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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician.” See Introduction to Psalms 57:0. “Upon Shushaneduth,” is probably a musical direction to the leader of the choir. In the superscription to Psalms 45, 69, , 80, we have Shoahannim, the plural of Shushan. See Introduction to Psalms 45:0. “Shushan-eduth” signifies “the lily of testimony,” and, possibly, contains the first words of some psalm to the melody of which this psalm was to be sung. “Michtam of David.” See Introduction to Psalms 56:0. “To teach.” Moll: “As for the expression ‘to teach,’ there is nothing to decide whether it designates the psalm as designed for the instruction of posterity, or whether it refers particularly to the design of bringing the unmanageable tribes to recognise the Divine choice of David by teaching them that his government was pleasing to God, or whether it states directly its purpose of being committed to memory by the people on account of its national significance, as Deuteronomy 31:19, or whether it is to be explained by 2 Samuel 1:18, and, accordingly, is to be regarded as a song of military exercise, which was to be sung in connection with shooting with the bow.” “When he strove with Aram-naharaim,” &c. “Aram-naharaim,” or Aram of the two rivers, is a name sometimes applied to Syria or Mesopotamia. “Aram-Zobah” is the name of a portion of Syria, which at this time formed a separate kingdom. Its exact position and limits cannot now he determined. “The valley of salt,” says Robinson, “can be nothing else than the district adjoining the Salt-Mountain, to the south of the Dead Sea, which, in reality, formed the boundary between the ancient territories of Judah and Edom.” The events referred to in the superscription are recorded in 2 Samuel 8:0, and 1 Chronicles 18:0. This victory is here said to have been achieved by Joab; but in 2 Samuel 8:13, it is attributed to David; and, in 2 Chronicles 18:12, Abishai is mentioned as the conqueror. The explanation of Michaelis is admirable: “David, as king, Joab, as commander-in-chief, and Abishai, as sent by his brother on this particular expedition, defeated the enemy.” There is a difference in the number mentioned as slain. Here, it is said to be twelve thousand; but in 2 Samuel 8:13, and 1 Chronicles 18:12, it is said to be eighteen thousand. The discrepancy may indicate that both numbers are mere estimates, or it may have arisen from a mistake of a copyist, or, as seems to us most probable, it is accounted for in this way, that here the reference is to one engagement, while the history refers to the entire campaign.
COMPLAINT, PRAYER, AND ENCOURAGEMENT
It is probable that the, lamentation and petitions of Psalms 60:1-3 are a record of past experiences, not the utterance of present feelings, because the psalm refers to a time when a considerable measure of prosperity had been granted to Israel. The Poet speaks in the psalm not as an individual, but as the mouthpiece of the whole people. In this first strophe we have three homiletic points—
I. Complaint. (Psalms 60:1-3).
1. Great calamities are here complained of. “Thou hast broken us; Thou hast made the earth to tremble; Thou hast broken it; It shaketh; Thou hast showed Thy people hard things; Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.” The reference is to the severe injuries and “losses which Israel had formerly sustained in the war against the Syrians, and especially through the irruption of the Edomites.” The figures employed by the Psalmist—the trembling and rent land, the people broken, and prostrate as though drunk with strong wine—indicate the greatness of the calamities, and the deep sense of them realised by the people. The Church of God upon earth is sometimes visited with sore trials, and is called to pass through fiery persecutions, which cause bitter lamentation, &c.
2. These calamities are regarded as signs of the Divine displeasure. “O God, Thou hast cast us off, Thou hast been displeased.” It seemed to them in their distresses that God treated them as though they were loathsome and offensive to Him, and as though He were angry with them. Their miseries and calamities are viewed as coming from Him. When His people grievously sin against Him, God withdraws from them the shield of His protection, and allows their enemies to triumph over them.
3. The Divine displeasure is always the result of human sin. Perowne: “When men will drink presumptuously of the cup of their wickedness, God forces it, as it were, into their hands, till they have drained the very dregs as the cup of His wrath.” He never casts off man until man has first cast off Him. Never forsakes a church until that church has first forsaken Him.
II. Prayer. The Psalmist prays—
1. For the restoration of the Divine favour. “O turn Thyself to us again;” i.e., be gracious to us again, restore to us the signs of Thy favour and friendship. When the favour of God is restored to His people, their prosperity and triumph will not be long delayed. “In Thy favour our horn shall be exalted.”
2. For the repair of their calamities. “Heal the breaches thereof.” Repair the disasters which have befallen Thy people. Grant unto them their former prosperity and power. Such is the meaning of the petition. Moll: “Wars are for nations what earthquakes are for their lands; God sometimes visits men with both, and then likewise strikes the congregation with hard blows and shakes them; but He heals again the breaches and rents which arise thereby.” The Church, in times of distress, should always seek God in prayer. Prayer imparts patience under trial, power to grapple with difficulty, deliverance from distress and calamity.
III. Encouragement. “Thou hast given a banner,” &c. From an examination of the context, we conclude that the “banner” is the promise of salvation which God has given to Israel, and “the truth” is the faithfulness and trustworthiness of the promise. The following are the chief points in this verse as related to the main scope of the Psalm.
1. God has given to His people most glorious promises. What rich and splendid promises He gave to ancient Israel! Victory over their enemies, salvation from calamities, undisturbed possession of Canaan, &c. What “exceeding great and precious promises” He has given to His spiritual Israel!
2. These promises are thoroughly reliable. “Displayed because of the truth.” “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”
3. Being so glorious and so reliable, these promises should be conspicuously exhibited, that men may trust in them. The banner must “be displayed.” These promises of salvation are compared “to a highly exalted banner, which serves as a signal to one lying prostrate in his misery, to rise up.” To the people of God in depression and distress, let us exhibit the promises which He has given to them.
4. The precious and faithful promises of God should inspire His people with hope and courage in the time of trial. This we take to be the chief idea in this verse. The promises encouraged Israel in their distresses and calamities. And in the present, to the people of God in time of trial, they should impart hope, and, in their prayers for relief, they should strengthen their faith.
1. Let the people of God beware of sin, for it is the parent of darkness, distress, &c.
2. Let the distressed seek Him in penitence and prayer, &c.
3. Let them be encouraged in doing so by the exceeding great and precious promises which He has given to them.
THE GLORIOUS CONFLICT
We have given above what we regard as the meaning of this verse in its relation to the context. We purpose regarding it at present, as setting forth certain features of the great conflict with evil in which the people of God are engaged. Notice—
I. The object of the conflict. Many wars have been waged for mean, selfish, ambitious, wicked objects. But here is a banner given for a most worthy object, “that it might be displayed because of the truth.” The people of God fight for the banishment of ignorance and the promotion of knowledge; for the overthrow of error and the enthronement of truth; for the destruction of evil and the diffusion of goodness; for the utter defeat of the father of lies, and the complete, universal, and perpetual triumph of the King of truth. Here is a holy war—a war against all injustice, falsehood, error, oppression, evil; and in favour of righteousness, truth, kindness, holiness.
II. The character of the soldiers. “Them that fear Thee.” They reverence God; they obey Him, &c. Notice—
1. The expulsive power of this fear. It expels all other fear. He who fears God much will fear neither men nor devils at all.
2. The impulsive power of this fear. It inspires enthusiasm in the holy cause—imparts courage in the conflict, &c. Cromwell’s Ironsides were men who feared God, and acted as ever in His presence. Their time before going to battle was spent in prayer, and they went into the fight singing psalms. Their wathchword was, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” They were never defeated. The men to do the work and fight the battles of the Lord must be godly men—men who fear Him.
III. The authority of the Commander. “Thou hast given a banner.” God has given to His people the standard as of an army, that they might go forth and fight His battles. He has commissioned His people for this war, and He commands them in it. In this we have a guarantee of—
1. The rectitude of the conflict. He would not send us forth in an unrighteous cause, or with unrighteous weapons, or in an unworthy manner. The object, the weapons, and the methods of this war are all righteous and honourable.
2. Support in the conflict. To every soldier fighting beneath His banner, He says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” He supports the workman in the vineyard, and the warrior on the battle-plain.
3. Victory in the conflict. The battle may be long and arduous, but the issue is certain victory to those who fight in the cause of God. He who has given us our banner will also give us the palm of the victor.
1. Under whose banner are you fighting? “Who is on the Lord’s side?”
2. Who will enlist under the banner of the Cross? Christ, our Leader, will receive loyal recruits.
3. Courage, ye soldiers of Christ, for you shall gain the victory. Teacher, preacher, &c., go on; for you shall surely win the well-fought day.
In these verses David rejoices in the victories already achieved by Israel, and in the possession of the promised land so far as they had attained it, and relying on the promises of God, he looks forward to complete victory and possession of the entire land. The promises made to ancient Israel illustrate the promises given to the Christian believer. Canaan is a type of the spiritual inheritance of the Christian. In this way we see here an illustration of human perfection.
I. The nature of human perfection. Here are three aspects of it.
1. Salvation from troubles. “That Thy beloved may be delivered, save with Thy right hand, and hear me.… Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man.” The troubles of human life upon earth are many and sometimes severe. But God saves His people from them. He does so sometimes—
(1) By removing the cause of the trouble. Or
(2) By giving grace to bear the trouble (2 Corinthians 12:9). Or
(3) By revealing the meaning and uses of trouble (2 Corinthians 4:10-18).
(4) By sanctifying trouble to promote the well-being of the troubled (Romans 8:28). By the grace of God, the Christian rises superior to trouble, makes it minister to his spiritual advancement, and shall soon pass away from it for ever.
2. Victory over enemies. Israel had to contend with Philistia, Moab, and Edom; but, in His holiness, God had promised them complete victory over every enemy. The Christian has to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil—against evil in himself, and in society; but he has the promise of more than victory (Romans 8:37; Romans 16:20; Ephesians 6:10-13).
3. Possession of promised privileges. God had promised to Israel the complete and peaceful possession of Canaan. The Psalmist looked forward to the realisation of that promise. Glorious are the blessings promised to the Christian—pardon, peace, holiness, fellowship with God, heaven. Here are some of the promised privileges (Ezekiel 36:25-27; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 1:3; 1 John 3:2. Surely in these promises we have the perfection of being. To have God’s Spirit within us, and to walk in His statutes; to be changed into the image of the glory of the Lord; to be partakers of the Divine nature; to have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ; to be the sons of God, and to look forward to the vision of God and likeness to Him—this is human perfection.
II. The attainment of human perfection. This is here set before us as—
1. Promised by God. “God hath spoken in His holiness.” Moll: “It is most appropriate to understand this promise, which refers to the duration of the possession of the promised land, and the supremacy over neighbouring nations, not of a special oracle given through the Urim and Thummim of the high-priest, or the answer just sought, nor to limit it to the promise given to David (2 Samuel 7:9 sq.), and, as a figurative reproduction of the same, but to regard it as a free summary of the ancient prophecies, especially those contained in the Pentateuch.” God has premised clearly and repeatedly to the believer the perfection of being and blessedness. He “hath spoken in His holiness.” He has promised as a holy God, One who is infinitely superior to deceit and change, One who is true, and who ever fulfils His word. The Christian’s hope of perfection rests upon that promise.
2. Promoted by prayer. The Psalmist prays for the fulfilment of the promise. In so doing—
(1), he appeals to the Divine strength. “Save with Thy right hand.” With the right hand man wields the sword, hurls the spear, effects his tasks, &c. God has power to achieve His purposes and fulfil His promises. He is “mighty to save.” “He “is able to do exceeding abundantly,” &c.
(2). The Psalmist pleads the Divine relationship. “Thy beloved.” God’s people are dear to Him as the apple of His eye. He has loved them with an everlasting love. This love is one of the most effective pleas which they can urge in their prayers to Him.
(3). The Psalmist pleads the vanity of human help. “Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man.” Man is unreliable because of the limitation of his power, and because of his mutability. In God is our hope. To Him we direct our prayer. Prayer is a condition of blessing.
3. Guaranteed by past triumphs and present possessions. “I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem,” &c. (Psalms 60:6-10). Shechem on the west of Jordan, and Succoth on the east; Gilead (including the territory occupied by the tribes of Gad and Reuben) and Manasseh on the east, and Ephraim and Judah on the west, are mentioned as representing the whole land of Canaan. The powerful tribe of Ephraim is spoken of as the strength of the head, i.e., the great protector of the most vital interests of the nation in time of war. Judah is named as the lawgiver, probably in reference to the ancient prediction, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,” &c. (Genesis 49:10). Ephraim was the helmet, and Judah the sceptre of the chosen people. All the land of Canaan east and west of the Jordan, which the Poet thus brings into view, was subdued. Moab also was conquered. “Moab is my washpot,” is a phrase denoting that the Moabites were completely reduced to servitude to Israel (2 Samuel 8:2). But the victory of Israel was not complete. Edom remained unsubdued. But its subjugation is anticipated. “Upon Edom will I cast my shoe.” Moab, in the preceding clause, is described as a mean vessel, in which the feet are washed, and now Edom is spoken of as a servant of the lowest grade, to whom the sandals are thrown, to be removed and cleaned. Or the figure of casting the shoe may signify the placing of the foot upon Edom in token of its complete subjection. There is no doubt that the idea is, that Edom should be completely vanquished by and subjected to Israel. Philistia is also described as conquered. During the period of the Judges the Philistines had severely oppressed Israel; but David completely conquered them (2 Samuel 8:1). “The strong city” was the rock-built and fortified city of Petra, the capital of Idumea or Edom, From the victories already achieved, David was encouraged to believe that God would lead him into Petra, and to complete victory over the Idumeans. So in our spiritual history, our past triumphs and present attainments contribute to our assurance of the full realisation of the privileges which God has promised. They do so in two ways.
(1). Our past achievements tend both to encourage and to qualify us for further achievements in the future.
(2). God’s goodness and faithfulness in the past are an assurance of His blessing in the future. Thus every temptation conquered is a prophecy of the full and final victory. Every privilege enjoyed is a pledge of the complete possession of the “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled,” &c.
4. Demanding strenuous effort. “Through God we shall do valiantly.” We must “do valiantly” if we would attain perfection. If we would gain the victory we must fight manfully in the battle. If we would wear the crown we must patiently bear the cross. If we would win the prize we must run the race that is set before us diligently even to the end (Luke 12:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:1-2).
5. Ascribed to God. “Through God we shall do valiantly; for He shall tread down our enemies.” He gives us courage in battle, patience in trial, strength in labour. Our salvation was begun by Him, and He alone can perfect it. To Him be all the praise. “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory,” &c.
God in Christ is the beginning and the end, the commencement and the crown, of human perfection. “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 60". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24