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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician.” See Introduction to Psalms 57:0. “A Psalm or Song of David.” See Introduction to Psalms 48:0.
The Superscription does not mention the occasion on which the psalm was composed. On this point various opinions have been held and advocated. Most of the older expositors, and Steir and Barnes amongst the moderns, are of opinion that it was composed for the removal of the Ark from the house of Obed-edom to Mount Zion (2 Samuel 6:0). The view of others is that it was composed to celebrate the victorious termination of some war, when the Ark was brought back to Zion. Throughout the psalm God is praised as the Lord of battle and of victory. Can we ascertain what victory is here celebrated! For our guidance in this inquiry we have two data. “First, the psalm must have been composed at a time when the sanctuary of the Lord was on Mount Zion (Psalms 68:15-16; Psalms 68:29; Psalms 68:35). The choice is thus very much narrowed. There remain only two great victories, the Syrian-Edomite, and the Ammonitic-Syrian. Second, in the war referred to in this psalm, the Ark of the Covenant must have been in the field, according to Psalms 68:1; Psalms 68:24. It is evident from 2 Samuel 11:11, that this was the case in the Ammonitic war. We may therefore with great probability conclude, that the psalm was composed after the capture of Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26-31), which terminated that war, the most dangerous with which David had to do. It was quite in accordance with David’s usual manner to celebrate a great religious festival at the close of such a war.”—(Hengstenberg). Alexander, Moll, Tholuck, et al., also take this view. The weight of evidence seems to us certainly in favour of it.
“The fundamental thought is clear,” says Moll, “namely: The celebration of an entrance of God into His sanctuary on Zion after a victory, and His rule over the world extending itself from thence.” The development of this thought we shall endeavour to indicate as we proceed with our homiletical treatment of the psalm.
THE VICTORIOUS MARCH OF THE GOOD
The Psalm opens with a reference to the watchword which was used at the setting forward of the Ark of the Covenant in the journeyings of the Israelites (Numbers 10:35). God is entreated to arise for the overthrow of His enemies and the salvation of His people. The people are exhorted to praise God as the glorious Leader of a victorious march through the desert—One who protects and provides for, who saves and enriches His people. There follows, in Psalms 68:7-10, an illustration of the gracious and glorious guidance of God, as seen in the history of Israel in the wilderness. We regard this section of the psalm as an illustration of The victorious march of the good.
I. The march of the good is opposed by enemies. The enemies whom God is invoked to arise against are the enemies of Israel. The people of God in all ages have been a militant people. To day their enemies are numerous and subtle and strong. They have to contend against unbelief and superstition, against carnality and worldliness, against temptations from without, and evil tendencies from within. Conflict is an essential condition of spiritual life and growth in our present state of being. Our advancement in the Christian course is disputed and opposed at every step by our foes. Concerning these enemies the Psalmist makes two things to stand prominently forth—
1. They are depraved in character. He speaks of them as “the wicked.” How terrible is the wickedness of any one who would deliberately tempt another to evil, or seek to corrupt a pure mind, or oppose the progress of a godly soul!
2. They are hostile to the Most High. They are “His enemies,” they “hate Him.” Think of the appalling iniquity and guilt of having that Being who is supremely righteous and kind and beautiful! What a terrible perversion of character such hatred indicates! They who oppose the people of God are accounted by Him as His enemies.
II. The march of the good is marked by trials. The character of this journey is indicated in general here as a march through a desert. Thus in Psalms 68:4, instead of “Extol Him that rideth upon the heavens,” we should have, “Make a way for Him who rideth forward in the deserts,” or, “Cast up a way for Him that rides through the deserts.” And in Psalms 68:7, “O God, when Thou didst march through the wilderness,” or, “through the desert.” There is much in the circumstances and experiences of the good in this world which is truly illustrated by a pilgrimage in the desert. But this general idea is expanded by the Psalmist in Psalms 68:5-6. We have here—
1. The helpless and sorrowful. “The fatherless … the widows.” These expressions must not be restricted to their literal meaning. They are used to set forth those who have lost their protector and helper, and whose hearts are sorrowful and sore.
2. The forsaken and lonely. “The solitary” is intended to represent those who are forsaken, and are destitute of human friendship and help.
3. The enslaved. “Those which are bound with chains,” represents not simply those who are literally imprisoned or enslaved, but those who are bound by evil habits or associations, the slaves of superstition and sin, the thralls of fear, who cannot rise to the joy of holy assurance in God.
These classes represent some of the pilgrims in the march of the good in our own day. Even amongst true and godly souls there are weary feet and sad and sorrowful hearts. “Faint, yet pursuing” is a true description of the condition of thousands of travellers on the heavenly road. From our pilgrim state trial is inseparable. We are in the desert with its consuming heat, and sandy wastes, and vast trackless expanses, and prowling enemies.
III. The march of the good is led on victoriously. Mark the glorious Leader. “Let God arise.… Him who rideth forward through the deserts.… Thou didst march through the wilderness.” There is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant, which victoriously preceded the hosts of Israel. The Ark, with the pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night resting upon it, was the sign of the Divine presence. It was also a type of Christ. He is the great and glorious Leader of His people; and He leads them on from victory to victory. Under His guidance they are—
1. Victorious over enemies. “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered,” &c. Their victory is
(1) Irresistible. Their foes are driven before them as smoke before the wind. As wax has no power to resist heat, but melts away under its influence, so the enemies of the hosts of God are unable to stand before Him. When He leads His people to battle their enemies flee powerless and panic-stricken. “Let God arise, as the sun when he goes forth in his strength; and the children of darkness shall be scattered, as the shadows of the evening flee before the rising sun.”
(2) Complete. “As smoke is driven away,” &c. Who can recover the smoke-cloud which the wind has scattered far and wide? “Let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” The omnipotence of God guarantees the destruction of His enemies, and the triumph of His people. The good have to contend with foes, but “in all things they are more than conquerors through Him that loved” and leads them.
2. Victorious over difficulties and trials. Are they marching through a desert? Then God makes the desert as a fruitful field with His own gifts from heaven. “Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain.” Alexander: “A rain of free gifts.” Hengstenberg: “A rain of gifts.” There is a reference “to the provision made by God for His people, in temporal matters, during their marchings through the wilderness—the manna, the quails, the water out of the rock,” &c. In this we have an illustration of the all-sufficiency and freeness and abundance of the provision which God has made for His people. In things temporal He will withhold no good from them. In things spiritual He has provided for them “a feast of fat things.” The provisions of Christianity are abundant, free, rich, satisfying, and pleasant. Are they helpless and sorrowful? Then God, their Leader, is their mighty Helper and their gracious Comforter. “A Father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation.” God has ever manifested great regard for the widow and fatherless (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 146:7-9; Hosea 14:3). He interposes for those who have no helper; He comforts the mourner. It is His greatest glory that He is merciful to the penitent transgressor, and compassionate to the miserable. Are they faint and weary? Then God refreshes them. “Thou didst confirm Thine inheritance when it was weary.” Hengstenberg: “Thine heritage, the weary one, Thou didst strengthen it.” Conant: “When fainting, Thou Thyself hast raised it up.” When the Israelites were worn out with fatigue by reason of their journeyings in the wilderness, He refreshed and strengthened them. He sustains and cheers His people in the most exhausting and trying circumstances of their pilgrimage. “He giveth power to the faint,” &c. (Isaiah 40:29-31). Are they enslaved? He gives to them joyous liberty. “He bringeth out those which are bound with chains.” He delivers from the slavery of evil habits, from the tyranny of sin and Satan, from the bondage of fear, &c. Under this glorious Leader difficulties are vanquished and made to contribute to the success of the pilgrim host, trials are bravely borne, and ultimately transformed into blessings, and foes are utterly vanquished. Triumphantly the great Captain of the good leads forward His hosts.
IV. The march of the good is led on to a glorious termination. The journey of the Israelites ended at Canaan. There “God made the solitary to dwell at home.” In giving them possession of that land; and in protecting them therein against their enemies, He manifested His kindness to them. “Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: Thou, O God, hast prepared of Thy goodness for the poor.” “Therein” refers to the land of promise. Though that land has not been expressly mentioned in the preceding verses, yet it was prominently in the mind of the Psalmist. The possession of it was the grand end of the journey through the wilderness. There they found rest, refreshment, provisions in abundance, &c. How glorious is the end of the pilgrimage of the good! Rest from wanderings, from fears, from conflicts. The possession of purity, peace, joy, &c. Under the guidance of our Lord our march will end at home—our Father’s home.
1. This lead should be earnestly sought. “Let God arise,” &c. Without it we shall “dwell in a dry land.” Without it life will be vain, fruitless, and will end in failure. But under His guidance life will grow in purity, power, and usefulness, and will end in triumph and glory.
“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,” &c.
2. This lead should be heartily rejoiced in. “Let the righteous be glad,” &c. This rejoicing should be fervent. “Let them exceedingly rejoice,” or, “exult for gladness.” Great blessings should enkindle great joys. It should be religious. “Let them rejoice before God.” Grateful and reverent should be our gladness that we have such a Leader. It should be uttered. “Sing unto God,” &c. Sing, and so relieve the full heart; sing, and so excite others to do so also.
THE BARREN LOT OF THE WICKED
The rebellious dwell in a dry land.”
Religion has been misrepresented as a cheerless, gloomy, harsh thing. Our text reverses this. It teaches that irreligion is unsatisfying, that a life of sin is a life of want and disappointment. The children of Israel were being led through the desert unto a land of corn and wine, of milk and honey, &c. But the rebellious are said to dwell in the desert. The former pass through it to a glorious inheritance; the latter dwell in it—their lot is barren, dreary, disappointing, &c. A life of rebellion against God is without satisfaction; it is cheerless, disappointed, wretched. We see this:
I. In relation to the ordinary events of this life. Health and sickness, gain and loss, triumph and defeat, pleasure and sorrow, are found more or less in the life of every man. What is the meaning of these things? What are their uses? &c. The man who trusts in God is in a condition for ascertaining these things, and for making the best use of life’s varying experiences. But the opposite is true of “the rebellious.” The good man sees in his successes, and in his health, &c. the blessing of a gracious God. He is grateful for that blessing; and is thus twice blessed. He is blessed in his circumstances and in his soul, in his hand and in his heart. But “the rebellious” discover no trace of the goodness of God in the successes and pleasures of life. To them no spiritual blessing accrues from these things. The highest ministry of these things they entirely, lose. The good man derives profit from the dark and trying experiences of life. He believes that trial may be a blessing in disguise, that temporal loss may result in spiritual enrichment, &c. So, by the blessing of God, his greatest losses and crosses lead to his greatest gains and joys. But it is far otherwise with “the rebellious.” To them trials and sorrows and losses are unmixed evils. They rebel against trials, and trials become more severe. Temporal losses lead to bitterness of spirit. They kick against the goads, and so injure themselves. So far as their spiritual relation to the circum: stances of this life is concerned, “the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”
II. In relation to the great needs of the soul. Whether man recognises and acknowledges it or not, it is true that every man has great spiritual needs. We need pardon, help in life’s toils and trials, hope as to life’s future, &c. Our being craves rest. And to obtain rest we need truth for the intellect, righteousness for the conscience, love for the heart. The godly man finds rest in the truth, righteousness, and love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The only way to rest for man is through Christ (Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:6; Romans 5:1). But how do “the rebellious” fare in this respect? Let the Scriptures answer (Isaiah 57:20-21; Jeremiah 2:13; Luke 15:14-17). Let human experience answer. When Alexander the Great had subdued all the nations of the earth, so far was he from being satisfied with the conquest of a world, that he wept because he had not another world to conquer. The world did not satisfy his soul’s cravings: nor has it satisfied the needs of any soul. All who have chosen the world for their portion, and have had it, have experienced the most bitter disappointment. They have “dwelt in a dry land.”
III. In relation to the great future. “If a man die, shall he live again?” “Man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” Is he anywhere? The multitudes who once were upon this earth, are they in being now? Whither and to what are we hastening? The believer in Christ has a great and well-grounded hope as to the future. “Our Saviour Jesus Christ hath abolished death,” &c. “I am the resurrection and the life,” &c. To the Christian the future is radiant, beautiful, inviting. But what is it to “the rebellious”? Ah! what? It is shrouded in sable gloom, as of a moonless, starless midnight. The darkness is unbroken, or broken only by dread flashes of lurid light. For “the rebellious” there is “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation,” &c.
Let “the rebellious” sue for pardon. Let them loyally bow to the authority of God, &c. “Ye worldlings, who wander joylessly through a godless world, with weary feet and withered hearts, seeking rest and finding none, come to Jesus, and He will give you rest.”
THE TRIUMPH OF THE CHURCH
To Interpret Psalms 68:13-14 is confessedly a very difficult task. On Psalms 68:13, Barnes says, “I confess that none of these explanations of the passage seem to me to be satisfactory, and that I cannot understand it.” And Moll, at the end of a long note on Psalms 68:14, says, “Since, however, there is no historical statement here, but rather a prophetical declaration, we are rather led to a figurative mode of expression, whose sense, however, is as obscure as its foundation and occasion are unknown.” And in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, art. Salmon, we read, “It is usually supposed that this hill is mentioned in a verse of perhaps the most difficult of all the Psalms; and this is probable though the passage is peculiarly difficult, and the precise allusion intended by the poet seems hopelessly lost.… Unless the passage is given up as corrupt, it seems more in accordance with reason to admit that there was some allusion present to the poet’s mind, the key to which is now lost; and this ought not to surprise any scholar who reflects how many allusions there are in Greek poets—in Pindar, for example, and in Aristophanes—which would be wholly unintelligible to us now were it not for the notes of Greek scholiasts. To these notes there is nothing exactly analogous in Hebrew literature; and in the absence of some such assistance, it is unavoidable that there should be several passages, in the Old Testament respecting the meaning of which we must be content to remain ignorant”
We are quite unable to grapple successfully with this difficulty. For the various renderings and interpretations of Psalms 68:13-14, let the reader see the Commentaries of Barnes and Moll. We suggest that this strophe may be used to illustrate the triumph of the Church over her enemies.
I. In its source. “The Lord gave the word.” The word is not simply the announcement of the victory, but the word of authority and power.
1. He gives the word of command. The war against evil is Divinely authorised. God Himself bids us do battle with ignorance and vice, with unbelief and superstition, with sin and suffering. The crusade against evil is a holy one.
2. He gives the word of promise. He has granted unto us the assurance of His constant presence and help in the warfare, and of ultimate victory. His word removes all doubt as to the issue of the conflict (See Psalms 2:8; Psalms 72:0; Isaiah 11:9; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 8:10-11.) The triumph of the Church is Divinely guaranteed.
3. He gives the word of power. “The Almighty scattered kings.” He inspires the heart of His soldiers with courage, and nerves their arm with power (Psalms 144:1-2). The Church will conquer evil through the might of her Saviour and Lord. “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”
II. In its completeness. Graphically the poet represents this. He shows it—
1. In the utter rout of the foes. “Kings of armies did flee apace;” or, “The kings of the hosts fled, they fled.” There have been times in the history of the Christian Church when the powers of evil have fled in dismay before her faith and effort. These past victories are foreshadowings of grander triumphs yet to come. Darkness and evil are destined to flee before the light and love of God in His Church.
2. In the greatness of the spoil. “She that tarried at home divided the spoil.” M. Henry: “Not only the men, the soldiers that abode by the stuff, who were, by a statute of distributions, to share the prey (1 Samuel 30:24), but even the women that tarried at home had a share, which intimates the abundance of spoil that should be taken.” Hengstenberg: “The victory and the spoil, which the Lord imparted to His people, in the season of their childhood, was a type of a far more glorious victory and a more precious spoil. Arnd.: ‘Is it not a valuable spoil that so many thousands of men have been converted from heathenism, among whom have been so many glorious teachers and lights of the Church, such as Justin, Augustine, Ambrose, not to speak of the innumerable martyrs, who were all brought out of heathenism, and were put to death because of their attachment to the Christian faith.’ ” All the wealth of the world—its silver and gold, its power and beauty, its genius and eloquence—shall one day be laid at the feet of the Lord in joyful homage.
3. In the subsequent prosperity. “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet ye shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon.” Hengstenberg: “When ye rest between the boundaries, ye are like the wings of doves covered with silver, and their feathers with the gleam of gold. When the Almighty scatters kings in it, it snows on Salmon.” He says, “The שָׁכַב implies peaceful rest, as at Numbers 24:9.… The שְׁפַתָּיִם signifies either sheepfolds or boundaries.… At all events the term denotes a state of peaceful rest. In this condition the Israelites, to whom the address is directed, are, taken figuratively, wings of the doves, &c., or they are like doves, whose wings glitter with silver and gold. The allusion is to the play of colours on the wings of the dove in sunshine. The real import is the peaceful and, at the same time, splendid condition enjoyed by Israel in the lap of peace.… The ‘snow’ is mentioned here because it has the colour of purest light (comp. Psalms 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; Mark 9:3; Matthew 17:2; Matthew 28:3; Revelation 1:14). Salmon is ‘a hill mentioned in Judges 9:48, which was covered over with great thick wood (even according to that passage), so that it might be called a dark forest, the black or dark mountain.’—Luther. There is no need for supplying any mark of comparison before Salmon: it is rather to be considered as used in a figurative sense for the land, just as snow is a figurative expression for the clear brightness of prosperity.” According to this exposition these obscure verses give us two ideas:
(1) Rest. The triumph of the Church will be so complete that it will be followed by perfect and endless rest.
(2) Prosperity. The age of warfare ended, the Church will enter upon the everlasting age of progress and beauty and glory.
III. In its celebration. “Great was the company of those that published it.” Conant: “The women that publish the glad tidings are a mighty host. Hengstenberg: “Of the female messengers of victory there are a great host.” Amongst the Israelites when the army was ordered to war the women cheered the soldiers onward with their songs. And, when they returned victorious, with songs and dances they celebrated the victory. (See Exodus 15:20-21; 1 Samuel 18:6-7; et al.) And the triumph of the Church of Christ shall not fail of celebration. Those who have fought and suffered, those who have watched and prayed, a countless host of faithful souls, shall join in the exultant songs and festivities of the final triumph. Glimpses of this celebration we have in the Holy Word. But the celebration itself, in its extent and enthusiasm, in its rapture and splendour, shall far surpass our utmost expectation and imagination. And to Jesus—Leader, Saviour, and Sovereign—shall be ascribed “glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH
We regard these verses as illustrating the glory of the Church of God.
I. It consists in its being the dwelling-place of God. Zion is here spoken of as “the hill which God desireth to dwell in.” The Most High dwells in the Church as He does not in the world (Matthew 18:20; John 14:22-23). In the Church He reveals His will, puts forth His saving power, manifests the glory of His grace, &c. (see notes on Psalms 48:1-3).
1. He dwells there of His own sovereign choice. He “has chosen to dwell” in Zion. “The Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” Moll: “Sinai and Zion are mountains of God, as Israel is the people of God, not on account of natural advantages, but the Divine election of grace.” God dwells in His Church because of His own gracious and sovereign choice.
2. He dwells there permanently. “Yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever.” The ark and the temple have long since passed from Zion; but in the Christian Church, the spiritual Zion, God still dwells, and will do so for ever. In this promise we have a guarantee of the permanence of the Church. “It is impossible,” says Renschel, “that the Christian Church should perish; for God is not only a guest in it, but He dwells therein for ever as the host.” Not in wealthy endowments, or worldly power, or imposing edifices, or gorgeous ritual, or eloquent ministers, does the glory of the Church consist; but in the gracious presence of God in her midst.
II. It transcends the utmost glory of the world. “The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan, an high hill as the hill of Bashan. Why leap ye, ye high hills? this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever.” Bashan “extended from the ‘border of Gilead’ on the south to Mount Hermon on the north (Deuteronomy 3:3; Deuteronomy 3:10; Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5; 1 Chronicles 5:23), and from the Arabah or Jordan valley on the west to Salchah (Sulkhad) and the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites on the east (Joshua 12:3-5; Deuteronomy 3:10). This important district was bestowed on the half tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 13:29-31) together with ‘half Gilead.’ ” It was famous for the oaks of its forests (Ezekiel 27:6), the wild cattle of its pastures (Psalms 22:12), and the fertility and beauty of its high downs and wide sweeping plains (Jeremiah 1:19; Amos 4:1; Micah 7:14). “The hill of Bashan is the high snow-summit of Anti-Lebanon or Hermon, the extreme limit of Bashan, yet really belonging to it.” The mountain of Hermon rises to a height of fully 10,000 feet. For conspicuousness and elevation Mount Zion cannot be compared with it. Hermon, the mountain of Bashan, is used here as an emblem of the powerful kingdoms of this world. The hills of Bashan were inhabited for the most part by heathen peoples who were hostile to Israel, as is implied in the inquiry, “Why leap ye, ye high hills?” Conant: “Why watch ye jealously, ye mountain peaks?” Moll: “Why do ye look with envy, ye many-peaked mountains?” “The reference is to lurking, and so crafty and hostile, or envious and jealous looking over at them.” The mighty powers of the neighbouring heathen world looked with contempt and lurking hostility upon Israel. And the poet challenges them for the reason of this, and boldly claims for Zion superior dignity and glory than anything of which they could boast, inasmuch as it was selected as the dwelling-place of God. The greatest temporal advantages are poor when compared with spiritual privileges such as those which Israel enjoyed on Zion. Because it is the dwelling-place of the Most High the humble hill of Zion is exalted far above all the mighty and majestic mountains of earth. “It is much more honourable to be holy to God than to be high and great in the world.” By reason of its spiritual privileges the Church of God outshines the most glorious kingdoms of the world.
III. It is seen in its security. “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, thousands of angels: the Lord is among them.” In the Hebrew there is no mention of angels. Hengstenberg translates: “The chariots of God are two myriads, many thousands, the Lord is among them.” And Conant: “The chariots of God are myriadfold, thousands upon thousands.” Notice—
1. The poetic representation of the security of the Church. War chariots were much used for attack and defence by the most powerful nations. “The main strength of the hostile armies, particularly the Syrian, in the war which had just been brought to a termination (comp. 2 Samuel 8:4; 2 Samuel 10:18), lay in war chariots.” So Mount Zion is represented as surrounded by a countless host of these chariots. So Elisha, when the king of Syria had “sent horses and chariots and a great host” for to take him, was protected; for “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about” him. What are the powers of worldly kingdoms to the powers which do the Divine bidding? “Thousand thousands minister unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand before Him.” The agents which He employs to guard His Church are countless in number and invincible in power.
2. The secret of the security of the Church. “The Lord is among them.” His presence in their midst makes the defending host fearless and triumphant. The security of the Church is not in its members, or wealth, or organisation, or hosts of angelic defenders; but in the Lord Himself. “Yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever.… The Lord is among them,” is a guarantee of the complete safety of His Church against all the hostile designs and doings of evil powers. “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.”
IV. It is seen in its sanctity. “As in Sinai, in the holy place.” Or, leaving out the words supplied by the translators: “Sinai, in the holy.” Hengstenberg: “Sinai is in the sanctuary.” Moll: “ ‘A Sinai in sanctity.’ Zion affords a sight as Sinai afforded it when God in His appearance surrounded it with holiness.” On Zion as on Sinai God reveals the majesty of His glory; and His presence consecrates and hallows it. The glory of the Church is manifested when she realises the presence of the Lord in her midst, and reflects His glory in the character and conduct of her members. When Christians shine in the beauty of holiness, the glory of the Church will be seen by all.
V. It has been strikingly illustrated. “Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive, Thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” Barnes: “The idea is, that God had descended or come down from His dwelling-place in the case referred to in the psalm, and that having secured a victory by vanquishing His foes, and having given deliverance to His people, He had now returned, or reascended to his seat.” We have in the verse—
1. A great victory. This is clearly implied in the words, “Thou hast led captivity captive.” Primarily, this means that God had achieved a complete victory in the war, and had captured the captives of the enemies, and led them away in triumph. As applied to the Redeemer, it signifies that He triumphed over His enemies, and rescued those whom they had made captive, and bound them to Himself as trophies of His conquest. The Lord Jesus has vanquished the hosts of hell, rescued myriads from the bondage of sin and Satan, and bound them to Himself by the chains of loving loyalty.
2. Precious spoils. “Thou hast received gifts for men,” &c. Expositors differ in the interpretation of this clause, and that chiefly with reference to בָּאָדָם, which the A. V. renders: “for men.” Margin: “in the man.” Moll: “of men.” Alford, Barnes, Conant, Hengstenberg, Olshausen, et al: “among men.” “Thou hast received gifts among men, yea, among the rebellious.” The Most High is represented by the Psalmist as having taken precious spoils from the enemy, and returning home to distribute them amongst his victorious hosts and people. Even the most refractory were compelled to pay tribute to this all-conquering Foe. The Lord Jesus Christ having vanquished sin, Satan, and death, bestows the richest gifts upon all who submit themselves to Him.
3. A glorious ascension. “Thou hast ascended on high.” Hengstenberg: “The ascending of God presupposes His descending (comp. Ephesians 4:9). It denotes His ascent to heaven, after He had made Himself known on earth in deeds of omnipotence and love, that He may there manage the affairs of His people (comp. at Psalms 47:5).” This ascension was symbolised by the entrance of the Ark into Zion. So our Lord, when He had completed His work on earth, ascended to “the right hand of the Majesty on high,” to conduct the cause of His people there.
4. The grand object. “That the Lord God might dwell among them.” Or, “That Jah God might dwell.” The grand end of the victory of God on behalf of His people was that He might dwell amongst them as their heavenly King. And the grand end of the redemptive work and warfare of the Lord Jesus is that He might dwell amongst men as the gracious Sovereign of their being.
1. Let the Church learn in what its true glory consists.
2. Let it estimate truly the mean and transient glory of the world.
3. Let it trust in God and triumph in its security.
4. Let it seek to realise His presence more fully, and spread His triumphs more widely.
THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST
This passage is applied by the Apostle Paul to the Lord Jesus Christ; we may therefore use it in the way of illustration of some things connected with the exaltation of our Redeemer. Let us notice—
I. The fact of His ascension.
1. He ascended in human nature. He assumed that nature as our representative, and as our representative He has entered into heavenly places. He took our nature in its state of degradation, but He has exalted it, and by His exaltation He has given us the pledge of raising our nature from its state of degradation.
2. He ascended to heaven. The place of glory—of God, the Father of glory—of angels—and of the spirits of just men made perfect.
3. The circumstances of His ascension. He ascended visibly; while He was in the act of blessing; having led out His disciples as far as Bethany, He lifted up His hands to bestow the parting benediction, and then with uplifted hands, and the word of blessing yet on His lips, He was parted from them. He ascended in glory; a procession of “twenty thousand chariots, even thousands of angels,” accompanied Him in His upward course, and as they drew near to the heavenly city, the anthem, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” burst forth from the attendant multitude, and amidst the rejoicing of the glorious throng He entered and sat down in the glory of His Father.
II. The triumphs with which it was attended. “He led captivity captive,” that is, He led a multitude of captives captive, who had formerly been remarkable for leading others captive. This supposes—
1. Our Lord’s conflict with His foes. To conquer them He must first encounter them. Satan, sin, and death, were the foes He had thus to encounter.
2. His conquest of them. He engaged in the deadly conflict, and did not yield till, “It is finished,” showed how it had terminated. That was the shout of triumph of Him who having trod the winepress alone, had stained all His raiment with the blood of His enemies.
3. His triumph over them. “Having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly;” proclaiming, as He passed from the land of His enemies, His conquest and victory. “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”
III. The inestimable benefits supplied by it. Let us look at them—
1. In their nature. Soon after His ascension Christ bestowed various gifts on the world. The gift of His Spirit—to enlighten, to strengthen, to seal, and perfect.
2. In their objects. “For the rebellious.” For the human race, rebellious in mind, in profession, in life—for those who might justly have expected the thunders of heaven’s wrath to burst upon them.
3. In their design. “That the Lord God might dwell among them.” The Lord dwells among men by mercy, by His manifold grace, in His eternal glory.—H. in Sketches of Sermons.
GOD OUR SALVATION
The Psalmist here celebrates the praise of God, on the ground that He is the salvation of His people. He is our salvation—
I. In relation to life’s burdens.
1. Man is burdened. This fact is recognised in the nineteenth verse Omitting the words which have been supplied by the translators, it reads, “Blessed be the Lord, daily loadeth us, the God of our salvation.” Moll translates: Blessed be the Lord day by day! Are we burdened—He, God, is our Help.” And Hengstenberg: “Praised be the Lord every day, they lay burdens on us, the Lord is our salvation.” We are burdened with temporal anxieties, with family solicitudes, with spiritual trials and sorrows, and with the mysteries and responsibilities of life.
2. God strengthens man to bear his burdens. He is “the God of our salvation.” “He, God, is our help.” He helps us by His sympathy. He is burdened in feeling with us. “In all their affliction He was afflicted,” &c. He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” He helps us by instruction as to the meaning and design of our burdens. He helps us by inspiration. He inspires the soul with patience—increases its faith—imparts to it more grace, so that the burden shall not prove distressing.
II. In relation to life’s perils. “Our God is the God of salvation.” Hengstenberg: “God is to us a God of deliverances.” The reference is to deliverance from great dangers and troubles.
1. The life of every man is characterised more or less by perils. There are visible and known dangers, and dangers invisible and unknown to us; dangers to our physical and temporal interests, and to our spiritual and eternal interests.
2. God delivers His people from these perils. He does this
(1.) By removing the dangers, or rescuing His people from them; e.g., Peter from prison (Acts 12:2-20). Or,
(2.) by keeping them safely in the midst of the dangers; e.g., Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in the lions’ den, the three Hebrew youths in the furnace of fire. Or,
(3.) by giving them the victory over the dangers; e.g., Stephen (Acts 7:59-60; and Paul (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
III. In relation to death. “Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death.” Conant: “And to Jehovah the Lord belong ways of escape from death.” “The reference here,” says Moll, “is to ways of deliverance by which we may go forth free with respect to death, or at the expense of death.” But how does He thus deliver from death?
1. By rescuing from imminent death. When death is threatening and drawing near He can arrest him in his progress, or turn aside his stroke.
2. By delivering from the fear of death. A great end of His incarnation was “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
3. By giving complete victory over death. For all who believe in Him, He takes away the sting from death; makes death to them the messenger and minister of life and blessedness; and will complete His glorious triumph by the resurrection of the body. He has “the keys of death and of Hades.” “O death, where is thy sting?” &c.
CONCLUSION.—“Blessed be the Lord day by day.” The God of so great salvation should receive the heartiest praise. Such great deliverances bestowed upon us call for great gratitude from us. Such constant deliverances should call forth constant praise—“day by day.” The highest praise which we can offer for past and present mercies is to reverently trust Him for salvation in the future.
A TERRIBLE CHARACTER AND DESTINY
The connection of this strophe with the preceding is thus stated by Calvin: “Because the Church, attacked on all sides by strong and raging enemies, can obtain nothing otherwise except by a strong and powerful defence, the Psalmist brings in God armed with terrible power, for the destruction of all the ungodly. It is to be observed that all who annoy the pious are called enemies of God, so that we need not doubt that He will interpose for our defence.” We have in the text—
I. A terrible character. “God shall wound the head of His enemies,” &c. Here is—
1. Great enormity of wickedness. “His enemies.” How fearful are the depravity and guilt involved in being an enemy of God! It is to be an enemy of a Being of perfect holiness, of infinite kindness; to be an enemy of our best Friend; to trample under foot the most tender and sacred and binding obligations. He who persecutes the people of God is held by Him as an enemy to Himself. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”
2. Great persistence in wickedness. “One as goeth on still in his trespasses.” Hengstenberg: “Him that walks on in his iniquities.” If a sinner turn in penitence unto God, he will meet with a gracious reception. God will pardon his transgressions, &c. But here awful perseverance in iniquity, dread progress in sin, are indicated. Such persistence in evil must lead to an appalling doom.
II. A terrible destiny. God will bring fearful destruction upon those of His enemies who walk on in their iniquities.
1. This destruction is complete. “God shall wound the head of His enemies.” Barnes: “The idea is that of complete destruction—as, if the head is crushed, life becomes extinct.” (See Genesis 3:15; comp. Psalms 110:6.) This Idea of utter and dread destruction is expressed in the 23d verse also, by the figure of a fearful slaughter. Persistent wickedness must issue in overwhelming ruin.
2. This destruction is unavoidable.
(1.) No one shall escape from it by might. “God shall wound the hairy scalp,” &c. “The hairy scalp,” says Moll, “is best understood of a head with luxuriant growth of hair, the sign of the bloom of youth and power.” If man persists in wickedness, his utmost might shall be as utter weakness when God ariseth in judgment. “Who may stand in Thy sight when once Thou art angry?”
(2.) No one can escape from it by flight. “The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring again from the depths of the sea.” Improperly, as it seems to us, the translators of the A. V. have supplied “my people” in this verse. The reference is not to Israel, but to the enemies of Israel. The idea is that none of them shall escape; that they shall find no refuge from the judgment of God. If they have hidden themselves in the mountain forests of Bashan, God will bring them forth and destroy them. Even if they could take refuge in the abysses of the sea, God would bring them out from thence. The same idea is expressed at greater length by Amos the prophet: “He that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered. Though they dig into hell, thence shall Mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down,” &c. (Psalms 9:1-3). If the wicked will not repent, but will persist in wickedness, there is no possibility of escape from the retributions of the Divine judgment. With dread certainty penalty follows transgression; punishment succeeds sin; irresistible wrath shall seize and crush the incorrigible workers of iniquity.
3. This destruction is solemnly declared. “The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan,” &c. “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?” The statements of Scripture concerning the punishment of the wicked are not rashly uttered threats, but the calm declarations of the holy and unchangeable God.
Let the wicked take warning, and turn from his evil way. Let him seek for mercy through Jesus Christ. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”
A GLORIOUS PROSPECT
In setting forth this celebration of the triumph of God and His people, and the results arising therefrom, the words of the Psalmist reach beyond the historical occasion which gave rise to them; and to us they seem to throb with the great hope of the conversion of all the heathen world to the God of Israel. There is a clear prophetic ring in some of the declarations of the poet. They unfold to us a glorious prospect. Here is the picture of a time—
I. When the Divine triumphs will be extensively witnessed. “They have seen Thy goings, O God,” &c. Moll: “They have seen Thy processions, O God, the processions of my God, of my King in holiness.” The reference is to the triumphal procession in celebration of victory. Men shall see the triumphs of the Divine arm; and shall observe in them two things.
1. That they are holy. They have all been achieved “in holiness.” We adopt the same translation of בַקֹדָשׁ as we did in Psalms 68:17. As the ages pass it will become increasingly manifest that all the doings of God, the achievements of His providential government of the world, and the victories of His grace in human souls, are wrought in righteousness and truth and love. His triumphs are those of truth over error, of light over darkness, of justice over oppression, of generosity over selfishness.
2. That they are the triumphs of the God of the Church. “The processions of my God, of my King.” On the occasion for which the psalm was first composed, it would be seen that the God of Israel possessed Divine power and used it on behalf of His people, that Jehovah was God. And as the victories of the Christ are multiplied, it will become more and more clearly apparent that they are the triumphs of the God of the Church. He who is conquering the world in truth and righteousness and love is the God and King of the Christian Church. The humblest believer may look up to Him, saying, “My God, my King.” In a different form we have a similar idea in Psalms 68:29 : “Because of Thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto Thee.” Men will mark His glorious appearances as the God of Israel, and will bow in homage to Him. The day is coming when the triumphs of the King of grace and God of the Church shall be more widely and clearly seen and more carefully observed than ever hitherto.
II. When the Divine triumphs will be joyously celebrated by His people (Psalms 68:25-27.) This celebration will be—
1. Exultant. “The singers went before, the players on instruments after, in the midst were the damsels playing with timbrels.” Men and maidens, with voices and instruments of music, and souls and bodies, shall unite to express the enthusiasm of joy. When the predicted triumphs of the kingdom of the Christ are accomplished the rejoicing of men and of angels will be rapturous.
2. Comprehensive. “Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, ye of the fountain of Israel,” is an exhortation to all the descendants of Israel to unite in celebrating the praise of God. And in the following verse certain tribes and peoples are specially mentioned. “There is little Benjamin,” &c. But why are these tribes selected from the others for special mention? Geographical considerations probably had something to do with the selection; for Benjamin and Judah were in the south, and Zebulon and Naphtali in the north. But a more important consideration is, that these tribes had distinguished themselves in warfare and otherwise. “The first judges belonged to the tribes mentioned, Othniel to Judah, Ehud to Benjamin:” the first kings also, for Saul was from Benjamin, and David from Judah. And the bravery of Zebulon and Naphtali was celebrated in the song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:18). Benjamin is spoken of as “little” because it was among “the smallest of the tribes of Israel” (1 Samuel 9:21). Benjamin is also spoken of as “their ruler,” or “conqueror;” i.e., we think, the conqueror of the enemies mentioned previously, with reference to the victories achieved by the Benjamites under Saul (1 Samuel 14:47-48). The Psalmist further speaks of “the princes of Judah and their council” as present in the festal procession. Instead of “their council” the margin has, “their company.” “The word is רִגְמָה (with suffix רִנְמָתָם, from רָגַם = to heap together, to collect, as stones), which signifies here a throng or multitude. It is suitably applied to the tribe of Judah as one of the most numerous of the tribes of Israel. So we have here the idea of an immense and comprehensive assembly at this exultant celebration. Princes and people, high and low, persons of all grades and classes, from all the tribes of Israel, join in this triumphant procession. An illustration this of the countless and comprehensive multitude which shall unite to celebrate the approaching triumph of Christ our King. Persons “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” and stations, and ages, shall unite in celebrating His conquests and glories.
3. Religious. The spirit manifested by the Psalmist is not proud, self-sufficient, or vain-glorious; but humble, grateful, and trustful
(1.) Past successes are attributed to God. “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” The words are addressed to Israel, so that the people may trace their triumphs to their true source.” The God of Israel is He that giveth strength and power unto His people.”
(2.) Future progress is besought from God. “Strengthen, O God, that which Thou hast wrought for us.” The people of God are incapable of accomplishing success in spiritual labour, or triumph in spiritual conflict of themselves. Apart from their Lord the Christ, they can do nothing. And when the great triumph to which the Church looks forward is achieved, all the wisdom, and power, and honour, and glory of that triumph shall be ascribed unto Him.
III. When heathen nations shall submit themselves unto God (Psalms 68:29-31). Two or three expressions here require explanation. “Rebuke the company of spearmen.” Margin: “Rebuke the beasts of the reeds.” Conant, Hengstenberg, et al.: “Rebuke the beast of the reeds.” Most likely the hippopotamus is here referred to, as the symbol of Egypt, whose emblem is the reed (Job 40:21; Isaiah 36:6). “The multitude of the bulls,” or, “the herd of the strong ones,” is a figure used to represent powerful kings or princes. By “the calves of the people” we understand the subjects of these powerful princes. Universal submission shall be made to God. All peoples shall come, bringing tribute unto Him. Egypt and Ethiopia are mentioned not as the only nations that submit unto Him, but as representatives of the great heathen world. All classes shall give in their loyal allegiance unto Him—kings and their subjects, princes and peasants, nobles and plebeians. And when all are subject unto Him, the lovers and instigators of war shall be utterly dispersed. “He scattereth the people that delight in war.” Under the reign of “the Prince of Peace” war shall be completely and for ever abolished. “He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” &c. (Isaiah 2:4). This the Psalmist foresaw and prophetically announced. There were times when heathen peoples brought presents to the kings of the chosen people in acknowledgment of the power and glory of God (2 Chronicles 32:23). Many nations of the world have now given their allegiance to the one living and true God. His kingdom is ever growing in extent and power. And ultimately the widest and brightest visions of inspired Psalmists and Prophets shall be fully and splendidly realized.
IV. When God shall be universally praised. In Psalms 68:32-35, the Psalmist summons all the kingdoms of the earth to sing praises unto God, on the grounds of—
1. His sovereignty. “To Him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens of old.” His sovereignty is universal. He rideth in the highest heavens, supreme over all the kingdoms of the world. “Jehovah hath established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all.” His sovereignty is ancient. “Of old.” “God is my King of old.” Therefore, let all men praise Him.
2. His omnipotence. “Lo, Hedoth send out His voice, a mighty voice. Ascribe ye strength unto God; His excellency is over Israel, and His strength is in the clouds.” Delitzsch: “Give back to Him in acknowledgment and praise the omnipotence which He has and proves. His glory rules over Israel as its defence and confidence. His power, however, embraces all created things, not only the earth, but also the highest region of the heaven. The kingdom of grace reveals the majesty and glory of His redemptive work (Ephesians 1:6), the kingdom of nature His all-prevalent omnipotence.”
3. His majesty. “His excellency is over Israel.… O God, Thou art terrible out of Thy holy places.” His majesty and glory are over His people for their guidance and protection. And His manifestations of His holiness and power are fitted to inspire all men with awe. “Wheresoever God showeth His presence, whether in heaven, or in His Church, in any place of the earth, there and from thence He showeth Himself a dreadful God to such as fear Him not.” Therefore, let all the kingdoms of the earth sing praises unto Him.
1. This subject reminds us of our duty. It is the duty and the interest of rebels against God to submit themselves to Him. It is the duty and privilege of the people of God to spread abroad His kingdom and glory wherever they Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. This subject affords us encouragement. How glorious is the prospect! and how certain of realisation! God’s Word, and wisdom, and power, all guarantee it “Blessed be God!”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 68". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/