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A PSALM FOLLOWING A MILITARY DEFEAT
SUPERSCRIPTION: FOR THE CHIEF MUSICIAN; SET TO SHUSHAN EDUTH.
MICHTAM OF DAVID; TO TEACH; WHEN HE STROVE WITH ARAM-NAHARAIM; AND JOAB RETURNED; AND SMOTE OF EDOM IN THE VALLEY OF SALT TWELVE THOUSAND.
Shushan Eduth. This is usually translated, "The Lily of the Testimony," which was the name of the tune or melody to which the singers fitted the words of this psalm. Psalms 45; Psalms 69; and Psalms 80 were also set to this tune.
Michtam of David. "Michtam" is thought to mean that this was a "Golden Psalm"; but some have supposed that it could have been another musical instruction for the singers. David, of course, is here indicated as the author. "There is nothing that stands in the way of accepting this claim of Davidic authorship." "The Psalm itself has every characteristic of the Davidic style, namely, liveliness, rapid transitions, terse yet comprehensive language, strong metaphors, intense feeling and hopefulness."
Regarding the occasion, Dummelow has this:
"The Psalm is clearly written after a lost battle, not after a victory. It has been suggested that while David was engaged in the north of Palestine subjugating Damascus and the Syrians, the Edomites in the south, saw their opportunity and attacked Israel, inflicting a serious military defeat."
The superscription barely mentions this defeat, preferring rather to emphasize the retaliation of Israel in which a great victory was won over Edom, a victory accredited to Joab here, in which some 12,000 Edomites were killed. Of course, some writers have complained that the Bible has no full account of any such defeat of Israel, even dating to question the accuracy of the superscription on that basis. To us this is amusing. That type of critical mind would question the results of the Battle of San Jacinto because Santa Ana did not go back to Mexico and erect a monument celebrating that battle! Great defeats are seldom memorialized by the defeated. For this reason, the very abbreviated account in 2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 18, etc., which relate the results of the Davidic wars, devoted no space at all to a description of the defeat which prompted this psalm.
Another unjustified criticism is that which seems offended by the fact that Joab in this superscription is accredited with the ensuing victory over Edom, whereas "In Chronicles the victory is ascribed to Joab's brother Abishai, and in 2 Samuel 8 to David." This is easily explained since David the king was commander-in-chief; Joab was the ranking General of the Armies; and his brother Abishai was entrusted with the campaign in the Valley of Salt. It was correct to ascribe victory to each of these.
Could it be an error to describe President Bush, or Secretary of Defense Cheney, or General Norman Schwarzkopf, any one of the three, or all three, as victors in the recent war with Iraq?
The organization of the psalm suggested by Rawlinson is: (1) God is pleaded with (Psalms 60:1-5); (2) God is reminded of the promises he has made to Israel (Psalms 60:6-8); (3) God is pleaded with in the very strongest terms to give help to Israel (Psalms 60:9-11); and (4) God is praised and extolled as Israel's Helper who will give them final and complete victory (Psalms 60:12).
GOD IS PLEADED WITH
"O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast broken us down;
Thou hast been angry; oh restore us again.
Thou hast made the land to tremble; thou hast rent it:
Heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh.
Thou hast showed thy people hard things:
Thou hast made us to drink the wine of staggering.
Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee,
That it may be displayed because of the truth.
(Selah That thy beloved may be delivered,
Save with thy right hand, and answer us."
"Thou hast cast us off ... broken us down ... been angry" (Psalms 60:1). "This psalm conveys the sense of national humiliation resulting from a wholly unseen military reverse." Notice also that God's anger with Israel is also mentioned. This was no doubt due to the sins and rebellions of the Chosen People, the same being characteristic of that nation throughout its history.
"Thou hast made the land to tremble ... rent it... it shaketh" (Psalms 60:2).
Was this a real earthquake, or is the military defeat merely compared to an earthquake? We believe it is probably the latter, but earthquakes were by no means uncommon occurrences in Israel.
"The wine of staggering" (Psalms 60:3). This does not mean that God had actually given Israel such a deadly potion, but that God's providence had allowed it. The metaphor of drugged wine is used in describing the sins of the Great Harlot in Revelation; and here it is a metaphor of the stunning effect of that surprising military defeat. "The nation had been rendered unable to function."
Psalms 60:4 is not easily translated; and one possible meaning is that, "Israel had indeed raised the God-given banner; but it proved to be not so much a rallying point as a signal for dispersion."
"That thy beloved may be delivered" (Psalms 60:5). This recalls the tremendous fact of God's loving Israel, thus injecting a strong feeling of encouragement and hope into the passage.
"Save with thy right hand, and answer us" (Psalms 60:5). This double cry for God's help emphasizes the great lesson of the psalm, namely, that no matter how discouraging and difficult any given situation may appear to be, the answer is always, inevitably, and certainly, "Take it to the Lord in prayer."
GOD'S PROMISES RECALLED IN PRAYER
"God hath spoken in his holiness: I will exult;
I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim also is the defense of my head;
Judah is my sceptre.
Moab is my washpot;
Upon Edom will I cast my shoe:
Philistia, shout thou because of me."
"God hath spoken ... I will exult" (Psalms 60:6). What this says is that, "I will exult in the promises God has made to Israel." The difficulty is that no specific promises recorded in the Old Testament say exactly what is here stated. Perhaps the accurate explanation is that given by Rawlinson: "This is a reference to the general aspect of the assurances given in the Pentateuch in regard to Israel's possession of the land of Canaan and to their victory over hostile neighbors." God's assurances to Jacob and to Israel, especially through Moses, speak of their possession of Canaan and victory over all opposition. The argument here, then, is simply this: `If these assurances from the Holy Scriptures are to be depended upon, Israel cannot now be in actual danger of being subjugated by Edom.'
"Shechem ... and Succoth" (Psalms 60:6). This evidently refers to God's promise of giving Canaan to Israel. "Shechem" is a principal city west of Jordan, and "the Valley of Succoth" is a prominent sector of Canaan east of the Jordan.
"Gilead ... Manasseh ... Ephraim" (Psalms 60:7). "Gilead" was identified with the land east of the Jordan river, and Ephraim was a powerful tribe dominating the land west of the Jordan. "Manasseh" held lands on both sides of Jordan; and it seems from these proper names in these verses that the psalmist was stressing God's promise to give Israel all of Canaan.
Moreover the mention of Judah as "God's sceptre" was for the purpose of recalling the ancient word that "Jacob have I loved; and Esau (Edom) have I hated." (Judah was a son of Jacob). Such thoughts would indeed have been encouraging to Israel following a military set-back in which Edom had won a battle.
"Moab ... Edom ... Philistia" (Psalms 60:8). No such promises of God thus to deal with these nations can be found in the Old Testament.; and, therefore, we conclude that these words are a paraphrase of what the psalmist believed to be God's love of Israel and his opposition to these three nations mentioned.
Certainly, Moab, Edom, and Philistia were relegated by God Himself to a status below that of Israel, even though none of the prophets used exactly the same terminology that here describes it. What the psalmist says here is that, "God has willed these nations to be in a subordinate role, servile to God's people: Moab for bathing their feet, Edom the lackey to whom the sandals are thrown, and Philistia to provide the theme of a victory song!"
One of the great lessons of this psalm is that the fact of recalling and repeating the sacred promises of God is a legitimate and effective device in prayer.
PLEADING WITH GOD TO HELP
"Who will bring me into the strong city?
Who hath led me unto Edom?
Hast not thou, O God, cast us off?.
And thou goest not forth, O God, with our hosts.
Give us help against the adversary;
For vain is the help of man."
"Who will bring me into the strong city" (Psalms 60:9)? The `strong city' here is Petra, the almost impregnable capital of Edom. No city of antiquity was ever any better fortified and protected than was Petra. The city occupied a canyon bounded by solid stone walls on both sides, into which residences, offices, and temples had been constructed by carving them out of the solid stone.
"Hast not thou, O God, cast us off?.
And thou goest not forth, O God, with our hosts."
(Psalms 60:10, ASV)
We do not like to find fault with the ASV, but in this verse, we are constrained to believe that the King James Version is superior."Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off?
and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?"
(Psalms 60:10, KJV).
The Douay Version of the Old Testament also corresponds with the KJV here; and to us this rendition is far more appropriate than the American Standard Version or the RSV, both of which, it appears to this writer, provide negative elements in the prayer. Psalms 60:10, as it stands either in RSV or American Standard Version is nothing but a complaint.
Through the use of the past tenses (as in KJV), the meaning then becomes, "God, we know that you will take us into the strong city, despite the fact that you allowed us to be defeated."
"Give us help against the adversary" (Psalms 60:11). The psalmist again appeals mightily to God for help against the enemy.
"For vain is the help of man" (Psalms 60:11). "Seldom has the help that man can provide in emergencies been more aptly expressed than it is in this verse - `For vain is the help of man.'"
CONFIDENCE IN GOD
"Through God we shall do valiantly;
For he it is that will tread down our enemies."
These glorying words of confidence do not belong immediately after a complaint that God had deserted their armies and had cast Israel off. To us this is more than sufficient reason for returning to the KJV for Psalms 60:10.
"No miracle is expected. Let God look upon us favorably; let his light shine into our hearts; and `With God, we shall do valiantly.'"
"He will tread down our enemies" (Psalms 60:12). Thus the psalm ends with a prophecy of total victory for Israel. This prophecy was indeed fulfilled, according to 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Chronicles 18:13.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 60". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany