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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 68

 

 

Verse 1

1.God shall arise: his enemies shall be scattered In this verse the Psalmist intimates, as it were by way of preface, the subject which he proposed to treat in the psalm, and which related to the truth that God, however long he may seem to connive at the audacity and cruelty of the enemies of his Church, will eventually arise to avenge it, and will prove himself able to protect it by the mere forth-putting of his hand. I agree with other interpreters in thinking that the sentiment is borrowed from Moses, (Numbers 10:35) (9) There can be little doubt that in dictating the form of prayer there referred to, he had an eye to the instruction and comfort of all succeeding ages, and would teach the Lord’s people confidently to rely for safety upon the ark of the covenant, which was the visible symbol of the Divine presence. We may notice this difference, however, that Moses addressed the words to God as a prayer, while David rather expresses his satisfaction and delight in what he saw daily fulfilling before his own eyes. Some indeed read, Let God arise; but they appear to misapprehend the scope of the Psalmist. He means to say that observation attested the truth which Moses had declared of God’s needing only to rise up that all his enemies might be scattered before his irresistible power. Yet I see no objections to the other reading, provided the idea now mentioned be retained, and the words be considered as intimating that God needs no array of preparation in overthrowing his enemies, and can dissipate them with a breath. We are left to infer, that when his enemies at any time obtain an ascendancy, it is owing to an exercise of Divine forbearance, and that rage as they may, it is only with his permission; the time being not yet come for his rising. There is much comfort to be derived from the circumstance, that those who persecute the Church are here spoken of as God’s enemies. When he undertakes our defense, he looks upon the injuries done to us as dishonors cast upon his Divine Majesty. The Psalmist adds a striking figure to illustrate how easily God can overthrow the machinations of our enemies, comparing them to smoke which vanishes when blown upon by the wind, or wax which melts before the fire (10) We consider it utterly incredible that such a formidable array of opposition should be made to disappear in a moment. But the Spirit takes this method of chiding the fearfulness of our carnal minds, and teaching us that there is no such strength in our enemies as we suppose, — that we allow the smoke of them to blind our eyes, and the solid mass of resistance which they present to deceive us into a forgetfulness of the truth, that the mountains themselves flow down at the presence of the Lord. (11)


Verse 3

3But the righteous shall be glad It is here intimated by David, that when God shows himself formidable to the wicked, this is with the design of securing the deliverance of his Church. He would seem indirectly to contrast the joy of which he now speaks with the depression and grief felt by well affected men under the reign of Saul — suggesting, that God succeeds a season of temporary trouble with returns of comfort, to prevent his people from being overwhelmed by despondency. He leaves us also to infer, that one reason of that joy which they experience is derived from knowing that God is propitious to them, and interests himself in their safety. The Hebrew words, מפני, mipne, and לפני, liphne, admit of the same meaning; but I think that the Psalmist intended to note a distinction. The wicked flee from the presence of God, as what inspires them with terror; the righteous again rejoice in it, because nothing delights them more than to think that God is near them. When commenting upon the passage, Psalms 18:26, we saw why the Divine presence terrifies some and comforts others; for “with the pure he will show himself pure, and with the froward he will show himself froward.” One expression is heaped by the Psalmist upon another, to show how great the joy of the Lord’s people is, and how entirely it possesses and occupies their affections.


Verse 4

4Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: exalt him (12) that rideth, etc. He now proceeds to call upon the Lord’s people to praise God. And he begins by pointing out the grounds in general, as I have already hinted, which they have for this exercise, because he comprehends the whole world under his power and government, adding, that he condescends to take the poorest and the most wretched of our family under his protection. His infinite power is commended, when it is said that he rides upon the clouds, or the heavens, (13) for this proves that he sits superior over all things. The Holy Spirit may signify by the expression, that we should exclude from our minds every thing gross and earthly in the conceptions we form of him; but he would, doubtless, impress us chiefly with an idea of his great power, to produce in us a due reverence, and make us feel how far short all our praises must come of his glory. We would attempt in vain to comprehend heaven and earth; but his glory is greater than both. As to the expression which follows, in Jah, his name, there has been some difference of opinion. The Hebrew preposition ב, beth, may here, as sometimes it is, be a mere expletive, and we may read, Jah is his name (14) Others read, in Jah is his name; (15) and I have no objection to this, though I prefer the translation which I have adopted. It is of less consequence how we construe the words, as the meaning of the Psalmist is obvious. The whole world was at that time filled with the vain idols of superstition, and he would assert the claim of God, and set them aside when he brought forward the God of Israel. But it is not enough that the Lord’s people should bow before him with suppliant spirits. Even the wicked, while they fear and tremble before him, are forced to yield him reverence. David would have them draw near to him with cheerfulness and alacrity; and, accordingly, proceeds to insist upon his transcendent goodness shown in condescending to the orphans and widows. The incomprehensible glory of God does not induce him to remove himself to a distance from us, or prevent him from stooping to us in our lowest depths of wretchedness. There can be no doubt that orphans and widows are named to indicate in general all such as the world are disposed to overlook as unworthy of their regard. Generally we distribute our attentions where we expect some return. We give the preference to rank and splendor, and despise or neglect the poor. When it is said, God is in the habitation of his holiness, this may refer either to heaven or to the temple, for either sense will suit the connection. God does not dwell in heaven to indulge his own ease, but heaven is, as it were, his throne, from which he judges the world. On the other hand, the fact of his having chosen to take up his residence with men, and inviting them familiarly to himself there, is one well fitted to encourage the poor, who are cheered to think that he is not far off from them. In the next verse, other instances of the Divine goodness are mentioned — that he gives the bereaved and solitary a numerous offspring, and releases the bonds of the captive. In the last clause of the verse, he denounces the judgment of God against those who impiously despise him, and this that he might show the Lord’s people the folly of envying their lot as well as strike terror into their minds. The sense of the words is, That we ought to comfort ourselves under the worst afflictions, by reflecting that we are in God’s hand, who can mitigate all our griefs and remove all our burdens. The wicked, on the other hand, may congratulate themselves for a time upon their prosperity, but eventually it will fare ill with them. By dwelling in a dry land, is meant being banished, as it were, to a wilderness, and deprived of the benefits of that fatherly kindness which they had so criminally abused.


Verse 7

7O God! when thou wentest forth before thy people, etc. The Psalmist now proceeds to show that the Divine goodness is principally displayed in the Church, which God has selected as the great theater where his fatherly care may be manifested. What follows is evidently added with the view of leading the posterity of Abraham, as the Lord’s chosen people, to apply the observations which had been just made to themselves. The deliverance from Egypt having been the chief and lasting pledge of the Divine favor, which practically ratified their adoption under the patriarch, he briefly adverts to that event. He would intimate that in that remarkable exodus, proof had been given to all succeeding ages of the love which God entertained for his Church. Why were so many miracles wrought? why were heaven and earth put into commotion? why were the mountains made to tremble? but that all might recognize the power of God as allied with the deliverance of his people. He represents God as having been their leader in conducting them forth. And this not merely in reference to their passage of the Red Sea, but their journeys so long as they wandered in the wilderness. When he speaks of the earth being moved, he would not seem to allude entirely to what occurred upon the promulgation of the law, but to the fact that, throughout all their progress, the course of nature was repeatedly altered, as if the very elements had trembled at the presence of the Lord. It was upon Mount Sinai, however, that God issued the chief displays of his awful power; it was there that thunders were heard in heaven, and the air was filled with lightnings; and, accordingly, it is mentioned here by name as having presented the most glorious spectacle of the Divine majesty which was ever beheld. Some read, This Sinai, etc., connecting the pronoun זה, zeh, with the mountain here named; but it is much more emphatical to join it with the preceding clause, and to read, the heavens dropped at the presence of This God; David meaning to commend the excellency of the God of Israel. The expression is one frequently used by the prophets to denote that the God worshipped by the posterity of Abraham was the true God, and the religion delivered in his law no delusion, as in Isaiah 25:9, “This, this is our God, and he will save us.” To establish the Lord’s people in their faith, David leads them, as it were, into the very presence of God; indicates that they were left to no such vague uncertainties as the heathen; and indirectly censures the folly of the world in forsaking the knowledge of the true God, and fashioning imaginary deities of its own, of wood and stone, of gold and silver.


Verse 9

9.Thou, O God! shalt make a liberal rain to fall (19) upon thine inheritance Mention is made here of the continued course of favor which had been extended to the people from the time when they first entered the promised land. It is called the inheritance of God, as having been assigned over to his own children. Others understand by the inheritance spoken of in the verse, the Church, but this is not correct, for it is afterwards stated as being the place where the Church dwelt. The title is appropriately given to the land of Canaan, which God made over to them by right of inheritance. David takes notice of the fact, that, from the first settlement of the seed of Abraham in it, God had never ceased to make the kindest fatherly provision for them, sending his rain in due season to prepare their food. The words translated a liberal rain, read literally in the Hebrew a rain of freenesses, and I agree with interpreters in thinking that he alludes to the blessing as having come in the exercise of free favor, (20) and to God, as having of his own unprompted goodness provided for all the wants of his people. Some read a desirable rain; others, a rain flowing without violence, or gentle; but neither of these renderings seems eligible. Others read a copious or plentiful rain; but I have already stated what appears to me to be the preferable sense. It was a proof, then, of his Divine liberality, that God watered the land seasonably with showers. There is clearly a reference to the site of Judea, which owed its fertility to dews and the rains of heaven. In allusion to the same circumstance, he speaks of its being refreshed when weary. The reason is assigned — because it had been given to his chosen people to dwell in. On no other account was it blessed, than as being the habitation of God’s Church and people. The more to impress upon the minds of the Jews their obligations to Divine goodness, he represents them as pensioners depending upon God for their daily food. He fed them upon the finest of the wheat, giving them wine, and honey, and oil in abundance — still he proportioned the communication of his kindness so as to keep them always dependent in expectation upon himself. Some, instead of reading, Thou wilt prepare with thy goodness, etc., render it, Thou wilt prepare with rich food; but, without absolutely objecting to this translation, I rather think that he adverts to the circumstance of God’s being led to provide for his people entirely by his own good pleasure.


Verse 11

11.The Lord shall give the word, etc. David now adverts to the victories by which God had signally displayed his power in behalf of his people. He had himself been the instrument of restoring peace to the country, by putting down its foes, and he had extended the boundaries of the kingdom; but he ascribes the praise of all that had been done in stratagems and counsels of war to God. In representing God as issuing orders for the song of triumph, he intimates, figuratively, that it is he who determines the successful issue of battles. Notice is taken of the women who announce the army, for it was the custom anciently for women to sing the song of triumph, as Miriam, the sister of Moses, with her companions, sounded the praises of God upon the timbrel, and the women celebrated David’s victory upon the harp, when he slew Goliath, and routed the Philistines, (Exodus 15:20; Jude 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:6.) In making this reference to a song of praise, the Psalmist, as I have already said, intended to impress the truth upon the people, that the victories gained were entirely owing to God; though, at the same time, he tacitly reminds them of its being their duty to proclaim his benefits with due gratitude.

From the verse which succeeds, we are taught that the mightiest preparations which the enemies of the Church may make for its destruction shall be overthrown. We may consider the words as spoken in the person of the Psalmist himself, or as forming the song of the women mentioned above. It was a circumstance illustrative of the Divine favor, that the most formidable kings, before whom the Jews could never have stood in their own strength, had been put to flight. That princes, who could easily have overrun the world with their forces, should have not only departed without obtaining their purpose, but been forced to fly to a distance, could be accounted for on no other supposition than God’s having stood forward signally as their defender. In the Hebrew the verb is repeated, they shall flee, they shall flee, signifying that the attacks of the enemy had been repelled by Divine assistance once and again. The greatness of the spoil taken is intimated by the circumstance stated, that a share of it would come even to the women who remained at home. While the soldiers would return from battle clothed with the spoils, such would be the quantity of booty taken, that the females, who took no part in war, would partake of it.


Verse 13

13.Though ye should lie among the pots (25) Having spoken of God as fighting the battles of his people, he adds, by way of qualification, that they may lie for a time under darkness, though eventually God will appear for their deliverance; There can be little doubt that he hints at the state of wretchedness and distress to which the nation had been reduced under the government of Saul, for the interposition was the more remarkable, considering the misery from which it had emerged. The words, however, convey a further instruction than this. They teach us the general truth, that believers are, by the hidden and mysterious power of God, preserved unhurt in the midst of their afflictions, or suddenly recovered so as to exhibit no marks of them. The language admits of being interpreted to mean either that they shine even when lying under filth and darkness, or that, when freed from their troubles, they shake off any defilement which they may have contracted. Let either sense be adopted, and it remains true that the believer is never consumed or overwhelmed by his afflictions, but comes out safe. An elegant figure is drawn from the dove, which, though it lie amongst the pots, retains the beauty which naturally belongs to it, and contracts no defilement on its wings. From this we learn that the Church does not always present a fair or peaceable aspect, but rather emerges occasionally from the darkness that envelops it, and recovers its beauty as perfectly as if it had never been subjected to calamity.

Parkhurst takes a view somewhat similar to this last interpretation. He reads, “among the fire ranges,” or “rows of stones.” “Those,” says he, “on which the caldrons or pots were placed for boiling; somewhat like, I suppose, but of a more structure, than those which Niebuhr says are used by the wandering Arabs. ‘Their fire-place is soon constructed: they only set their pots upon several separate stones, or over a hole digged in the earth.’ Lying among these denotes the most abject slavery; for this seems to have been the place of rest allotted to the vilest slaves. So, old Laertes, grieving for the loss of his son, is described by Homer (in the Eleventh Book of the Odyssey) as, in the winter, sleeping where the slaves did, in the ashes near the fire: —

ic';color:#0000FF">‘—Oqi dmwev eni oikw
En koni agci purov.’”

Seehis Lexicon on שפת ii.

The Chaldee has “broken bricks,” or “rubbish,” that are thrown away; the word, according to this sense, being derived from שפה, shephah, to bruise, to trample on A similar noun, אשפת,ashpoth, derived from the verb שפה, is used in Psalms 113:7, for a dunghill, or the vilest place, whither all kinds of rubbish are cast out, and where the poor are said to lie. When Job was brought by Satan to the lowest depths of affliction, he sat down among the ashes, and scraped himself with a potsherd, which indicated the state of extreme sadness and debasement to which he was reduced. If this is the sense here, “lying among the broken bricks or rubbish” expresses, in like manner as the preceding translations, the most mean, dejected, and wretched condition.

Harmer’s attempt to explain this passage is at least very ingenious: — As shepherds in the East betake themselves, during the night, for shelter to the caves which they find in their rocky hills, where they can kindle fires to warm themselves, as well as dress their provisions, and as doves, as well as other birds, frequently haunt such places, he conjectures that the afflicted state of Israel in Egypt is here compared to the condition of a dove making its abode in the hollow of a rock which had been smutted by the fires which the shepherds had made in it. He supposes the word here translated pots to mean the little heaps of stones on which the shepherds set their pots, there being a hollow under them to contain the fire. —Harmer s Observations, volume 1, pp. 176, 177.

Gesenius thinks the word is equivalent to המשפתים, hammishpethaim, which occurs in Jude 5:16, and which our English version makes “sheepfolds,” the only difference between the two words being, that the word here wants the formative letter מ, mem Thus, it may refer to the condition of the Israelites when living among their flocks in the wilderness. We have not yet exhausted the different significations affixed by commentators to this word; but, without referring to more, we shall only add, that, according to some, the allusion is to the condition of the Israelites in Egypt, who were doomed to the drudgery of brick-making and pottery, and had probably to sleep among the brick-kilns or earthenware manufactories in which they were employed.

With respect to the second clause of the verse, in which an image taken from the dove is introduced, a difficulty which has been stated is, how her feathers can be said to resemble yellow gold. From the circumstance, that the splendor of gold is here intermingled, Harmer concludes that this is not a description of the animal merely as adorned by the hand of nature, but that the allusion is to white doves that were consecrated to the Syrian deities, and adorned with trinkets of gold, the meaning being, “Israel is to me as a consecrated dove; and though your circumstances have made you rather appear like a poor dove, blackened by taking up its abode in a smoky hole of the rocks, yet shall you become beautiful and glorious as a Syrian silver-coloured pigeon, on which some ornament of gold is put.” — Harmer s Observations, volume 1, p. 180. But there are certainly doves which answer to the description here given, some of them having the feathers on the sides of the neck of a shining copper color, which in a bright sun must resemble gold. See Encyc. Brit. Art. Columbia. Besides, the reference is not necessarily to the color of gold, but to its brilliancy. How highly poetical an emblem, to depict the glorious change effected in the condition of the Hebrews by the deliverance which God had granted them over the proud and formidable enemies who had kept them in the degrading condition represented in the first clause of the verse!


Verse 14

14.When the Almighty scattered kings in it We might read extended, or divided kings, etc., and then the allusion would be to his leading them in triumph. But the other reading is preferable, and corresponds better with what was said above of their being put to flight. There is more difficulty in the second part of the verse, some reading, it was white in Salmon; that is, the Church of God presented a fair and beautiful appearance. Or the verb may be viewed as in the second person — Thou, O God! Didst make it fair and white as mount Salmon (26) with snows The reader may adopt either construction, for the meaning is the same. It is evident that David insists still upon the figure of the whiteness of silver, which he had previously introduced. The country had, as it were, been blackened or sullied by the hostile confusions into which it was thrown, and he says that it had now recovered its fair appearance, and resembled Salmon, which is well known to have been ordinarily covered with snows. (27) Others think that Salmon is not the name of a place, but an appellative, meaning a dark shade. (28) I would retain the commonly received reading. At the same time, I think that there may have been an allusion to the etymology. It comes from the word צלם , tselem, signifying a shade, and mount Salmon had been so called on account of its blackness. (29) This makes the comparison more striking; for it intimates, that as the snows whitened this black mountain, so the country had resumed its former beauty, and put on an aspect of joy, when God dispelled the darkness which had lain upon it during the oppression of enemies. (30)

“The Almighty having scattered these kings,
hath by this turned death-shade to splendor.”

Walford gives a similar version, and explains the meaning to be, “Though you have been in bondage and the darkness of a dejected condition, you are now illuminated with the splendor of victory and prosperity.”


Verse 15

15.The hill of God, the hill of Bashan Here he adverts to the spring and source of all the kindness which God had shown, this being the circumstance that he had chosen mount Zion as the place of his palace and temple, whence all blessings should go out to the nation. A Divine declaration to that effect had been made to David, and this pre-eminence and dignity conferred upon mount Zion is very properly adduced as a proof of his being king, lawfully and by Divine appointment; for there was an inseparable connection between God’s dwelling upon that mountain, and David’s sitting upon the throne to govern the people. The words of the verse admit of two senses. We may suppose that the mountain of God is compared to mount Bashan as being like it, or we may understand that it is opposed to it. The first is the sense adopted almost by all interpreters, that while Bashan was famed for its fertility, Zion excelled it. It is of little importance which we prefer; but perhaps the distinction would be brought out as well were we to construe the words the hill of God by themselves, and consider that Bashan with its boasted height is afterwards ordered to yield precedence, as if David would say, that there was but one mountain which God had consecrated to himself by an irrevocable decree, and that though Bashan was renowned for height and fertility, it must rank with other mountains, which might in vain exalt themselves to an equality with Zion, honored as the chosen residence of God. If we read the verse differently, and consider it as applying to mount Zion throughout, then the Psalmist extols it as high and illustrious, and this because there emanated from it the Divine favor, which distinguished the Jews from every other nation.


Verse 16

16.Why leap ye, (32) ye high hills? In this verse there is no obscurity or ambiguity. David having said that there was only one mountain in all the world which God had chosen, calls upon the highest hills to yield it the pre-eminency. As he repeats in the plural number what had been said immediately before of Bashan, this leads me to think that he intended first to oppose that mountain, and then all other high mountains generally, to Zion. (33) Mountains are here to be understood figuratively, and the great truth conveyed is, that the kingdom of Christ, which God had begun to shadow forth in the person of David, far excels all that is reckoned glorious by the world. The reproof which the Psalmist administers, in order to humble the proud boasting of the world, is justified by that contempt which we know that carnal and ungodly persons entertain of Christ’s kingdom, devoted as they are to their own pleasures or wealth, and unable to appreciate spiritual blessings. The lesson will be felt to be the more useful and necessary, if we consider that this vain pride of man rises to an additional height, when the slightest occasion is afforded for its exercise. When we see those indulging it who have no grounds to do so, we need not wonder at the arrogance of such as are possessed of wealth and influence. But the Lord’s people may afford to leave them to their self-complacency, resting satisfied with the privilege of knowing that God has chosen to take up his habitation in the midst of them. They have no reason to repine at their lot so long as they have union with God, the only and the sufficient source of their happiness.

The hill for God is the hill of Bashan;
A hill of lofty brows is the hill of Bashan.

The Psalmist cuts short the contention —

For what would ye contend, ye hills of lofty brows?
This is the hill desired of God for himself to dwell in;
Yea, Jehovah will dwell in it for ever.”


Verse 17

17.The chariots of God are twenty thousand thousands of angels. (34) For the most part, we are apt to undervalue the Divine presence, and therefore David presents us with a description fitted to exalt our thoughts of it. Owing to our unbelieving hearts, the least danger which occurs in the world weighs more with us than the power of God. We tremble under the slightest trials; for we forget or cherish low views of his omnipotence. To preserve us from this error, David directs us to the countless myriads of angels which are at his command, — a circumstance, the consideration of which may well enable us to defy the evils which beset us. Twenty thousand are spoken of; but it is a number designed to intimate to us that the armies of the living God, which he commissions for our help, are innumerable; and surely this should comfort us under the deadliest afflictions of this life. In adding that the Lord is among them, the Psalmist is still to be considered as designing to give us an exalted view of what is included in God’s presence; for the words suggest that he can no more divest himself of his existence than not have this power whereby angels are subordinated to his will. Another idea suggested is, that one God is better than a universe of angels. The great distance to which we are apt to conceive God as removed from us is one circumstance which tries our faith, and in order to obviate this, the Psalmist reminds us of Sinai, where there was a display of his majesty. The inference was conclusive that he still abode in the sanctuary. For why did God appear upon that occasion in such a glorious manner? Evidently to show that his covenant formed a sacred bond of union between him and the posterity of Abraham. Hence the words of Moses —

“Say not in thine heart, Who shall go up into heaven? or who shall descend into the deep? or who shall go over the sea? For the word is nigh unto thee,” etc. (Deuteronomy 30:12.)

Sinai accordingly is mentioned by David, to teach us that if we would fortify our minds with a firm faith in the Divine presence, we must derive it from the Law and the Prophets.

“God hath been to them [the Israelites] twice ten thousand chariots,
Even thousand of thousands.”

Chariots were much used in war by the nations of antiquity; and the chosen people were forbidden to use chariots and horses in war; but God was to them as effectual a safe-guard as innumerable war-chariots would have been. He was “the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof,” 2 Kings 2:12. Comp. Psalms 20:7. And in his protection and aid they were to trust. “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” “For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies to save you,” (Deuteronomy 20:1.)


Verse 18

18.Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive There can be little doubt that these words are intended to magnify the proofs of Divine favor granted upon the elevation of David to the throne, by contrasting the state of matters with that under Saul. The ascending on high implies the being previously low, and intimates, that under the melancholy confusions which had prevailed in the kingdom, there was no longer the same conspicuous display of the Divine glory as formerly. The government of Saul, which, from the first, had originated in a way that was condemnable, was doomed to fall under the displeasure of God, while his favor, on the other hand, was to be restored under David; and the undeniable appearances of this left no room for doubt that one who began his reign under such auspices was the object of the Divine choice. David, although he had acquitted himself with courage in the battles which were fought, ascribes all the glory of them to God, saying, that it was he who had taken captive the enemy, and forced them to pay tribute, and reduced the more fierce and rebellious to subjection. By the term סוררים sorerim, rebellious, contumacious, or revolters, he would evidently seem to mean a distinct class of persons from the other enemies, whom he mentions as having been taken captive; and it intimates, that while those who did not venture to resist, and who surrendered, had been brought under the yoke, the more proud and unyielding had been forced into submission. The end designed by this is stated in the words which follow, that God might dwell in the midst of his people; and that he might demonstrate himself to be an all-sufficient protector to those who put their trust in him.

As the passage which we have now been considering is applied by Paul in a more spiritual sense to Christ, (Ephesians 4:8,) it may be necessary to show how this agrees with the meaning and scope of the Psalmist. It may be laid down as an incontrovertible truth, that David, in reigning over God’s ancient people, shadowed forth the beginning of Christ’s eternal kingdom. This must appear evident to every one who remembers the promise made to him of a never-failing succession, and which received its verification in the person of Christ. As God illustrated his power in David, by exalting him with the view of delivering his people, so has he magnified his name in his only begotten Son. But let us consider more particularly how the parallel holds. Christ, before he was exalted, emptied himself of his glory, having not merely assumed the form of a servant, but humbled himself to the death of the cross. To show how exactly the figure was fulfilled, Paul notices, that what David had foretold was accomplished in the person of Christ, by his being cast down to the lowest parts of the earth in the reproach and ignominy to which he was subjected, before he ascended to the right hand of his Father, (Psalms 22:7.) That in thinking upon the ascension, we might not confine our views to the body of Christ, our attention is called to the result and fruit of it, in his subjecting heaven and earth to his government. Those who were formerly his inveterate enemies he compelled to submission and made tributary — this being the effect of the word of the Gospel, to lead men to renounce their pride and their obstinacy, to bring down every high thought which exalteth itself, and reduce the senses and the affections of men to obedience unto Christ. As to the devils and reprobate men who are instigated to rebellion and revolt by obstinate malice, he holds them bound by a secret control, and prevents them from executing intended destruction. So far the parallel is complete. Nor when Paul speaks of Christ having given gifts to men, is there any real inconsistency with what is here stated, although he has altered the words, having followed the Greek version in accommodation to the unlearned reader. (39) It was not himself that God enriched with the spoils of the enemy, but his people; and neither did Christ seek or need to seek his own advancement, but made his enemies tributary, that he might adorn his Church with the spoil. From the close union subsisting between the head and members, to say that God manifest in the flesh received gifts from the captives, is one and the same thing with saying that he distributed them to his Church. What is said in the close of the verse is no less applicable to Christ — that he obtained his victories that as God he might dwell among us. Although he departed, it was not that he might remove to a distance from us, but, as Paul says, “that he might fill all things,” (Ephesians 4:10.) By his ascension to heaven, the glory of his divinity has been only more illustriously displayed, and though no longer present with us in the flesh, our souls receive spiritual nourishment from his body and blood, and we find, notwithstanding distance of place, that his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed.


Verse 19

19.Blessed be the Lord, etc. David would have us to understand, that in recounting the more particular deliverances which God had wrought, he did not mean to draw our minds away from the fact, that the Church is constantly and at all times indebted for its safety to the Divine care and protection. He adds, Blessed be God daily And he intimates, that deliverances might be expected from him with great abundance of every blessing. Some read, he will load, others, he will carry; (40) but it is of little importance which reading we adopt. He points at the fact, that God extends continued proofs of his kindness to his people, and is unwearied in renewing the instances of it. I read this Lord in the second part of the verse, for the letter ה, he, prefixed in the Hebrew, has often the force of a demonstrative pronoun; and he would point out, as it were with the finger, that God in whom their confidence ought to be placed. So in the next verse, which may be read, this our God is the God of salvation What is here said coincides with the scope of what immediately precedes, and is meant to convey the truth that God protects his Church and people constantly. In saying this God, he administers a check to the tendency in men to have their minds diverted from the one living and true God. The salvation of God is set before the view of all men without exception, but is very properly represented here as something peculiar to the elect, that they may recognize themselves as continually indebted to his preserving care, unlike the wicked, who pervert that which might have proved life into destruction, through their unthankfulness. The Hebrew word in the 20th verse is salvations, in the plural number, to convince us that when death may threaten us in ever so many various forms, God can easily devise the necessary means of preservation, and that we should trust to experience the same mercy again which has been extended to us once. The latter clause of the verse bears the same meaning, where it is said, that to the Lord belong the issues of death Some read, the issues unto death, (41) supposing that the reference is to the ease with which God can avenge and destroy his enemies; but this appears a constrained interpretation. The more natural meaning obviously is, that God has very singular ways, unknown to us, of delivering his people from destruction. (42) He points at a peculiarity in the manner of the Divine deliverances, that God does not generally avert death from his people altogether, but allows them to fall in some measure under its power, and afterwards unexpectedly rescues them from it. This is a truth particularly worthy of our notice, as teaching us to beware of judging by sense in the matter of Divine deliverances. However deep we may have sunk in trouble, it becomes us to trust the power of God, who claims it as his peculiar work to open up a way where man can see none.

“He that is our God is a God of salvation,
And for death are the goings forth of the Lord Jehovah;

i. e. ,” says he, “When Jehovah takes the field, deadly is the battle to his enemies.”

“For to Jehovah we owe our escapes from death.”

The Syriac version has, —

“The Lord God is the Lord of death and of escaping.”


Verse 21

21.Surely God shall wound, etc. The enemies of the Church are fierce and formidable, and it is impossible that she can be preserved from their continued assaults, without a vigorous protection being extended. To persuade us that she enjoys such a defense, David represents God as armed with dreadful power for the overthrow of the ungodly. The verse stands connected as to scope with the preceding, and we might render the Hebrew particle אך,ach, by wherefore, oron which account; but it seems better to consider it as expressing simple affirmation. We are to notice the circumstance, that God counts all those his enemies who unjustly persecute the righteous, and thus assures us of his being always ready to interpose for our defense. The concern he feels in our preservation is forcibly conveyed by the expressions which follow, that he will wound the head of his enemies, and the crown of their hair; (43) intimating, that he will inflict a deadly and incurable wound upon such as harass his Church. This is still more strikingly brought out in what is added immediately afterwards, when God is described as wading through destruction.


Verse 22

22.The Lord said, I will bring back from Bashan. That the Israelites might not be led to take an irreligious and self-glorious view of their victories; that they might look to God as the author of them; and rest assured of his protection in time to come, David sends them back to the first periods of their history, and reminds them how their fathers had been originally brought by the victorious hand of God out of the lowest depths of trouble. He would have them argue that if God rescued his people at first from giants, and from the depths of the Red Sea, it was not to be imagined that he would desert them in similar dangers, but certain that he would defend them upon every emergency which might occur. The prophets are in the constant habit, as is well known, of illustrating the mercy of God by reference to the history of Israel’s redemption, that the Lord’s people, by looking back to their great original deliverance, might find an argument for expecting interpositions of a future kind. To make the deeper impression, God is introduced speaking himself. In what he says he may be considered as asserting his Divine prerogative of raising the dead to life again, for his people’s passage through the Red Sea, and victory over warlike giants, was a species of resurrection. (44) Some read, I will cause the enemy to fly from Bashan; (45) but this cannot be received, and does not agree with the context, as it follows, I will bring back from the depths of the sea In representing God as bedewed or stained with blood, David does not ascribe to him anything like cruelty, but designs to show the Lord’s people how dear and precious they are in his sight, considering the zeal which he manifests in their defense. We know that David himself was far from being a man of cruel disposition, and that he rejoiced in the destruction of the wicked from the purest and most upright motives, as affording a display of the Divine judgments. That is here ascribed to God which may be asserted equally of his Church or people, for the vengeance with which the wicked are visited is inflicted by their hands. Some read the close of the verse, the tongue of thy dogs in thine enemies, even in him, i.e., the king and chief of them all. This is not the meaning of the Psalmist, which simply is, that the tongues of the dogs would be red with licking blood, such would be the number of dead bodies scattered round.


Verse 24

24.They have seen thy goings, O God! This verse may refer to processions of a warlike kind, or to such as are made in times of peace by those who give thanks for victory. It is customary for the people of God, on occasions of the latter description, to go forth and present peace-offerings in the temple. This has led some to understand by the goings of God, (46) the crowds of his people when they proceed to the temple. But I am disposed to think that God himself is here represented as a king leading and marshalling forth his armies. Accordingly, it is added, in the sanctuary, under which expression there is an apt allusion to the visible symbol of the Divine presence. The great reason why God undertakes the guardianship of his people, and goes before them to repel the attacks of the enemy, is his having promised that he will hear their prayers in the sanctuary. He is therefore described as if he were seen coming out of his holy habitation, that he might conduct his people to victory. David calls him his King, to divert the attention of the people from himself, and lead them to view a name which belonged to a frail mortal man such as he was, in its higher application to the supreme Head of all. He speaks, it is true, in the name of the people, but not to the exclusion of himself.


Verse 25

25.The singers went before It is evident that he does not now speak of an army in battle array, but of a solemn assembly held for offering up thanksgivings to God for victory. God had openly shown that he was their leader in war, and to him the song of triumph is with propriety addressed. Mention is made of distinct choirs employed in his service, and particularly of such as played upon the timbrel; for, absurd as the practice may appear to us, it was then customary for the women to play upon that instrument. By the fountain (48) from which they are called upon to bless God, some understand the heart, as it is known that those praises which proceed from the lips merely, and are hypocritical, meet with the Divine reprobation. But I conceive the true meaning to be, that all are summoned to praise the Lord who could deduce their origin from the patriarch Jacob. Many might not sustain the character which answered to their high vocation; but, as the whole race had been chosen of God, the Psalmist very properly invites them to engage in this devotional exercise. At the same time, I see nothing objectionable in the opinion, if any persist in preferring it, that the term is here used to distinguish the true saints of God from those who vainly boasted of being the posterity of Abraham, while they had degenerated from his spirit. Those only who walk in the footsteps of his faith are reckoned to be his children. It has caused some surprise that, in a general description of the sacred assemblies of the people, precedence should have been given to the tribe of Benjamin According to certain interpreters, this is owing to the position which it occupied, as being next to David; and honor is put upon the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, (49) which, though they lay at a great distance, were in a particular manner friendly and attached to him. Others think that the whole nation is represented under the tribes specified, which were at once the nearest and most distant. (50) These conjectures (51) are probable enough, but the point is one which may be left in uncertainty, as there may have been some other reason, which it is impossible for us to discover. It has been suggested that Benjamin is called little on account of the smallness of its numbers, the tribe having been nearly exterminated for the crime of the men of Gibeah, (Jude 19:20;) but David would not probably have adverted to any reproach of this kind in calling them to take so prominent a part in the praises of God. (52) The inspired writers, in speaking of the tribes, often allude to the patriarchs from whom they respectively took their origin; nor is it surprising that the posterity of Benjamin, who was the youngest of Jacob’s children, (53) should receive the designation here given to them; and the truth is, that even antecedently to the heavy stroke which befell them, they were not numerous. Interpreters, by general consent, have considered that Benjamin is called ruler, as Saul, who was first made king in Israel, belonged to this tribe; but I cannot bring myself to think it probable that David would have made such an unseasonable allusion to Saul’s memory, whose government is everywhere represented in Scripture as pregnant with disaster, and which was to be buried in that of his successor, whose reign is so prominently brought forward in this psalm. The more likely conjecture is, that this title of dignity is applied in order to put honor upon a tribe, which some might despise for its smallness, and to intimate that the Benjamites, though few in numbers, and not possessed of great influence, formed one head in Israel as well as the rest. (54) Others may be disposed to think that there must have been some illustrious individual in this and the two tribes mentioned along with it, or that the whole tribe had signalised itself in a recent battle. Though honorable mention is made of these tribes, yet the chief place in the numbers assembled together at this time is assigned to the princes of Judah. Some think that the copulative is understood, and read, the princes of Judah and their congregation The Hebrew word which we translate congregation is by others translated stoning. (55) But it seems preferable to construe the words as implying that this tribe presided over the assembly which marched under its auspices in war. The power of summoning the people together is thus asserted as belonging to Judah, and it is represented as honored with the government and primacy of the kingdom.

“The fount whence blessings spring to Israel’s race.”

Horsley reads, “The Lord of the stock of Israel;” and explains it of the Messiah, who was of the stock of Israel according to the flesh. Fry conceives that the reading more strictly may be, “from the quarry of Israel; dug, as it were, from this pit, hewn from this rock. See Isaiah 51:1.”

“They blessed Elohim in the congregations,
The Lord from the stock of Israel, (or from the quarry of Israel.)”


Verse 28

28.Thy God hath commanded thy strength Men are always disposed to arrogate to themselves the glory of what they may have done instead of tracing their success to God, and David reminds the people once more that they had not triumphed by their own strength, but by power communicated from above. If they had acquitted themselves with energy on the field, he would have them consider that it was God who inspired them with this valor, and would guard them against the pride which overlooks and disparages the Divine goodness. As a consideration which might farther tend to promote humility in their minds, he adverts to the dependence in which they stood of the future continuance of the same favor and protection; this being the great cause of presumptuous confidence, that we do not feel our own helplessness, and are not led under a sense of it to resort humbly to God for the supply of our wants. Another lesson which the passage teaches us is, that more is required than that God should visit us at first with his preventing grace; that we stand constantly in need of his assistance throughout our whole lives. If this be true in the literal warfare, where our conflict is with flesh and blood, it must be still more so in matters of the soul. It is impossible that we could stand one moment in the contest with such enemies as Satan, sin, and the world, did we not receive from God the grace which secures our perseverance.

What is said of the temple in the following verse is intended to carry out the same strain of sentiment which has been already expressed. It gives the reason why God had exerted his power in behalf of the Israelites rather than others; which was, that it might be displayed as coming forth from the sanctuary and the ark of the covenant. Hence the emphasis with which David calls him in a previous part of the psalm — the God of Israel. It was not in vain that God had erected his sanctuary, or promised his presence in connection with it; and his power is here represented as issuing from the temple, to denote that the only security for his favor was to be found in his gracious covenant and promises. Some read, From thy temple inJerusalem — a frigid interpretation, and one which does not express the meaning of the Psalmist. His prayer is to the effect that the Divine power might be commanded from the sanctuary upon his chosen people, here denoted by a common figure of speech by Jerusalem. It may be asked how he speaks of the temple, when it had not been yet built. The word temple or palace may have been used to express the tabernacle. This, at least, I think more probable than that he should speak of the temple by anticipation, as some suppose; and there can be no doubt that the ark had already been placed in Zion. Having already traced all the honor of the recent victories to God, he next proceeds to vindicate his claim to reap the fruits of them, by asserting that the kings who had been subdued would acknowledge God to have been their conqueror, as well as yield themselves tributary to David and his successors, — a circumstance which should lay the people of God under an additional obligation to present him with their free-will offerings of praise.


Verse 30

30.Destroy the company of spearmen Some read rebuke, but I approve of the distinction which has been noticed by those who are most skilled in the Hebrew language, that while the verb גער, gear, has this meaning when the letter ב beth, is interposed, it signifies without it to destroy. The word, חית, chayath, which I have rendered company, has been translated beast, (56) but no such sense can apply to it here. David evidently prays in this passage that God would deliver his chosen people by destroying their cruel and bloody enemies. In calling these the company of the reed or cane, (57) he does not mean to say that they are weak, but alludes to the kind of armor which they wore, and which were lances or spears. The reed grows in some countries to a tree, or at least has all the consistency of wood, and the people are in the habit of making darts from it. In the East missile weapons are commonly used in war. He compares them for their fierceness to bulls, so I have rendered the word אבירים, abbirim; for though it may be translated strong or stout persons — the congregation of the strong — it occasionally bears the other meaning; and as David adds, calves of the people, (58) it would seem evident that he uses a figure to represent the rage and fury of the enemy, and perhaps their strength, which the Israelites were wholly unequal to combat except with Divine assistance. It is not so easy to discover the meaning of the next clause in the verse, treading upon pieces of silver The Hebrew verb רפס, raphas, signifies to tread, or literally, (for it, is here in the hithpael conjugations) causing themselves to tread; and some consider that the allusion is to the arrogance and vain-glorious boasting of the enemy. Others attach exactly the opposite sense to the words, holding that they denote submission, and that the enemy would bring pieces of silver in token of subjection. (59) But how could we suppose that David would pray for the destruction of enemies who were already subdued, and paying tribute in the character of suppliants? To this it has been said in reply, that enemies may retain their animosity in all its force within their own breasts, ready to vent itself in rebellion upon the first opportunity, although when deprived of arms they cannot display it openly, and that this is especially true of the enemies of the Church, whose antipathies are virulent, ever breaking forth afresh so soon as an occasion offers. But I see no necessity for doing violence to the words of the Psalmist, and would take them in their plain acceptation, as meaning that the enemy in their pride trampled upon pieces of silver. The reference may be to attachments of silver upon their sandals, as the Eastern nations were always proverbial for their luxury. (60) What immediately follows by no means favors the sense we have formerly adverted to, scatter the people who delight in war, where he hints that they sought groundless occasions for quarrel and tumult, and gratuitously attacked such as were disposed for peace. When we find David, after all the victories he had gained, still commending himself and his people to the protection of God, it should teach us to abandon the hope of ever seeing the Church placed in a state of perfect tranquillity in this world, exposed, as it is, to a succession of enemies raised up by the malice of Satan, and designed by God for the trial and exercise of our patience. In comparing their enemies to the beasts here mentioned, and taking notice that they delighted in war, it was no doubt his intention to influence the minds of the people of God to the contrary dispositions of clemency and mercy, as being that frame of spirit in the exercise of which they might expect to receive the Divine assistance. The more violently their enemies raged, and the more lawless their attempts might prove, they had only the more reason to expect the interposition of God, who humbles the proud and the mighty ones of this world. Such being the character of God, let us learn from this prayer of David to resort to him with confidence when the objects at any time of unmerited persecution, and to believe that he is able to deliver us at once from all our enemies.

“Till each submiss, from hostile acts shall cease,
And with the tribute-silver sue for peace.”

“The assemblage of the potent lords of nations,
Who tread on tiles of silver;”

and he supposes that the poet alludes to the floors in the palaces of the Oriental kings, which were paved with silver. Dr Jubb renders the phrase, “who excite themselves with fragments of silver;” and considers the allusion to be to the dancing of the Egyptians before their idol-calves, with the tinkling instruments called Sistra. That they were accustomed to dance before these idols is evident from Exodus 32:6, where we are taught that the people of Israel, in imitation of the Egyptian idolatry, rose up to shout and dance before the golden calf; for such is the meaning of the words, “they rose up to play,” as appears from Exodus 32:17. And that they used the sistrum in religious feasts, Herodotus informs us in the second book of his History. The words, pieces of silver, according to Jubb, signify the little loose pieces of metal with which the sistrum was hung round, which produced the jingling noise when the instrument was played upon. This description fits the Egyptians; and that it really belongs to them may be inferred, with some degree of probability, from the following verse, where it is said, “Princes shall come out of Egypt,” as if the subjugation of this nation, imprecated in the preceding verse, were here supposed complete. Tucker has here a very good remark. “David,” says he, “invokes the Messiah to bring down the power of Egypt; but in his abhorrence of their idolatry, deigns not to designate them except in the most contemptuous terms. He says not, Rebuke the assembly of those who worship bulls and calves, and dance round altars to the sound of instruments of silver, but he classes the people on a par with the idols which they worshipped, — ‘the assembly of bulls and calves, who dance to bits (or pieces) of silver.’”

“The sistrum was of an oval figure, or a dilated semicircle, in the shape of a shoulder-belt, with brass wires across, which played in holes wherein they were stopped by their flat heads. The performer played on it by shaking the sistrum in cadence, and thereby the brass wires made a shrill and loud noise.” — Mant.


Verse 31

31.Princes shall come out of Egypt. He resumes the strain of thanksgiving, and confirms what he had previously asserted, that kings would come and pay tribute unto God. The examples which he brings forward are those of the Egyptians and Ethiopians. This sufficiently proves that the prediction must be extended to Christ, by whom the Egyptians and Ethiopians were brought under the sway of God. The word תריף, tarits, translated, shall soon stretch out, might have been rendered, shall cause to run. (61) But it seemed necessary to soften the harshness of the figure. It is doubtful whether the allusion be to the promptness with which they should yield subjection, or whether he means that they would stretch out their hands to entreat pardon, this being an attitude common to suppliants. According to either interpretation, it is their submission which is intended, and it is enough to know that David asserts that Ethiopia and Egypt would come under the power of God, and not they only, but the most distant parts of the world.


Verse 32

In the next verse he goes farther than before, and calls upon the kingdoms of the earth to praise God, language which implies that those who had once been distinguished by their hostility to him would be ranked amongst his willing worshippers. There must be the knowledge of God, as I have remarked elsewhere, before men can celebrate the praises of his name; and we have a proof of the calling of the Gentiles, in the fact that Moses and the prophets invite them to offer sacrifices of praise. That it might not seem a strange and incredible thing to speak of the extension of the worship of God from one land, within which it had been hitherto confined, to the whole world, David insists upon God’s rightful dominion over all parts of the earth. He rideth upon the heaven of heavens; that is, as we have observed at the beginning of the psalm, he has supreme power over all creatures, and governs the universe at his will. This truth is one which, even in its general application, is well fitted to beget a reverential consideration of the majesty of God; but we must not overlook the more particular reason for which it is here introduced. Mention having been made of the Gentiles, who lay as yet without the pale of the Church, he proves them to be embraced in the government of God by virtue of his sovereignty as Creator, and intimates that there was nothing wonderful in the fact, that he who sits upon the heavens should comprehend the whole inhabitants of the earth under his sway. By the heavens of ancient times, it is meant to intimate that the whole human family were under his power from the very beginning. We have a signal proof of the glorious power of God in the fact, that, notwithstanding the immensity of the fabric of the heavens, the rapidity of their motion, and the conflicting revolutions which take place in them, the most perfect subordination and harmony are preserved; and that this fair and beautiful order has been uninterruptedly maintained for ages. It is apparent then how the ancientness of the heavens may commend to us the singular excellency of the handiwork of God. Having touched upon the work of creation, he particularises thunder, for this is what he intends by a mighty voice, as in Psalms 29:4. There are two constructions which we may put upon the words used, either that by his voice of command he calls forth the thunders which shake heaven and earth with the loudness of their sound, or that he sends forth his mighty voice in the thunder. I have already shown, at some length, in commenting upon the other passage just quoted, that there is a propriety in God’s being represented as thundering; for the phenomenon is one which, more than any other, impresses an awe upon the spirits of men. And the words are introduced with the exclamation lo! or behold! the better to arrest our wandering thoughts, or rather to reprehend our security.


Verse 34

34.Give strength unto God over Israel The expression is in allusion to the sentence which went before, and in which God was said to send forth a strong or mighty voice. Not that, properly speaking, we can give anything to Him, but, disposed as we are to withhold that honor which is his due, David subjoins to what he had said of his thundering with a mighty voice, an injunction that we should, on our part, be ready to sound forth his praises. To guard the Gentile nations against those false ideas upon religion in which they were accustomed to indulge, he brings them back to the doctrine of the Law, in which God had specially revealed himself, and intimates that, if they would not lose themselves in error, they must advance by necessary steps from the creation and government of the world, to that doctrine in which God had condescended to make a familiar revelation of himself to men. So much is included when God is spoken of here as the God of Israel But he does not satisfy himself with enjoining them to celebrate the power of God with praises of the voice. He exhorts them to the exercise of faith, for in reality we cannot better ascribe strength unto God, than by reposing in his protection as all-sufficient. Thus, after having said that his strength is in the clouds; (62) he adds, that he is terrible out of his holy places, by which is meant, that he exerts a power in his temple which is sufficient to confound his enemies. Some understand heaven and earth to be the holy places intended, but this does not agree with the context, for it is immediately added, that the God of Israel would give strength unto his people. It is evident, therefore, that the Psalmist speaks of God’s protection of his Church. The plural number is used in speaking of the sanctuary, here as in other places, because the tabernacle was divided into three parts. He points, in short, to the ark of the covenant, as that which the believing people of God should recognize as a symbol of confidence, remembering the promise, “I will dwell in the midst of you,” and thus resting with security under the wings of the Divine protection, and confidently calling upon his name. Any right which Israel might have in distinction from others to trust in the guardianship of God, rested entirely upon that covenant of free grace by which they had been chosen to be God’s peculiar heritage. Let it be remembered, however, that God continues to exert in behalf of his Church still these terrible displays of his power of which the Psalmist speaks.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 68:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/psalms-68.html. 1840-57.

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