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David asked God to manifest His awesome power. The words he used recall Moses’ prayer whenever the cloudy pillar moved ( 10:35f>). When God leads His people to fulfill His purposes, His enemies vanish as smoke and melt like hot wax. His people also rejoice greatly.
1. A prayer for God to scatter His enemies 68:1-6
The psalmist pictured Yahweh as a majestic warrior riding His chariot through the desert wilderness. The native Canaanites described Baal as riding a chariot through the sky. David may have intended his description of the Lord to be a polemic against Baal.
God’s special care for the weak and vulnerable is praiseworthy. He led Israel, a nation of prisoners, into the prosperity of the Promised Land. Those who failed to follow His lead ended up dying in the wilderness. This group included Israel’s enemies who opposed the nation during the wilderness march and the unbelieving Israelites who refused to follow Caleb and Joshua into the land.
The Canaanites also credited Baal with lightning, thunder, rain, and earthquakes. However, Yahweh sent these to confirm His presence among His people in their wilderness wanderings and to provide for them. In the Pentateuch, Moses did not record God sending rain in the desert. Nevertheless Deborah, as well as David, revealed that this was one way He met His people’s needs (cf. 5:4f>). The Lord’s inheritance ( 68:9f>) was His people (cf. 4:20f>).
This section of the psalm describes the extended conquest of the Promised Land that continued into the period of the judges. Many people testified to God’s great acts of deliverance during those years. God’s supernatural power was at work indisputably for Israel. God defeated many Canaanite kings, and He gave His people much spoil. 68:13f> may refer to those Israelites who, as peaceful doves, refused to go into war against the Canaanites but who still enjoyed the spoils God gave the whole nation (cf. 5:16f>). In 68:14f>, the snowing on Mt. Zalmon (Black Mountain) may be a figurative description of God’s blessings, or David may have been referring to Abimelech’s victory on Mt. Zalmon near Shechem ( 9:48f>). In that case, he may have viewed the corpses of the victims and their weapons lying like scattered snowflakes on the mountain. [Note: VanGemeren, p. 447.]
2. The record of God scattering His enemies 68:7-18
The NIV rendering of 68:15f> is preferable: "The mountains of Bashan are majestic mountains, rugged are the mountains of Bashan." As impressive as the mountains of Bashan were, namely, Mt. Hermon and its peaked neighbors, the mountain God had chosen for His special habitation was even more grand, namely, Mt. Zion. Topographically, Mt. Zion is not as impressive, but because God chose to dwell among His people there, it was most significant. David described God, accompanied by His angelic army, escorting Israel from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion.
The Canaanites believed Baal lived on Mt. Carmel. In describing Yahweh this way, David was using imagery common among his pagan ancient Near Eastern neighbors. He did so to portray Yahweh’s greatness.
The historical events that most closely correspond to God’s figurative ascension up Mt. Zion were David’s capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites ( 5:6-8f>) and his bringing the ark into that city (2 Samuel 6). When David defeated the Jebusites, he led a host of them captive and undoubtedly took much spoil from them. The writer viewed the spoil as a kind of gift they gave him. Even the rebellious Jebusites gave gifts to David. Of course, God was the real Commander-in-Chief who took the mountain for His people, led the captives captive, and received the gifts from them.
The Apostle Paul referred to 68:18f> in 4:8f>, but he quoted it very loosely and even changed receiving gifts to giving gifts. One explanation for this difference is that Paul may have been following a popular Jewish interpretation of his day, the Targum, which attributed these actions to Moses. According to the Targum, Moses ascended into the firmament, led captivity captive, and gave gifts to the sons of men. [Note: This is the preference of Ross, p. 843.] Another explanation is that Paul used this verse as a basis for what he said but went beyond it to make another point he wanted to stress. After all, he did not claim to quote this verse. He just cast his own words in the mold of this verse. [Note: This explanation is similar to the one suggested by Harold W. Hoehner, "Ephesians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 634.] Paul used this verse to illustrate Jesus’ ascension into the heavenly Mt. Zion after His resurrection. He too ascended on high, led His enemies captive, and received gifts from men. These gifts may be praise or more tangible gifts. They may have already come to Him, or His reception of them may be primarily future. Paul went on to say Jesus also gave gifts to men, something God definitely did and David may have done, but which this psalm does not say they did. This point was the one Paul stressed in his following explanation, but God’s and David’s gift-giving to men was not David’s emphasis here when he wrote this psalm.
David moved from a historical review of God’s giving Israel victory to confidence that He would continue to do so daily. Any who resist Yahweh can count on His powerful opposition and their own inevitable defeat. Additional references to victories over Og, the king of Bashan, the crossing of the Red Sea, numerous victories in battle, and the slaying of Jezebel ( 9:33-36f>) would have encouraged the Israelites further. The same God who gave them success in the past was ready to do so still.
The Israelites witnessed Yahweh’s glorious entrance into His sanctuary on Mt. Zion. David described the scene as what would have accompanied an earthly monarch and may have accompanied his own entrance into Jerusalem. The "fountain of Israel" ( 68:26f>, NASB) pictures the nation of Israel as a fountain of blessing. Benjamin was the smallest tribe in the south, but a leader nonetheless. Judah was the largest tribe in the south. Zebulun and Naphtali were northern tribes that David may have chosen because of their prominence in Deborah’s song ( 5:18f>). Together these four tribes represent all the Israelites, from the south and the north.
3. The effect of God’s scattering His enemies 68:19-31
David next called on God to manifest His strength afresh. He foresaw that foreign kings would fear Yahweh when they heard about all the powerful victories He had won for His people and when they saw His magnificent temple. This in fact occurred during Solomon’s reign, as attested by the Queen of Sheba’s testimony (1 King 10:1-13f>). The beasts, bulls, and calves to which David referred probably represent foreign rulers. He saw them bringing tribute. This also happened when Solomon reigned. David predicted that the Lord would defuse rebellions and cause potential enemies to make peace with Israel out of respect for her God.
David reviewed God’s dealings with Israel to memorialize God’s faithfulness to His people (cf. Judges 5). He traced Israel’s history from the wilderness wanderings to his own capture of Jerusalem. As a mighty commander, God had led His oppressed people into the glorious future He had promised them. In the process He overcame many strong foes.
"The theme of this magnificent Psalm is the march of God to victory. It traces the establishment of His kingdom in the past; it looks forward to the defeat of all opposition in the future until all the kingdoms of the world own the God of Israel as their Lord and pay Him homage." [Note: Kirkpatrick, p. 375.]
4. The proper response to God scattering His enemies 68:32-35
In conclusion, David called on the nations to praise Yahweh, the sovereign ruler over all. His display of power and majesty, so beautifully set forth in this psalm, is ample reason to do so.
In view of God’s dealings with Israel, every nation under heaven should learn who the true God is and submit to His sovereignty. His record of prospering those who trust in Him and destroying those who oppose Him should move any people to bow before Him.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 68". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter