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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Psalms 68

 

 

Verse 1

PSALM 68

GOD'S TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION

SUPERSCRIPTION: FOR THE CHIEF MUSICIAN;

A PSALM OF DAVID; A SONG.

Many scholars have commented on the difficulty of this psalm; many of the passages have apparently been damaged in transition; and practically all versions rely somewhat heavily on emendations in order to provide a readable translation in English. A number of passages may be understood in several different ways.

Despite these difficulties, however, the psalm is often extolled in superlative terms:

"This is one of the most magnificent songs of triumph in the entire Old Testament. Its dramatic comment upon a memorable event, its wide perspective of thought and speech, its spirit of invincible faith in God, and its presentation of the historic past and the envisaged future, combine to make it an outstanding portion of the Psalter."[1]

"This is one of the grandest of the Psalms."[2]

"This rushing cataract of a psalm is one of the most boisterous and exhilarating in the Psalter."[3]

"This psalm is one of triumphant praise and jubilation, the crown and gem of the Second Book."[4]

"The Psalm is worthy of David, `the sweet singer of Israel.' The language, the impressive descriptions, the fresh powerful tone of the poetry, the lyric emotion that pervades the ode, are all worthy of David, and of him alone among known Hebrew composers of hymns."[5]

Some question the Davidic authorship; but in the absence of any authoritative word to the contrary, we are content with the assignment in the superscription.

Regarding the occasion, although this is considered uncertain by some, the comment of Kidner makes sense to us.

David's procession with the ark, "from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David with rejoicing" (2 Samuel 6:12), may have been the occasion for which this psalm was composed. It opens with an echo of the words with which the ark set out on all its journeys (Numbers 10:35), and finds its climax in God's ascent of the "high mount" which he has chosen for his dwelling.[6]

In addition to the facts Kidner cited, we shall observe other portions of the psalm which also fit into the idea of a procession to Jerusalem. However, far more is intended by this "procession" than the bringing of the ark into the city of David. In this psalm it seems to have epitomized in some significant manner the procession of God through history; and, for this reason, we have entitled the psalm "God's Triumphal Procession," as did Baigent.[7]

Several different proposals for divisions of this psalm have been made, but we like the one by Anthony Ash, which paragraphs only a few verses at a time, giving us eleven divisions in all.[8]

Psalms 68:1-3

PRAYER FOR GOD TO SCATTER HIS ENEMIES WHICH WILL CAUSE THE RIGHTEOUS TO REJOICE

"Let God arise; let his enemies be scattered;

Let them also that hate him flee before him.

As smoke is driven away, so drive them away:

As wax melteth before the fire,

So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God:

Yea, let them rejoice with gladness."

"As smoke ... as wax ..." (Psalms 68:2). The implication here is that the enemies of God are of no more significance than a column of smoke driven away by the wind, or a little wax, melted and destroyed by the fire.

There is also in these verses the inherent principle that the ultimate happiness of the righteous depends upon God's triumph over his enemies.


Verse 4

GOD EXTOLLED AS THE HELPER OF THE HELPLESS

"Sing unto God, sing praises to his name:

Cast up a highway for him that rideth through the deserts;

His name is Jehovah; and exult ye before him.

A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows,

Is God in his holy habitation.

God setteth the solitary in families:

He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity;

But the rebellious dwell in a parched land."

"For him that rideth though the deserts" (Psalms 68:4). This mighty one who rides through the deserts is God. "The Canaanite pagans called their deity Baal, `the rider of the clouds'; and the psalmist here may have borrowed the term and purged it to show that Yahweh and not Baal rules."[9]

"His name is Jehovah" (Psalms 68:4). As the marginal reading indicates, the word here is an abbreviated form of the name Jehovah, [~Yah]. It is repeated here in Psalms 68:18 and also occurs in Exodus 15:2 and Isaiah 26:4.

"In his holy habitation" (Psalms 68:5). This expression is a reference to Jerusalem toward which dwelling place of God the procession bearing the ark from Obed-Edom was moving. En route, this song extolling the help of God for prisoners, widows and orphans emphasizes that Jerusalem is to be the center from which this marvelous benefit will radiate.

"He setteth the solitary in families" (Psalms 68:6). The current translations make this remarkable assertion declare that God "puts the lonely single people in houses"; but we strongly prefer the text before us.

None of the scholars whose works we have had the privilege of consulting seems to have caught on to the magnificent proportions of what is declared here.

When a great diamond is found, it is always surrounded by a number of other large diamonds somewhat smaller; and this phenomenal fact in nature also recurs in God's creation of great men. Shakespeare was surrounded by men like John Milton, Christopher Marlow and others; George Washington was surrounded by Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and others. Jesus Christ was surrounded by Peter, James and John, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul. It is one of the most remarkable facts that, "God setteth the solitary in families"!

Other examples of this same principle is seen in Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks, and in the mighty family of the giant Redwoods of northern California.


Verse 7

GOD'S PROCESSION BEGAN WITH THE EXODUS

"O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people,

When thou didst march through the wilderness; (Selah)

The earth trembled,

The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God:

Yet Sinai trembled at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain,

Thou didst confirm thine inheritance when it was weary.

Thy congregation dwelt therein:

Thou, O God didst prepare of thy goodness for the poor."

There seems to be an intention here of comparing this journey of "bringing to Jerusalem the ark of God," with the procession of God leading his people out of Egypt, through the wilderness to Sinai, and onward through history. Thus quite early we have the singers of Israel shouting the praises of God for his mighty triumph in the Exodus.

"Thou didst march through the wilderness" (Psalms 68:7). This refers to the period of forty years in the wilderness prior to the entry into Canaan.

"Rain ... plentiful rain" (Psalms 68:8-9). This may be a reference to the manna that literally `rained' out of heaven to feed Israel during that forty years. Such an understanding makes the `rain' a metaphor of the blessings that sustained Israel in the wilderness.

"The earth trembled ... Sinai trembled" (Psalms 68:8). This refers to the dreadful natural phenomena that attended the giving of the Law through Moses at Sinai.

"The psalmist here gives a brief resume of the exodus and its inerasable memories which was then, at that very moment being relived by the people."[10]


Verse 11

THE THIRTY-TWO KINGDOMS OF CANAAN WERE DEFEATED

"The Lord giveth the word:

The women that publish the tidings are a great host.

Kings of armies flee, they flee;

And she that tarrieth at home divideth the spoil.

When ye lie among the sheepfolds,

It is as the wings of a dove covered with silver,

And her pinions with yellow gold.

When the Almighty scattered kings therein,

It was as when it snoweth in Zalmon."

"The last two verses here are unintelligible as they stand; we do know that Zalmon was a town near Shechem."[11] The presence of many italicized words in the various versions show how the scholars have "emended" and added words to arrive at what they consider to be the meaning. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the psalm.

The comment which to us best explains this passage is that of McCaw.

"A great host of women shouted God's praises as they accompanied the ark to Jerusalem (Psalms 68:11). Their chants consisted of disjointed sentences; some cried one thing, some another, snatches of old war songs (Psalms 68:2,13), fragments of unpreserved psalms (Psalms 68:18), and festive folk songs (Psalms 68:13). All of these are woven together so as to create a sense of pageantry enriched by memory, just as modern radio and TV documentaries are able to evoke a certain frame of mind by a series of impressions swiftly and successively faded in and out."[12]

This is as good an explanation as we have encountered regarding the apparently jumbled nature of these remarkable verses.


Verse 15

GLORY OF GOD'S DWELLING PLACE IN ZION

"A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan;

A high mountain is the mountain of Bashan.

Why look ye askance, ye high mountains,

At the mountain which God hath desired for his abode"

Yea, Jehovah will dwell in it forever."

The thought here is that the very mountains of the earth are jealous because God has chosen the relatively small mountain of Zion as his dwelling place, in spite of the fact that many other mountains of the earth might have appeared more suitable in the eyes of men.

"A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan" (Psalms 68:15). This means merely that "the mountain of Bashan" ("Probably Mount Hermon, which borders Bashan on the north")[13] was indeed a very high, snow-covered, impressive mountain; but God chose to dwell on Zion. Bashan's mountain is called "a mountain of God," not because God ever dwelt upon it, but because he created it.


Verse 17

GOD LEADING A MIGHTY HOST TO VICTORY

"The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands upon thousands;

The Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the sanctuary.

Thou has ascended on high, thou hast led away captives;

Thou hast received gifts among men,

Yea, among the rebellious also, that Jehovah God might dwell with them."

"The chariots of God are twenty thousand, and thousand of thousands" (Psalms 68:17). Taylor's comment here is that, "After the manner of a victorious earthly king, the Lord enters his capital at the head of his troops with the captives and the spoils of battle in his train."[14]

This comment fully agrees with our understanding that here the psalm conceives of God Himself, whose presence is manifested in the ark of the covenant, marching triumphantly into Jerusalem his capital and dwelling place.

That such an understanding indeed seems to be correct is further supported by the apostle Paul's use of some of the terminology here in one of his favorite comparisons, that of the conquering Christ leading the type of triumphal procession affected by Roman emperors following some great victory (Ephesians 4:8).

Paul wrote, "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." We disagree with the so-called scholars who write that Paul here "garbled, altered, or misquoted" this psalm. He did no such thing but merely used this terminology to write new Scripture, not quote old Scripture. This is proved by the New Testament terminology, which does not say that it (the Scripture) saith, but that He (the Lord) saith. (See the full comments on this in Vol. 8 of my New Testament Series, pp. 186,187.)

"Thou hast led away captives" (Psalms 68:18). In our view, this rendition is far inferior to the magnificent words of the KJV which translates this, "He led captivity captive." That the inspired Paul quoted the words as they are in the KJV confirms the supremacy of the King James Version in this verse. The Septuagint (LXX) also agrees with the KJV here;[15] and we believe it is obvious that the translators of the American Standard Version and later versions have weakened the passage by changing it.


Verse 19

BLESSING THE GOD WHO SAVES

"Blessed be the Lord who daily beareth our burden,

Even the God who is our salvation. (Selah)

God is unto us a God of deliverances;

And unto Jehovah the Lord belongeth escape from death."

"Salvation" (Psalms 68:19). That the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is indeed the God of salvation for mankind is the great theme of the Holy Bible in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

"Escape from death" (Psalms 68:20). With the exception of Enoch and Elijah, all men who were ever born died; none escaped death, except in the very limited sense of being saved from impending death in a given situation for a period of time. It seems to us that here again, the older versions have the better rendition, "For unto God the Lord belong the issues of death." (KJV). Why is this better? Because what it says is true, whereas, the American Standard Version and later versions are true only in a limited sense. "The keys of the grave and of death have been put into the hands of the Lord Jesus (Revelation 1:18)."[16]

Note in Psalms 68:20 that dual names for God are used, Jehovah and Elohim, rendered "God our God," or "Jehovah our Lord," or "God our Lord."


Verse 21

PRAISING GOD FOR HIS VICTORY OVER ENEMIES

"But God will smite through the head of his enemies,

The hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on in his guiltiness.

The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan,

I will bring again from the depths of the sea;

That thou mayest crush them, dipping thy foot in blood."

The terminology here, as in the imprecatory psalms, seems very harsh and offensive to Christians, but this is due to a general blindness to the Biblical revelation that God's anger against wickedness is no light thing at all, but that the most terrible penalties that the mind of man can visualize shall at last be executed against all mortals who make themselves enemies of God.

Therefore, the proper reaction to terminology of this kind is not, "How awful that punishment is," but "What an unspeakably awful thing is enmity against God"!

"The hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on in his guiltiness" (Psalms 68:21). Some find a hint of the bushy hair of Absalom in this passage. It will be remembered that he lost his life when the animal he was riding went under a tree in which Absalom's hair was caught, giving Joab the opportunity to kill him.

"From Bashan ... from the depths of the sea" (Psalms 68:22). The thought here is that there is nowhere to hide from God. Neither the rocky fortress of Bashan nor the caves at the bottom of the sea can afford a hiding place for the wicked when the judgment of God falls upon them. See Revelation 6:14f.


Verse 24

THE PERSONNEL PARTICIPATING IN THE PROCESSION

"They have seen thy goings, O God,

Even the goings of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.

The singers went before, the minstrels followed after,

In the midst of the damsels playing with timbrels,

Bless ye God in the congregations,

Even the Lord, ye that are of the fountain of Israel.

There is little Benjamin their ruler,

The princes of Judah and their council,

The princes of Zebulun,

The princes of Naphtali."

"Into the sanctuary" (Psalms 68:24). This was not the temple. It was not constructed until the times of Solomon, but the sanctuary to which the ark of the covenant was carried from Obed-Edom was the tabernacle, the site of which had been purchased by David, and upon which, later, the temple was built.

"The singers ... minstrels ... damsels playing timbrels, and ... all ye of ... Israel" (Psalms 68:25-26). This is a description of the great host of people who joined in the procession bringing home the ark to Jerusalem.

"Benjamin ... Judah ... Zebulun ... Naphtali" (Psalms 68:27). These seem here to stand for "all Israel" as indicated in the preceding verse. It has been pointed out that Benjamin might have been mentioned first because from that tribe came Saul, Israel's first king. If that is true, it would indicate a magnanimous gesture on David's part to have thus honored his predecessor.

Another thought here is that the children of Jacob's two wives, Rachel and Leah, as well as the children of a concubine are all included in these four names.


Verse 28

PRAYER FOR GOD TO DESTROY ENEMIES

"Thy God hath commanded thy strength:

Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us.

Because of thy temple at Jerusalem

Kings shall bring presents unto thee.

Rebuke the wild beast of the reeds,

The multitude of the bulls, with the calves of the peoples:

Trampling under foot the pieces of silver:

He hath scattered the peoples that delight in war.

Princes shall come out of Egypt;

Ethiopia shall haste to spread out her hands unto God."

"Thy temple at Jerusalem" (Psalms 68:29). David conceived the idea of building God a temple, and here envisioned the completion of it, two great steps toward that objective already having occurred: (1) David had purchased the site where the temple would be built; and (2) now the ark of the covenant was about to be enshrined in the temporary temple called the tabernacle. The tabernacle was often called "the temple" in Scripture, as we have repeatedly pointed out.

"Kings shall bring presents unto thee" (Psalms 68:29). David's prophecy here was gloriously fulfilled. King Herod in the ages to come would spend millions of dollars on a single gift of the "golden doors" of that later temple.

"Wild beast ... bulls ... calves" (Psalms 68:30). "These are symbols for foreign kings,"[17] which were hostile toward God's people. The "bulls" were the kings and generals, and the "calves" were the people led by them.

"Trampling under foot the pieces of silver" (Psalms 68:30). This indicates that, "God treats the tribute of the heathen with contempt."[18]


Verse 32

PRAISE THE POWERFUL AND TERRIBLE GOD OF ISRAEL

"Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth;

O Sing praises unto the Lord; (Selah)

To him that rideth upon the heaven of heavens, which are of old;

Lo, he uttereth his voice, a mighty voice.

Ascribe ye strength unto God:

His excellency is over Israel,

And his strength is in the skies.

O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places:

The God of Israel, he giveth strength and power unto his people.

Blessed be God."

"To him that rideth upon the heaven of heavens" (Psalms 68:33). As noted above, the pagan deity Baal was honored by his worshippers as the one "who rideth upon the clouds," but here the God of Israel is extolled as the true Ruler of the universe, not Baal.

Whereas the first six verses of this psalm are Israel's alone, this last paragraph is universal.

"These verses reassert the cosmic power of God but remind us that He is still the God of Israel. The Psalm by its almost uncontainable enthusiasm bears witness to its grasp of reality, this union of immense power, with intense love and care for his people. His majesty is over Israel."[19]

"Ascribe ye strength unto God" (Psalms 68:34). These words are addressed to all the kingdoms of men. "The kingdoms of the earth are summoned freely to confess the Lord's omnipotence."[20]

"Blessed be God" (Psalms 68:35). Appropriately, the psalm closes on this note. Only God is entitled to the worship and adoration of his human creation; and no higher occupation of human ability can be imagined than that of its employment in the worship and service of God through Christ.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 68:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-68.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.


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Tuesday, November 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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