strength of the force that has come against him. ‘The mighty’ suggests that he recognised, as he surveyed them through a window, that they included some of Saul’s best warriors, powerful men who had come together for the sole purpose of assassinating him. He was not a fearful man, and he knew how to look after himself, something which Saul would have taken into account when determining the size of the force that he chose to send. But he knew that this assassination squad was too strong for him and the men who were with him to be able to cope with.
He points out their zeal to take him. They have ‘hastened and prepared themselves’ (it bears all the signs of a rushed operation hatched by Saul in one of his periods of severe depression), and he has done nothing to deserve it (see 1 Samuel 20.1). So he calls on YHWH to ‘awake Himself’ on his behalf, and take note of what is happening. Saul has aroused these men on his side, let YHWH now arouse Himself on David’s side.
All of us may feel at some time or other that the whole world is against us, even though it is not our fault. At such times we too can pray this prayer. And no one experienced this kind of situation more than our, Lord Jesus Christ, Who was constantly beset by men who were trying to get Him.
David has recognised the diversity of Saul’s assassination squad, mercenaries from a number of nations, and he may well have felt that the whole world was against him. So he calls on God to deal with them all, and not to spare any of them, because they are showing themselves to be evil men. It would not even have crossed his mind to take part in an operation like this himself. It was totally abhorrent to him.
Alternately it may be that the sight of all these foreign soldiers out to get him has awoken his mind to the perils that Israel is facing from nations round about (see 1 Samuel 14.47-48), and thus causes him, in the nobility of his heart, to pray for Israel’s deliverance as well as his own, and not spare any wicked transgressors. He would not be unaware of the threats facing Israel. It might thus indicate his breadth of mind in that, in spite of his own troubles, he is still concerned for Israel’s fate.
Note his description of God as, ‘YHWH, God of Hosts, God of Israel’. In his extremity he recognises that he needs a powerful God to save him, not only YHWH his covenant God, but YHWH Who is the God of Hosts, sovereign over all hosts of heaven and earth, and with a special concern for Israel. This title would be especially apposite if his thought had turned for a moment to Israel’s wider problems.
Some see this verse as added to the Psalm later (or altered to suit) when it became a public Psalm and a prayer for the deliverance of Israel. Many hymns today are later altered for some purpose, whilst still being attributed to the original author. This cannot be discounted, but it is not really necessary. The nation’s fate was always on Daid’s heart.
‘Selah.’ This musical note might be seen as indicating a break in his words, giving time for thought and worship when it became a public Psalm.
David Expresses His Confidence That YHWH Will Protect Him (59.6-10).
Describing his enemies as like a pack of stray dogs on the prowl (compare also verse 14) David is confident that YHWH will laugh at their folly and will protect him. God will be his fortress in the face of the strength of the enemy.
At night time all decent citizens remained in their homes and took to their beds. And it was then that packs of howling stray dogs roamed the streets looking for food. Thus he sees Saul’s men, as they try to secrete themselves around the neighbouring houses, as fairly similar, although in their case he is their prospective food. ‘They return at evening’ may suggest that they had been watching his house for a number of nights, dispersing during the day and returning each evening. Or the main reference may be to the fact that stray dogs return each evening, something which he likens to the arrival of these men.
He describes them as being like belching dogs, hungry to get at him. But in their case their lips are like swords. They express murderous intent against him. They are confident that no one knows what they are about. But they have overlooked YHWH.
He is confident that YHWH can deal with these foreign mercenaries. That YHWH will laugh at them in their supposed ‘secrecy’, and will have them all in derision. See similarly Psalm 2.4. And, still concerned about Israel’s needs in spite of his own danger, he also lifts his prayers beyond himself, desiring that in a similar way YHWH will have in derision all foreigners who have designs on Israel.
Recognising that he stand almost alone against Saul, the man who rules Israel, he informs God that he is giving heed to Him. He has nowhere else to turn. All the ‘strength’ is on Saul’s side. He recognises that he now needs some support from somewhere. But he has no doubt about where he can obtain that strength from. For God is his fortress and his high tower (into which the righteous can run and be safe - Proverbs 18.10).
His confidence lies in God’s covenant love (chesed), the love which God revealed when He redeemed Israel from Egypt, and the love that He shows to all who are true to the covenant. He knows that God has already demonstrated that love towards him by sending Samuel to anoint him in readiness for the future that He has in store for him (1 Samuel 16.13). Thus he has no doubt that He will meet him in this present situation. He will see that his enemies are thwarted in their desire to kill him. And he is, indeed, equally sure that God will give him victory over all his enemies, whoever they may be.
‘Let me see my desire on.’ This was a common phrase indicating the granting of success. It is found on the Moabite stone, where Mesha of Moab speaks of Chemosh (the Moabite god) as having ‘let me see my desire on all who hated me’.
David Points Out To God That He Is A Victim Of Slander, Lies And Cursing And Asks Him To Deal With Them Accordingly (59.11-13).
We should note that what David majors on is not the power of a great enemy, but on slanderous and lying words which are being spoken against him. This indicates a local situation where he is being falsely accused. He does not want them just to be killed out of hand (something that he knows God could do), but rather to be made a public example of, an example that will never be forgotten, an example that will reveal that God rules over all nations.
David had no doubt that God could simply strike his enemies down where they were. But he asks Him not to do that, for if He did it would soon be forgotten, and then His people would simply forget it. It would be a seven day wonder. What he rather wants is that they might be made to wander to and fro (compare verse 15, same verb) or be ‘scattered’, by God’s power, and then brought down, by the One Who is Israel’s shield. Wandering to and fro would well describe a mercenary’s life, but here it may be the more prosaic thought of them wandering up and down in the city in vain as they wait to seize him (verse 15), something that the people would observe and remember, laughing continually behind their backs. Both, of course, may be in mind. They were to be constantly trying, never succeeding, until God brought them down. Their presence would be a constant reminder of what Saul was like and what he had tried to do to David, and how he had failed. David seemingly at this stage did not approve of foreign mercenaries lording it in Israel. In his view they were not needed. Did Israel not have their Sovereign Lord as their shield?
‘MY people’ does not necessarily indicate that David was speaking as their king. It could equally well see him as identifying himself with his fellow countrymen against all their enemies, of which these foreign mercenaries reminded him. For he sees God as Israel’s shield and protector. What need then of foreign mercenaries?
He now describes what his charge is against these men. They have cursed him and lied against him, and behaved haughtily towards him. So he calls for them to be called to account for the sin of their mouth and the word of their lips. They had no doubt been convinced by Saul (they would not take much convincing) of how treacherous and dangerous David was, and as such men will, they had made it openly known with cursing and swearing. They wanted it known that they had been charged to deal with the infamous David. It was from those who overheard them that Michal may have obtained her intelligence (1 Samuel 19.11).
So whilst he did not want them simply struck down immediately, leaving him still open to further attacks by Saul’s men (compare 2 Kings 1.9-14), he did want them to be dealt with in such a way that when they were consumed, to be no more, it would let men know that it is God Who rules in Israel (Jacob), even to the ends of the earth. ‘To the ends of the earth’ would suit the idea that although the mercenaries moved on to pastures new, God would reach them wherever they were. It may be that he had in mind the story of the Exodus when the delayed judgment on Pharaoh eventually led to the nations learning of the glory of YHWH. But what we should note from this is that David’s great concern, even at such a time, was not so much for his own safety as for the glory of God.
Many of these men, if they survived or remained with Saul that long, would be struck down on Mount Gilboa as they sought to defend Saul (1 Samuel 31.1 ff.). And even though that did not initially fulfil David’s desire (what happened on Mt Gilboa could have been seen as suggesting that God did not rule in Israel), the situation was remarkably transformed when David rose to power and finally convincingly smashed the Philistine power. God’s reputation was thus finally enhanced among the nations as a consequence of the mercenaries being consumed.
‘Consume them in wrath.’ He wanted them consumed by God as One Who was angry at the fact that they had lied and cursed against the anointed of YHWH (1 Samuel 16.13), and had taken up arms against him. (Something which we know he himself would never do, in spite of Saul’s unforgivable treatment of him - 1 Samuel 24.6; 26.11). He considered that by attacking him they were attacking God.
‘Selah.’ A further pause for thought.
His Would Be Assassins Can Wander Up and Down Like Stray Dogs All Night If They Wish, But He Will Meanwhile Sing Of The Triumph And Protection Of His God (59.14-17).
David concludes the Psalm by taunting his oppressors for wasting their time by awaiting him in order to strike him down (compare verse 6-7), because he knows that it will be in vain. And he declares that meanwhile he will sing of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, knowing that God will be his refuge and strength.
David again takes up the picture of the wild dogs who scavenge in the city streets at night, if necessary wandering up and down all night if they are unable to find sufficient food. They would obtain their food from the rubbish thrown out of houses, which awaited collection by the rubbish collectors who would collect it in carts and burn it outside the city (in later days in the Valley of Hinnom).
He is quite content for his would be assassins to do the same, for he has prayed through to certainty of God’s deliverance. He sees them returning that night to keep watch outside his house, remaining there all night until they can seize him, only to be thwarted when they cannot find him. But he is satisfied now that it will be in vain, for he has already made his plans for escape, leaving them to face the smothered laughter of Israel when the story got around. (It may well be that the window through which he escaped (1 Samuel 19.12) was in the city wall, but whether it was or not, he was confident that they knew nothing about it, and he proved to be correct). So he sees them as like stray dogs, wandering the streets but never satisfied.
Meanwhile David would sing of God’s strength, the strength which had delivered him, and he will sing aloud (in contrast to their howling) of God’s covenant love in the morning, by which time through God’s help he would be safe and far away. God had not overlooked His covenant promises, and was proving to be his High Tower.
Indeed, he declares, he will yet sing praises to God who is his strength, and to God Who is his fortress, and the God Who shows him favour. Note that there is no boasting about his cleverness in escaping, or even of the wife who helped him to escape. All his thought is on the fact that he owes it all to God, and to His strength, protection and favour.
This Psalm is a reminder that God is concerned about all our troubles, especially when we appear to be beset by people who are trying to get us down. It especially speaks to God’s people when they are facing physical persecution, and reminds them that they are under God’s protection. All who are His are secure in God.
The whole Psalm is a preview of the life of Jesus, Who also was continually beset by enemies, only to come through triumphantly because His Father was with Him.
This Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician to the tune of Shushan Eduth, ‘the Lily of Testimony’. Compare for this the similar tune for Psalm 80 (shushannim eduth - ‘lilies of testimony’). It is a Michtam, a cry for cover and protection, and was for the purpose of teaching. Possibly the aim was that it should be learned by heart.
The background to the Psalm was when David had invaded Syria (Aram) to the north (2 Samuel 8.3-8), defeating the kings of Zobah and Damascus. Seemingly the Edomites to the south, with the assistance of the Syrians, had taken advantage of the opportunity to invade Southern Judah. It was at this point that the Psalm was written, when Judah was in despair at this sudden and unexpected invasion by their enemies, a despair shared by David as he learned news of what was going on. Subsequently he sent Joab and Abishai to deal with this invasion with the result that a Syrian-Edomite alliance in the South was driven back, inflicting heavy casualties (2 Samuel 8.13-14).
The opening of the Psalm is explained by this reverse which David initially suffered, of which he received news while he was fighting in the north. It may well be that while he was conducting his successful campaign in the north, the Edomites, encouraged by a contingent of Syrians, had invaded southern Judah. News of this having reached David he penned this Psalm, in which he calls on God, recognising that the reverse that Israel have suffered reveals that God is angry with them (otherwise He would surely have protected them). Declaring His certainty of victory because YHWH has raised His banner on His people’s behalf, he ends the Psalm by calling on God for His assistance.
He would then in practise proceed to deal with the invaders by despatching Joab with a powerful force, and it was Joab’s brother, Abishai, who would spearhead the attack which slaughtered 6,000 Syrians and 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt (1 Chronicles 18.12), and follow it up by subjugating Edom, thus gaining great renown for David (“getting him a name”). Israel were no longer the underdogs in the area as they had been in the past before the rise of David.
Notice the emphasis on the distinctiveness of His people. They are the ones who ‘fear Him’, that is, reverence Him and respond to Him, whilst He is the One Who ‘loves them and sees them as His own (verses 4-5). It is because of this that He raises up His standard on their behalf, and exultantly declares His control over the whole area, over Ephraim (Israel), Judah and the surrounding nations.
The Psalm may be divided into three parts:
David’s Distress On Learning Of The Disastrous Invasion Of Southern Judah By The Combined Syrian-Edomite Forces And His Confidence In The Face Of It (60.1b-4).
Recognising that the invasion of Judah by the Syrian-Edomite alliance is a sign of God’s displeasure with Israel, he describes what has happened to southern Judah as being like a severe earthquake, which has caused them to tremble and stagger around. But he is nevertheless confident that God has now given them a banner which can be displayed because they are His true people.
He first calls on God for restoration for Israel, recognising that the reason why they have been cast off and broken down is because God has been angry with them. Were it not so He would surely not have allowed this to happen. Thus all he can do is pray for God to forgive them and restore them.
The rise of David to power, and his subsequent victories, may well have made the people of Israel complacent. They may well have settled down and grown cold towards YHWH, and slack in obedience to the covenant requirements. As a consequence moral behaviour may have sunk to a low level, with violence, corrupt business practises and deceit having become prominent. This would then explain why God had allowed them to suffer this reverse in order to wake them up to their failings.
It is a reminder to us that when we suffer reverses it may well be because God is chastening us because of our failings, with a view to our restoration.
Similar language was later used by the Moabite king in the Moabite inscription, when he cried to the Moabite god Chemosh suggesting that the defeat of Moabite cities by Omri, king of Israel, had been “because Chemosh was angry with his land”. But he would not have seen it as signifying that Chemosh was concerned with their moral state. The gods of foreign nations had no such concerns. Rahter he would see it as indicating that Chemosh was angry because he was not receiving the respect that he ‘deserved’.
He pictures the land as having been devastated, almost as though a severe earthquake had struck it (compare Isaiah 24.18-20). Through the invasion God has made them tremble, and rent them apart, and devastated their towns, and shaken them, and he prays that He will therefore now put right the damage that has been done, and heal the breaches that have been made. He is not just sending Joab to deal with the situation, but calling on God to play His essential part.
We too, when we recognise that God has dealt with us in this way, should also call on God for His forgiveness and healing, looking to Him for restoration.
But it is not only the land that has been devastated, but also the people. The people have also experienced hard things, and have been made by God to drink strong wine that has made them drunk, in other words, to experience His indignation in a way that has made them stagger. “Drinking the wine of staggering” is a regular picture of the effect on people of God’s revealed anger (75.8; Jeremiah 25.15 ff.; Isaiah 51.17, 22). When our foundations are being shaken it may well be that God has a purpose in shaking our foundations.
But God has not totally deserted His people, for to them, as the people who fear Him, He has ‘given a banner’ (raised His standard), a sign of His approval and support. It is a call for the people to rally behind it. It may be that this was a literal banner proclaiming the Name of YHWH, which Israel bore into battle. Or I could have been a metaphorical one, indicating an assurance of YHWH’s support for His people and guaranteeing victory (see verses 6-8). Its purpose is twofold. Firstly in order to call His people to stand firm for the truth, and secondly in order that it might be displayed or set up as a proof to all the nations, that Israel are truly His people who bring His truth to the world, something evidenced by their victory. Indeed, as we learn elsewhere, YHWH IS their banner (Exodus 17.15).
‘Selah.’ At this point there is a pregnant pause in the music in order to draw attention to the wonder of it.
David Calls On God To Save Them By His Mighty Right Hand So That The People Whom He Loves Might Be Delivered, And Declares The Certainty Of YHWH’s Victory Because The Surrounding Nations Are Subject To Him (60.5-8).
David calls on God to personally save the people on whom He has set His love, and expresses his confidence that He will intervene, and this because God has exultantly declared His sovereignty over the area. It is all under His control and He will do with it as He will. Israel (Ephraim) is His helmet, and Judah His sceptre, the outward evidence of His rule, whilst the surrounding nations, Moab, Edom and Philistia are in inferior positions.
In order that His beloved ones, the ones on whom He has set His love, might be delivered, he calls on God to save by means of His mighty right hand, answering His people (or answering David) as they call on Him.
We might ask, ‘if they are His beloved ones why has He allowed them to suffer these reverses?’ And the reply will be, ‘Whom YHWH loves He reproves and chastens, even as a father the son in whom he delights’ (Proverbs 3.12). David is aware of this and is confident that after rebuke will come blessing.
‘Answer us’ is the kethib (original reading), ‘answer me’ is the qere (suggested adjustment), the latter being a correction and alternative reading in the MT.
‘God has spoken in His holiness.’ ‘In His holiness’ expresses the uniqueness of what God is. He is the wholly righteous One Who is always true to His word, and the One Who is distinctive in His ‘otherness’, above, beyond and distinctive from His creation. He is ‘the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity Whose Name is Holy’ (Isaiah 57.15). And it is as such that He has spoken (made His solemn declaration), thus guaranteeing the end result.
What God has spoken is now made plain. It may be that we are to see this as God raising His standard on behalf of His people (verse 4), or alternatively as God’s promise to David. But in either case it depicts God as arising victoriously, and exultantly carrying out His purpose and revealing His sovereignty. The whole area is under His control.
Shechem and Succoth were the two places which Jacob had first reached on entering the land after his sojourn in Paddan Aram (Genesis 33.17-18). Shechem was west of the Jordan, and Succoth east of Jordan. They may thus have been seen as representing the north of Israel on both sides of the Jordan over which God now claims to exercise His authority and control. The thought may be included here that God is fulfilling His promises to Jacob.
Gilead and Manasseh may be seen as representing the whole swathe of land east of the Jordan (Gilead is a flexible term often indicating a large part of the land east of Jordan). Although Manasseh was also well represented west of the Jordan, a large part of the land east of Jordan was territory belonging to the tribe of Manasseh. It is being emphasised that they belong to God.
Ephraim was the popular name for the central highlands and related territory, and was the name of the most powerful tribe in Israel. It would eventually became synonymous with northern Israel (a somewhat restricted Israel), but at this stage it was simply the largest and strongest tribe. This is portrayed as God’s battle helmet. Judah, of course, represented the southern part of the kingdom, the part which had first yielded to David’s rule (2 Samuel 3.2-5). It is represented as God’s sceptre, for it was through Judah that kingship was to be established (Genesis 49.10-12).
Thus the whole of the land over which David ruled is intended to be covered here (geography at that time was vague). The descriptions of Ephraim and Judah as His battle helmet and sceptre indicate how personal is God’s activity on their behalf. It is through Ephraim and Judah that He achieves His warlike success and sovereignty.
Moab, Edom and Philistia, Israel’s nearest neighbours, are portrayed as very much subservient to Israel. Moab is His washpot. That is, it is in Moab that He washes His feet. On Edom He casts His shoe. They are His slaves who are given his shoes to clean ready for Him to wear. Alternately some see the casting of a shoe as a claim to sovereignty. Philistia shout because of Him. The idea is that they proclaim His lordship, and possibly even that they run before His chariot clearing the way for Him.
Thus David is assured that the whole area is subject to God’s control, so that he need not fear that Edom will be successful in their attempts to take over southern Judah.
David Declares His Assurance That Although God Has Appeared For A While To Have Abandoned His People, He Will Now Arise And Enable Them To Gain The Victory (60.9-12).
David now questions who it is who has caused him to venture against Edom, and who it is who will give Israel victory over them (lead them into Edom’s strong city, Petra)? Surely it cannot be God for God appears to have cast them off and not to be going forth with them. But his point is that they could be satisfied with nothing less than God’s help. Indeed, man’s help would be useless. And he ends on the assurance that God will indeed act and enable Israel to triumph.
It is a reminder to us that however hopeless the circumstances, and however dark things might appear to be, in the end those who are God’s can be sure that He will intervene on their behalf, even though outwardly He might not appear to be in a hurry.
By now Joab would have been on his way with his strong relieving force, and David puts to God the question as to who will bring him (his invading forces) into Edom’s strong city, Petra, an almost inaccessible fortress in the wilderness (see Obadiah 1.3). Indeed, he questions as to who it is who has “led him to Edom”, that is, caused him to attempt what he is undertaking. Outwardly, he says, it would not appear to be God. He is attempting by this to bring home to God his own helplessness if God will not help him. But, of course, in his heart David’s hope was that God was indeed with him, even if at first it might appear not to be so.
The initial success of Edomite/Syrian forces against the defenders of southern Judah (defenders who would be somewhat sparse because the majority of them would be with David in Syria proper) suggested that God had cast Israel off. For could not God save by many or by few? Thus Edom’s success could only indicate that God was not going forth with the defenders, something which was not only disastrous for Judah, but also, in the eyes of the nations, a sign of God’s weakness.
He thus urges God now to alter His position and give them help against their adversary, for he recognises that that help is vital. If he is to have certainty of victory he must have God’s support.
The final verse of the Psalm demonstrates that he is satisfied that his prayers have ‘moved God’. He is sure now that God will be with his forces so that through Him they will do valiantly, and by Him they will tread down their adversaries. Victory is now assured, a victory that in fact resulted in the decimation of the forces of Syria/Edom and the conquest of Edom (2 Samuel 8.13-14).
For us it is a reminder that if we are suffering defeats in our spiritual lives, we must first of all examine ourselves and heed God’s chastening. And once we have done this, and repented and put things right, we can know that He will arise on our behalf, once again giving us victory. Indeed, to depend on anyone else would be futile.
This Psalm is also dedicated to the Chief Musician and is to be accompanied by a stringed instrument. It is a Psalm of David. If David, rather than a member of the Davidic house, was its author it was quite possibly written during his period of exile east of Jordan after fleeing from Absalom (2 Samuel 15.13 ff.). In later days, after the end of the monarchy and the Exile, it began to be given a Messianic interpretation as witnessed by the Targums.
Separated From The Visible Means of Worshipping God David Seeks His Refuge In The God Of The Tabernacle In His Invisible Tabernacle (61.1b-4).
Crying out to God from wherever he is, (many see it as in the wilderness of Mahanaim, east of Jordan, where he was hiding from Absalom), David declares his trust in God as his Rock, his Refuge, his Fortress and his Tabernacle. When the earthly Tabernacle is no longer available to him, he knows that he can approach God in His heavenly Tabernacle, where he can take refuge under the shadow of His wings.
David cries to God to hear his prayer as he sees himself as at ‘the end of the earth (or ‘the land’)’, that is as being as far from the Tabernacle where he would usually pray as he could be, for he knows that wherever he is, God is there. And his cry is that when his heart is overwhelmed God will lead him to the Rock that is higher than he is, in other words to God Himself as his Rock. For on that Rock he knows that he will be totally secure. No one knew better than David, from his life of refuge in the wilderness as he hid from Saul, the security provided by rocks on high mountains.
He bases his appeal on what God has proved to be to him in the past. God has been his Refuge and his Fortress from the enemy. Notice the continuing figurative descriptions. This suggests that the descriptions which follow are also figurative. His point is that he has continually looked to God to be his Protector, and that God has never failed. He has been to him like a Refuge and a Fortress, somewhere where he can be secure. That was why he had survived all his trials. In the words of Proverbs 18.10. ‘The name of YHWH is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe.’
In view of the fact that the Rock, the Refuge and the Fortress have all figuratively described his security in God’s hands there seems little reason for not seeing this Tabernacle as being figurative as well. Man may have cut him off from the earthly Tabernacle, but, (utilising in our interpretation the words of the later writer of the letter to the Hebrews), he considers that he has ‘a Tabernacle not made with hands eternal in the heavens’. In that Tabernacle he knows that he can dwell with God for ever, and take refuge under the shelter of His wings. The latter picture is of young birds finding shelter under the wings of their mother. We too, as Christians, can enter into that heavenly Tabernacle through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10.19).
Some, however, see it as indicating his desire to once again be able to enter the earthly Tabernacle, and his confidence that one day he will do so (compare 65.4 which may be seen as supporting this). Either way it is in God Himself that he will find security, not the Tabernacle. ‘Selah.’ Once again the music draws attention to these words.
‘I will sojourn in your Tabernacle.’ He is not there as its owner with full rights, but ever as a sojourner, as God’s guest, sojourning there and confident that God will extend to him all the hospitality expected from a host by his guest.
He Expresses His Confidence That God Who Has Called Him To Be A Believer Will Prolong His Life And Extend It Into The Future, Promising In Return That He Will Continually Praise And Worship God And Fulfil All That He Has Vowed (61.5-8).
He is confident that God will hear him because he has made his vows to God. The vows that are in mind are indicated here. They are the vows of one who has become a believer, and has entered into what God promises for the future, long life and blessing. They are vows of constancy, and obedience to His word. In other words, they are the vows of someone fully committed to God. As a consequence he is confident that God has given him the inheritance which is the lot of all who truly fear God, that he himself has entered into their heritage in order to enjoy the benefits that God gives to His own. To ‘fear His Name’ is to walk in humble reverence of God, worshipping and obeying Him and ever seeking to do His will because they recognise Who they are dealing with.
David now refers to himself in the third person as ‘the king’ in view of the fact that he is God’s chosen and anointed king to whom God has promised long life and posterity. It is as his chosen King that he is sure that God will preserve and prolong his life, so that he will see his sons, and his sons’ sons, and their sons also, as he spans the generations. Furthermore God had promised that his throne would be sure for ever, with his sons and his sons’ sons following him (2 Samuel 7.13, 16), and he is taking Him at His word.
It may even be that his confidence in God is such that he is sure that even after he dies he will still abide before God. Compare 16.11; 17.15. There he is in such a close relationship with God that he cannot believe that that relationship will ever be broken. He is confident that he will abide before God for ever. In the literature that we have he never expands on the idea, but it is perfectly clear from what he says in those Psalms. He never speaks of ‘eternal life’ but that is what he is confident that he will enjoy.
(For this sudden switch from speaking personally to referring himself as the king in the third person compare 63.11, where the reference can only be to the Psalmist for the ascription to make sense).
He calls on God to ‘allot covenant love and truth’ to him, in other words, to act in covenant love and loyalty towards him. He knows that his preservation is in the hands of God, on the basis of the covenant by which God has committed Himself to His own. His confidence in God rests on the fact that he knows that God will never fail to fulfil His covenant promises to those who are loyal to Him.
In the same way, if we are fully responsive to God we can also be sure that He will fulfil His promises towards us, watching over us, keeping us, chastening us when necessary, and working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13).
In response to God’s faithfulness, David also promises that he too will be faithful. He assures God that he will continually praise Him, and will perform his vows, (the vows spoken of in verse 5), to Him daily, his vows of loyalty and obedience to His covenant requirements, in other words to His word. If we would enjoy God’s protection it is required of us that we be found faithful and true to His word.
This Psalm is again a Psalm of David, dedicated for the purpose of Tabernacle worship to the Chief Musician. Jeduthun, also named Ethan (unless Ethan suddenly died and was replaced by Jeduthun - 1 Chronicles 15.17 ff.; 16.41, 42), along with Asaph and Heman, was a leader in Tabernacle worship in the time of David, directly under the order of the king (1 Chronicles 25.6), singing and playing on the brazen cymbals (1 Chronicles 16.41, 42; 25.1, 3, 6). He continued to hold this position in the time of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5.12). His descendant officiated in the time of Josiah, and was the king’s seer (2 Chronicles 35.15). ‘After the manner of’ may indicate that he was responsible for the setting or musical composition.
The Psalm was written at a time when David was in fear of his life (verses 3-4), possibly during the Absalom rebellion (they were trying to thrust him down from his dignity - verse 4), or even when he was fleeing from Saul (he had held a dignified position under Saul). Either way he is looking to God to be his refuge, and his whole dependence is on God.
The Psalm divides into three sections:
1). The Psalmist Declares His Trust In God As His Security, And Challenges Those Who Act Deceitfully And Seek His Life (1-4).
The Psalmist tells us that he waits quietly on God for God to deliver him, because God is his Rock, and his High Tower ensuring his complete safety. On this basis he challenges his adversaries, who are seeking to kill him because they only see him as leaning wall or a tottering fence. Little do they realise the truth about him. They think that they can drag him down from his high position, using lies, deceit and hypocrisy. They do not realise that his life is in the hands of God. Feigning to be his friends (blessing with their mouth) they are inwardly out to get him (cursing him inwardly).
This could equally apply to his situation when he was a commander under Saul, or when he was hiding from Absalom. The fact that they feign friendship may point to the former, for in the case of the flight from Absalom men were either for him or against him.
Note the emphasis in the Psalm on ‘only’ (verses 1, 2, 4, 5, 6). His whole dependence and concentration is on God alone. He knows that in the final analysis He alone is the One in Whom he can trust. Thus he is able to declare that he waits in silence on God alone, because God only is his Rock and deliverance. When we have God with us we need nothing else.
To wait in silence is to wait patiently and in confident trust. He is aware that he does not need to batter God with his prayers because he knows that God is with him and is watching over him. The same is true for all who are truly His. That is why Jesus taught us to pray ‘our Father’. Whatever the circumstances, it is to Him that we can look for deliverance. The thought here is of salvation from those who are against us. But we can only be sure of it if our hearts are set on God.
And this is why he can wait in silence before God in such confidence. It is because God is his Rock and his High Tower. Compare here verse 6, and see also 18.2.
God is his Rock. In other words He is firm and immovable, offering total security and a sure foundation. He is also his Deliverance. He knows that He will act on his behalf in order to deliver him from his enemies. Furthermore He is his High Tower, strong and unscaleable, the One in Whom he can feel absolutely safe. Knowing that his God has such attributes he knows that he will not be greatly moved.
Note the possibility that he will be moved to some extent. He is after all human. He may trip up but he will not be utterly cast down. We can compare 37.24, ‘though he fall he will not be utterly cast down, for YHWH upholds him with His hand’. So he is sure that with God on his side, such adverse movement will be unimportant and temporary. In verse 6, however, his faith has advanced and he is confident that he will not be moved at all.
But while he sees God as his Rock and his strong tower, He is invisible to his adversaries who consequently see him as vulnerable and collapsing. They see him as like a leaning wall which could fall at any moment, and as a tottering fence which is totally insecure. They do not realise that God is with him. That is why they are going about to slay him. They do not realise how foolish their attitude is when they are dealing with one with whom God is pleased.
So David asks them how long they intend their behaviour and attitude to go on? For how long are they futilely going to set on him in order to slay him? He has no fear, for his confidence is in God.
He describes the kind of people that they are. Their only aim is to drag him down from his exalted position, to strip him of his authority. And in order to do so they are prepared to use lies, and false accusations. And their hypocrisy is brought out in that publicly they bless him with their mouths, while privately they curse him in their hearts. Note how their perfidy and untrustworthiness contrasts with the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God as already described. He is firm and sure, they are totally untrustworthy.
‘Selah.’ Let the worshippers think of that.
2). He Calls On Himself And His People To Trust Wholly In God, Who Is Their Sure Defence And Refuge (5-8).
He now repeats and expands on what he has said in verses 1-2, calling on himself again to wait quietly before God alone, because his expectation is from Him. He knows that he can wait quietly because it is God Who is his Rock, his Deliverance, his High Tower, his Glory and his Refuge. But this time his aim is not only to encourage himself, but also his followers who are sharing his predicament (verse 8). Now he is unswerving in his certainty that he will not be moved.
He again calls on his inner life to wait in silence for God only. And this time it is his expectation that is set on God, as he eagerly awaits his deliverance. He has no doubt that when God is ready He will act.
He then outlines why he is so certain that God will act, building on what he has said in verse 2. It is because it is He Who is his Rock, the Rock on which he can stand firm as he awaits His Deliverance; and is his High Tower in which he has taken refuge so that nothing can touch him. And now he drops the word ‘greatly’. Nothing can move him because he is in God’s hands. For his Deliverance and his Glory are in God’s hands.
He knows that both his deliverance and his reputation are in God’s hands. Note his confidence that God will not only deliver him but will also restore his reputation and honour (his Glory). In verse 4 they sought to thrust him down from his dignified position. Now he asserts his confidence that he will not only be delivered, but that that dignity will be restored. If this was written when he was being dispossessed as a Commander, he will, as we know, achieve kingship. If as a King, he will be restored to the throne with greater honour. And he knows that this will be so, because in God is the Rock of his strength, and his Refuge. In God he is both made strong and protected.
And all this was not only true for himself, but also for all true believers. He calls on ‘you people’ to trust in Him at all times, and to pour out their hearts before Him, because God is their Refuge too. He is a Refuge for all who trust in Him.
We now learn that the fact that David was able to wait silently on God (verses 1 and 5) arose from the fact that he had poured out his heart before Him. He had put everything in God’s hands and he could therefore now quietly await his deliverance. We too can pour out our hearts before Him. As God’s children we can take our burdens to the Lord and leave them there.
3). He Warns Against Trusting In Man Of Any Level, Or In Brute Force, Or In Riches, And Calls On His Hearers To Recognise The Fact That Power And True Love Belong To God Who Deals With Men On The Basis Of What They Reveal Themselves To Be (9-12).
The Psalm is brought to its conclusion by a comparison between failing man and the unfailing God. Men are unreliable. They are full of emptiness and deceit. They are lightweight. Their ways are not to be trusted. Thus we are not to be like them. We must not set our hearts on oppression, dishonesty and greed. Rather we should look to the One Who is reliable, the One Who is always true, the One Who is full weight. For power belongs, not to men, but to God, and He is not only all-powerful, but also all-loving to those who respond to His covenant.
David recognises men for what they on the whole are, vain and empty, deceitful and lightweight. There are few who can be wholly relied on. Whether in low positions, or in high positions, they are out for themselves. Men in low positions are empty, like puffs of wind, here today and gone tomorrow, totally unreliable. They are only out for themselves. Men in high positions are deceitful and unreliable. They are a lie. They are for you one moment, and the next they have turned against you, depending on which way the wind blows. They too are only out for themselves.
Indeed if you put such men on one side of a set of balances, they are so lightweight that their side will shoot upwards. They have no ‘weight’. They are lighter than a puff of wind. They are insubstantial. There is nothing weighty about them. They have no substance. They oppress, they steal, they set their hearts on riches. They are not to be trusted.
Those who trust in God (the ones to whom the Psalm is addressed) are not to be like them. They are not to trust in oppression, heavy-handedness and bullying. They are not to reveal their shallowness by engaging in theft and robbery. They are not to let wealth take possession of them. (They are rather to trust in God, walk honestly before Him, and hold on to wealth lightly. Their hearts are to be set on God).
In contrast to such men is God. Whilst men may appear powerful it is with God that power really lies. Indeed God has twice repeated the fact that power belongs to Him. He is over all. In the end all will be decided according to His plan and will. For He is Lord.
But with God there is no danger of His power being misused. For God acts in covenant love towards those who look to Him. He enters into a covenant of love with all who will respond to him, and behaves accordingly. Towards those who respond to His covenant He is totally reliable. He deals with men openly and honestly. He renders to every man according to his work. As Paul puts it. ‘To those who by patient endurance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, he gives eternal life, but to those who are factious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and indignation’ (Romans 2.7-8).
Man is not saved by his works, but his works reveal what kind of a man he is. He either stands up to examination because His trust is in God, or he is weighed in the balances and found wanting because his trust is elsewhere.
It is noticeable that there is here no dedication to the Chief Musician, and no mention of the tune to which it was to be sung. We can only surmise why this is so. Perhaps the aim was to indicate the close connection between this Psalm and the previous one.
Verse 11 of the Psalm refers in a positive way to the king, so that, unless we see that verse as added later, this time ‘in the wilderness of Judah’ must have in mind David’s flight from Absalom’s rebellion. If it was written as an almost immediate consequence of David sending the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15.24-26) it brings special meaning to some of the phrases used. There must have been an emptiness within him when he saw the Ark moving back towards Jerusalem, but an emptiness met by recognising that the closeness of God was not affected by the absence of ritual symbols. He knew that God was as much with him in his camp and in his bed, as He was in the Tent in Jerusalem.
The Psalm may be divided into four parts:
There is an interesting pattern in that the first part has ten lines, the second part has eight lines, the third part has six lines, and the last part has four lines.
David’s Flight Through The Parched Wilderness Thirsting For Water Brings Home To Him How Much His Own Inner Life Thirsts After God, In The Same Way As Being In The Sanctuary Had Once Brought Home To Him God’s Glory (63.1b-3).
In his flight David compares his awareness of God as the One Who will satisfy his spiritual thirst in the wilderness, with his awareness of the glory of God in the Sanctuary. Both circumstance bring home to him God’s covenant love, and both fill him with praise.
63.1b ‘O God, you are my God,
As David and his men fled from Absalom through the wilderness of Judah (2 Samuel 15.23), having watched the Ark return to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15.24-26) as they travelled on towards the Jordan, they thirsted, and it was then that David’s thirst reminded him of the God Whom he loved and Whom his soul craved, the God Whom of late he had been treating too casually. Looking around at the wilderness, which was in such contrast to the palace that he had left, and seeing what a dry and wearisome land it was, it brought home to him his own situation of forsakenness, and in turn this brought home to him his hunger for God. There is nothing like being in the wilderness to make us think of God. So, in danger of his life, he cried out to Him, longing after Him with the same thirst that he had for water.
‘O God, you are my God.’ He knew that the fact that his circumstances had changed did not alter the fact that God was still his God. Indeed he realised that it was God’s concern for him that had brought him up sharp because he had grown slack in his rulership and in his religious life. And now his reverses had brought home to him his need to know God afresh. He had become once more athirst for God. And he longed after Him more than he longed after water in a waterless land.
It is often necessary for God to allow problems to happen in order to shake us out of complacency. For it is so easy for us, when all is going well, to proceed onwards and let God slip into the background. And God thus has to bring us up with a jolt, as He did David here.
In the same way as he now looked on the wilderness and was reminded of the God Who could satisfy his deepest longings, so had he once looked on the Sanctuary and been reminded of God’s power and glory. Both experiences had brought home to him God’s inestimable worth and glory. Both had brought home to him the fact that to enjoy God’s covenant love, to have God on his side, was better than life. The Sanctuary which revealed God’s glory had caused him to praise God, and to recognise the depth of His covenant love, but even moreso did this desolate wilderness as it reminded him of how God could satisfy his deepest thirst, and give him continuing life in the midst of it. It would have brought home to him afresh the days when he had fled from Saul and had been so wondrously upheld by God’ love. To him the very wilderness was a Sanctuary of God.
‘My lips will praise you.’ The verb is an Aramaism, but in view of the plentiful Aramaisms found in the Ugaritic literature this says nothing about the date of the Psalm.
His Refreshed Vision Of God Has Restored His Heartfelt Spiritual Satisfaction, Has Enhanced His Praise Towards God And Has Reminded Him That It Is God Who Is His Refuge (63.4-7).
And so wherever he is, whether in the Sanctuary, or in the wilderness cut off from the Sanctuary, he can bless God and find deep inner satisfaction, and know that he shelters under God’s wings.
Because God meets him, whether in the wilderness or in the Jerusalem Tent of Meeting, he will bless God for his whole lifetime, and lift up his hands in His Name. For he knows that God will fully satisfy his inner being with choice blessings, something which causes him to praise God with joyful lips. Thus can he rejoice in the midst of trial, even when all appears to be going wrong.
‘I will lift up my hands in your name.’ The lifting up of the hands was a regular attitude of prayer (28.2; 141.2; 1 Timothy 2.8). In 141.2 it is compared with the offering up of the evening sacrifice, just as prayer is compared with the offering up of incense..
Even when he is lying wakeful in bed and remembers God, he meditates on Him and on what He is through the night watches. (In Israel the night was divided up into three watches). His thoughts are all on God. And he does this because it is God Who has been his help in trouble, and Who hides him in the shadow of His wings so that he can rejoice in the face of adversity. Thus even when the world appears to be collapsing, he never lets his mind wander away too far from God. God is in all his thoughts. It is well for us if our thoughts are similarly constantly of God.
Because, From Deep Within Him, He Follows Hard After God , God’s Right Hand Upholds Him, So That Those Who Are Seeking To Destroy Him Will Themselves Be Destroyed (63.8-10).
From David’s inner thoughts springs inner action. His inner life follows hard after God. This is why God’s right hand upholds him, and deals firmly with his enemies.
‘My inner life follows hard after you.’ This is literally, ‘my inner life cleaves after you’. He clings on to God at all costs and follows Him, being bound to God by God Himself. To him God is everything. And because this is so God’s right hand upholds him. The right hand is indicative of the most powerful hand. He is upheld and sustained by God in His Almightiness. And thus he has total assurance that his enemies cannot prevail.
Those who seek his person in order to destroy him will instead find that they themselves will go to the grave. While he, in his inner heart, goes upwards to God, they will go downwards into the grave world, swallowed up like Korah and his fellow-rebels who sought to usurp God’s anointed priests (Numbers 16.31-33). Whilst his life is given over to God, their lives will given over to the sword. Whilst he is God’s portion, they will be portions for scavengers, who will eat their dead bodies. Their future is bleak indeed. Such is the portion of those who ill-treat God’s people.
‘They will be given over to the power of the sword.’ This is literally ‘they will pour him out to the power of the sword’, with the ‘they’ being God’s mysterious instruments of justice.
‘They will be a portion for jackals.’ The fate of those who rebel against God is often depicted in such terms. Compare Ezekiel 39.4, 17-20; Revelation 19.17-18.
The Consequence Of God’s Judgment On Those Who Rebel Against The King Will Be That The King Will Rejoice In God, And Those Who Are Faithful To Their Oaths Of Loyalty Sworn In God’s Name Will Glory (63.11).
This final verse fits admirably into the story of the rebellion of Absalom, who by deceit and half truths sought to overthrow David. Deeply aware of how Absalom and his supporters have maligned him, David is confident that their mouths will be stopped, whilst he, the king, being delivered, will rejoice in God, and all his loyal supporters will rejoice with him, and glory in God’s deliverance.
David has confidence that God will deliver him, with the consequence that he will rejoice in God. Similarly those who have made their oaths of loyalty to him in God’s Name, and have abided by them, will have cause to glory, for they will see him vindicated. In contrast, rather than rejoicing and glorying, the mouths of those who speak lies and deceive others will be stopped. They will have no cause to rejoice and glory.
The whole Psalm is a reminder of God’s loyalty to those who are loyal to Him. And it is a reminder that just as David’s followers were to be loyal to their anointed king, so are we to be loyal to great David’s Greater Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Once again the Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician, but we are told nothing about it except that it is a Psalm of David.
The Psalm can be divided into four sections as follows:
David Prays For Deliverance From Those Who Plot Against Him And Attack Him Verbally Behind His Back (64.1b-4).
We are given no clue as to what situation in life caused the Psalm to be composed, but the words are from one who is facing verbal assault, albeit indirectly. They snipe at him secretly behind his back. They ‘shoot at him in secret places’. They lay ‘secret snares’ saying “Who will see them?” Whenever we find ourselves the subjects of innuendoes hurled at us behind our backs, we can find comfort in this Psalm. Such a situation has been the lot of God’s people throughout all centuries.
64.1b-4 ‘Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint,
The Psalm opens with a prayer that God will hear the complaint that the Psalmist makes against the whisperers who whisper behind his back, and calls on God to enable him not to be afraid of them, ‘preserve my life from the fear of the enemy’. They are not out to attack him physically, but by whispered innuendo, and secret plots behind his back. David experienced such behaviour when he was a Commander under Saul. He experienced it at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. And anyone who is in a position of authority is liable to be subject to such treatment, especially those who are faithful to God. It is a reminder that we can bring such matters to God and leave then there.
So he calls on God to hide him from the ‘secret counsel of evildoers’, from the consequences of their secret planning; to protect him from the vicious disturbing harsh whispers and innuendoes (‘tumult’) of ‘workers of iniquity’. Note God’s verdict on whisperers. They are ‘evildoers’ and ‘workers of iniquity’, as are all whisperers. Whisperers in churches should take note of this. If they have complaints they should bring them out openly, not seek to undermine the authority of those in positions of responsibility by surreptitious means, otherwise they too are doing evil and working iniquity.
There was nothing haphazard about these whispers. Those who whispered behind closed doors took a great deal of trouble about it. They sharpened their tongues as they would a sword. Their words were carefully aimed and let loose in order to cause the most damage. They shot from secret places where they could not be seen and identified. And it was all aimed at one who was blameless of what they accused him of. They spoke innuendoes and lies.
‘They shoot at him, and are not afraid.’ They are brazen in their efforts, and confident that they will not be identified. Thus they have no fear. But they are clearly afraid to come out into the open.
The Psalmists Description Of The Whisperers (64-5-6).
Here we have a description of ‘things done by them in secret’ (Ephesians 5.12). They carefully prepare an evil scheme, seeking to ensure that it is strong enough for the purpose. They discuss together, laying secret snares to trap the unwary and undiscerning. They are confident that no one will know what they are doing. No one will take note. They are constantly on the look for weaknesses in David’s position, and search them out thoroughly. And they are all deep schemers. All is a carefully planned attempt to undermine David’s authority and position. They have left no stone unturned in their attempt to do so. Those who follow God wholly are often subject to such attacks.
‘They make strong for themselves (carefully prepare and ensure the strength of) an evil scheme.’ Theirs is no off-the-cuff reaction. It is deep seated and determined. They want to bring David down from his exalted position. And they secretly scheme accordingly.
‘They commune together of laying snares secretly.’ They discuss together ways in which they can win over the mass of the people by their schemes. They lay traps for them so that they will be deceived by them. They possibly also invent schemes by which David can be made to look foolish and incapable and uncaring. In the days of Absalom he had become careless of the sensitivities of the people. In the days of Saul he had not watched his back, trusting his compatriots.
‘They say, “Who will take note of them?” They are confident that they are unobserved as they go about their schemes. They forget that God knows them through and through, and is aware of all that they are doing. In a way they are unconsciously challenging God.
‘They search out iniquities.’ This either means that they had sought to obtain details of all the ways in which David has failed, or that they search out different ways of carrying forward their evil.
Their claim is that “We have accomplished a diligent search.” They are either proud of their ability to sink to the depths of iniquity (they are ‘workers of iniquity’ - verse 2), or alternatively have researched in depths David’s failures and his coming short in his responsibilities, ignoring, of course, his successes.
But God Has Taken Note And Will Turn Their Schemes Back On Their Own Heads So That All Will See Their Folly And Recognise In Their Demise The Hand Of God (64.7-9).
His adversaries thought that no one noted what they were doing (verse 5), but they will soon find out that they were wrong. For God in turn will shoot His arrows at them, and ‘suddenly’ they will be wounded. He will return what they have been whispering on their own heads through the triumph of David. Thus their own tongue will be against them, for it will have brought them into disrepute. In view of David’s continual triumphs over apparent disaster his adversaries continually found their harsh words returning on their heads, and regretted that they had spoken them.
And all who see the retribution that David’s adversaries have brought on themselves, will shake their head at their folly. And they themselves will fear, and declare the work of God, taking notice of what He does. So the folly of David’s adversaries will be a lesson to the world.
‘God will shoot at them, with an arrow will they suddenly be wounded’ or possibly, ‘God will shoot at them with an arrow, suddenly will they be wounded’. Either way the stress is on the fact that they who have aimed their arrows (‘even bitter words’) at David ‘suddenly and without fear’ behind his back (verse 5), will themselves find that David’s God will shoot His arrows at them equally suddenly. His powerful word will go forward to do His will (compare Isaiah 55.10-13). God’s mysterious instruments of justice, ‘they’ (compare 63.10), will make them stumble. With unexpected suddenness they will find themselves wounded. Their own tongues, with which they had been surreptitiously attacking David, will react against them. They had acted without fear. But if they had known David’s God, and the forces at His disposal, they would have been afraid indeed.
Indeed all who see what happens to them will ‘wag their heads’ with amazement at their folly, and they will be afraid, for they will have seen what God can do. And they will declare what God has done, and wisely think about and consider it. Thus will David’s tribulations bring glory to God.
What Happens In Respect Of David Will Encourage The Righteous Who As A Consequence Will Rejoice In YHWH And Take Refuge In Him (64.10).
And the righteous (those who are faithful to God’s covenant) especially will see what God has done, and will gain confidence from it. They will be glad in YHWH (note the covenant name), will gain new confidence in the refuge that He provides. Indeed, all the upright in heart will glory (compare 63.11).
There is nothing like seeing God’s activity on behalf of His own for making the righteous glad. They see, and wonder, and rejoice, and have their confidence renewed in His protecting hand. Filled with glory at what He does for His own, they take refuge in Him, with a new confidence in how secure it is. Thus will what has happened to David not only make the world wonder and fear, but will also encourage His true people.
The heading is brief noting the regular dedication to the Chief Musician. It is described both as a Psalm, and as a song of David. ‘Song’ is the more ancient term and refers to a song intended to be sung at public worship. This double ascription occurs also in the three Psalms which follow. (The two following Psalms have no ascription to David confirming that the words ‘of David’ were not included casually, otherwise they would have been added to those Psalms. This supports the idea that where Psalms are ascribed to David this should be taken seriously, indicating Davidic connection, even if not Davidic authorship).
The Psalm does not appear to have arisen out of any particular situation in life, but rather appears to be a Psalm celebrating the fruitfulness of the expected harvest (verses 9-13). This may suggest that it was written to celebrate the gathering of the firstfruits at the Passover (Leviticus 18.10-14). That it is a Festal Psalm (Psalm to be sung at one of the great feasts) is suggested by verse 4.
However, some see in it an indication that God has recently given His people a great deliverance so that they are now at peace (verses 5-8) and anticipating an abundant harvest (verses 9-13). If so, this could have been celebrating any one of David’s great victories, through which he brought Israel into a settled peace. Continuing peace would then introduce good harvests as men were able to give their whole time to the land.
The Psalm divides naturally into three parts:
1). The Psalmist Informs God That His People Have Gathered to Bring Him Praise And Perform Their Vows, And, Admitting Their Sinfulness, He Expresses Their Confidence In God’s Forgiveness, A Forgiveness Which Will Enable Them To Approach God And Spend Time Before Him In His Courts (65.1b-4).
On this translation the Psalmist (and the singers) assure God that the people have gathered in Jerusalem to praise Him, and that each will perform his vow to God. The feasts would be a time of great vow making as the people sought to set their hearts, and themselves, right with God.
But the initial words are literally, ‘praise is silent for you’. This may suggest:
It is a reminder that worship should not be taken lightly. We do not just sweep into His presence and commence worship. We need first of all to reverently consider the state of our hearts before Him, setting right in our hearts any wrong done. It is then that we can obtain forgiveness and enter His presence in praise with the assurance that our praise is acceptable.
Some would revocalise the consonants and translate as ‘praise is seemly for you, O God, in Zion’ (as LXX). It is certainly true that it is seemly for us to praise Him, and that He is worthy of such praise.
He addresses God as ‘the hearer of prayer’. This is why they have such confidence in their approach, and such a certainty that He will listen to them. And it is as such that to Him will the whole of His people come, as they gather for the feast. The mention of ‘all flesh’ may well have in mind the coming expected Davidic kingdom (Psalm 2.8) when all nations would be called on to worship the God of David (compare Isaiah 2.2-4; Micah 4.1-4.
He does not see himself and God’s people as approaching God lightly. He is deeply aware of his own sin and failures, and how they have control over his life, and the same applies to the people. He recognises that sin regularly overcomes him in its various forms. But he declares to God his confidence, and the confidence of His people, that He will forgive their transgressions. The YOU is emphatic. It recognises that YHWH is basically a forgiving God. The whole sentence imbues the certainty of God’s forgiveness.
Thus the people come with dedication in anticipation of forgiveness, sure that God will welcome them as they come to worship Him in His place of worship.
It is an open question as to whether the ‘me’ refers to the Psalmist himself, or to Israel as a whole speaking as one. Such changes from the singular to the plural when the people as a whole are speaking occur regularly elsewhere. See, for example, Numbers 21.21-22.
The word translated forgive regularly means ‘to make atonement for’. God cannot just overlook sin. Atonement has to be made. This would be accomplished in those days by the offering of God-provided offerings and sacrifices. Today we can come through the One Who made full atonement for us at the cross. That is why forgiveness is so freely available, and so certain if we come in true repentance.
In consequence the state of those who seek Him truly are ‘blessed’ (compare 1.1). They are happy and content as God acts in goodness towards them. For it is God Who has chosen them (see Exodus 19.5-6), and caused them to approach Him so that they can dwell in His courts and be content in His presence. And as a result they will be fully satisfied with what they enjoy in His house, in the holy place of His Temple which exudes goodness.
So David makes clear that men come to God because God chooses them and works in their hearts, which is why they can be sure of a welcome. He had no illusions about the sinfulness of men, nor doubts about God’s willingness to forgive, and to pour blessing on, those who sought Him.
The mention of ‘the Temple’ may be an updating, but in fact the Tabernacle was also spoken of as ‘the Temple’ (e.g. 1 Samuel 1.9; 3.3; 2 Samuel 22.7), so that David may well have spoken of it as God’s ‘holy temple’.
Whilst Israel were well aware that “even the heaven of heavens cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8.27), they were also aware that God had chosen His Tabernacle/Temple to be the place where He dwelt invisibly on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. That is why they could lift up their voices to God anywhere on earth, but regularly assembled to worship at the Tabernacle/Temple. But notice in 1 Kings 8 that whilst the people ‘prayed towards this place’ (1 Kings 8.29), God ‘heard in heaven’ (1 Kings 8.30, 32, etc). They did not see God as limited to His Temple.
2). Having Approached God In A Personal Way David Now Gives A Description Of His Mighty Power Exercised Over All Creation, And Over All Peoples. He Emphasises The Fact That God’s People Are Safe Under God’s Protection Whether The Threat Comes From Land Or Sea (65.5-8).
The Psalmist now moves on to consider God as ‘terrible’ (awesome and powerful), in relation to the whole of creation, and in relation to the people indwelling that creation. His people can be sure that He will answer them with ‘terrible things, because as the creator Who established the mountains, and as the Lord Who controls the raging seas, nothing is outside His purview. They reveal His awesomeness as active in the maintenance and control of His creation, and also in relation to the maintenance and control of all mankind. Some have seen in these words an indication that the people had gathered to celebrate a great victory and deliverance, but it is not required by the words. The picture is rather of God as in control of all things, and as Lord over all men, and especially as the One Who acts on behalf of His people. It is the voice of certainty in a tumultuous world. God’s people may only be a small people, but their God is a great God. Therefore, as long as they are obedient to His covenant (verse 4), they need fear nothing.
Some see an explicit reference to the fact that God watches over men no matter where they are, both on land and at sea, the idea being that He is the One in Whom all mankind places its confidence whether on land or sea. Others translate as ‘you are the confidence of all the ends of the earth and of the sea far off’, stressing that it is the whole of creation that has confidence in God.
Israel especially feared the sea. As they stood on the land and watched the fearsomeness of the sea it appeared to them that the sea was constantly seeking to engulf the land. It was only God Who held it back. To them the sea was a foreign element mainly outside their purview, and their history told how it had once burst its bounds and had engulfed the land (Genesis 6-9). And they feared that it might once more engulf the land (which is why God had covenanted that it would not in Genesis 9.21-22). But they recognised that God controlled it and held it in check, something which to them especially revealed His greatness. The land threatened to engulf them because of their adversaries who lived on the land, but the sea threatened to engulf them because of what it was in itself, a threat to be feared. However, says David, they need fear neither, for God is Lord of both land and sea.
Coming to ‘the One Who hears prayer’ (verse 2) they could be confident that their prayers would be heard and that by His mighty hand He would respond to their cry of need in righteous deliverance when their enemies assailed them. He could do this because the whole of creation depended on Him. He could thus act in a ‘terrible way’, that is, in a way that was awesome to His people, and fearful to their enemies. He would do ‘terrible things’, things which would make men wonder. And this because He was their delivering God. There are echoes here of the plagues in Egypt when God did terrible things to the Egyptians when they refused to let Israel go. Note how in the following Psalm (Psalm 66) God’s terrible doings are specifically related to the Exodus (66.5-6).
However, it should be noted that the assumption is that He would do so in righteousness. ‘Righteousness’ and ‘deliverance (salvation)’ are often used as parallel words (e.g. 98.2; Isaiah 45.8; 46.13; 51.5; etc), and intrinsic in this is the fact that God’s deliverance is always in accordance with His righteousness. God does not act arbitrarily, favouring His people at all costs in spite of what they are. He acts in righteous deliverance because they are a people who have responded to Him and who seek to live righteously in that they seek to observe His covenant (verse 4). Once they forgot that they could no longer depend on Him to hear them as their future history would show. He was no longer the God of their salvation, their saving God, until, of course, He brought them again to repentance.
‘You who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of the sea far off (or ‘of those who are afar off on the sea’).’ The question here is as to whether, in speaking of ‘the ends of the earth’ (compare 2.8) and ‘the far off sea’, the Psalmist has in mind the whole of nature (land and sea) or the whole of humankind. Thus he may be saying, ‘all nature is confident in you, and relies on you, both distant lands and far off seas’. Alternately he may be speaking of the confidence that far off peoples on both land and sea can have in God. The idea may then be that unconsciously they rely on Him for the stability of their world. In other words, although with their false gods and idols they know it not, their instinctive confidence is in Him. Compare the words of Paul, ‘the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, even His eternal power and Godhead’ (Romans 1.20).
In a similar way today men who reject the laws of God can lay great emphasis on, and have confidence in, ‘the laws of nature’. But strictly speaking there are no laws of nature. There is only a reliance on the ‘hope’ that things will continue on as they always have, following the pattern that is discernible. But there is no solid reason, apart from theory, why they should. Christians on the other hand know that that pattern arises from the fact that God holds all things together in an orderly way. And the Psalmist may be saying that this is something that the idolater and the atheist rely on, even though they are not aware of the fact. For apart from God there is no real reason why from tomorrow onwards reality might not permanently change with all the ‘laws’ that we speak of turning out to be temporary. The atheist assumes it will not be so because he relies on what has happened in the past. But rationally he can have no certainty. The Christian knows that it will not be so because he knows that Jesus Christ ‘holds all things together’ (Colossians 1.17). His confidence is in God.
But the Psalmist may have had a further thought in mind, and that is that one day, through Israel’s witness, and through God’s activity on their behalf, the whole world would patently know and acknowledge God, something already latently true. For it was David’s God-given confidence that one day the whole world would bow the knee to YHWH through His chosen king (2.8-9; 72.8; 89.27; compare Isaiah 11.1-4; 45.23).
David now explains why God can do awesome things. Confidence in God arises from the fact that it is He Who by the exertion of His strength ‘sets fast the mountains’, the most permanent thing that men knew. And for this purpose He ‘girds Himself with might’. He, as it were, rolls up His sleeves and exerts His mighty power (compare 93.1; for the idea of being ‘girded with strength’ compare 18.32, 39; 1 Samuel 2.4; 2 Samuel 22.40). It was by His mighty power that they were established. (‘He spoke and it was done’). To the ancients nothing was more permanent and immovable than the high mountains. And the point here is that they were made so by the power of God. They thus reveal His greatness, His mighty strength, His permanence and His total reliability. Indeed the way in which He reveals the greatness of His anger is by moving and shaking the foundations of the mountains (18.7), thus putting men in fear of the disintegration of their world because He has removed His constraining hand. And, indeed, the earth’s permanence is not for ever (‘heaven and earth will pass away) for the end of all things will result in those seemingly permanent mountains fleeing away (Revelation 16.20). God will remove His control. After that there will be no more earthly permanence.
And as well as establishing the mountains He controls the violent sea. He stills the roaring of the waves. Nothing is outside His control. To Israel the sea was a feared enemy. They had little to do with it, and saw the way in which it sought to encroach on the land, as once before it had done fatally at the Flood, and they were afraid. The fact that these words follow reference to land and sea in verse 5b confirms that we are to see the reference to the sea as having to be taken literally, and not just as a picture of the tumult among the nations, even though the thought of its tumult leads on to a reference to the tumult of the nations. Thus God has made permanent the land and controls the sea. Creation is safe in His hands.
‘And the tumult of the peoples.’ Furthermore He even controls something more violent than the waves, He controls ‘the tumult of the peoples’. It will be noted that this clause is added on as a fifth line. It is an added comment, although this does not diminish its importance. The God Who established the permanence of the mountain, and controls the raging tumult of the seas, is also the One Who can deal with tumults among the peoples. The nations might rage (46.6), but like the sea they are under His iron control, even though they might not appear to be so. (For the tumult of the seas being compared to the tumults of the peoples, both being under God’s control, compare Isaiah 17.12-14).
The terrible things that He will do on behalf of His people (verse 5) will establish His control of the nations. They will thus be afraid at what He has revealed Himself to be and as a consequence their tumult will be stilled (verse 7b) because they are moved by fear as a result of the signs (tokens) that He has performed. The primary reference may be to David’s mighty victories, and the consequent security of his kingdom, but we are almost certainly additionally to see here a reference to God’s redeeming power as it was revealed in the deliverance from Egypt, for this brought fear on the nations whom Israel would have to face in Canaan (Exodus 15.11-16). There the deliverance from Egypt by God’s mighty acts was seen as filling the nations with dread of Israel. And His terrible acts will do the same here.
‘You make the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.’ In contrast, when God goes forth to perform His terrible acts His people rejoice, for He is acting on their behalf. Assuming it to close this part of the Psalm (a case could be argued for attaching this clause to the verses that follow), it indicates that as life goes on His people are not afraid but can rather rejoice at what life brings them at His hand. The ‘outgoings of the morning and the evening’ may refer to the passage of time, as the sun ‘goes out’ in the morning, and the moon in the evening, in which case the rejoicing is done by those who are blessed by what God does during those outgoings, in other words the rejoicing is by God’s people whom He makes to rejoice as He acts on their behalf. The rejoicings of dawns and dusks are the rejoicings of God’s people. Whilst the far off peoples are afraid at what God can do, for His people who trust in Him it is a matter of rejoicing. For they know He is on their side. So the stilling of the tumults of the peoples on behalf of Israel results in continual rejoicing for His people, because the consequence for them will be that their future is rosy.
Alternately the outgoings of the morning and the evening may refer more strictly to what results from them. It makes little difference. The consequence is the same. What results from the passage of time will produce nothing but rejoicing, because God is with them in all that they do. He holds the nations in check (as He had the seas), leaving Israel safe and secure. David sees Israel as secure in God’s hands because He acts on their behalf against their possible adversaries. This all, of course, is on the assumption that they walk truly in His covenant.
For us it is a reminder that with God on our side we need fear nothing. The God of creation will exert His mighty power and make plain His power to our adversaries, and control their ragings (compare 2.1), so that in both the coming of morning and of evening we can rejoice, secure in His hand. Nothing can touch us without His permission.
3). As Well As Exercising Iron Control The Almighty Creator Also Makes Full Provision For The Needs Of His Creation Making The Fields And Pasturelands Blossom And Flourish (65.9-13).
As well as exercising iron control, God makes full provision for the needs of His creation. These verses may well have been sung in anticipation of good harvests of both grain and livestock, and in order to encourage God to provide them, but the words are general and suggest universality. God makes provision for His whole creation. We are reminded of the words of Jesus, ‘your Father in Heaven -- makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5.45). Terrible He may reveal Himself to be, but He also reveals Himself as compassionate towards all. The descriptions, however, clearly reflect conditions in Palestine.
The Psalmist makes clear the people’s gratitude for the abundance of the early (October/November) rain which had made their fields produce abundantly. This is the rain that helps to prepare the ground for ploughing and sowing, and sustains the early growth. He recognises that it is God Who has visited the earth (or ‘land’) and made it plentiful, Who has greatly enriched it so that it will produce abundant crops. And He has done it from His ‘river’ which is ‘full of water’. ‘The river of God’ refers to the source from which God provides the rains. It is not to be taken literally as though there was a river in Heaven. The point is that God has a plentiful supply of water which He pours out on behalf of His people. There are no droughts as far as He is concerned unless He chooses for there to be so. As a consequence it is He Who has provided their grain by pouring out fruitful water on their land.
The celebration continues. They praise God for watering the furrows of the land abundantly, and ‘settling its ridges’ (judicious watering holds the soil together on the terraces and makes it firm so that it does not slide down onto the ground below. Many grain crops were sowed on hillsides where terracing was a necessity). He is making the soil soft with showers so that it breaks up easily under the plough rather than being unhelpfully resistant. ‘You bless its springing growth.’ The grain comes forth from the ground and flourishes because God blesses the process. It is a description of ideal conditions for harvest. Note how God is seen as personally involved in ensuing the fruitfulness of the harvest
. Not only are the fields fruitful but the pastureland is clothed in plenty. God is not lacking in any provision. Having made the fields fruitful He crowns it by making the pasture abundant. He personally acts to make it more fruitful, adding that something extra to the year’s growth, and making it a perfect year. The reference here is probably to abundant ‘late rain’, something always hoped for to crown the year, but not always forthcoming. Note that He is seen as personally overseeing the growth, walking on invisible paths above the pastureland and dropping fatness (a plentiful supply of fruit producing rain) on it. The hills are girded with joy because God has crowned them with plenty and they are covered with vegetation. Thus His people rejoice (verse 8), and the hills rejoice, at what God does.
As a consequence of the fruitfulness of the pastures they are covered with sheep and goats which are like garments spread over them. And the valleys, the indentations between the hills, are covered with grain. Like the worshippers in the Temple the pastures and valleys shout for joy and sing at the goodness of the Lord. As a consequence of that goodness all creation praises God.
This Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician or Choirmaster. It probably indicates that it has been adapted for Temple worship. It is described as both a song and a Psalm, but it is noteworthy that no reference is made to authorship. The dedication of anonymous Psalms to the Chief Musician was rare (only this and Psalm 67). The situation in life for the Psalm was probably the amazing deliverance of Jerusalem from the armies of Sennacherib, for it clearly indicates connection with a great deliverance and a short, sharp shock. If this was so the Psalm is written in the time of Hezekiah. Others have, however, suggested that it reflects the deliverance from Exile, in which case we would have to date it after 520 BC, for it refers to the Temple as a going concern (verses 13-15). But the impression that the people who are delivered are also those who had directly suffered calamity is against this attribution, whilst there is no indication of exile.
A feature of the Psalm is that the first part (verses 1-12) is in the plural, and clearly has in mind the whole congregation of Israel, whilst the last part (verses 13-20) is in the singular. This may suggest:
Note On The Priesthood After The Order Of Melchizedek.
When David captured Jerusalem using his own men it became his possession. It became ‘the city of David’, and was regularly seen as separate from Israel and Judah (see e.g. Isaiah 1.1; 2.1; 3.1; 8.14; Jeremiah 19.3; 27.21; 35.13; Zechariah 1.19; Matthew 3.5). In Jerusalem there would appear to have been a priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (compare Genesis 1 14.18). This would have been exercised by the priest-king of Jerusalem. Thus David by right of being king in Jerusalem inherited that priesthood. It was seen as an eternal priesthood (Psalm 110.4), and it was as such that he would be honoured by the Jebusite inhabitants of Jerusalem. But by virtue of the fact that only the Levitical priesthood was acceptable to Israel as a sacrificing priesthood, the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek had necessarily to become an intercessory priesthood. This explains why David’s sons could be called ‘priests’ (2 Samuel 8.18 literally). It was a priesthood which continued in the time of the writing of Psalm 110 (see verse 4). It was taken quite seriously, which was why the king would regularly take on himself the responsibility of interceding for the whole people without being seen as usurping the position of the Levitical priests. Consider David in 2 Samuel 24.10, 17; Solomon in 1 Kings 8; Hezekiah in Isaiah 37.1, 14-20; and David’s and Solomon’s intercessory Psalms. Consider also the special position of ‘the Prince’ in Ezekiel’s Temple (Ezekiel 44.3; 45.16-17; 46.2, 4-8, 10, 12). It was this priesthood that devolved on Jesus as the son of David (Hebrews 6.20).
End of note.
Significant is the fact that this Psalm is not headed ‘for David’. If Hezekiah was seen as its author (compare his Psalmic prayer in Isaiah 38) this might be seen as militating against the idea that ‘for David’ merely indicated someone of the Davidic line, for then Hezekiah’s authorship could have been seen as ‘for David’.
The theme of the Psalm is clear. Initially, speaking on behalf of the people, the Psalmist reminds the nations of the past actions of God on Israel’s behalf, something which demonstrates God’s sovereignty, and then goes on to praise Him for a special deliverance. After this the king (or high priest, or even the people, each speaking as an individual) takes over and deals with the question of the ritual response to God’s goodness. If it is the king who responds then, as the one who sums up the people in himself, he promises the performing of vows made at the time of trial, and outlines the offerings and sacrifices that will be made. And then again on behalf of his people he declares what God has done for him by answering his intercession. Great stress is laid on the importance of a guileless heart when approaching God. Throughout the ancient East kings were seen as playing an important role in ritual activity as representatives of the whole people, so it would not be unusual for the King of Israel (Judah), to share the same role.
If this is so the Psalm well exemplifies the connection between king and people in Israel’s thinking. All the people (or at least the assembled males) initially offer their worship, and then the king as summing up the people in himself, deals with the ritual side of things. When saying ‘I’ he would be instinctively aware that he was speaking on behalf of all (‘I’ as embodying the people), for he embodied all that they were. To us it may seem strange, but to Israel it would seem perfectly natural. What seems to us to be a startling contrast was to them not a contrast at all. The whole people saw themselves as a composite unity, and the king as summing them up in himself. As the Anointed of YHWH he was their life (see Lamentations 4.20). This was preparing the way for the concept of all true Christians as members of one body (1 Corinthians 6.15-17; 10.16-17; 12.12 ff.), summed up in the One Whose body it is, and with Whom we are made one, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10.17; 12.12-13). As the body of Christ we are united with Him and made one with Him. We are not separated from Him as though He were the head in Heaven and we the headless body on earth. In 1 Corinthians 12 the head is part of the body.
Alternately the idea may of general worship and gratitude for deliverance, followed up by each individual Israelite personalising the deliverance and declaring what his response will be. (Compare how in our worship services we may pray in unison as ‘we’, and then individually recite the Apostle’s Creed as ‘I’).
The Psalm may be divided up as follows:
PART 1). GOD’S CALL TO THE NATIONS (66.1-11).
This consists of:
PART 2). ISRAEL’S GRATEFUL RESPONSE TO GOD’S DELIVERANCE REVEALED IN OFFERINGS AND THE FULFILMENT OF VOWS, AND A CALL FOR CONSIDERATION OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN ANSWERING PRAYER (66.13-20).
This consists of:
PART 1. 1). God’s Call To The Nations (66.1-11). a) A Call For The Whole Earth To Praise And Worship, And To Express Appreciation of God, In View Of The Deliverance That He Has Accomplished (66.1b-4).
When a king returned in honour after victory over his enemies all the people would give joyful shouts of victory and acclamation as they welcomed him. Indeed it was incumbent upon them. So here all the nations of the world are called on to make such a joyful noise, as God, as it were, returns in victory. They are to sing forth His glorious Name, and His triumphs which gave Him that Name, and give Him splendid and overwhelming praise in accordance with what He deserves. He is to be given the honour due to His Name.
66.3-4 ‘ Say to God, “How terrible are your works!
The peoples are even told what to say. They are to declare how awesome are His works, amazing beyond belief, and terrible for those on whom they were perpetrated and in the eyes of the onlookers. They are to recognise that so great and awesome is His power that it will continually make His enemies submit to Him. And as a consequence the whole world will of necessity worship Him, and sing to Him, and sing to His Name. When Sennacherib returned from besieging Jerusalem to Assyria leaving behind an unconquered Jerusalem, the whole world would have been amazed. Who was this God Who had ensured that Judah remained unbowed and unbroken, when all the other nations in the conspiracy had fallen before Him? And the humiliation of their common enemy Assyria would indeed have filled them with rejoicing, and praise towards the God Who had done this. Note that they sing to His Name, the Name that has been established on the basis of what He has done.
‘Selah.’ A break in the music, or a loud crescendo, indicating ‘Pause, and think of that.’
b). A Call For Them To Remember And Take Note Of What God Has Done For His People In The Past (66.5-6).
The nations are now called on to consider what God has done in the past (the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan are to some extent combined in the description), in revealing His divine activity in the opening up of the sea and in the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army, demonstrating through it that He is awesome, all-powerful and fierce in His activity.
The nations are called on to consider what God has done in the past, His great ‘works’. For these reveal that He is mighty and awesome in His dealings with men; towards His people He is great and powerful on their behalf, amazing them by His activity (verse 6), towards those who would harm them He is fierce and terrible, Someone to be feared. Men do well not to cross Him (verse 7).
The emphasis here is on His greatness and might exercised on behalf of His people. He made a way for them over the Sea of Reeds (Rede Sea), turning it into dry land (see Exodus 14.21-22, 29; compare Joshua 3.17), so that they could go through the waters on foot. The main emphasis is on the Red Sea deliverance, but the language of the second line may possibly echo the crossing of the Jordan. The word for ‘river, flood’ (nahar) is found in Joshua 24.2, 3, 14, 15, speaking there of the Euphrates. It elsewhere regularly refers to the Euphrates. It also often refers to rivers, (even the Nile), but not to the Red Sea. On the other hand its use here might be loose, as a parallel to ‘sea’.
‘There did we rejoice in Him.’ The Psalmist sees himself and his people as ‘one’ with the people of the Exodus. At the Red Sea deliverance they had rejoiced, and they continued to rejoice in that event for they felt that in some way they had been a part of it. We too, as Christians, can rejoice at God’s deliverance of His people through the centuries, for we are truly a part of that too.
c). A Warning To The Nations To Remember In The Light Of His Historic Activity That He Is Observing Them (66.7).
And just as God observed what the Egyptians were seeking to do at the Red Sea, so are the nations to recognise that He observes their activity against His people as well. He rules the world by His power, and His eyes sees all that they do (compare Zechariah 4.10). Thus those who rebel against Him by exalting themselves over His people should watch their step. They should recognise that He is not unaware of what they do. Such exaltation of themselves by nations against His people, and the resulting repercussions, are echoed in Isaiah 36-37. Our God sees all.
d). The Nations Are To Take Note Of The Wonderful Deliverance From A Disastrous Experience That His People Have Experienced (66.8-12).
The words that follow indicate some special trial that His people had faced. Whilst it is possible that these words reflect the Exile, with the people seeing themselves as a continuing unity so that what some suffer their descendants suffer with them, it is more natural to see the words as the expression of people who have themselves gone through deep trial and have themselves been delivered. This would point to some experience like that of the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (2 Kings 18.13ff.; Isaiah 36-37). It is probable therefore that we are to see in this Psalm an expression of worship in the days of Hezekiah, when the Assyrians withdrew from the siege of Jerusalem, with Hezekiah playing a prominent role. For us it is an assurance that, although He might allow His true people to go through fire and water, He will in the end bring them through into a place of abundance.
This part opens with this call to give praise and worship to God, which will be immediately followed by an explanation as to why this call to praise God is expressed. All peoples are called on to ‘bless God’ (offer Him praise and worship) and to make the sound of their praise heard.
And the reason for such praise is that God maintains their lives, not allowing them to be tossed aside. He keeps them alive in dire situations and establishes their way. And there had been no situation more dire than that when the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem, bent on great slaughter once Jerusalem surrendered. (A city which surrendered immediately was usually treated leniently, but once it had shown stubborn resistance it was seen as deserving wholesale slaughter - see Deuteronomy 20.10-14).
The first illustration is that of metal tested for purity in the fire (compare 17.3; 26.2; Proverbs 17.3; Jeremiah 9.7; Zechariah 13.9; Malachi 3.2-3). God is seen as having tested out the trueness and obedience of His people by putting them through great trial.
The next two illustrations are of being captured in a net (compare Job 19.6), and of having been put through a hard time. They had been free like a bird until they had suddenly found themselves ensnared by the surrounding Assyrian armies. And the consequence had been that life had become hard and difficult, almost too heavy to bear.
Prior to the siege of Jerusalem Judah as a whole had been trodden down by the Assyrian armies. One by one their great cities had been taken. The land had been trodden underfoot. And they themselves had been mowed down by the advancing Assyrian horsemen. The enemy had ‘ridden over their heads’ as they had yielded before them (compare Isaiah 51.23). Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions both depict their victorious chariots riding over their enemies. And as a consequence the people of Judah, had passed through great dangers, ‘through fire and through water’ (compare Isaiah 43.2). God’s way is never an easy one for His people, because they have to be refined.
But in the end He had brought them out ‘into abundance’, their wealth and freedom restored (in a similar way to Job). This will always be true for His persecuted people, whether it be in this world or the next.
PART 2). ISRAEL’S GRATEFUL RESPONSE TO GOD’S DELIVERANCE REVEALED IN OFFERINGS AND THE FULFILMENT OF VOWS, AND A CALL FOR CONSIDERATION OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN ANSWERING PRAYER (66.13-20).
a) Deliverance Having Been Accomplished Each Individual In Israel, Speaking In Unison, (Or The King As The Representative Of His People), Approaches God And Explains How He Will Express His Gratitude Ritually (66.13-15).
The change of person from plural to singular (from ‘we/us’ to ‘I/me’) is vivid and expressive. But there is no reason for seeing it as any other than intended. It expresses the thoughts of each individual worshipper, each speaking individually, but as part of a whole (in the same way as we recite the creed). Alternately it may be seen as the words of the king as he acts in gratitude as mediator for his people. In this sense it would essentially mirror what our Lord Jesus Christ has offered up in the offering up of Himself on our behalf (compare especially Hebrews 10.1-14).
The speaker asserts that he will come into God’s house with ‘burnt-offerings’ (‘whole-offerings’), offerings which would be wholly consumed and not partaken of, being the expression of a full-hearted praise and dedication to God.
Furthermore he would fulfil the vows that he had made at the time of his distress. Whilst death, and worse, had threatened at the hands of the enemy, both the king, and every one of the people, would have felt constrained to make promises to God of full-hearted future obedience if only He delivered them. In their case this would include the offering of a multiplicity of offerings as here, but it would also include promises of loyalty and obedience. Now each is assuring God that those vows would be fulfilled.
We are all good at making promises to God when trouble threatens and we feel dependent on Him. Would that we would all afterwards also say, and mean, that we would fulfil those promises. Sadly, for so many, as the danger recedes, so does the likelihood of our fulfilling our promises. When we consider this Psalm we should ask ourselves afresh, ‘have I truly fulfilled the promises which I made to God when I was in distress?’
The multiplicity of offerings suggests either the wide variety of people included under ‘I’ as each individual speaks, whilst conscious of others speaking along with him. Along with him these others will offer other different sacrifices. Alternately the ‘I’ may be the king, who, as representative of his people, offers a wide range of offerings in gratitude for God’s deliverance.
In verse 13 he had said, ‘I will come to your house with burnt offerings’. Now this idea is expanded on further as the burnt offerings are seen to include:
Bullocks and rams, and he-goats, were seen as the very best of offerings. Bullocks were the sin offerings required on behalf of priests (Leviticus 4.3) and of the whole people (Leviticus 4.14), and he-goats were required of rulers (Leviticus 4.23; Numbers 7.17 ff.). Rams were a priestly burnt offering (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8.18-22; 9.2), but also offered as a burnt offering on behalf of all the people (Leviticus 16.5). Thus the thought here is of the offering of the very best.
b) A Call To Consider The Way In Which God Has Answered His (or their) Prayer Because His (their) Heart Was Right Towards God (66.16-20).
The Psalm ends with an emphasis on the fact that God has answered prayer. The king was an intercessory priest after the order of Melchizedek (see introduction to the Psalm above). But this would do no good unless his heart was pure before God. He recognised that it was only when he approached God as one who was right with Him, that his prayer was heard. God knows nothing of ex opere operato. This may thus be the cry of the king, praying as the people’s representative.
Alternately the cry is that of each individual (as part of the whole) as he recognises the wonderful way in which God has answered his prayer.
First he calls on all who ‘fear God’, that is who recognise the Almightiness of YHWH, to come and hear while he declares what God has done for him which has so benefited his life. ‘All who fear God’ acknowledges the fact that even among the godless nations there were those who recognised and acknowledged the greatness of the God of Israel. Whilst Judah were His people ‘the fear of God’ was not limited to them. We can compare here Naaman the Syrian general and the Sidonian widow who succoured Elijah (Luke 4.26-27; 2 Kings 5.17; 1 Kings 17.9 ff.).
What he wanted them to recognise was that he had cried to God with his mouth, and had extolled Him with his tongue, and that God had heard him (verse 19). Note the combination of prayer and praise. The idea is not that we somehow persuade Him to act by praising Him (the extolling comes after the praying), but that we not only look to Him to answer our prayers, but also give Him the worship and gratitude due to Him for His goodness.
However, he stresses the importance of approaching God with a pure heart. Unlike the so-called gods of other nations the God of Israel is concerned with the moral behaviour of His petitioners. He will only hear the prayers of those whose hearts are right with Him as revealed in their response to His covenant requirements and their behaviour towards others. There is nothing automatic about it. They will not be heard for their much speaking, but only when they approach Him with their hearts purified and free from known sin. Cherishing sin in the heart will result in God not hearing them. What they pray for must be right, and so must their attitude of heart. The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. It reminds us that God is only ‘bound’ to hear the prayers of those whose hearts are right with Him and whose motives are pure. And in this case God had truly heard his prayer, and had heard him as he prayed, precisely because he had prayed from a true heart and with a cleansed conscience. This was the basis on which their great deliverance had been enjoyed.
Again the idea is not that by our behaviour we somehow earn the right to be heard. Rather it is that a righteous and moral God will only act in accordance with righteousness.
He finalises his prayer by blessing God for having heard him in accordance with His covenant. He never turns away from those who approach responsive to His covenant. For He Himself is always faithful to those to whom He has covenanted to act in love, that is to those who have responded to His freely offered love by entering into a covenant relationship with Him.
This is another Psalm dedicated to the Chief Musician or Choirmaster, who had overall responsibility for the music played and sung in the Temple. This heading may well have indicated that it had been adapted for Temple worship. It is described as both a ‘song’ (a general and ancient noun for songs of all kinds) and a ‘Psalm’ (a song accompanied by instrumental music), but it is noteworthy that no reference is made to authorship. The dedication of anonymous Psalms to the Chief Musician was rare (only this and Psalm 66). It was to be accompanied by stringed instruments. In view of the fact that it indicates that the harvest has been gathered in (verse 6) it was probably sung at the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Psalm is a short one and is celebrating the goodness of God, as Deliverer (verse 2), as prospective Righteous Ruler (verse 4) and Provider (verse 6). Note the careful pattern commencing with a four line section, then a five line section, then a six line section.
1). God As Deliverer - A Cry For Deliverance (67.1b-2).
The people pray that God’s face may shine on them, resulting in the world seeing how God has delivered them.
The initial call is that God will act in unmerited favour towards them, and bless them, and that specifically He will look on them with favour and act towards them beneficently. For the wording compare Numbers 6.24-25. They recognise that their whole dependence is on the unmerited goodness of God.
‘Selah.’ The musical pause the indicates that they are to pause and think of that.
Their especial request is then that the nations will see how God has delivered His people from danger and oppression in order that they may truly worship and obey God. It should be noted that the idea is not simply that they might be delivered from oppression. It includes the idea of being so delivered so that they could truly worship God. Their view was that God delivers His people with a view to their being free to worship Him truly. We are reminded of the words of Psalm 137.4. “How shall we sing YHWH’s song in a strange land?”
This may simply be a general prayer for God’s continual manifest deliverance, or it may originally have had some specific need for deliverance in mind. Note the emphasis on the fact that they want God’s way to be known on earth as a consequence of what happens. Their own need is secondary. And this is why they can be confident that God will act. They are confident that God will fulfil what He has promised to them so that His ways will be known.
But that the thought goes further than just their own deliverance comes out in verses 3-4. God’s deliverance is not only for them but will eventually reach out to the whole world. The nations will not only see how God delivers His people but will also experience it themselves. It was a recognition of the fact that God’s purpose was eventually for the whole world, and not just for one people.
2). God As Righteous Ruler - A Prayer That God Will Cause All Men To Praise Him And An Expression Of Confidence In The Establishment Of God’s Righteous Kingdom (67.3-4).
At its best Israel’s faith was not insular. They did not see God’s blessing as limited to them. They did not see Him as just a local God Who was interested in them, but as the God of the whole earth Who would one day rule all nations, with all nations looking to Him for justice and fair government. They believed firmly in the fulfilment of God’s promises to David (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4). It has come to its fruition in Jesus Christ for we know that these promises are being fulfilled in our LORD Jesus Christ, Who rules over His heavenly kingdom, and over the hearts of all men everywhere whose trust is in Him (Colossians 1.12-13).
Note how verse 3 is repeated again in verse 5. He is to be praised for His righteous rule overall nations and for His abundant provision for them.
Firstly He is to be praised because of the certainty of the establishment of His righteous world-wide rule. Israel were confident that one day God would rule over the hearts of people of all nations, who would for the first time experience true righteous rule. It is an expression of the certainty that one day God’s righteous rule would prevail. The New Testament reveals that this righteous rule is from Heaven over the hearts of His true people (Colossians 1.12-13), eventually climaxing in the establishing of Christ’s righteous heavenly kingdom (1 Corinthians 15.24-28, 30).
3). God As Provider - An Expression Of Confidence In God’s Full Provision (67.5-7).
The next thing for which praise is to be offered is God’s full provision. The earth yields its increase because of God’s provision. He makes His sun to shine, and His rain to fall, on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5.45). And as a consequence the earth produces its increase.
These words would especially suit the Feast of Tabernacles, when all the harvests had been gathered in and the people gave thanks for His gracious provision. It includes an expression of confidence that God will bless them in this way, with the consequence that the whole world will far Him as they see what He has done for His people.
It may include the thought that after many barren years caused by the Assyrian invasions, fruitfulness would once again be a mark of God’s deliverance (compare Isaiah 37.30-31). Deliverance is always followed by fruitfulness. And the same should be true for God’s people.
Once again the Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician (or Choirmaster). It is, however, this time claimed to be a Psalm of David. This might indicate one composed by (or on behalf of) the Davidic house, but there is no real reason for denying Davidic authorship. It is stated to be both a Psalm (accompanied by instruments) and ‘a song’. Its theme is of God acting on behalf of His people, to deliver them and establish them, with the consequence that He reveals His power and establishes His Sanctuary on Mount Zion. His Sanctuary having been established, the expectation is that He will bring all the nations to His feet. It thus looks back to how He triumphantly led His people through the wilderness from Egypt, and to a future when all nations, including Egypt, will bow before the God of Israel. It is noteworthy that those who will submit to God are seen as from the south, Egypt and Ethiopia (North Africa). There is no thought of Assyria and Babylon. This points to an early date for the Psalm.
The basis of the Psalm is that, just as He has in the past, God will arise on behalf of His people, delivering them from their enemies, glorifying His Sanctuary, and bringing the nations to His feet. For Christians this points to the greater Sanctuary of the Lord Jesus Christ and His people to which all nations are called to respond. The old Sanctuary has been replaced by the new.
The Psalm divides up into three parts as follows:
Thus the continuing themes are 1) the triumph of God and the deliverance of His people both in the past and in the future (verses 1-4; 19-20; 21-23); 2) the wonder of What God is (verses 5-10; 32-35a); 3) the establishing of His earthly, but secondary, sanctuary (verses 14-18; 24-27); and 4) the submission of the nations to God (verses 18; 29-31).
We may further analyse it as follows:
1). A Call For God To Continue His Triumphant March, Scattering His Enemies, As His People Prepare The Way Before Him (68.1b-6).
2). A Reminder Of How God Previously Acted On Behalf Of His People In Providing For And Delivering His People, And How He Then Established His Dwelling Place Among Them Before Himself Ascending On High, Having Taken A Host Of Captives And Having Received Their Tribute (68.7-18).
3). A Call On God To Now Act On Behalf Of His People And Bring The Nations To Honour Him And Pay Him Tribute As They Acknowledge His Sanctuary And Recognise How Terrible He Is (68.19-35).
We must now consider the Psalm in detail:
1). A Call For God To Engage In His Triumphant March, Scattering His Enemies Before Him As His People Prepare The Way Before Him, In The Same Way As He Has In The Past (68.1b-6).
This divides into two parts:
A Call For God To Go Before His People Triumphantly As He Did In The Wilderness (68.1b-3).
The opening words of the Psalm are based on the call for God to lead His people through the wilderness, as the Ark led the way before them, dealing with their enemies as they made their way towards Canaan (see Numbers 10.35). Their cry is that God will do just the same in their day. They had the assurance in their hearts that when God arose to act on behalf of His people no enemy could stand before them. None who hated Him could stand before His face.
We are reminded here of the certainty of God’s victory. Nothing, whether in the spiritual realm or the physical realm, can face up to Him. All must in the end flee before His face.
The wicked (God’s enemies) were thus to be driven away and to perish before His face, in the same way as smoke was driven away by the wind, and wax melted before the flame losing all its solidity and resistance. However, as we shall see later, God’s irresistability is not intended to result in the final destruction of the nations, but in their submitting themselves to Him (verses 18, 31).
Whilst, however, the enemies of God, who resist Him to His face, perish, the righteous are to be glad and to exult before God, rejoicing with gladness because God is triumphant. They are to rejoice in the triumph of righteousness. ‘The righteous’ are those who are in true submission to God.
Today those who have truly believed in Him and His Messiah can also be glad and can exult before God, for He is the guarantee of their glorious future.
A Call For God’s People To Prepare The Way Before Him Because Of What He Is (68.4-6).
Note that God is not praised because of His warlike prowess, but because in His progress He deals with men righteously, only bringing His judgment on the rebellious. He brings righteousness wherever He goes. Whilst He is irresistible, to those who will respond to Him He comes as a benevolent Ruler and not as a vindictive Tyrant.
The raising of highways in order to ensure the smooth progress of a great King was a regular feature of life in Old Testament times. In the light of the context the description has in mind God’s triumphant progress through the Sinai desert. His people are to sing His praise and to prepare the way before Him, and this because His Name is YAH (YHWH - LORD), their covenant God, the Almighty, the All-triumphant. The way in which they would cast up a highway for Him was by covenant obedience, and by ensuring that their children grew up in righteousness. The use of the shortened form YAH may be because of its use in Exodus 15.2. We are reminded of how our LORD, Jesus Christ, also had His way prepared before Him by John the Baptist stirring up the hearts of the people, when He too came as a Deliverer.
And why is God to be exalted? It is not because He is a Tyrant, ruling mercilessly from His holy habitation (from Heaven), but because He is a father of the fatherless and a righteous ruler (judge) on behalf of widows; it is because He makes provision for the lonely, and brings men from captivity into freedom and prosperity. In other words underlying all His activity is compassion and mercy, for that is what He is. He has concern for the weak things of the world.
The fatherless and widows were the two groups most in need of protection in those days. They had no one to watch over them or protect them. Thus God steps into the role. To ill-treat the fatherless and widows is to ill-treat God. Next in line to them were the lonely and the prisoner, and they too are assured that He is watching over them. The overall thought is one of compassion and care.
Thus the call for God to arise and act against His enemies has underlying it a desire for the establishing of His righteous and compassionate rule, not a desire to crush men mercilessly. Indeed it is only the rebellious who will dwell in a parched (dry and fruitless) land. All others will enjoy His beneficent provision. It is a reminder that God’s compassion and care can be lost by the rebellious.
2). A Reminder Of How God Previously Acted On Behalf Of His People In Providing For And Delivering His People, And How He Then Established His Dwelling Place Among Them Before Himself Ascending On High, Having Taken A Host Of Captives And Having Received Their Tribute (68.7-18).
Looking back to the past the Psalmist remembers how powerfully and mercifully God had previously acted. When He had marched before His people in the wilderness, the earth had trembled and the heavens had poured down torrential rain. The picture is of a mighty storm, possibly accompanied by an earthquake. Even mighty Sinai had shaken at His presence (see Exodus 19.16; 20.18). And in contrast, when they were in the land He had sent plentiful rain to water their crops. Indeed, when the land was dry and unable to produce, He had intervened and made it fruitful, ‘confirming His inheritance’, making clear that it really was the land which He had given them. His people had thus dwelt in it, and He had made full provision for the poor.
A Reminder Of How God Had Marched Before His People At The Exodus And How The Earth Had Trembled Before Him (68.7-8).
With slight changes these words are taken from the song of Deborah in Judges 5.4-5. Note especially here, however, the emphasis on the fact that God went before His people. Terrible He may have been, but He tenderly watched over His people. Note also the change from YHWH (Judges 5.5) to God (Elohim), which underlines the deliberate way in which many Psalms in this section (although by no means all) emphasise God rather than YHWH.
The first thought is of the splendour and majesty of God. When He had gone forth before His people, marching through the ‘desolate wilderness’ (yeshimon -compare Deuteronomy 32.10), the earth had trembled, and the heavens had poured forth a deluge. Even mighty Sinai had trembled at the presence of ‘the God of Israel’ (a title taken directly from Judges 5.5). The thought is of storm, and tempest and earthquake as they depict the terrible nature of this awesome God. Compare the descriptions in Exodus 19.16, 18. The aim is to bring out that God is a fearsome God before Whom His enemies should tremble. Compare verses 33-35.
It will be noted that in this Psalm ‘selah’ (verses 7, 19) does not come at the end of a subsection, but each time at the end of an introductory verse. It may well indicate a dramatic pause accompanied by music (or by silence) emphasising His march through the wilderness before His people.
A Reminder Of How God Then Made Provision For His People With Plentiful Rain And Ample Crops Once They Entered Canaan (68.9-10).
The terribleness of God towards His enemies is in contrast with His tenderness towards His people. On them He sends life-producing rain, and to them He demonstrates His goodness. They are His living ones, those who have long and wholesome life.
In contrast with the torrential rain which accompanied the storms at Sinai, is the plentiful life giving rain which God sent on His people once they were in the land. The fruitful rain in Canaan, bountifully watering the land (65.9-10; Deuteronomy 11.10-12), was in such contrast, both with Egypt where irrigation methods had to be used making use of the waters of the Nile (Deuteronomy 11.10), and also the more barren time in the wilderness where there was such dependence on oases. But this land was well-watered (whilst they remained obedient) because it was God’s inheritance.
‘You confirmed (established) your inheritance, when it was weary.’ After the hot summer the land would be dry and thirsty, but then God sent the rains and ensured that the land (His inheritance, the land which was His right, and which He called His people to inherit) was refreshed and established.
‘Your living ones (chay) dwelt in it.’ The living ones here must be human rather than living creatures as confirmed by the parallel. The aim would appear to be to contrast the wholesome, long lives of His obedient people with the more stunted lives of others. Long and wholesome life was regularly seen as resulting from living wisely in righteousness and obedience (compare Proverbs 3.1-2, 16). However, chay (life, living) did come to signify the life of the tribe seen as one, thus it may here signify ‘vibrant tribe, family’.
‘You, O God, prepared of your goodness for the poor (afflicted).’ He points out that God in His goodness even provided for the poor and destitute. The more the crops and vegetation flourished, the more the poor benefited, for they were legally permitted to pick fruits for personal eating as they passed by (Deuteronomy 23.24-25), and they received the gleanings of the crops (Leviticus 19.9-10), and a portion of the third year tithe (Deuteronomy 14.28-29).
A Description Of How God Dealt With The Mighty Kings Of Canaan (68.11-14).
In a vivid picture the Psalmist now depicts a great victory over ‘kings of hosts’, who probably represent the kings of Canaan during the settlement period. They cannot stand before God’s ‘word’. He has only to arise and speak and victory ensues (compare verse 1b and see Isaiah 30.30-31). When He puts forth His word (compare Isaiah 55.11; 30.30-31) the mighty ‘kings of hosts’ flee before Him, with the result that the women of Israel are in their turn a great host, proclaiming God’s victory (compare Exodus 15.20-21), and sharing the spoils (compare Judges 5.30a). Once again part of the background to the pictures is found in Judges 5, with the kings of Canaan coming to fight against God’s people (Judges 5.19) only to be routed before the One of Sinai (verse 8; Judges 5.5). We note that the hosts of the Canaanite kings are not compared with the hosts of Israel, but with the hosts of women who celebrate God’s victory. The victory is all of God (something all preachers should remember).
Note the three parties involved. The Sovereign Lord (YHWH of hosts) Who gives His word; the women (a great host) who celebrate; the kings of hosts who flee. The activity of the hosts of Israel is ignored. They are merely YHWH’s instruments in bringing to fulfilment His mighty word. All the concentration is on what God has done. He put forth His word and His will came about. The men of Israel seek no glory for themselves. The studied absence of any mention of them is significant.
‘The Sovereign Lord (adonai) gives the word.’ Note the use of adonai - ‘sovereign Lord’ (regularly in this Psalm). Such is His authority and power that He puts forth His word and His will is brought about. This was true in creation, ‘by the word of YHWH the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth’ (Psalm 33.6). It is true of history. ‘’So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth. It will not return to Me void, but it will accomplish what I please, and prosper in the way to which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55.11). And here the Sovereign Lord gives the word and the enemy are routed.
‘The women who publish the tidings.’ It was common for the women to have a major part in celebrating victory. See Exodus 15.20-21; 1 Samuel 18.6; Jeremiah 31.4. They are here seen as God’s ‘great host’. Whilst the kings of hosts fled precipitously, the women of Israel stayed at home dividing the spoil. The idea is based on Judges 5.30, ‘have they not found, have they not divided the spoil?’, although in that case it was Israel’s enemies who were in mind and they were in error. In contrast the women of Israel will divide the spoil.
‘Kings of armies flee, they flee.’ Repetition in Hebrew is a way of expressing the superlative. We could translate ‘kings of armies flee precipitately’.
‘And she who tarries at home divides the spoil.’ The enemies who came to spoil Israel are routed. The spoilers are themselves despoiled. The women of Israel who had no part in the matter have the spoil brought home and divide it among themselves. It is a picture of the unmerited favour of God. God’s people may be called on to suffer, but in the end it is they who will divide the spoil.
Whilst the men of Israel went off to battle, the women and underage men lay among the sheepfolds, ‘tarrying at home’. They had to sleep in the open air in order to watch the sheep. Again the emphasis is on the fact that, whilst they enjoyed the benefits without the exertion of battle, they did have to fulfil their responsibilities. We may not be out in the forefront of the battle like the preacher or the evangelist. But we do have a responsibility to ‘lie among the sheepfolds’, diligently watching over the sheep, and being there in case of need.
We have already noted the lack of mention of the men of Israel. The aim is to bring out God’s complete sovereignty over events, and that the benefits received were totally undeserved. The wings of a dove covered with silver and gold confirms the spoil received. A poor, helpless dove is covered with treasures (the thought may be of the changing hues as its wings flap in the sunlight), and so can these women, poor shepherd-folk, now cover themselves in silver and gold. Such is God’s abundance to His own.
There is a hint in the first line here of Judges 5.16a, but it is in contrast rather than parallel. Then the men of Israel were blameworthy as they sat among the sheepfolds when they should have been responding to the call to arms, but none can so criticise the women of Israel who were waiting at home, ‘lying in the sheepfolds’, and standing in for the men. They played no part no the battle but then enjoy the fruits of God’s activity on their behalf. It is all of pure grace. Those who do their part faithfully for God, can be sure of His reward.
The description of events then ends by going back to the defeated enemy. ‘The Sovereign Lord’ is now ‘the Almighty’. In the same way as snow was scattered all over Mount Zalmon, so were these kings and their hosts scattered all over the land with their bleached bones lying everywhere.
Zalmon was the name of a wooded hill near Shechem (Judges 9.48). It may well simply have been chosen because it meant ‘dark mountain, which is turned to white by the snow scattered over it, the idea being that the dark presence of these adversaries was turned into pure whiteness as they were scattered far and wide. Alternately the Psalmist may well have experienced snow falling on Zalmon, something which was comparatively rare but, when it occurred, would be seen by the people as something bleak, devastating and unwelcome. It was equally bleak, devastating and unwelcome for the kings who were scattered in the land, and the snow may have been seen as picturing their exposed white bones.
Alternately the idea may be that when those kings were scattered, snow did fall on Zalmon, and was seen by all as an appropriate picture of what God had done to those kings.
A Description Of How YHWH Established Mount Zion As His Dwellingplace And Therefore As Superior To All Other Mountains (68.15-16).
Having delivered His people and disposed of the kings of Canaan, YHWH established Mount Zion as His dwellingplace. The history of the conquest, the settlement and David’s final triumph has been telescoped into one action against the kings of Canaan, and now YHWH takes His established throne. The land was now YHWH’s and given wholly to His people, whilst He Himself had established a dwellingplace among them so that the whole world might see what He had done. The future of His people was outwardly secure. All that was now needed was obedience to the covenant.
We must not hurry over the glory of it. This was what God’s deliverance and victories had been all about, the establishment of His dwelling place on Mount Zion in full view of the nations, who would see how it was accomplished and would consequently worship and fear Him (compare Exodus 15.14-16).
Israel was a mountainous country, and with the choice of Zion as God’s dwelling place, the highest mountains of Israel are seen as jealous and annoyed because God has chosen it, especially the highest mountain of all which saw it as its right. After all their tops were nearest to heaven. ‘A mountain of God’ probably signifies a mountain so high that even God saw it as high. Alternately the idea may be that it was seen as a religious sanctuary, a ‘mountain of the gods’.
The highest mountains in the land were those in Bashan especially Mount Hermon. Either way it had been rejected in favour of Mount Zion. Just as God had chosen a ‘small’ people, so He had chosen a small mountain. He needed no grandeur to emphasise His own greatness. He wanted to be accessible to His people. Note the second mention of God as YHWH (in verse 4 as YAH). It was as their covenant God that He would dwell among them.
Nor was His choice fickle. He would dwell in it ‘into distant times’ (the meaning of the word translated ‘forever’. Israel had no conception of everlastingness. They simply saw a seemingly endless future lying in front of them). In the New Testament it would be seen as transferred into Heaven (Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 14.1-5), where it will continue for ever. The earthly Jerusalem is now like Mount Sinai, a thing of the past, no longer relevant in the purposes of God (Galatians 4.25). But it would be God’s dwellingplace until it was replaced by the Lord Jesus Christ and His people (John 2.19-21; 1 Corinthians 3.16; 2 Corinthians 6.16; etc).
And this was no weak local god. When He entered His Sanctuary He was accompanied by untold hosts of angel chariotry. The dual word for thousands means in this case, not ‘twenty thousand’, but ‘multiple thousands’. ‘Thousands upon thousands’ is literally ‘thousands of repetitions’. The idea is to bring out the vast nature of the heavenly chariot force. They are innumerable and invincible.
And in their midst is the Sovereign Lord. As it had been at Sinai, so was it now in the Sanctuary (Deuteronomy 33.2), God was there surrounded by His holy ones. Alternately we may translate, ‘as in Sinai in holiness’ (the word for ‘sanctuary (holy place)’ and ‘holiness’ is the same). The women of Israel divide the spoil because the Sovereign Lord and His heavenly hosts watch over the land and despoil their enemies. The lesson is that God does all, and we are unnecessary, even though He graciously allows us to act on His behalf.
For in defending His people God has ascended on High (literally ‘to the height’ i.e. Heaven. He is free to act where He will), subduing their enemies, leading their enemies away captive, and receiving their tribute. It is noticeable that God acts from on High, not from Zion. He is not limited to an earthly sanctuary. As a consequence, even the rebellious are subdued. But note that it is so that God may dwell with them. This brings out that God’s ultimate purpose is not only to dwell among Israel, but to dwell among all men Whom He subdues. His love reaches out to the whole earth as He seeks to bring them in submission to His will.
The quotation of this verse in Galatians 4.8 is based on versions similar to the Syriac and the Targums from which Paul was quoting. It is justifiable in the sense that, in the Psalm, God having received that tribute ‘gave gifts to men’, that is, to the women waiting at home to receive the spoil. God subdues their enemies, and gathers their tribute, in order to benefit His people, in the same way as Jesus triumphed over His spiritual foes for the same reason.
3). A Call On God To Now Act On Behalf Of His People And Bring The Nations To Honour Him And Pay Him Tribute As They Acknowledge His Sanctuary And Recognise How Terrible He Is (68.19-35).
Having described how God has acted in the past, the Psalmist now, in this second section, calls on God to again continually act on behalf of His people:
It will be noticed that these themes are a repetition of His past activities as revealed in the first section.
God Will Deliver His People From Death, Giving Them Life And Crushing Their Enemies Before Them (68.19-23).
The Psalmist is confident that God will deliver His people from death, as he has in the past, and will severely deal with their enemies.
This may, or may not, indicate that at the time of writing there was a pressing emergency. In those days the threat of invasion was a constant concern, and the Psalmist may thus simply have been speaking generally.
Today we may have different enemies, both spiritual and physical. But the same God will deliver us from them all.
He commences by blessing ‘the Sovereign Lord’ (adonai) because He ‘daily bears our burden -- and is our salvation’. For this idea of blessing God (giving Him gratitude, praise and honour) compare Judges 5.2, 9 in the Song of Deborah which has already been in mind in the Psalm. It is also, of course, a regular feature of many Psalms. The burden is the burden of being kept in safety and security, the salvation in mind is salvation from invasion and distress as God’s people. Eternal salvation was not a known concept then, but we can apply it to that in our own case.
‘Selah’ calls attention to the wonder of our burden bearing and delivering God.
The reason for praise is now emphasised. It is because God is ‘for us’ a God of many deliverances, delivering under all circumstances. It is because escape from death is in the hands of YHWH the Sovereign Lord. He controls both life (compare verse 10) and death. As YHWH our covenant God He is personally involved in our escape from death because we are responsive to His covenant. And the power that He exercises towards that end is that of the Sovereign Lord. To us the words go further, for they indicate escape from eternal death to all who truly believe.
In contrast God will ‘smite through the head of His enemies.’ The verb echoes the smiting of Sisera by Jael (Judges 5.26). So will God deal with all His and their enemies. But it is not merely vindictive. It is because such enemies go on still in their guiltiness. As always, if they repented and ceased their wickedness they would be spared.
‘The hairy scalp of such a one as goes on still in his guiltiness.’ It was often the custom of warriors to allow their hair to grow until they had accomplished their mission, often as a consequence of a vow (compare the Nazirite in Numbers 6.5). Among other things they believed that it gave them added strength. For an example of such see Judges 5.2 which is literally ‘for that flowing locks were worn in Israel, for that the people volunteered themselves’. Such people had voluntarily committed themselves to warfare. Thus the idea was that the enemies of Israel who had taken up such an attitude, and were continuing in it, would be smitten at the very point where they had dedicated themselves to violence and destruction. They had failed to see the significance of Israel’s deliverance and the establishment of God’s Sanctuary.
There will be no escape for their enemies. Though they hide themselves in the mountain fastness of Bashan, (is the idea that they chose Bashan rather than Zion, contrary to God’s purpose?), though they escape into the depths of the sea, the Sovereign Lord swears that He will bring them back again to face their fate. For the idea of hiding in the depths of the sea compare Amos 9.2-3. But there is no hiding place from God.
And the purpose of their being brought back is so that Israel may wash their feet in their blood, and leave their dead carcasses for the wild scavenger dogs. In other words so that they might obtain full revenge for the indignities previously heaped upon them.
The thought here is not a pleasant one, but we must remember that Israel had often seen their enemies washing their feet in the blood of their loved ones, and leaving dead carcasses of Israelites for the scavenger wild dogs to consume. So the thought is that they will obtain an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, which was the Old Testament principle of justice. As a consequence of the teaching of Jesus we would hopefully be more forgiving. But it is a reminder that when God judges the unrepentant He will do so without mercy.
God Having Entered His Sanctuary, Triumphantly Surrounded By His People, The Nations Will Seek Him, Bringing Him Their Tribute (68.24-31).
The enemies of God are seen as without excuse because they have observed Israel’s true worship of God in the Sanctuary, and the consequences of it in deliverance from their enemies in the past (verse 18), and have failed to respond to it. Those who fled to Bashan should have observed that Bashan was jealous of Zion, the mountain of God (verse 15), and have recognised the significance of it, as indeed some will for they will bring Him tribute (verse 29, compare verse 18).
What follows commences with a description of God’s triumphant entry into His Sanctuary as King (symbolised by the entry of the Ark), preceded by singers, followed by instrumentalists, and accompanied by joyous damsels playing ‘timbrels’ (tambourines or small drums), all being followed up by the princes of the people. To Israel this was a powerful demonstration of the power and authority of their God. The whole nation was looking up to Him because He had delivered them.
The enemies are without excuse because they have seen ‘His goings’, that is, God’s activities in the past which resulted in the establishment of His Sanctuary (verses 7-18). They should thereby have recognised His kingship and should have submitted to Him. So God did not see the nations as without a witness, but as having the witness of His triumphs. That this was seen as the prelude to God’s worldwide kingdom comes out in verses 29, 31.
God’s triumphant procession into the Sanctuary had been accompanied by singers walking before and singing of His glory, by instrumentalists following after, and by the damsels of Israel celebrating on their timbrels (compare verse 11; Exodus 15.20-21; 1 Samuel 18.6; Jeremiah 31.4). They entered, singing praises, because they knew that God was with them and had given them victory.
Indeed, all Israel (‘the congregation’) are to bless God, for He is their Sovereign Lord, and the very source of their life and prosperity (‘their fountain’). Compare Jeremiah 2.13; 17.13. And had they continued faithfully in the covenant He would have continued to be so.
Other see ‘the fountain of Israel’ as its source, that is, the patriarchs. Compare Isaiah 48.1; 51.1, 2. Having sprung from the patriarchs (in many cases by adoption) they were assured of the promises given to the patriarchs by God.
The procession continues with the princes of the tribes following on, representing the whole people. Benjamin and Judah represent the southern part of the kingdom, and Zebulun and Naphtali the north. Benjamin was the smallest of the tribes, but had produced in Saul the first ruler of Israel. Judah was the present ruling tribe due to David’s kingship. But why do Zebulun and Naphtali represent the north? Such an idea is echoed in Isaiah 9.1-2. It may well be, therefore, that these tribes had been chosen to parallel Benjamin and Judah, as representing the north. This may have been because of their prominent part in defeating the great Canaanite general Sisera (Judges 4-5. There are continual hints of these chapters in the Psalm). Or it could be that as a result of that victory they were given a pre-eminence in processions which had continued to the Psalmist’s time.
The Consequences Of Worship At His Sanctuary (68.28-31).
Having seen what God is by beholding His deliverance and His establishment of His people, and having observed the worship of God as He enters His Sanctuary, the call now goes up from Israel for God to consolidate what He has done so that the nations will bring Him tribute and acknowledge Him as their Lord.
The call goes up for God to consolidate the position by calling on His mighty strength, and strengthening the foundations that He has already laid (‘what you have wrought for us’ - His deliverance of His people, His firm establishment of them in the land, and His establishment His Sanctuary among them).
‘Oh God command your strength.’ This translation is based on the consonants of the Hebrew text but not the vowels (which were added much later). The vowels of the Hebrew text make it read, ‘your God has commanded your strength’, in other words, it is He Who has made them strong to gain the victory. But if this were the translation it would in this particular Psalm be a unique appeal to Israel. Furthermore it would go contrary to the previous lack of mention of the men of Israel with regard to Israel’s victories. The translation chosen contains a direct appeal to God in line with the context.
The hope here is that as a consequence of the establishment of His house at Jerusalem, consequent on the security and prosperity of His faithful people, kings will see it, be filled with wonder, and will bring presents to YHWH. This fits well the time of David. Israel was in the transcendent, and God’s house (the Jerusalem tent - 2 Samuel 6.17) had been established at Jerusalem and contained the Ark of the Covenant. (The tabernacle, minus the Ark was probably at Hebron or Gibeon - 1 Kings 3.4). The nations would soon be bringing presents to YHWH (1 Kings 4.21; 10.2, 25). And this hope would be carried on into the future.
The word translated house or temple indicates any prestigious dwellingplace, such as a palace, or temple, or, in 1 Samuel 1.9; 3.3, the Tabernacle.
God is here called on to rebuke Israel’s enemies. ‘The wild beast of the reeds’ was probably the hippopotamus (compare Job 40.15-24, especially verse 21. See Isaiah 30.7). It was almost certainly symbolic of Egypt. The multitude of bulls would be the kings of smaller nations surrounding Israel who were intent on raids into Israel. The calves of the peoples were those who obediently followed the bulls whatever they wanted to do.
‘Trampling under foot the pieces of silver’ may indicate a spurning of false tribute which was given in feigned friendship, but with evil intent, or may indicate the silver paid to mercenaries by Israel’s enemies which would avail them nothing.
Thus ‘the peoples who delight in war’ will be scattered by God, fleeing from before Him as the kings fled in verse 12.
The consequence was that ‘princes/ambassadors’ (the word is an unusual one and its meaning is not certain) would come out of mighty Egypt in order to pay their tribute, whilst North Africans would hurry to stretch out their hands towards God in submission and worship. Before the rise of Assyria, Babylon and Persia, these were seen as the mightiest forces in the world and represented both near enemies and far enemies. This helps to date the Psalm early.
All Nations Are Therefore To Honour Him Because Of What He Is Revealed To Be, The Terrible One Who Gives Strength And Power To His People (68.32-35).
As a consequence of YHWH’s proven pre-eminence all the kingdoms of the earth are now called on to sing praises to the Sovereign Lord, as the One Who rides on the ancient Heaven of Heavens and Who speaks with a powerful voice that accomplishes His will, something which they have observed in the past (compare verse 11). They are to ascribe to Him ‘strength’. That is they are to recognise His power and ability to do whatever He wants.
All the nations, having recognised Him for Whom He is (and having brought tribute to Him) are to sing to God, singing praises to Him as their Sovereign Lord. Consider that!!!! (selah!!!).
God is now described as having ridden on the Heaven of heavens from the beginning. Before those heavens ever existed He was. They were formed to be His chariot. And He speaks with a mighty voice that brings about His purposes. There is none like Him. Thus they are to sing to Him.
The ‘Heaven of heavens’ is beyond the clouds and the stars. It is that unknown sphere where heavenly beings live. And He rides upon it. It is His chariot. In other words He is supreme over it and directs it as He will.
We saw earlier that He was the One Who rode through the desert places. But that was because He was protecting His people. Now He is seen as the One Who is over all beings. He rules over the heavens. And His voice is a mighty voice, powerful and effective. Compare verse 11; 33.6; Genesis 1.3.
So the nations are to ‘ascribe strength’ to God. They are to recognise His awesome power as Lord of Heaven and earth. And this because He is the One Whose excellency of strength is manifested in the deliverance and protection of His people, and Whose strength is revealed in the heavens. He is not just limited to Israel He is over all.
The Psalm ends with the proclamation to God of His terrible nature and being. Both when acting from the Heaven of heavens, and when acting from His dwellingplace in Jerusalem (His holy places), He is terrible in His manifestation. And because He is the God of Israel He gives strength to His people, acting on their behalf and making them strong against any who oppose them. And for this Israel blesses God.
The fact that we have already had emphasised that He rode through the desert with His people (as they bore the Ark before them), and that He rode on the Heaven of Heavens, (compare also verses 16, 18) confirms that we are to think of dual sanctuaries, and not just of an intensive plural. He dwells both on High and in His earthly Sanctuary. As Solomon would say, ‘even the heaven of heavens cannot contain you --.’ His taking up His position in each Sanctuary has been a theme of the Psalm. And one day He would Himself establish His presence in a different kind of earthly Sanctuary, in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 2.21), prior to His ascending to the heavenly Sanctuary on High, from where He intercedes for His earthly sanctuary, His true believing people (1 Corinthians 3.16; 2 Corinthians 6.16).
Had Israel continued obedient to His covenant this would always have been so. But the promises only applied to a submissive, believing and obedient people. And it was thus only those who responded to the Messiah when He came (and who incorporated believing Gentiles into their number) Who continued to experience His blessing and protection. We continue in that blessing and protection today.
We have here another Psalm dedicated to the chief musician or choirmaster, and set to Shoshannim (‘Lilies’). Compare Psalm 45. It is described as a Psalm of David. Many claim that it could not have been written by David because of verse 8 ff and verse 33 ff, but both could be referred to the time of Absalom’s ascendancy. We are not told that David’s brothers and sons fled with him at that time, and many of David’s loyal supporters may well have become prisoners. There is thus no good reason for denying it to David.
Alternately it could be related to David’s time in the wilderness hiding from Saul but in that case we would have to see the final verses as added at a later time, although possibly by David himself.
The strongest argument for dating it later is the closeness of the sentiments to those of Jeremiah, and some even suggest that he was the author, dedicating it to the Davidic house. He had good cause to be grateful to Zedekiah who sought to protect him. Others associate it with after the exile because it speaks of ‘building the cities of Judah’ (verse 35). But the experiences described were not unique to the time of Jeremiah, for they have been experienced by God’s true people though the centuries. That is why the Psalm can be such a comfort to us today. It has a special word for those who are undergoing severe persecution, providing assurance that God sees their problems and will rectify them in the end, whether in this world or the next.
Furthermore the cities of Judah were constantly being rebuilt. Such a phrase may only indicate the turbulent nature of life in those times. And some cities may well have supported David and had to be reduced.
The thought in the Psalm is disjointed. It indicates that the Psalmist was clearly going through deep searchings of heart, with his mind in turmoil as he switches rapidly from one idea to another. This is no calm soliloquy, but the cry of a man under pressure..
The Psalm divides up as follows:
1). The Psalmist Pleads With God To Deliver Him From Those Who Would Dishonour Him (verses 1-6).
‘Save me O God.’ The stark nature of the opening cry brings out the depths of feeling that the Psalmist is experiencing. He is in great distress and feels that he is going under. He feels that only God can help him, and he has no time for niceties. So he reaches out desperately, crying from the heart for deliverance. ‘Save me O God!’ No one cane help me but You.
‘For there are come waters in to my inner person.’ He pictures himself swallowing water like a drowning man as he is carried under the waves. Life is choking him, and he feels himself to be sinking and going under, something which most of us experience at one time or another, especially if we are engaged in spiritual battles. He is drowning with no one to help him.
‘I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.’ He feels that he is being swallowed up as in a swamp or quicksand, desperately seeking solid ground as he sinks and is unable to find a firm footing. Such swamps and quicksands were a common feature in Palestine, especially round the Jordan from Dan to Tiberias. As someone who knew the area well has said, ‘These black spongy places are treacherous to the last degree --- it is a curious fact that dry, rocky and mountainous as this country is, yet it abounds in quagmires and swamps to an extraordinary extent’. Thus the Psalmist would almost certainly have had personal experience of them.
‘I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.’ His thought is of wading through a river and suddenly encountering a deep spot and finding himself floundering in deep waters.
Note the progression - waters entering his inner man, unable to find firm ground, immersed in the water. The overall picture is of a man wallowing in deep waters, swallowing large amounts of water and choking, unable to find firm ground for his feet, and finally fully immersed in water, and finally feeling that he is drowning.
Meanwhile he cries out to the only One Whom he feels can help him. He cries out to God continually, and he does so until he is wearied with the effort, and his throat is parched. But God does not always answer immediately (He has lessons to teach us) and the waiting gets to him, and his ‘eyes fail’. He is discouraged and does not know where to look.
He now provides a reason for his distress. He is undeservedly hated by large numbers of his compatriots, who are seeking to destroy him. They are so many that they are more than the hairs on his head, in other words they are a great many. And what is more they are powerful and with great influence. As a consequence they are stripping him of everything, not only what they think he has wrongfully taken, but also his own personal possessions.
This would admirably fit in with David’s experience when his son Absalom rebelled against him. Accused falsely of betraying his subjects, hated unfairly by large numbers because of the propaganda used against him, in danger from mighty and influential forces, and losing both his possessions and his home, he had to flee for his life across the Jordan. It would also fit the time when he had to flee from Saul because of Saul’s jealousy. We know of times when his friends betrayed him then. It is sometimes the lot of the godly to find themselves in dire straits as a consequence of false accusations and half truths. It is then that, like David, they cry to the Lord.
‘Those who hate me without a cause’ was cited by Jesus in John 15.25 using the wording from the LXX. As great David’s greater Son Jesus clearly identified Himself with David in His experience. He too was hated without a cause and falsely accused, although in His case there was no taint of sin (contrast verse 5).
But David does not deny that he also has been at fault. He openly admits to God that he has been foolish (compare 38.5) and has to some extent brought his problems on himself. He thus admits to God that he had sinned. He dare not claim total innocence, for he knows his heart too well. If we would seek the Lord’s help with confidence we must always be ready to acknowledge our own failings and weakness, and to own up to where we have been at fault. David’s point is that he had been somewhat at fault, but not to the extent that his enemies claimed.
He is especially concerned lest through his own folly others of God’s servants might be put to shame, and he prays that those who seek God might not be dishonoured as a consequence of what he has done. This may have included faithful priests at Hebron who objected to Absalom setting himself up as king. Note the strong titles that he gives to God in the light of his circumstances. He prays to ‘the sovereign Lord, YHWH of hosts’, and to Him as ‘the God of Israel’. He seeks both to draw on His power, and to shelter them in the covenant between God and Israel.
2). He Draws Attention To The Fact That He Is Being Persecuted Because Of His Loyalty To God And God’s House (verses 7-12).
He recognised that what he was facing had partly arisen because he had been so zealous for God’s truth and worship. In the case of David, Absalom and his followers may not have liked having to be ‘so religious’, and they may have rebelled against it. Indeed, prior to his rebellion Absalom had spent some time in Geshur, a city in Syria, where he may well have worshipped the gods of his grandfather the King of Geshur. Even David’s brothers had thought that he took things too far. Thus David claimed that part of the reason for his suffering was because of his zeal for the house of God, and that a consequence of it was that he was secretly mocked because of his religious activities. We can compare how his wife Michal despised him when he danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6.16).
Those who dedicate their lives to God, and then live by it, will usually find this to be the case. A little zeal for ‘religion’ can be tolerated. But to base your life on it is seen as going too far. Everything you do is watched, and your Christian activities derided, especially when they involve what is seen as eccentric. And in many countries becoming a Christian results in being ostracised.
He points out to God that he has been reproached and put to shame for His sake. Because of his true love for God, and because of his zeal in worship, he had been open to being mocked behind his back. He had become a subject of derisive comment. And it hurt.
Even his whole blood brothers, and possibly his whole blood sisters, (those who came from the same mother), had distanced themselves from his activities. And in consequence, when he had had to flee they had remained behind, ready to make their peace with Absalom, and he was estranged from them, and alienated. It was as though he was a stranger to them.
And much of it was because of his zeal for the ‘house’ of God, which would at this time be the ornate tent that he had set up at Jerusalem which contained the Ark of the Covenant. His zeal may have expressed itself in opposition to some unseemly practises or symbols which were being introduced which he saw as alien to the Torah, and which were thus a reproach to God, but which were popular, or it may have been because insisted on requirements which they saw as too stringent. They may even have objected to the amount of wealth going to the Tent of Meeting when they wanted some of it to go into their own pockets.
Alternately ‘your house’ may refer to Israel as a people. Compare Numbers 12.7, where God says that Moses was ‘faithful in all His house,’ where he was seen as the steward and the people were seen as ‘God’s house’, and Hosea 8.1 where the enemy are said to come against ‘the house of YHWH’. In this case it would be because of his zeal to keep Israel pure that that David was being attacked by those who wanted it otherwise for their own ends.
But either way the consequence of his zeal was that he had been ‘eaten up’. that is, ‘devoured’. In view of the parallel this presumably refers to his loss of his position and possessions, and the endangerment of his freedom. All that had been taken from him. Indeed, if Absalom had caught him he would not have been allowed to live for long, and meanwhile he had been stripped of everything. He was a fugitive. His zeal had caused him to be ‘eaten up’ (‘devoured’) by his adversaries. The idea of being ‘eaten’ by people in the sense of being caused harm or being in danger of death from them is typically Hebraic. It occurs for example in 14.4; 53.4, as ‘they eat up My people as they eat bread’. See also 27.2; Proverbs 30.14; Jeremiah 10.25; Hosea 7.7.
In the same way our Lord Jesus Christ would be ‘eaten’ by the Scribes and Pharisees when they persecuted Him and put Him to death. But in His case it would result in life becoming available to all (this is one aspect of John 6.52-56, where the Scribes would first ‘eat His flesh’ by destroying Him, but would then need to ‘eat Him’ by benefiting by His sacrifice through faith (compare John 6.35) if they were to find life).
This was prefaced in John 2.17 where this verse in Psalms is cited concerning Jesus when He emptied the Temple of the merchants in a context where the destruction of Jesus is in mind (John 2.19, 21). There Jesus’ zeal for God’s Temple was in the end to result in His destruction. He would be ‘eaten up’.
‘And the reproaches of those who reproach you are fallen on me.’ The Psalmist was aware that much of what was happening was because his adversaries were ‘reproaching God’ by preferring their own way of worship to God’s, or by merely nominal worship, which in itself is an insult to God. They were against purity of religion, and against David’s attempts to maintain it. They perverted religion to their own ends, and tried to justify it by arguing that God’s way as revealed in the Torah was unsustainable and unreasonable. And because David stood firmly by the word of God, they poured out their reproaches on him. Men have been doing this with true Christianity for 2,000 years. When the medieval Roman Catholic church put tradition before Scripture, they persecuted those who wanted to return to Scriptural truth. Many a martyred reformer could say, ‘zeal for your house has eaten me up’. The same situation was true between the Scribes and Pharisees on the one hand, and Jesus Christ on the other, and resulted in them ‘eating Him’ by crucifying Him. Compare Romans 15.3.
He now describes three activities which brought reproach on him, and which were examples of his zeal for God. The first was weeping over sin, the second was fasting and the third was wearing sackcloth and ashes. They were activities which his adversaries could not understand in a king. He was expected to be above such things as YHWH’s anointed. The weeping should be left to those who had come into his disfavour. The fasting to those who were desperate. Their idea of religion was that it was a useful prop, but not something that should be taken too seriously, especially if you were well off. Let the poor weep, and fast and wear sackcloth, they thought. For the noble such things were demeaning.
So when David wept over his sins, or his people’s sins, or fasted as a sign of mourning and repentance, he came under their reproach. ‘Such things diminished his authority,’ they whispered. ‘They tarnished the image of his royalty.’ And they despised him in their hearts.
The world will always mock those who lay emphasis on repentance and who truly repent. To them it is unnecessary and demeaning. But the Christian recognises that it is at the heart of his experience with God. God is great and holy and just, and we are weak sinners before Him. Thus even the most important of men are not above repentance, for they too must remember that they are dealing with an offended God and Judge.
And when he wore sackcloth in repentance over sin they talked about him behind his back, demeaning him. He became a byword to them. It became a joke. Absalom had no doubt drawn the attention of the people to such ‘weaknesses’ in David’s royalty, making clear that they would never see him demeaning himself like that.
Furthermore because of his piety he became the talk of the town. Those who gathered at the open place in and around the city gateway whispered to each other and mocked him, and the drunks sang insulting songs about him. It was in the city gateway that Absalom spoke to those who gathered there or came through it, making clear what a superior king he would be (2 Samuel 15.1-6). And so the whisperings would continue. They suggested that David was too interested in his religion and in his psalm singing to bother much about the people. And so they talked about him disparagingly, and made up drunken rude songs about him. What a contrast these drunken rude songs were to the psalms that came from his pen. As Paul would say, ‘do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5.18).
3). He Intensifies His Cry For Assistance Declaring His Dependence On God As A Saving God (verses 13-18).
With intensity of feeling he calls on God as ‘a saving God’, a God of salvation, and thus prays to be delivered, and not swallowed up by the things that sought to drown or destroy him. He calls attention to God’s covenant love and declares his dependence on it, calling on Him to redeem Him from his troubles.
Those who sat in the gate talked scandal and listened to the voice of drunkards. In contrast David talked with YHWH and listened to His voice. ‘As for me,’ he said, ‘my prayer is to you.’ But he recognised that God would not always answer immediately. God has greater purposes than we know. And so he asked for a response ‘in the time that pleases You’ (see Isaiah 49.8 where God confirms this hope). Yet at the same time he had the certainty that God would answer him, because God was bound by His covenant love. (Note the switch to the covenant name YHWH). God was the God with Whom he was in covenant. Thus in the abundance of that covenant love, a love which knew no bounds, he was confident of response at the due time. History had demonstrated that God had always saved those who trusted in Him, and so God’s saving power and purpose was a firm truth to which he could hold. God’s salvation was no arbitrary or doubtful thing. It was true as steel. It was one of the great realities about God. And it was on this basis that he called for an answer.
We are back here in the thoughts of verse 2. We must not lose sight of the fact that David was still overwhelmed by what was happening, and was praying out of deep intensity of feeling. He felt as though his world was collapsing around him. At times when we feel the same we, if our trust is in Him, can join with him in this prayer with the same confidence of delivery in due time.
He felt himself being sucked down by a quagmire, and prayed desperately that he might not finally sink into oblivion. He was surrounded by hate, and the activities that resulted from that hatred. And he wanted to be delivered from the consequences of that hate. It was like floodwater that was threatening to overwhelm him. It was like a deep sea that wanted to swallow him up. It was like being in a deep pit which threatened to close about him. The last thought probably has in mind falling into a deep hollow in uncertain ground, where the earth crumbles on top of him. But it may have in mind a pit into which men were put, which acted as a dungeon, and the thought may be of the devastating feeling of seeing the cover of the pit replaced leaving him permanently trapped inside (compare Jeremiah 38.6).
In his distress he cried out for an answer, on the basis of the soundness of God’s covenant love. And his hope was that in the multitude of His tender mercies God would turn to him. Note his deep sense of the overwhelming love of God on which he was relying. He did not want God to turn away His face, for he had nowhere else to turn and needed a quick response.
And so with a deep sense of need he cried out for deliverance. He asked God to draw near to him and redeem his life from the threatened fate that awaited him at the hands of his enemies, by the payment of a ransom. He wanted Him to act as his kinsman redeemer, the kinsman who stepped in and used his own wealth and position to deliver a relative from debt or slavery, or some other form of impediment, by means of a ransom. We are not told what form that ransom would take here, but when used of God the idea usually indicates the expenditure of great effort. Thus he was calling on God to actively intervene, and exert great effort in his deliverance. That was the ‘price’ that God was to pay.
But we know now that underlying all God’s actions of mercy was the payment of a price beyond man’s calculation (Mark 10.45) and imagination, the suffering of His own Son on the cross. It was because of that redeeming sacrifice that He could justly show mercy to the undeserving who truly looked to Him, both in Old Testament times and in New..
4). He Describes To God The Inhuman Behaviour Of His Persecutors (verses 19-21).
It must have been a great shock to David when he discovered that even Jerusalem was not on his side. Most of those whom he had trusted were looking the other way. It left him with no option but to flee. There were few he could depend on. (Had Jerusalem been reliable he could have held the fortress city whilst sending out men like Joab to rally his own supporters). His words here demonstrate how deeply he felt it.
The threefold description expresses the completeness of his chagrin. He was under reproach, he was shamed and he was dishonoured. He could see it on the faces of those around him. Apart from his own men, and a few close adherents, all had deserted him. His own people Israel had turned against him, and whilst the people of Jerusalem dared not openly shame him, they did so by making it clear that he could not look to them for support. Their half-heartedness rent his heart. And he now calls on God to take note of the situation, and especially of those who are the ringleaders of the rebellion. He was assured that God saw and knew them all.
He describes the depths of his feelings. What was happening was breaking his heart and weighing him down. His people Israel, of whose loyalty he had been so certain, had rallied to Absalom, his own beloved son. The people of Jerusalem were clearly looking on him as a has-been who had failed them. He found no comfort from them. Absalom had done his work well. Apart from his own men there was no one to whom David could turn. All were thinking of their own wellbeing, and what would be most beneficial to them. Absalom had won them over. Betrayed and forsaken by most, no wonder his heart was heavy within him.
The same would later be true of Jeremiah. He also suffered deep reproach and shame, was borne down by grief, looked for someone to pity him, and found no comforters. It has been the lot of many who have stood firm for truth and found themselves forsaken.
This is not to be taken literally. It is metaphorical. The response to his grief was bitter and heartless. Gall (possibly the Palestinian poppy) was bitter and poisonous, and no one in his right mind would eat it. The idea is that life was made so bitter, that it was like partaking of gall. And all that they could give him for his thirsty heart was the equivalent of acrid vinegar. The thought was possibly of wine that had become nauseous and unfit to drink. The point is that life was made very bitter for him in his inner being. This was not the wine mingled with gall which was offered out of kindness and had a soporific effect (Matthew 27.34. Matthew does not cite it as a quotation). It was acrid and poisonous to the soul.
5). He Outlines Their Behaviour And Calls On God To Bring On Them The Judgment That They Deserve (verses 22-28).
The words that follow help to bring out the difference that Jesus Christ has made to men’s thinking. They are based on the ancient principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and that of obtaining vengeance against an enemy. There is a certain justice in them, but they are very much contrary to the teaching of Jesus, such as, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who use you badly’ (Luke 6.27-28).
On the other hand we must remember that David was speaking as a king who had to rule a nation and keep it in check. What is possible on an individual level, is not always possible on a national level. The individual, said Jesus, must forgive, and even forget. But the justices of a nation cannot work wholly on that principle. The deeds of criminals cannot just be overlooked, or life would become impossible. The nation must exact justice, while also showing mercy.
David was constantly surrounded by political intrigue, and possible violent reaction, and was speaking when he, and those who were faithful to him, were in dire danger from these very men. At the official level he was responsible to ensure the welfare of the nation, and especially of his trusted followers, and to deal with evildoers. Furthermore they were violent times, and what might seem horrific to us was not seen as horrific then. We can compare some countries today where they chop of men’s hands and feet, or blind them, as a punishment, and see it as lawful, and even ‘godly’. Yet such behaviour rightly horrifies us. Thus while not condoning all his thoughts, we must not judge him too harshly. What is described here is a form of justice, not mercy. The words are describing what the consequences of sin will be for us all if we do not find mercy.
The ‘table’ mentioned is the leather or plaited straw mat placed on the floor on which food was piled and around which men sat to eat. His plea was that as they have given him poisonous gall to eat, so let their table similarly become a snare to them by causing them to become ill, trapped by the food they eat. Anyone who has experienced severe fish poisoning will know exactly what he meant. As we see from verse 24 he was not being personally vindictive. He had a deep sense of the fact that these men had made God angry by their behaviour. They had rebelled against God’s chosen king. They were undermining the nation’s life.
‘When they are in peace’ brings out the unexpectedness of the food poisoning. They are anticipating nothing but good, but their food turns on them. In other words the prayer is that the pleasantness of their lives be interrupted by devastating effects (compare 1 Thessalonians 5.3).
It may include the thought that a plaited straw mat could be placed over a pit and covered with vegetation in order to hide it. The unsuspecting animal would then fall into it. So what had been a source of provision became part of a snare. The citation of this verse in Romans 11.9 is a free translation of the LXX (which Paul regularly used), where he applies it to the whole of unbelieving Israel. The Psalmist’s prayer was fulfilled in a way that he never dreamed of.
He prays that their eyes, which have gloated over his misfortunes, will suffer blindness, and that their strong loins, with which they have acted against him, may end up diseased, with their limbs shaking with fever or palsy. The thought here may continue the thought of giving poison. In the same way as they sought to make him eat poison (verse 21), so are they to suffer poisoning at their table (verse 22), resulting in their eyes becoming dim and their bodies shaking. What he asked was just and right. What it failed in was compassion. But before we judge too harshly we must remember that these words were spoken in the heat of the moment as he considered his own disastrous situation at their hands. These enemies were closing in on him and he knew that they would show him no mercy. And he had a deep sense of how much they were sinning, not only against him, but against the nation and against God. Later he was compassionate, and even wanted to spare Absalom.
Of course in the warfare that followed (by their own choice) many did have their eyes darkened as their lives slipped away from them, and the loins of many shook in their death throes. The prophecy was self-fulfilling.
It is now made clear that behind David’s prayer lay a sense of God’s attitude towards these men, and indeed towards all whose ways have made Him angry. He recognised God’s indignation against them because of what they were doing. We are reminded by this that God does deal with men in His indignation over their sin and behaviour, and in fierceness of anger because they have gone against His will. Terrible things still come on the world. It is a warning that all men should take to heart. If we reject God’s offer of mercy we can only expect judgment. And we must remember that these men had rebelled against the Lord’s Anointed, and were thereby disobeying the covenant. So David is not necessarily speaking out of personal spite, but out of a deep awareness of how grave their sin has been. They have offended God and show no signs of repentance. So let them suffer the consequences.
The great fear of every Israelite was that his family name should cease from the earth, and that the land given to his family by God after the settlement in Canaan might pass into the hands of strangers. That is what the prayer has in mind here. The wholesale destruction of their family name. Their name is to be wiped out from the earth. This was something that regularly happened to traitors. Their names would be blotted out, their possessions would go to others. So he is asking for the just sentence on traitors. (We must remember that later he would show mercy on just such people. Just sentences must always be passed before mercy is shown so as to uphold righteousness).
The reference to encampment and tent is an archaism. Originally Israel had dwelt in encampments and tents and Israelites often referred to their houses in this way. Acts 1.20 cites this verse of Judas in a free rendering of LXX. He too was a traitor.
The reason for the indictments is now given. Such terrible things are to fall on them because they persecute the one who has been smitten by God, and talk about the sorrow of those whom God has wounded. To David this was deeply important. He considered that the one who has been smitten by God should be exempt from such treatment. It is sufficient that God has smitten him. To add to his woes is to go beyond what God has purposed. And to talk lightly or derogatorily about it is to is to treat God lightly. What God is dealing with, man should not interfere with, or add to.
We do not know in what way David saw himself as smitten by and wounded by God at this time. But his life had been one which had constantly experienced reverses. He was smitten and wounded when he had had to flee from Saul, and when he had had to live in fear of his life. He was smitten and wounded by the death of his son when he had sinned with Bathsheba. He was smitten and wounded by the rebellion of his beloved son Absalom. It may be this last that is in mind here. Perhaps it lay in the fact that what was happening had woken him up to his own laxity, and he recognised that he deserved all that was coming on him. He accepted that it was his reward for having become slovenly in ruling the nation, and failing in his responsibilities (Absalom’s criticisms had not been wholly unfounded). And as he fled from Jerusalem with his men, in danger of his very life, it may well have caused him to reflect on the way in which he had been growing lax, and he may well have seen it as God’s chastisement. But in his view it was one thing for God to punish him, it was another for these men to pursue him so remorselessly. No man had a right to add to God’s chastisement, especially of the Lord’s Anointed.
He asked that iniquity might be added to their iniquity. Adding iniquity to iniquity results from the behaviour of those who disregard God’s commandments and covenant. As they disobey God so they become hardened in disobedience and as a consequence they disobey more. But it is men who choose to do this. How then can God be asked to bring it about? The answer is that this process is also part of God’s sovereign working. ‘He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens’ (Romans 9.18). He causes men to add iniquity unto iniquity by not intervening and letting nature take its course. God does not cause men to sin. People are self-destructive because sin has made them that way, not God. But He does control whom He will call. It is God who refrains from acting to bring their position home to them. He withholds His Holy Spirit. Thus what is described here is the natural course for rebels against God. And such people will never come into God’s righteousness.
The question is, was David asking that they should be prevented from repenting (certainly something hinted at in Scripture, although on the basis of their own hardness of heart - Matthew 13.14-15)? Or was he simply saying that they should be impelled to follow the regular way of the unrighteous, unless they repent. It is difficult to believe that the former can be true. David had himself learned the necessity for even the godly to repent. He especially would have been delighted if such men had truly repented. Consider his treatment of Shimei in 2 Samuel 16.5-13. So he would no doubt have delighted in their repentance. But in this case he saw them as men set in their rebellious ways.
To come into God’s righteousness is to enter into the path of God’s righteousness by repentance, the offering of genuine sacrifices, and obedience. Then they are accepted by God, and come under His tuition and chastening and learn to walk rightly. Such behaviour only occurs through God’s working by His Spirit. David’s point was not that he would not want that, but that he did not want them to be allowed a feigned outward righteousness. He did not want to be dealing with men who acted a part but were not genuine at heart. There are many today who appear to have entered into God’s righteousness, but have not really done so. They are like the seed that flourished for a while and then died away (Mark 4.16-17).
David now asks that their name be blotted out of the book of life. This book of life is not the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13.8; 17.8) which determines men’s eternal destinies. It is the book of the living mentioned by Moses (Exodus 32.32; compare Isaiah 4.3), that is of those who are alive on earth (or in Israel - Ezekiel 13.9) at the time. When a man died his name would be blotted out of it. Such ‘books of the living’ were maintained by many large cities, and alongside them books which contained the names of those who had done great things for the city. Moses would not have been willing to face eternal judgment. But he was willing to face death for his people. So what David is asking here is that such men may die. That is what being blotted out of the book of life entailed. Although it may be that being ‘blotted out’ might be seen as having some stigma attached to it as a kind of positive action by God.
‘And not be written with the righteous.’ This may simply be the other side of having the name blotted out. Once a man died his name was erased and he was thus not written with the righteous who still lived. On the other hand it may refer to the book of remembrance for those who feared YHWH and called on His Name (Malachi 3.16), a book of true believers the book of those who did great things for God. The unrighteous would necessarily not be written in it.
6). He Looks Forward With Confidence To God’s Deliverance For Both Himself And His Persecuted Followers And Calls On Creation To Praise God Because He Will Deliver Zion And Rebuild The Cities Of Judah (Partly Destroyed By Absalom) On Behalf Of Those Who Are Truly His (verses 29-36).
David compares the arrogance of his adversaries with his own humility before God. He comes before Him as one who is poor and sorrowful, especially in his present predicament. And so he prays that God’s saving power might set him on high. To be set on high is to be set in a place of safety and security where the enemy could not reach him. The mountains were often refuges for those who were being pursued. His whole dependence is not on what forces he might be able to gather in Gilead beyond the Jordan, but on God’s intervention on his behalf. It is God Who is his high tower.
And thus he declares that he will praise God with a song (so typical of the sweet Psalmist of Israel) and will magnify Him (make Him writ large) with thanksgiving. His open praise and worship will make known the glory of God.
Such praise and thanksgiving coming from a human being who is truly offering himself to God, will please YHWH better than a brute beast with horns and hooves offered in sacrifice. Choice specimens were in mind. To have horns denoted power and strength and maturity. To have cloven hooves rendered them clean and acceptable to God. The ox and the bullock were important sacrifices, and certainly required by God, but his point is that the offering of them was as nothing unless they were accompanied by the offerer having a true heart towards Him. It was that true heart which most pleased God.
All who are truly meek, seeking God humbly with a contrite spirit, will see David’s offering of praise and thanksgiving and will be glad. They will rejoice in it. For they are the ones who truly seek God, and their hearts will come alive as they contemplate his praise.
They are to let their hearts live because they know that YHWH hears the needy, among whom they are numbered. Those who are needy are made full in God. But prominent among the needy was David himself. It was ever a wonder to him that God heard his cry.
And He does not despise those whom He has bound. The needy and the prisoner were the two types who needed God most. None were more meek than these. They had no one else to look to. Again prominent among these was David. Fleeing for his life, and in danger of being hounded down, he felt himself a prisoner of YHWH, and on the verge of literally becoming so, whilst many a man professing loyalty to David would have been imprisoned by Absalom. But the central idea is that YHWH hears the cry of the lowest, even David and his followers.
In contrast with the praise of the poor and needy is the praise of heaven and earth and seas. All creation join with those who are poor and needy in praise before God, and this includes everything that moves in heaven and earth and seas.
And what is the reason for their praise? It is because God will hear the cry of His true people. He will save Zion, the city that He has chosen for His dwellingplace, and He will rebuild the cities of Judah. They will be delivered from the rebels. The cities of Judah would have been those most affected by Absalom’s rebellion which was centred on Hebron. And the needy and the prisoners, David and his followers, will once again abide there and have it in possession. This was David’s certainty as they fled for refuge across the Jordan, because he trusted in his saving God.
And David’s vision was that God’s true servants would inherit it. and that those who loved His Name would dwell in it. He saw an idealised future. The New Testament makes clear that his vision will be fulfilled in terms of a greater Zion (Hebrews 12.22). Then it will be indwelt by all the true people of God.
We have here another Psalm of David dedicated to the chief musician. It is said to be to ‘to bring to remembrance’. Compare Psalm 38 where we find the same phrase. Alternately we may translate as, ‘to make memorial’.
The thought may be that he wanted to bring to God’s remembrance his sufferings and need. Or it may have in mind that he wanted by his words to remember how God was with him in his extremity. However, it is also possible that it was used in connection with the memorial grain offering which included incense (see Leviticus 2.2) and the memorial incense offering (Leviticus 24.7; Isaiah 66.3). But note that in Numbers 10.10 animal sacrifices were also a memorial.
We should note that 70.1b-5 is almost word for word with 40.13-17 with slight variations. It is possible that 70.1b-5 was extracted from Psalm 40 for liturgical purposes. Alternately 70.1b-5 may have been written as an initial composition, and have then been incorporated into Psalm 40.
Initially it might seem that Psalm 70 follows the pattern in this second section of YHWH being replaced by ‘God’. This takes place in the first line of 70.1b and in 70.4. Furthermore in 70.5a it is ‘Sovereign Lord’ that becomes ‘God’. But surprisingly in the fourth line of verse 5 the opposite happens and God is replaced by YHWH. This is a warning for us not to be too glib in assuming mere substitution, and tends to upset the idea that YHWH almost always becomes Elohim in this section. There was clearly more to it than that.
The Psalm divides into three parts:
1). A Cry To Be Delivered From Those Who Would Dishonour Him (70.1b-3).
There are three types of people from whom he wants to be delivered. Those who seek his life; those who delight in his hurt; and those who say, ‘aha, aha’. And he prays that they may all be confounded and shamed.
Psalm 40 reads as the first line, ‘be pleased, O YHWH, to deliver me’, which may be an expansion on this, for the abrupt form is acceptable in a Psalm. His cry is for deliverance, and what is more, deliverance in a hurry. It is clear that he has a number of enemies. He wants those who seek his life to be both ashamed and confounded. He wants those who delight in his hurt to be driven back and brought to dishonour. He wants those who mock him and seek to shame him, to themselves be desolate because of their own shame. He is clearly confident that YHWH will be aware how much of it is their own fault, and indeed that what is to be done to them is deserved.
2). A Call To Believers To Rejoice And Magnify God (70.4).
Turning from dealing with those who have sought his downfall he now calls on God to ensure that those who seek Him and those who love His salvation will be able to rejoice and magnify God. It is a case of the contrast between the unrighteous and the righteous, between those who want to dismiss religion and attack religious adherents, and those who truly love God..
In contrast with what he wishes on evildoers he prays that those who seek God may rejoice and be glad in Him. He prays that those who love God’s saving power might be able to say continually, ‘Let God be magnified’. There is clearly a contrast between those who love God and are faithful to Him, and those who are merely after their own ends.
His confidence lies in the fact of his own trust in God, and in his own faithfulness and obedience to God. He is sure that YHWH will be on his side because he is faithful to His covenant requirements and always grateful to Him for His help.
Note his desire that the righteous will ‘be glad in Him’ and will magnify Him. Central to his thinking was that God might be glorified through His people.
3). A General Plea For Help (70.5).
He closes by admitting his own weakness and calling on God to speed up His response, because God alone was his help and deliverer. And he pointedly refers his final plea to ‘YHWH’, his personal covenant God, asking him not to delay in answering him..
One of the tests of a truly righteous man is that he does not see himself as righteous or deserving because he is deeply aware of his own failings. And so it was with David. He was one of the most moral and righteous men of his times (in spite of the black spots), as well as one of the most powerful, and yet he saw himself as simply ‘poor and needy’, and no doubt could not fully understand why the Lord bothered about him. But he knew that He did and he rejoiced in it. And so he prays that God will make haste to help and deliver him and will not linger, and closes by directly addressing YHWH, the One Who is his personal covenant God.
Whilst we must always recognise that God will answer in His own time, there is encouragement here for us to seek to impress God with the urgency of our situation. If the situation is important enough we too may cry, ‘make haste, O God, and do not linger’, although we must still recognise that our times are in His hands.
Unusually for section 2 of the Book of Psalms we have here a Psalm which has no heading and is anonymous. It is in fact a miscellany of fragments from other Psalms put together to aid in worship. But as so often in the Psalms, the Psalmist is in trouble and seeking refuge in God. It is a reminder that the godly life is not always an easy one.
The Psalmist is clearly an old man who has served God faithfully all his days in the most trying of circumstances. Because of his faithfulness to God he has aroused many antagonists, and now because he is old and defenceless they think to bring him down and destroy him. But he is confident that God will watch over him and will deliver him so that he can sing to God of His triumphs.
The Psalmist Indicates To YHWH That He Is Looking For Him To Be His Refuge (71.1-3).
These opening verses are taken from 31.1-3. They are a cry for deliverance because he is trusting YHWH to be his refuge. He sees YHWH as his inhabitable rock and fortress, a place of safety to which he can continually resort.
He assures YHWH, his covenant God, that it is in Him that he has taken refuge. That his trust for deliverance is in Him. And it is on these grounds, not those of his own deserving, that he anticipates YHWH’s response, as he asks that YHWH will never allow him to be put to shame. YHWH has invited him into the covenant, he has responded, and thus he expects covenant protection. ‘Never be put to shame’ may refer to being put to shame by others, or may refer to himself being put to shame because God has failed him. He trusts in YHWH that neither will happen because He is his refuge.
His certainty that he will be heard is based on what he knows of God’s righteousness. A righteous God cannot fail those to whom He is covenanted, it would be to cast doubt on His righteousness. But he is aware also that because YHWH is righteous, He saves for a righteous purpose. Thus he recognises that he too must be intent on following righteousness if he is to be rescued. And it is on those grounds that he says, ‘bow down your ear to me and save me’. We are reminded of the Psalmist’s words elsewhere, ‘if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me’ (66.18). We cannot depend on God’s delivering righteousness unless our own desire is to be righteous.
He calls on YHWH to be his cliff top fortress home to which he can continually resort, a rock which he can inhabit, for he knows that YHWH has given command to save him. Such a rocky fortress guarantees his security. The ‘commandment’ is His word which always accomplishes what He pleases (Isaiah 55.11). Compare how when God gave forth His word victory was certain (68.11). So the Psalmist knows that his life is under God’s powerful control.
He Calls On God To Rescue Him Out Of The Hand Of The Unrighteous, And Gives The Grounds For His Expectation, Assuring Him That As A Consequence He Will Continually Praise And Honour Him (71.4-8).
His confident dependence on God arises from his lifetime experience. God has been his trust and his hope from his youth, indeed he has been held up (or ‘had stayed himself’) even from the womb. For it was the Sovereign Lord YHWH who had taken him from his mother’s bowels. There may be a hint here of problems at birth from which God delivered him, a deliverance which he had never forgotten. It gave him confidence that God was with him, an would be his strong refuge.
The Psalmist was clearly undergoing rough treatment, as all God’s true prophets did, and was facing up to unrighteous and harsh men. Life was not easy. So he prayed that God would deliver him out of their hand.
It is an assurance that when we are being harshly treated because we are Christians we too can call on God for rescue.
These verses are based on 22.9-10. He gives the grounds for his assurance that God will hear him. It is because his hope is solidly in God, in Whom he has trusted from his youth. He looks back in his life and sees how God has been his stay, even from the womb. The change of expression to ‘you are He Who took me out of my mother’s bowels’ (changed from ‘you are My God from my mother’s belly’) may indicate problems at birth which he sees God as having resolved, something which made him feel that God had a special hand on him. But either way his life experience has resulted in his giving God continual praise. A lifetime of trusting in God, and experiencing His continual care, provides him with a firm foundation for present confidence.
‘I am as a wonder to many’ may reflect his unusual deliverance at birth. On the other hand it may hint at how people saw him because they saw him as unorthodox. (Most of the prophets were seen as unorthodox). They were sure that God could not support him because of his attitude (see verses 10-11). Or it could indicate that they were filled with wonder at what he suffered (verse 11). Compare men’s wonder at the sufferings of the Servant of YHWH (Isaiah 52.14). We are reminded of how our Lord Jesus Christ was also held in dishonour by the religious leaders of His day. The truly righteous are rarely honoured, except among the righteous. But his past experience gave him the confidence to say, in spite of what men thought, and in spite of what he went through, ‘You are my strong refuge’. He knew that God had not turned against him.
As a consequence he promised that his mouth would continually be filled with God’s praise, and with words which honoured Him all the day.
An Appeal To God Not To Desert Him In The Face Of The Intentions Of Ungodly Men (71.9-13).
The Psalmist is aware that he has powerful enemies, and that when he grows old he could be an easy prey to them. So he prays that their attitude and intentions may rather rebound upon themselves.
He is concerned that when he grows old he will have no defence against the machinations of his enemies, and he calls on God not to forsake him then, or cast him off when his strength fails. His enemies are clearly longstanding and powerful, and waiting for a chance to get at him. It is clear that he has been very influential in standing firm for God’s truth and that, having been unable to attack him while he was in his prime, they are awaiting their opportunity for revenge.
His adversaries see the time of his old age as a time when he is vulnerable. And now that he has reached it they are discussing together and taking counsel together, for they want his life. Their view is that God has now forsaken him (he has lost his influence and is vulnerable), with the result that they can pursue him and take him because there is no one to defend him.
In those days, of course, life was cheaper than it is today. It is probable that most of us do not fear being murdered (unless we live in some Muslim countries). But that does not mean that we do not have adversaries who might want to harm us in some way. They may still speak behind our backs and try to harm our reputations.
But the confidence of the Psalmist is wholly in God, and he calls on Him to be close to him and to speedily help him.
He prays that those who want his life, and those who seek his hurt and to shame him, might themselves be put to shame, and be consumed, being covered in shame and dishonour.
He Expresses His Confidence In God And Assures Him That He Will Not From Praising Him And Speaking Out In Order To Glorify Him (71.14-18).
He has no intention of allowing his adversaries to prevent him from speaking out to the glory of God. He promises God that he will do it all the day, and will even declare God’s might to the next generation.
The hope that he speaks of is a confident hope, as also in the New Testament. There is no doubt in it. It is simply that he is looking into the future. He assures God that his expectation of receiving help from God will be continuous, and that therefore he will praise Him more and more.
What is more he not only expects to benefit from God’s righteousness and salvation, but assures Him that he will declare it all the day. The paralleling of righteousness and salvation is common in the Psalms, and also in Isaiah. ‘Righteousness’ in these cases refers to God acting righteously in delivering the righteous, and leading them into more righteousness.
He declares that he has lost count of God’s Lord’s deliverances. They have been so many that he has been unable to number them. This is the constant experience of the people of God, who are also aware that He is acting in righteous deliverance even when they are least aware of it.
So he promises that he will come to the people with the mighty acts of God, and proclaim His might saving activity, and only His. For the truth is that true divine saving activity comes from YHWH alone. He will give glory to no other.
Indeed God has taught him from his youth upwards, which is why up to this point he has declared His wonderful works. He has dedicated himself to the expression of the glory of God as revealed in His saving activity.
He prays that that even though he is now old and grey-headed God will continue to teach him and watch over him, and will not forsake him. This is not because he has any doubt of the fact (he has confident hope in God continually - verse 14), but simply with the aim of expressing his total dependence on God. For he is expectant that God will protect him so that he can declare His might, strength and greatness to the next generation, to everyone who is to come. As a servant of God who has been faithful to Him through the difficult years, he is determined to be faithful to the end.
‘I have declared your arm’, the arm which leads, guides, preserves, acts in power and constantly upholds and comforts His people. The Psalmist had experienced it all.
There is much in the Psalmists life that is similar to that of Jeremiah. Dedicated to God from early youth, continually proclaiming His truth to the few who were willing to hear, and to those who were most unwilling to hear, subjected to constant distress and humiliation, enduring it all faithfully, and continuing his witness to the end. If he was not Jeremiah, (and he probably was not), he was certainly very similar to him in his experiences.
On The Grounds Of God’s Heavenly Righteousness And The Great Things That God Has Done In The Past He Calls On God To Restore Him (71.19-21).
He has declared God’s arm and God’s might, and now he centres on His heavenly righteousness. He is a God Who has done great things, but above all He has done them in righteousness. There is nothing fickle about His activities. In this He is unique. Nevertheless He shows His people many and sore troubles (His arm of chastening), but in the end He will raise them up and deliver them. And in his own case he prays that God will lift him up and restore his status (position of greatness), and will comfort him and make him strong. Like Job he has endured, and like Job he wants to be restored.
He indicates that God is supremely righteous and totally formidable. He is a God Whose righteousness reaches to the very heights of heaven, supreme above all others, so that earthly righteousness pales before Him, being a mere shadow of the real thing, satisfactory on earth but not standing up to the searchlight of heaven.
And through that righteousness God has done great things, so that what He has done is incomparable. He acts in both righteousness and power, so that all that He does is right, and because of His power, is fully accomplished.
And one of His greatest things is yet to be, when He will restore His true people and make them live again. Israel had certainly experienced many and sore troubles, and so always have God’s true people (the Israel within Israel - Romans 9.6). It is thus difficult to know which ‘us’ he means. But the second line makes clear which he means for he speaks of being made alive again and raised from the depths of the earth. This was the hope of true spiritual Israel (Isaiah 26.19).
The reference to ‘many and sore troubles’ comes somewhat abruptly after the previous verse, but it is a reminder to us that God’s righteous purposes are paradoxically advanced through the sufferings of His people. His very righteousness requires them to be chastened (Proverbs 3.11-12) so that they will come through as gold.
‘Will make us alive again, and will bring us up again from the depths of the earth.’ Whilst this could be taken figuratively as indicating being raised up out of trouble, the language is really too forceful for that. There is here the thought of the resurrection of His people (Isaiah 26.19; Daniel 12.2). Not all godly men are restored in this life, but all will be restored at the resurrection.
And this hope of resurrection spurs him on to hope for restoration in this life as well. Thus he asks God to ‘increase his greatness’. He is not asking God to make him great, but simply to lift him out of his lowly state and restore his life and status, thereby ‘increasing his greatness’. And he sees this as accomplished by God turning again to him and being his comforter.
The Psalmist Ends On A Note Of Praise Because He Is Sure That God Will Restore Him And Discomfort His Adversaries (71.22-24).
In his certainty that God will answer him, and will confound his adversaries, the Psalmist bursts into praise. He knows that he is in God’s hands and cannot therefore be brought down.
He declares that he will praise God on stringed instruments, that is the psaltery and harp, and especially so because He is wholly true in both action and word. He is totally reliable. And He is so because He is the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah’s favourite title for God, although it appears twice in Jeremiah and once in Ezekiel). This indicates Someone Who is exalted, and yet ever close to those who are His. As the Holy One He inhabits eternity, distinct and unique in being and in righteousness. And yet it is as the Holy One that He revives the hearts and spirits of the contrite (Isaiah 57.15).
He assures God that his lips and his whole being will shout for joy and sing praises to Him, because God has delivered him at a cost (redeemed him). He little realised how great the cost. Indeed his tongue will tell of His righteous deliverance all the day long. Compare verse 15. His whole life will be full of praise to God.
His continual praise will arise from the fact that God has put to shame and confounded his enemies who seek his hurt. Having brought the situation to God he is happy that he can leave it in His hands with the confidence that He will watch over him and deliver him from all who are against him. Compare 35.18-19.
There are no good grounds for denying this Psalm to Solomon, and as it is the only Psalm referenced to him there would have been no grounds for separating him out as the author if he had not written it, or been responsible for its writing.
The question arises as to who is being spoken of. Did Solomon write it while David was still alive so that the king’s son is Solomon himself, or did he write it later with his own son in mind, or did he mainly have in mind the future kingship to which God had promised worldwide and permanent rule? Indeed, it is very possible in the glow of his early years that he did consider that his son would become the perfect king. Having built the Temple, and his own glorious royal palace, he may well have seen these as the foundation of his son’s future glorious reign. It would only be later that the inadequacies of Rehoboam would come out. And in the end he would see his words as to be fulfilled in the coming of the final son of David who would establish the kingdom for ever.
Strictly speaking the idea of the Messiah had not arisen at this time, but the seeds of the idea were certainly there, both in earlier prophecies of a coming great king (Genesis 49.10; Numbers 24.17) and in the promises made to David that the kingship of his house would last for ever through his son’s sons (2 Samuel 7.13, 16), and that his dynasty would have worldwide dominion (2.7-9).
This would then seem to be a Psalm describing the ideal king, something which Solomon, even in his heyday, could not have claimed (he was wiser than to think otherwise). For prosperous though his kingdom was, it contained within it the seeds of injustice in the forced labour that he required, even from Israelites, and the heavy taxation in the financing and provisioning of his grandiose schemes. That did not fit in with the king described here. So we can unquestionably say that the writer was looking forward to an even greater permanent king who would be wholly just, in essence to the Messiah, an idea taken up by Isaiah (Isaiah 7.14; 9.5-6; 11.1-4). In his earlier days Solomon probably considered that he was laying the foundation for his coming, as he sought to model himself on him, and even possibly looked forward to his son fulfilling the role. But the vision gave way to reality, and in the end the fulfilment of the idea of the righteous king was postponed into the future, to be fulfilled in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The picture is finally depicting life in the new heaven and the new earth (2 Peter 3.13). It is not a picture of some imagined ‘kingdom age’ which would be superficial and finally fall apart. It is a picture of the everlasting kingdom.
The Targum renders verse 1 as ‘O God give the precepts of your judgment to King Messiah, and your righteousness to the son of King David’. The translators had by then recognised to what the Psalm was pointing.
The Righteous Reign Of The Ideal King (72.1-7).
When he began his reign Solomon asked of God the ability to rule justly and with understanding (1 Kings 3.9), and we need not doubt that it was initially his desire to do so. In his first enthusiasm it was no doubt his great vision. And he was certainly famed for his wisdom. But he soon got caught up in the spirit of the age. Just ruling did not go along with his grand schemes which oppressed the people, and his grandeur of living which impoverished them. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak. He failed to fulfil his vision. To some extent, however, it remained with him and here he calls for the same ability for the ideal king, and then goes on to describe that king’s righteous rule, which was in the end so unlike his own.
72.1b ‘Give the king your judgments, O God,
God had already given a series of ordinances and laws for the king’s enlightenment, and he had been commanded to study them carefully all his days (Deuteronomy 17.18-19). So Solomon’s prayer here is that through them God will give His judgments to the king, enlightening him and enabling him to know God’s mind in his judgments. He is in essence seeking the enlightenment of God’s Spirit. He wanted to ensure that as the king judged, what he determined would be given to him by God. He wanted the king to be aware of what God would do in the circumstances, so that he would always act in accordance with God’s righteousness. He would be guided by God’s Holy Spirit. The desire was good, but its near fulfilment would be a vain dream. It was not in man to follow such an ideal course.
Thus it was a vain hope until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ Who fulfilled it to the letter. As He would later emphasise, ‘this commandment I have received of My Father’ (John 10.10; compare John 5.17, 19-20, 30). As the supreme King He spoke and judged in terms of the Father’s judgments and the Father’s righteousness, which were, of course, parallel to His own. Happy the nation whose judges follow the same principle
‘To the king’s son.’ Here he is emphasising that whilst the one he speaks of is the king, he is also the (previous) king’s son. He is truly of royal blood in the God-appointed dynastic line. Others, however, see the king and the king’s son as two successive monarchs, with God passing on His oversight to the king’s descendants, as promised in 2 Samuel 7. In either case the vision was that the Davidic dynasty would be a righteous dynasty, but its fulfilment awaited great David’s greater son.
Here it is stressed that the king rules under God, for he is ruling God’s people (‘your people’). And because he receives truth from God he will judge God’s people with righteousness, and will especially provide the poor and defenceless with justice. It was the ideal vision which only found its complete fulfilment in our Lord, Jesus Christ. David, Solomon and their finest successors were only shadows of what is described here (as those who were requisitioned for building work could testify). But Jesus fulfilled it completely, and it will, of course, be the basis of His everlasting heavenly rule. See for an amplification Isaiah 11.1-4.
Palestine was mainly made up of mountains and hills, and the promise is that these will provide wellbeing to the people along with righteousness as a way of life. Peace and security were essential if the people were to flourish, and certainly Solomon on the whole brought them that, and he gave them Proverbs by which they could learn righteousness. It was a shadow of what was to come. But there was too much suffering, and affliction, and heavy taxation in Solomon’s day for this ideal picture to be seen as fulfilled. It was only as Jesus Christ walked among the mountains and hills that the people who responded found true wellbeing and peace, and consequently lived in righteousness. It can be enjoyed today by those who truly know our Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and will find final literal fulfilment in the new heaven and the new earth in the heavenly realm, for in that dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3.13).
The picture of the ideal king continues. He ensures that the poor receive justice, and that the wants of the needy are supplied, and he destroys oppression. He ensures that all live in peace and prosperity. He ensures the good of all. Concern for the poor and needy was one of God’s attributes. It was to be characteristic of His ideal king. No doubt it was Solomon’s initial vision, but it foundered on the need to use the poor and needy on his building schemes, and make them poorer and needier as they supplied his table. Yet the vision was that one day a king would arise who would fulfil this to the letter. Concern for the poor and needy, and the exposure of oppression, was a characteristic of Jesus Christ, and is a characteristic of His present reign. It will epitomise His rule over the new heaven and the new earth.
The Psalmist now addresses God. The consequence of the king’s righteous rule will be that the people live in the reverent fear of God continually, something which will go on throughout all generations whilst the sun and moon endure. And this very ‘fear of God’ is a characteristic of those who have submitted to the Kingly Rule of God and His righteous King, and will continue on in them into eternity. We should note that Solomon’s thought goes on into the distant future, demonstrating that he is not just thinking of himself.
Mown grass was vegetation which had been prepared to receive the latter rains, and if the ground was to produce fruitfulness it required water. So the king is seen here as so blessing his people that they respond to his activity and are fruitful. His wisdom, and justice, and righteousness and truth will so renew the people’s spirits that their lives will blossom. How gloriously it was fulfilled in the Messiah Who would drench men in Holy Spirit (Matthew 3.11). They received His word, responded to His Holy Spirit, and produced fruitfulness in their lives. It should be equally true of us today.
And the consequence of the king’s influence will be that the righteous will flourish, and there will be abundance of peace and wellbeing which will be everlasting (‘till the moon be no more’). It is, of course true, that when the king was righteous (e.g. Hezekiah, Josiah) the righteous flourished. High positions tended to go to those who were godly. But this is going beyond that for it is an idealised picture, with no dark shadow involved. It is, however, the experience of the Messiah’s true people (believers) today, for under His rule the righteous do flourish, and there is no place for hypocrisy (there is plenty in the church, but not among Messiah’s true people), and it will one day be the experience of all those who have been God’s true people through the ages. Compare Revelation 22.1-5.
The Righteous King Will Have Worldwide Dominion (72.8-11).
The vision of the future king was one of worldwide dominion. He would bring all men under his rule. Compare the same thought in 2.7-9. See also Isaiah 9.5-6; 11.1-4. It was the necessary consequence, in terms of those days, of the promise to Abraham that through him and his seed all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12.3). Ben Sirach makes this connection specifically.
The dominion of the righteous king was to extend much further than Solomon’s. Solomon’s rule could, with reservations, be said to extend to the River (Euphrates). The righteous king’s was to go far beyond that. He would rule to the ends of the earth. As Jesus said after His resurrection, ‘all authority in Heaven and earth has been given to Me’ (Matthew 28.19).
In view of the reference to ‘the ends of the earth’, denoting universality, we are probably intended to see ‘from sea to sea’ as having a similar meaning with reference to east and west, thus as meaning ‘as far as land goes’. Compare Zechariah 9.10 for similar phrases.
Even the free and untrammelled nomads who own no man as master (those who dwell in the wilderness) will bow down to him and acknowledge his rule, and all his enemies will prostrate themselves on their faces before him. Solomon saw this to some extent, but in the case of the ideal king His supremacy will be complete. As the Scripture says, ‘in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow --- and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2.10-11).
Those in far off places across the seas (the kings of Tarshish) will render him tribute, along with the Aegean coastlands. Tarshish represented far off trading places to which the ships of Tarshish sailed, travelling to the limit of men’s knowledge (the description could include the East African coast, Sardinia and Spain). The kings of Sheba and Seba represented the powerful and wealthy Arab nations. Solomon had trading relationships with some of these and he clearly saw them as potential subjects. But he looked ahead to when under the ideal king it would become an even greater reality. And it was Another, Who, by using very different methods, would finally conquer them, not for gain, but out of love.
The whole is summed up by these words. All kings will fall down before him, and all nations will serve him. He will be Sovereign Lord of all. It was the vision of David that one day it would be true of the Davidic house (Psalm 2.7-9), only partially fulfilled by Solomon, and hardly at all by his successors. But it has found its greater partial fulfilment in the spread of Christ’s rule around the world by the preaching of the Gospel, and it will come to final fruition in the new heaven and the new earth (2 Peter 3.13).
The Concern Of The Righteous King Will Especially Be For The Poor And Needy (72.12-15).
Great emphasis is now placed on the righteous king’s compassion and sense of justice. He has not come to obtain power and wealth for himself, but in order to bring justice to the oppressed. His concern is with the poor and needy, whom he will raise up and enrich, with the consequence that they will pray for him continually and bless him all day long. Spiritually we are all poor and needy, and so this applies to us all. We all need the touch of Christ.
Note the threefold emphasis on ‘the needy’, (those who are in want), amplified by reference to ‘the poor and weak’. He will have pity on them and deliver them when they call on him. His compassion will also be for the poor who have no helper, and for the weak and feeble. All who call on him in want and need will be delivered, both in body and soul. Note that the promise goes beyond just feeding them and meeting their physical needs, to the ‘saving’ of their lives. This was partially experienced under the good kings, but it is the constant experience of all those who know our Lord, Jesus Christ.
He will not only supply the wants of the poor and needy, but will also act to deliver them from oppression and violence at cost to himself (he will ‘redeem’ them), because they are precious to him. Their blood is precious in his sight. He will thus act firmly against all who seek to cause them harm, and ensure the safety of their lives. In view of the teaching in Proverbs we are justified in seeing in ‘each one shall live’ an indication, not just of existence, but that they will have long and prosperous lives (Proverbs 3.16-18; 8.35; etc). They will receive life indeed.
The vision is of an ideal king who will be whole-hearted in caring for the lowly. Shades of it were seen in the lives of the good kings, but none of them carried it though fully. That awaited the Messiah. When He came the poor and the needy were precious to Him, and He gave them life indeed. Whilst such a thought would not be present to the Psalmist we may see here an unconscious prophecy that the Messiah will give true life, eternal life, to the weak and helpless (John 10.12).
The question here is as to who the ‘him’ is to whom some ‘of the gold of Sheba’ will be given. Does it refer to the ‘he’ (each one) of verse 15a, that is the poor and needy, or does it refer to the ideal king? In the former case it refers to the fact that the king will use his received treasures in order to enrich his people. He will pass on what he has received. In the latter case the words appear redundant, such matters having been dealt with in verse 10, with no apparent reason for the limitation to the gold of Sheba here.
There is thus a case for seeing, ‘and he will live and to him will be given of the gold of Sheba’ as referring to each poor and needy person. This leaves ‘he will redeem their life’ --- ‘men will pray for him continually, and they will bless him all the day long’ as an envelope indicating the king.
The alternative is to see ‘he will live ---’ as commencing a new subsection referring to the ideal king, thus:
The weakness in this view is that ‘he will live’ appears redundant for the king, for no one has suggested otherwise. The idea that it relates to the well known phrase ‘may the king live for ever’ is weak in the extreme. If it was intended to do so why were the words ‘for ever’ omitted? On the other hand, when seen as following ‘he will redeem their life’ (He will redeem their life --- and each one will live’), and as following the mention of their possible violent death, it gains real meaning as signifying life for those who have been redeemed. Furthermore, as we have already asked, why should the gold of Sheba be mentioned again here if it merely repeats verse 10? Thus in our view ‘he will live’ refers to each of the poor and needy and not to the king.
But however that may be the final upshot of all this is that the poor and needy will pray for the ideal king continually, and will bless him all the day long. He will have brought joy and sufficiency into their lives.
The Reign Of The Ideal King Will Prosper Abundantly (72.16-17).
We now have a brief picture of prosperity under the ideal king, and an expression of the confidence that he will live and reign for ever. ‘As long as the sun’ indicates that this means more than just for a long time. They had no concept of the sun ceasing to exist. And he will be a blessing to men of all nations. Solomon may have hoped for this for himself and his son, but disillusionment would soon have dawned, and the recognition that it could only be fulfilled in ‘the coming King’ would be inevitable.
The picture here is the nearest that men of that day could get to the thought of the new heaven and the new earth. They thought in terms of their own day, and what they saw as prosperity and blessing. As a consequence of the reign of the coming King the earth would produce abundant grain. ‘On the top of the mountains’ indicates the Palestinian source. Apart from the coastal plain (mainly occupied by the Philistines) a large part of Israel consisted of mountains. The mountains were little more than hills, and grain was grown on them. Jerusalem itself was built on the Judean heights. Thus the thought is of a fruitful Israel, with its fruit-bearing trees rustling in the wind like the famed cedars of Lebanon.
Furthermore the population would expand and grow because peace abounded, so that the cities would be full of people. ‘The grass of the earth’ indicates flourishing vegetation.
And as for the coming King, His name will endure for ever. His reign and reputation will go on and on. Indeed it will go on as long as the sun, and that to the ancients virtually meant for ever. And as a consequence of his reign men will be blessed, with the result that men will bless themselves in him. This refers back to God’s promise to Abraham, that all nations would bless themselves in him and his seed (Genesis 12.3).
‘All nations will call him happy’. Why? Because he rules over a prosperous and satisfied people. So the reign of the everlasting king is in effect seen as introducing eternal bliss.
We should probably see this doxology as being the doxology for the whole of Book 2, as it praises YHWH the God of Israel, and exalts His glory. It brings Book 2 to a close. Each of the books of Psalms end with a doxology (41.13; 89.52; 106.48) apart from the last, and to this Psalm 150 as a whole can be seen as a doxology.
YHWH, the God of Israel, is praised and honoured as the only One Who truly does ‘wondrous things’. For this phrase compare 86.10; 136.4; Job 9.10. It stresses that God is a God of wonders, especially as acting on behalf of His people. Such wonders included the Exodus deliverance, the settlement in the land and the establishment of Israel as a great power in the time of David. In the days of Solomon Israel was at its zenith.
Note the fact that Book 2 ends with reference to God as YHWH. Whilst in many of its Psalms the emphasis, in contrast with Book 1, is undoubtedly on GOD, it is not with any idea of turning away from the idea of YHWH as the covenant God of Israel.
So YHWH’s glorious name is to be praised and honoured for ever, and the desire is expressed that the whole earth will be filled with His glory. That is, will experience his glorious hand at work among them resulting in their glorifying Him so that He is praised everywhere. To Israel the name indicated the essence of what was named. Thus what is being praised and honoured, is not a name as such, but the One Whom that name defines. It is God in all the glory of what He is.
‘Amen and amen.’ Emphasising the confident certainty of what has been sung.
For this compare Job 31.40b. There also it did not indicate that Job’s words had ended, only that he had come to the end of his defence.
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