A prayer at the removing of the ark. An exhortation to praise God for his mercies, for his care of the church, and for his great works.
To the chief musician, A Psalm or Song of David.
Title. שׁיר מזמור לדוד למנצח lamnatseach ledavid mizmor shiir.— This Psalm was composed by David, to be sung in the procession of the ark from Obed-edom's house to mount Sion. The several parts of it were suited to the several divisions of the march, and the whole of it adapted to so sacred and joyful a solemnity, as will appear by a careful perusal and examination of it. It refers, in a secondary sense, to our Saviour's ascension. Dr. Chandler has considered it in the most accurate manner, and we shall principally follow his observations.
Psalms 68:1. Let God arise, &c.— When the Levites first took up the ark on their shoulders, the singers began, Let God arise, &c. These are the words which Moses made use of whenever the ark was taken up for the several marches of the Hebrews through the wilderness, Numbers 10:35. As God was in a peculiar manner present in it, and as his presence was their great security from the dangers of the wilderness and the power of their enemies, when the ark was lifted up Moses prays, that God would arise up along with it, that his enemies may be scattered, and those who hate him flee before him. God's enemies were those of his people; and those who hated him the nations who hated them, who envied and opposed that prosperity which God was determined to procure them. David with great propriety applies these words to the translation of the ark, to Jerusalem, since God was still equally present with it, and his aid necessary to the protection of that city, and to the success which David hoped for over the enemies of his religion and people. See 1 Samuel 6:14. 1 Chronicles 15:27.
Psalms 68:2. As smoke is driven away— i.e. "As smoke is violently scattered and dispersed by the wind, so do thou shake and entirely disperse them with a force that they cannot resist." See Schultens in Proverbs 21:6.
Psalms 68:4. Sing unto God, &c.— Sing unto God; celebrate his name in songs: prepare the way for Him who rideth through the deserts; his name is JAH, and exult ye before him. Chandler. See Isaiah 40:2. The Psalmist here alludes to the passage of the Israelites through the desart, in their way to the Promised Land; and describes it in many of its principal circumstances in the following verses. God is said to ride, or be carried through the desarts, as the ark of his presence was carried through them, and accompanied the Israelites in all their various stages, during their continuance and pilgrimage in them. As to the derivation and proper sense of this name of God, Jah, learned interpreters differ greatly. Some derive it from היה haiah, he was, he existed, abbreviated from the future יהיה ieheieh: others take it to be a contraction from יהוה iehovah, Jehovah: But Dr. Chandler thinks with Schultens, that it comes from a word used in the Arabic dialect to denote a religious fear and reverence; according to which, Jah will denote the awful Deity, worthy of all reverence and fear. I cannot, however, help thinking myself, that it signifies more properly, He that is, simply and absolutely. See John 8:58 and Parkhurst on the word.
Psalms 68:5. A father of the fatherless, &c.— The meaning is, that God, who is present with us in his sanctuary, or in the ark of his presence, will provide for and defend, as a father, those who have been rendered fatherless by the sword; and as a judge avenge the widows' cause upon those who have unrighteously cut off their husbands; referring to the unjust wars which were made upon his people, and the cruelties exercised towards them by their enemies in their passage through the desarts.
Psalms 68:6. God setteth the solitary in families— Literally, God causeth them to sit down into a family. The word יחידים iech-idim, rendered solitary, signifies such as are left alone, and destitute of help; and seems to imply those whose fathers and families were destroyed either in Egypt, or in passing through the wilderness, by their enemies. Even these, God will cause to sit down, each of them into a family; or bless them with a numerous posterity, and with a safe and comfortable enjoyment of all the social blessings attending it. Dr. Chandler renders the next clause thus: He bringeth forth those who were bound, with great abundance; which, says he, undoubtedly relates to the state of many of the Jews; who were bound or fettered in Egypt, but whom God brought from thence with numerous flocks and great riches; for that they spoiled the Egyptians. Mr. Schultens gives the passage a different turn; "God brings forth those who were bound, into the more grateful bonds and connections of societies and family relations." See him on Proverbs 31:19. It is added, but the rebellious dwell in a dry land. The word סוררים sorerim, rendered rebellious, has a very strong and significant meaning, and denotes those enemies of the Israelites who were obstinately and madly bent on doing them mischief, and stimulated by their hatred and malice utterly to destroy them. See Hosea 4:16. The word צחיחה tsechichah, rendered a dry, signifies a shining, dry, barren place; and denotes that these enemies should be destitute of, not only riches, but necessaries, and of family; in a word, of all the advantages of life, and reduced to the utmost distress and poverty. See Ezekiel 26:4. The Chaldee paraphrase applies this verse to the state of the Jews in Egypt: "He brought out Israel, who were bound in Egypt; but Pharaoh and his army, who refused to let them go, inhabited a dry place:" Referring, I suppose, to their being stripped of their riches by the Israelites, or to their throwing up their dead bodies on the dry and sandy shore. This part of the psalm Dr. Chandler supposes to have been sung just as the Levites took up the ark on their shoulders; and it was a proper exordium to this great solemnity. It begins with a solemn acknowledgment of God, a devout prayer for the dispersion of his enemies, and an exhortation to his people to glory in and rejoice before him, and celebrate his praises, who guided their forefathers in the desart; when he redeemed them from the Egyptian bondage, avenged them of their enemies, freed them from their slavery, enlarged them into families, enriched them with the spoils of Egypt, and condemned their oppressors to poverty, disgrace, and misery. When the ark was lifted up, and placed by its staves on the shoulders of the Levites, just as the procession began, the following part of the hymn was sung, Psalms 68:7-14.
Psalms 68:8. The earth shook, &c.— When the people arrived at Sinai, and God descended on the mountain, the earth trembled at his presence; the heavens also dropped, i.e. dissolved into showers, as the consequence of the mighty thunders and lightnings which bespoke the presence of the Almighty, and of the thick cloud which covered the mount. Exodus 19:16. In the next clause, Even Sinai itself, &c. one of the verbs in the former clauses must be supplied: Sinai itself shook, or dropped at the presence of God: that is, as it were, flowed down and dissolved. So Deborah, Judges 5:4-5 in her song of triumph says, Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst from the field of Edom; the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped; the clouds also dropped down water. The mountains flowed down at the presence of the Lord; this Sinai [flowed down] at the presence of the God of Israel.
Psalms 68:9. Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain— What this shower was, is not by all agreed. Sometimes the Israelites were supplied with wells, and at other times God gave them miraculously water from rocks. The dropping of the heavens, in the foregoing verse, cannot be intended; because this plentiful rain is spoken of as a distinct thing from it. And the description of a shower, as it were voluntarily falling, distinguished it from a thunder-shower, occasioned by the violent bursting of the clouds. I think, therefore, that this shower relates to the manna and the quails which were rained down on them from heaven. Thus God told them, I will rain bread from heaven for you, Exodus 16:4. And the Psalmist puts them in mind, He commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and rained down manna upon them to eat, and gave them of the corn of heaven; Psalms 78:23-24. He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls as the sand of the sea, Psalms 68:27. This may truly be called a kind of spontaneous shower; as both the manna and the quails offered themselves to their hands, without any pains or labour in the people to procure them. By this shower, says the sacred writer, thou didst confirm thine inheritance; (see Deuteronomy 32:9.) that is, "didst recruit and refresh thy people;" for they greatly needed it, as they were weary; i.e. tired and almost worn out with hunger, the hardships of which they bore with great impatience and murmuring. See Exodus 16:3.
Psalms 68:10. Thy congregation hath dwelt therein— There is no small difficulty in these words. The following appears to be the most natural sense of them. In the former verse the Psalmist tells us, that God had confirmed, refreshed, and revived his inheritance, by the plentiful, and, as it were, voluntary showers of bread and flesh which he rained down upon them. In these words, I apprehend, he speaks of the manner, as well as abundance, of the food he gave them; חיתךֶ chaiiatheka, thy food;—"the food which thou gavest them, they dwelt in the midst of it." Thus the history informs us. As to the manna, it is said, In the morning the dew lay round about the host, and when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing; and they said, It is manna: Exodus 13:15. And as to the quails, the historian observes, that they were let fall by the camp, about a day's journey on the one side, and a day's journey on the other, round about the camp. Numbers 11:31. This was literally dwelling in the midst of the food which God provided for them. Others render the word by flocks or cattle. Mudge renders this and the 9th verse thus: Thou keepest suspended over it a shower of blessings, O God; and when it was weary, thyself hadst prepared thy inheritance. Thy flocks were settled in it; thou providest with thy riches for the poor.
Psalms 68:11. The Lord gave the word— Having celebrated the power and goodness of God, which fed them in the wilderness, he now proceeds to speak of the great deliverances that he wrought out for them from their enemies, with respect to whom the Lord gave the word. The Israelites engaged them by his order, (see Numbers 25:17; Numbers 21:34.) and under his conduct and blessing obtained the victory over them. The next clause should be rendered, Large was the number of the women who published the glad tidings; meaning those women who, with music, songs, &c. celebrated the victories of the Israelites over their enemies, according to the customs of those times, Exodus 15:20. 1 Samuel 18:6. So also in this march, between the vocal and instrumental performers, were the damsels playing on the timbrels. The good tidings are those contained in the two next verses.
Psalms 68:12. Kings of armies did flee apace— In the original it is, fled away, fled away; the reduplication of the words denoting their hasty flight and utter dissipation. The kings who commanded the armies which opposed them fled with their routed forces, and were pursued and destroyed by the Israelites: And she that tarried at home divided the spoil. After the conquest of the Midianites, God ordered the prey which was taken from them to be divided into two parts, between them who went out on that expedition, and the rest of the congregation who continued in the tents, Numbers 31:27 and therefore this was part of the damsels' song, that the women who had the charge of the household affairs were enriched by an equal division of the enemies' spoils, in which their husbands and fathers had their share; and I apprehend, that it is the victory over the Midianites which is here particularly referred to. For, the Lord gave the word; avenged the children of Israel of the Midianites, Numbers 31:2. Kings of armies fled away; five of the Midianitish kings being routed and slain, Psalms 68:8. She that tarried at home divided the spoil, according to the distribution before-mentioned, vast quantities of gold and silver being taken; to which there is a plain allusion in the next verse.
Psalms 68:13. Though ye have lien among the pots— The word rendered pots, signifies, kettles, pots, or furnaces, for various uses, fixed in stone or brick, placed in double rows, and so regularly disposed for convenience and use; and refers to those pots or furnaces, at which the Israelites in Egypt wrought as slaves, and amongst which they were forced to lie down for want of proper habitations, and in the most wretched and vile attire. See Psalms 68:13; Psalms 81:6. But how great was their alteration, by the conquest of their enemies, and especially of the Midianites! See Judges 21:25. Habakkuk 3:7. "Enriched by the spoils of these enemies, ye shall now lie down; (for these words must be supplied) i.e. dwell at ease, and with elegance in your tents." Within the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold: These dove-like coverings denote either the rich garments or the costly tents which they took from these Midianites; and which, either because of their various colours, or their being ornamented with silver and gold, resembled the colours of a dove, the feathers of whose wings and body glittered interchangeably as with silver and gold. See Boch. Hier. part. 2: Psalms 50:1 : Psalms 100:2.
Psalms 68:14. When the Almighty scattered kings— When the Almighty scattered kings therein, thou didst make them joyful in Salmon. Chandler. The kings here referred to, may be Sihon, Og, and the kings of Midian, Numbers 31:8. Therein may refer to the country of Midian, where these kings were taken and destroyed. See Psalms 83:9. The consequence of this signal victory was, it was white as snow in Salmon. This may very properly be rendered, There was great joy in Salmon. Salmon here cannot be that mount Salmon mentioned Judges 9:48 for this was in the tribe of Ephraim; but that Salmon, of which the Psalmist there speaks, was in or near the land of Midian, where the Midianitish kings were destroyed; and was probably one of the high places of Baal, from whence Balaam viewed the people of Israel, Numbers 22:41. The construction may be very properly, "When the Almighty scattered kings in it, namely, in Salmon, he made his people very joyful there." We will subjoin Dr. Chandler's paraphrase of the last four verses: Psalms 68:11. And not only were they thus miraculously fed by the benevolent hand, but made to triumph over all their enemies who molested and opposed them. For thou gavest forth the order to attack. Thou didst assure them of success, leddest them forth against their adversaries; and their victories were celebrated by large numbers of matrons and virgins, who shouted aloud, and sang these joyful tidings: Psalms 68:12. "The kings of armies fled away. They fled away utterly discomfited; and they who abode with their families in their tents received their shares in the spoils of their conquered enemies: Psalms 68:13. Though when you were slaves to the Egyptians, and employed in the servile drudgery of attending their pots and bricks, you appeared in the most sordid and reproachful habits, and took up your dwellings in the most wretches and miserable huts; yet now you are enriched with the gold and silver of your conquered enemies, possessed of their tents, and arrayed with garments shining and beautiful; you resemble the dove's feathers, in which the gold and silver colours, mixed with each other, give a very pleasing and lively appearance." Psalms 68:14. When the Lord thus scattered and overcame kings for the sake of his inheritance, how were thy people refreshed! How great was the joy thou gavest them in Salmon, where they obtained, beheld, and celebrated the victory! How proper were these reflections upon the past interpositions of God's providence in favour of his people, upon this great event, the translation of the ark to Jerusalem! This was the place where God was now to be peculiarly present; his dwelling-place, where the great earnest of his especial protection and blessing was to dwell; the same ark which went before them in their marches through the wilderness, and out of which God, as it were, went forth, subdued their enemies before them, and settled them peaceably in that good land, which he had promised to their fathers. As it was now to be fixed at Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom, that city was henceforward to become the city of the living God; its prosperity to be secured by his presence, and in that the welfare and safety of the whole nation. When the ark came in view of mount Sion, (the place of its fixed residence for the future,) and probably when they began to ascend it, I apprehend they sang the following part of this sacred composition; Psalms 68:15-18.
Psalms 68:15-16. The hill of God is, &c.— Is the hill of Bashan, is the craggy hill of Bashan, the hill of God? Psalms 68:16. Why look you with envy, ye craggy hills? THIS IS the mountain God hath desired to dwell in: yea, the Lord will dwell there for ever. Reading the words thus, with an interrogation, they appear suitable to the occasion, and worthy of the genuine spirit of poetry. "Bashan may boast of its proud eminences, its craggy summits, but is this the hill where God will fix his residence?" He poetically introduces Bashan and the other little hills as looking with envy on mount Sion, that she, above all the other mountains, should be favoured with the residence of the eternal God, and become the fixed seat of his ark. He tacitly bids them cease their envy, and, by pointing to mount Sion, tells them, This is the hill in which God desireth to dwell: "See, there is the hill which God hath chosen above all others to inhabit! Yea, the Lord will dwell there for ever. His ark shall never be removed from it to any other dwelling whatsoever."
Psalms 68:17. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, &c.— The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the Lord is among them, O Sinai, in the sanctuary. See Deuteronomy 33:2. The chariots of God here must mean, those invisible and heavenly chariots, that attendance of angels, which in scripture is ascribed to God. See Isaiah 66:15. 2 Kings 6:17. These chariots are here said to be twenty thousand; a certain number put for an uncertain, denoting a large multitude. The sense of the whole verse seems to be this: "Sinai may boast of the honour of the appearance of God, and the attendance of ten thousand of his saints, when he gave the law from thence: But now there are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands of the angels and chariots of God attending the ark of his presence. The same God who was formerly encompassed with his angels on thee, O Sinai, is now among them here; and his future residence will be with them in his sanctuary on mount Sion." There is somewhat peculiarly pleasing and poetical in this part of the psalm. Bashan was a high hill, and situated in the territories of the Hebrews; and if the loftiness of its summits could have given it any claim to the preference, Sion must have lost the honour of being the residence of the ark of God's presence. But the interrogation, if that rendering be allowed, expresses a contempt for Bashan, and comes with peculiar propriety, if, as we suppose, this part of the hymn was sung just when the procession came within view of Sion. The representation of the hills, as leaping with a kind of eagerness to be chosen for God's residence; or rather, as envying mount Sion for the choice that God had made of it, is in the true spirit of poetry, which can make mountains speak and move, rejoice and grieve, when necessary to enliven the scene, and adorn the subject. The introducing the angels of God as descending on the hills, and his chariots as attending and guarding the ark into its habitation, in much larger numbers than they were on mount Sinai, is finely and sublimely imagined; to create in the people a firm belief, that Jerusalem should be under the special care of God, and that the army of heaven should be stationed there for the protection and safety of the ark and city; and nothing could have been more elegantly conceived, or better adapted to the occasion. When the ark had ascended mount Sion, and was deposited in the place assigned for it, the singers proceeded, Psalms 68:18-24.
Psalms 68:18. Thou hast ascended on high— "Thou hast now marched up to the heights of mount Sion, and taken possession of this sacred hill;" God being figuratively said to do, what the ark had done; as he peculiarly resided, and gave frequently visible appearances of his majesty and glory in it. Thou hast led captivity captive: "Thou hast led captive our enemies by enabling us to subdue them, and reduce them into subjection to us;" referring either to the many signal victories that God had given them in former times, or the victories that David himself had obtained, by God's assistance, over the Philistines, and which he mentions here as an earnest of his future successes. Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious, i.e. those malignant adversaries, who, through hatred and envy, opposed David's government, and disturbed by their invasions the quiet of his reign. For these, or (as the word should be rendered) amongst these, God received gifts; "Thou hast received gifts from men, even from amongst the refractory and envious opposers of the kingdom." These gifts were the spoils of his conquered enemies, particularly the Philistines; which God is said to receive, or to have taken from them, as they were taken under his conduct by David, and given to enrich his victorious people; and part of which David himself consecrated, that the Lord God might inhabit, might have a place where to rest and abide for ever. See Isaiah 13:20. The immense charge of this procession, and the whole apparatus for the reception of the ark, was undoubtedly supported, at least in part, by the riches that he obtained as the fruit of his victories. And it is probable that David had now, in some measure, formed the scheme of erecting a temple to the honour of God; that the Lord might have an habitation; and that he determined to make the voluntary offerings of his friends, and the spoils of his conquered enemies, subservient to his great design. It may be further observed, that these words are capable of a different rendering: Thou hast received gifts, that the Lord God might dwell amongst men, even amongst the rebellious: i.e. "Thou hast subdued thine enemies, and rendered them tributary to thy throne, that they might enjoy the benefit of thy protection, and live happily under thy government;" God being said to receive the gifts which were offered to David, and to reign over them, as they were subjected to David's crown, who was God's king, established by him in Sion. But I rather choose the former sense, as it items most agreeable to the apostle's application of the words to our blessed Saviour, Ephesians 4:8 to whom they are in a higher sense applicable than they could be to David; who personally ascended up to the highest heavens; led captivity captive, by triumphing over all his conquered enemies; and, having received gifts from his heavenly father, gave them unto men, as was most conducive to the establishment of his kingdom over all the nations of the earth.
Psalms 68:19. Who daily loadeth us— Who bears our burdens every day. The verb עמס amas, rendered loadeth, signifies both to take on one's self, or carry a burden, and to place a burden on another; and hence it is used figuratively for to bear and carry another with tenderness and affection. In this sense it is applied to God himself, to express the constant care that he had taken of his people, and how he had supported them, and taken, as it were, upon himself the burden of their affairs. See Isaiah 46:3. Deuteronomy 1:31.
Psalms 68:20. Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death— The original words may certainly be rendered, The goings forth of Jehovah the Lord are unto death; or, the goings forth of death belong to the Lord Jehovah. In the first part of this verse the Psalmist declares, that God is to us a God of salvations, all our deliverances come from God; and in the next verse he says, God will wound the head of his enemies; and the outgoings to death, or of death, may include both. It is He that directs them, suffers them not to approach his people, but ordains them to reach his restless and implacable adversaries: the one he redeems from, the other he condemns to death. Death seems to be here represented poetically, as a person going forth and marching in various ways, and by different methods, to spread destruction amongst mankind; but as under the restraint of God, and in all his marches directed by his pleasure.
Psalms 68:21. God shall wound, &c.— According to the emphasis of the original word, God shall exhaust,—draw forth the blood of, the head of his enemies, or utterly destroy them by the sword. "He will avenge himself on their devoted heads; nor shall their strength and craft be able to protect them from his indignation, if they continue wickedly to disturb me in the possession of that kingdom to which he has advanced me."
Psalms 68:22. The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, &c.— Abner, in his conference with the elders of Israel, tells them, The Lord hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies. 2 Samuel 3:18. David knew himself to be raised up by God for this purpose, who had promised him success over all his enemies. He seems to have been now apprehensive of some new disturbances from the Philistines; and therefore to this promise he refers in the first words of the verse: The Lord said. And such full assurance he had that God would perform the promise made to him, as that, whatever princes and forces should oppose him, he was firmly persuaded God would as powerfully appear for him, as he did in the victory over Og, king of Bashan, and when he delivered his people from the Egyptian army, by giving them a safe passage through the Red Sea.
Psalms 68:23. That thy foot may be dipped— That thou mayest shake thy foot in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongue of thy dogs in the same. The verb refers to both clauses; and no word could be more proper. The motion of the foot, and the lapping of a dog's tongue in the blood of slaughtered enemies, both answering to the sense of the original word; which properly signifies to draw water by moving the pitcher here and there. The meaning of the verse is, that if the enemies of God's people should continue to invade and harass them by war, they should be entirely cut off by the sword, and their slaughter so great, as that the victorious army should be forced to trample on their dead and bleeding bodies, and the dogs should satiate themselves by lapping up their blood. The words are the description of a complete victory, and of what happens after a bloody engagement. Here also every part of this period suits the circumstance and the occasion. David had now accomplished the great design upon which his heart was set, and addresses himself to his God, as having taken possession of, and fixed his residence on Mount Sion. In consequence of which, David assures himself of the perpetual safety and prosperity of his people: thus triumphing over his enemies, who attempted to disturb his reign, and dispossess him of Jerusalem, but whose armies God enabled him to vanquish; great numbers of whom he had reduced into captivity; from whom he had obtained great riches, as the fruit of his victories, received gifts as tributary to his crown; and consecrated great part of the spoils he had taken from them to God, particularly to enable him to provide for the expences of this magnificent procession. His breaking out immediately, upon a review of these favours, into the solemn adoration of God, for thus continually upholding and protecting his people; as the God of salvation, as the sovereign director of the outgoings of death; and declaring his full assurance, that his vengeance should be exerted on all his incorrigible enemies, and that from his holy habitation on Mount Sion he would render his people equally victorious over them, as he did formerly over Pharaoh and the king of Bashan, must strike every attentive mind with a religious pleasing surprize; and is an argument of the warmth of David's piety, and indeed naturally arose from the consideration that he was now under God's peculiar protection; and of the liberty he had of frequenting his courts, and asking his direction in every future time of need. When the ark was thus safely deposited, when the sacrifices were offered, the solemnity nearly concluded, and the whole assembly about to return back, the singers struck up, and joined in the following part of this noble anthem.
Psalms 68:24. They have seen thy goings, O God— These words contain a sort of triumph, that this great work of translating the ark was now so happily accomplished. Thy people have seen thy goings—thy marches, O God; the procession stopping several times, and being performed in several sorts of periods, in proper succession one after another, for the ease of the carriers of the ark, and for performing some sacred rites, which were appointed on this occasion. 2 Samuel 6:13. 1 Chronicles 15:26. Even the marches of my God, my king, into the sanctuary; i.e. the tabernacle which David had prepared for the reception of the ark of God, whom he publicly acknowledges as his sovereign and king.
Psalms 68:25. The singers went before— This verse and the following give some description of the procession. The singers went before; for David had ordered the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren for singers, by lifting up the voice with joy; 1 Chronicles 15:16. After these came the players on instruments, lutes, and harps, which are played on by the fingers; and between both these, virgins playing on timbrels, and with their voices celebrating the praises of God. The next verse contains what they sang on this occasion, in concert with the band of music. We find it was customary, among the Gentiles themselves in their solemn processions, and before, and after, and during their libations and sacrifices, to sing hymns in praise of their respective deities: and when they celebrated the supposed advent of their gods, at particular times, and in particular favourite places, it was with the greatest demonstrations of joy, with dancing, music, and songs; and in these things consisted one great part of their religious worship. See Callimachus's Hymn to Apollo, Psalms 68:11-20 in the translation, and the Hymn to Ceres at the beginning; Horace, and Catullus's Secular Odes; and Exodus 15:1.
Psalms 68:26. Bless ye God in the congregations— i.e. "Let all the assemblies of his people, and all who join them, celebrate the wonderful works and praises of God; even the Lord (repeat the words bless ye) from the fountain of Israel;" i.e. all you who are of the posterity of Israel: Deuteronomy 11:28. It became them in an especial manner to bless God for the signal favours that he had bestowed upon them. See Hosea 13.
Psalms 68:27. There is little Benjamin with their ruler— There is no need of this supplemental preposition with; for as Benjamin is styled little, because he was the least of the tribes, so he is called their ruler or commander, because Saul, their first king, was of that tribe; and I apprehend that David particularly mentions the tribe of Benjamin not only to do honour to them, but to shew their affection to him, and attachment to his interest, by attending him, as he now made his public entry as king of Israel into Jerusalem, established himself in the throne in that capital, and thereby cut off all hopes of the kingdom's ever returning to the former tribe and family. It is no wonder he should mention the princes of Judah and their council; because he was of that tribe, and elected by them to be their king. This tribe was certainly the council or chief support of the Israelitish constitution, both in the cabinet and in the field; in the former it had the lead: the founder of this tribe was in a peculiar manner worthy of the title of counsellor; he being the person who prevailed over his brethren, not to kill, but sell their brother to the Midianites: he acted as a counsellor to Jacob himself; in persuading him to consent to their going into Egypt; nay, he was a counsellor to Joseph too, whose policy he baffled in the most pathetic speech that can be conceived. The dignity of counsel belonged to his descendants, as they partook of the honours of David, elected from among them; whom all the tribes acknowledged as their lawful sovereign, and from whom descended a very long race of kings; as they had in their tribe the throne, the temple, and the metropolis; and as all the tribes were enjoined to go thither at all solemn festivals to worship. We need not mention that our Blessed Lord, styled the Mighty Counsellor by the prophet Isaiah, was descended from, and crowned the dignities which always belonged to this tribe. See Durrell's Parallel Prophesies, p. 52. The princes of Zabulun and Naphtali are added, as the most remote, to shew the unanimity of the whole nation, and of all the tribes far and near, in attending this solemnity; to testify their willing acknowledgment of David for their king, and their consent that henceforward Jerusalem, the city of David, should be declared and esteemed as the capital of the whole nation.
Psalms 68:28. Thy God hath commanded thy strength— i.e. The great power of the Israelites, and the height of glory and strength to which the kingdom of David had arisen, was the work of God; which naturally makes way for the petition following, Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us. "Let the foundation of our present happiness be firm and durable."
Psalms 68:30. Rebuke the company of spearmen— So our translators, though they have placed in the margin the beast of the reeds. The beast of the reeds is the crocodile or river-horse, which both lay among the reeds that grew on the banks of the Nile: and as it is a very proper description of the Egyptian tyrant, the meaning will be, that God would repress his power, and preserve his own people from being overrun and destroyed by it. See Boch. Hieroz. lib. 3: p. 985 and Lowth's Prelections, p. 73. 8vo. The Psalmist adds, [Rebuke] the multitude of the bulls, i.e. according to Bishop Patrick's explanation, their great numbers of captains, as furious as bulls; the original word אביר abbiir, signifying strong, robust, and being applicable to men, bulls, horses, and all strong and furious animals:—-With the calves of the people; i.e. according to the learned Bishop, soldiers, as insolent as young heifers;—Till every one submit himself with pieces of silver, as we render the next clause; or "become tributary to his power." I would observe, says Dr. Chandler, for the further explication of this part of the verse, that the persons meant are figuratively described by the objects of their idolatrous worship. The Egyptian king is the beast of the reeds, or the crocodile, which was sacred in some parts of Egypt. The congregation of bulls, are his princes and nobles, who worshipped the bull, together with the calves, which were held sacred by the people, or the people who worshipped them; and the description of this people, who worshipped those calves is, "They severally trampled on the ground;" namely, by walking in procession, or dancing to the sound of their silver sistrums, which made a tinkling noise in honour of these vituline deities. I shall express the sense in the words of the learned and ingenious Mr. Merrick:
The beast, that from his reedy bed, On Nile's proud bank uplifts the head, Rebuke indignant, nor the throng Forget, from whose misguided tongue, The heifer, and the grazing steer, The offer'd vow unconscious hear; While to the silver's tinkling sound Their feet in solemn dance rebound. See Apul. Metam. lib. 2: p. 371.
But, continues Dr. Chandler, may not the word trampling be referred to God? Rebuke the beasts of the reeds, trampling on the pieces of silver; so calling with contempt their images or idols, which were plated over with beaten pieces of silver; referring to what God is said to have done to the idols of Egypt, Exodus 12:12.; Numbers 33:4. So that the meaning of the words is, "Rebuke and break the power of the Egyptian crocodile, his princes, and nobles, who pay homage to their bulls; and all his people, who stupidly worship their calves, and dance in honour of them to the tinkling sounds of instruments and bells: trample under foot their silver-plated idols, and utterly disperse the people who delight in war."
Psalms 68:31. Princes shall come out of Egypt, &c.— Rather, Let princes come;—Let Ethiopia stretch, &c. The word חשׁמנים chashmanniim, rendered princes, signifies a princely person, accompanied by a numerous attendance; Parkhurst thinks it signifies persons in great haste. By Ethiopia many understand the country properly so called, and I see no reason to depart from this sense: the country is put for the inhabitants of it. The words may be rendered Let Ethiopia exercise her hands, or accustom herself to lift them up to God; or teach and direct her hands towards God: and the meaning is, that God would so protect and defend Jerusalem, where the ark of the presence was now placed, as that the inhabitants of Egypt and Ethiopia, and all the enemies of his people, so far from regarding it with a hostile disposition, should reverence it as the habitation of God; send solemn embassies to it, with sacrifices in honour of him; with uplifted hands devoutly worship before his sanctuary, and to become the real patrons and protectors of it: but, doubtless, the passage has a much higher meaning, and refers also to the conversion of the Gentiles, and their submission to the kingdom of Christ.
Psalms 68:33. To him that rideth upon the heavens, &c.— The heavens which were of old, means, the heavens which existed from the beginning of the creation; and God is said to ride upon them, or through them, either to denote his omnipresence, or to signify that he is the proprietor and lord of them, and overrules all appearances in them, to serve the purposes of his own providence, and for the protection and safety of his people; as Moses expresses it: There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth on the heavens in thy help. Deuteronomy 33:26; Deuteronomy 1.e. "Who comes in the storms, the thunder and lightnings, the artillery of heaven, to thine assistance." For thus it follows, Lo, he doth send out him voice, and that a mighty voice, literally, He will give with his voice a mighty voice. Thunder is described in Scripture as the voice of God; (Psalms 29.) and it is peculiarly awful and terrible in the eastern and warmer parts of the earth.
Psalms 68:34. His excellency is over Israel— His highness or majesty: he is the universal sovereign; but his kingdom is exalted over Israel in a particular manner. He hath taken them for his peculiar inheritance; and by them alone he is acknowledged as universal Creator; the supreme Lord of heaven and earth. His power is in the clouds: he who is exalted in an especial manner over Israel, is that mighty God who dwells in the heavens, and manifests his power in the clouds thereof; when he sends forth his voice in the dreadful thunder.
Psalms 68:35. O God, thou art terrible, &c.— I would join the words thus; O God, the God of Israel, thou art terrible out of thy holy places. Heaven was his sanctuary of old; his earthly sanctuary was on Sion; he was worthy to be feared, as inhabiting both; and he is represented as going out of them, to take vengeance on the enemies of his people; and as dreadful, on account of the judgments, which from thence, as the places of his dwelling, he executes them. He it is that giveth strength and power unto his people. Though the marks of his displeasure are dreadful to his enemies, yet he gives fortitude and courage unto his people, inspires them with resolution and vigour, and renders them victorious over all who oppose them. Blessed be God! How glorious is the conclusion of this most admirable hymn! David exults in the successful translation of the ark into its fixed habitation; and that he had now his king and his God more immediately present with him, who marched in solemn procession with his ark, to take his future residence in Mount Sion. He describes that procession with pleasure, as accompanied with instrumental and vocal music, and at which the princes of all the tribes of Israel assisted, and which was graced with a choir of virgins exciting the whole assembly to celebrate the praises of the God of Israel. He particularly mentions the tribe of Benjamin as present; a happy circumstance, which he could scarce have expected, as the kingdom was departed from them, and the crown transferred to himself and family; the tribe of Judah, as the most powerful, and those of Naphtali and Zebulun, the farthest distant of all the rest, to shew the perfect unanimity of the whole nation in submitting to him, and acquiescing in Jerusalem as the capital of the kingdom. He devoutly acknowledges God as the author of his own and his people's prosperity; and prays that he would establish and continue it; that the kings of the earth might reverence God's sanctuary in Jerusalem, and there present their offerings before him; that God would restrain the Egyptian king, keep him from all hostile invasions of the city and people of God, and not permit the worshippers of crocodiles, and bulls, and calves, to harass his dominions, or corrupt his subjects; and that he would dissipate in general all who delight in the oppression and cruelties of war. He prays even for the conversion of Egypt to the knowledge and worship of the true God; that Ethiopia might stretch forth her hand in solemn adoration of him, and that all the kingdoms of the earth might celebrate the praises of Jehovah, who rules in the heavens, rides through them in the stormy clouds, and terrifies the nations with the voice of his thunders. He concludes with exhorting this grand assembly to acknowledge the almighty power of God, who was peculiarly the God and king of Israel; who was present in his heavenly and earthly sanctuary, dreadful in the judgments that he executed on his enemies, but the author and establisher of the power and prosperity of his people. On all these accounts, he was worthy to be blessed for evermore. How highly did this tend to promote the firm adherence of the whole assembly to the worship of their God, and to establish their faith and hope in the protection of his power! Dr. Chandler observes, at the close of his excellent comment on this psalm, that the divisions he has made of it seem natural and easy, are pointed out by the subject-matter, and render the whole of it a regular, well-connected, and elegant composition. Without this, or some such method, it appears broken, and its parts independent on each other; the expressions will be many of them unintelligible, and the occasion and propriety of them scarcely discernible. Michaelis has attempted to explain this psalm, but has fallen very short of Dr. Chandler. See the additional volume of his notes to Bishop Lowth's Prelections, p. 139. We shall conclude our critical annotations with a few of Dr. Chandler's remarks upon the whole anthem.
And, first, let us take notice of the great and glorious subject of the hymn. It is the God of the Hebrews, and designed to celebrate his praises, on account of the perfections of his nature, and the operations of his providence. And with what dignity is he described! How high and worthy the character given him; in every respect suitable to his infinite majesty, and the moral rectitude and purity of his nature! How grand are the descriptions of him, as the omnipresent God, inhabiting his sanctuaries both in heaven and earth! as the original, self-existent Being, which his name Jehovah signifies; the tremendous Being, worthy of all adoration and reverence, included in the name of Jah! As the Almighty God, encompassed with thousands and ten thousands of his angels, and innumerable chariots, which stand ready prepared in the armoury of heaven! who rides through the heavens in his majesty: whose voice is in the thunder, who makes the clouds and vapours of heaven subservient to his pleasure, and at whose presence the earth, the heavens dissolve, and the highest hills seem to melt away like wax! Descriptions the most sublime in their nature, and which tend to strike the mind with a holy reverence and awe. And as to his moral character and providential government of the world, he is represented as the righteous God, the hater and punisher of incorrigible wickedness, the father of the fatherless, the judge of the widow, who blesses men with numerous families, breaks the prisoner's chains, and restores him to his liberty; the God and guardian of his people, the great disposer of victory, and giver of national prosperity; the supreme author of every kind of salvation, and as having death under his absolute command, and directing the outgoings of it by his sovereign will. This was the God of the ancient Hebrews. This was the God whom David worshipped, and whom all wise and good men must acknowledge and adore. Nor is there one circumstance or expression in this noble composition, derogatory to the majesty and honour of the Supreme Being, or which can convey a single sentiment to lessen our esteem and veneration for him.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have here, in the first place,
1. David's prayer for the dispersion of the enemies of God and his people, and for the comfort and joy of the children of God. It may be considered as prophetical of the Messiah's appearing, Let God incarnate arise, and let his enemies be scattered, the powers of earth or hell which oppose his kingdom in the world: Let them also that hate him, whether men or devils, flee before him, vanquished by his almighty arm; as smoke is driven away, so easily and thoroughly drive them away: as wax melleth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God the Redeemer, when either in present judgments he shall visit them, or in the great day of his appearing and glory, arise to consume them with the brightness of his coming. But let the righteous, those who are accepted in him, and sanctified by his Spirit, be glad when they see his day: let them rejoice before God, in the present joy of his salvation, and in hope of the complete redemption which awaits them, from sin, death, and hell; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice, with exultation proportioned to the greatness of the salvation.
2. He magnifies God as the king of heaven, the self-existent Jehovah. Jesus is this JAH, the self-existent, self-sufficient God, the object of the eternal praises of men and angels, the guardian of his afflicted church and people, raising up families of the faithful among the Gentiles that were solitary and desolate; delivering the bonds-men of sin and Satan from their chains, and bringing them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; but leaving the rebellious sinners, whether of Jews or Gentiles, or false professors, to perish in the dry land of ignorance, infidelity, and obstinate impenitence.
2nd, God's wondrous works are here recorded to his glory, and for his people's comfort; and they may be considered,
1. In a retrospective sense, as relating to past mercies conferred on the Jewish nation.
2. As a glorious prophesy of the gospel church, under their head Christ Jesus; leading up his faithful people from the bondage of sin, and his oppressed church from the power of antichristian foes; as the captain of their salvation going before them, and by his word and Spirit directing their march through this howling wilderness, the world which lieth in wickedness. At the promulgation of his Gospel the powers of earth were shaken; and before his presence, the hearts of proud sinners, though exalted as mountains in height, flowed down in lowliest abasement. By the plentiful effusion of his Spirit in the ministration of the Gospel, the souls of weary and heavy-laden sinners were refreshed, and, into his church admitted, dwelt with comfort there, where, with such a profusion of goodness, the blessings of pardon, grace, consolation, glory, were prepared for every poor and perishing soul. By his apostles and ministers, divinely commissioned, he gave the word; he qualified them for their work, and accompanied their preaching with demonstration of the Spirit; and multitudes, an army, as the word company may be rendered, readily engaged in the warfare, notwithstanding all the dangers: even women (alluding to the women who sung the victories of their generals) helped in the Gospel. The powers of the heathen, though long persecuting, were vanquished by the word of truth; and their kings, converted, became nursing-fathers, while the church, as a conqueror, divided the spoils, the souls of men rescued from heathenism, and the power of Satan. Long had these lain in the corruption and defilement of their fallen nature, as is the case of every sinner till saved by grace; but now were adorned with the garments of salvation, bright as the silver wings of the dove, and beautiful in holiness as her glowing feathers in the sun. And when the final day of recompence comes, and at the battle of Armageddon, Revelation 16:14-16 all opposing potentates shall finally be overthrown; then white as snow in Salmon shall the faithful shine for ever perfect in holiness.
3rdly, We have,
1. The strength and stability of the church of Christ. High and strong as Bashan, vain are all the efforts of the potentates of earth against it: though they threaten to overwhelm it, God's presence in the midst of her is a sure protection, and for ever he will watch over and preserve the interests of his faithful people.
2. Angelic hosts are her constant guard; the thousands of angels stand around their Lord in shining ranks, ready to obey his high commands, and minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. Hebrews 1:14.
3. The Lord is ascended up on high, to take the throne, and guide, govern, and preserve his faithful people; angels, principalities, and powers, being made subject unto him. He hath led captivity captive: like a conqueror, death, hell, and all the powers of darkness, bound in chains, follow his triumphant car: his people are delivered, and shout for victory. He hath received gifts for men, or given gifts unto men, whether ministerial gifts, to qualify them for preaching his Gospel; or the gifts of grace, which he bestows on his people for strength, comfort, and edification: yea, for the rebellious also, such as all men are by nature and practice, till changed by divine grace, and made obedient to the faith; that the Lord God might dwell among them, as a reconciled God in Christ, manifesting his favour and love to those who were once rebel sinners, making them fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the houshold of God. Note; (1.) We can never enough admire and adore the triumphs, grace, and glory of our ascended Saviour. (2.) A pardoned rebel never felt such gratitude to his generous prince, as the pardoned sinner ought to feel towards his gracious lord.
4. He is glorified in the salvation of his faithful ones, for which they ever bless and praise him. He loadeth us with benefits, spiritual and temporal; or, he will bear us up, carry us in his arms, that we may be safe. He is our God, ever interesting himself for the faithful; the God of our salvation, who hath begun, and will perfect it in their behalf; and unto him belong the issues from death; he will preserve the faithful from the deadly devices of their foes, Satan, the world, and sin; will open a door of hope to them in the grave; and, in the resurrection-day, give them victory over death for ever.
5. He will destroy every enemy at last. The head of the old serpent shall be finally bruised, and the obstinately impenitent, who have joined the devil and his angels in their rebellion, shall be thrust down with them into the place of torment.
4thly, Such as were the former deliverances of God's people, such, and more eminent, shall be the salvation and glory of Christ's church.
1. They shall be brought from Bashan, as Israel from the mighty army of Og, victorious over every oppressing and persecuting power, whether pagan, Mahometan, or papal; and shall come up from the depths of their distresses, under the leading of the great Captain of their salvation. Note; However oppressed the cause of Christ may be for a while, the triumphing of his foes is momentary, and their ruin near and terrible.
2. The people of God will celebrate this victory, as of old in the temple the Levites and singers magnified God, on their successes gained by the armies of Israel. They have seen thy goings, O God, how thou, my God and king, goest in the sanctuary, manifesting his presence in his church, and exerting his power for the salvation of his faithful people, and the destruction of their foes. The apostles and preachers, as sweet singers, proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, and all the congregations of true believers, without distinction of sex or station, male and female, princes and subjects, shall unite in the song of praise for Gospel mercies, flowing from the fountain of Israel, the incarnate Saviour. Little Benjamin may have some reference to Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, who was of that tribe, as Zebulun and Naphtali to the first apostles, who were chiefly of the land of Galilee, where these tribes lay; while the princes of Judah, and their council, may signify the first Gospel churches and their ministers, established at Jerusalem and in the neighbourhood.
3. They will depend on God for the perfecting of his own work in the faithful, and in the world. Thy God hath commanded thy strength; which may be considered as an apostrophe to the Messiah, strengthened for the great work of redemption; or as the encouragement which the Psalmist suggests to the people of God. Since God, their God, hath commanded their strength, they may be assured of an answer to their prayer, Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us. Note; (1.) All our spiritual strength comes from God: whatever we enjoy, it is by his grace that we are what we are. (2.) If we have experienced the supports of his arm, we must in faith continue to wait upon him, and may be in this way assured he will strengthen us unto the end.
4. They expect to see the spread of the Redeemer's kingdom universally, and the subdual of all his enemies. Because of thy temple at Jerusalem, shall kings bring presents unto thee, becoming converts to the gospel, and joining themselves to the church of Christ; Princes from Egypt, the old enemy of God's people, shall make their submission; and Ethiopia, the most distant realms of the heathen, stretch out their hands unto God in prayer, or as laying hold on Jesus's strength to make peace with him; and those who will not bow to him, must perish. The enemies of God, though strongly armed, furious, and numerous as herds of bulls, and supported by a deluded people, kept like calves in ignorance and stupidity, will be rebuked, till every one submit himself, be made to yield; or rather, as the words may signify, though glorying themselves, or treading proudly, because of their riches, they shall be brought low; and the people who delight in war, have long waged it against the saints, be finally and eternally scattered from the face of the earth.
5thly, The psalm concludes with an exhortation to the church of God to unite heart and voice, as in duty bound, in ascribing glory to God their Redeemer.
1. As ascended to his throne in the heavens, and ruling over all.
2. For the mighty efficacy of his Gospel, sent forth into all lands.
3. For his operations of grace and providence, towards his faithful people. In him is everlasting strength; his excellency, all his glorious perfections, is over Israel, engaged for their comfort and support; and his strength is in the clouds: they are his instruments of vengeance; on them he went up to heaven, with them he shall descend to judgment.
4. For the awful visitations on his enemies. O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places; in present strokes of vengeance, and especially as ready to consume the wicked with the brightness of his coming.
5. For the preservation of his Israel. The God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people; supports them under all difficulties, strengthens them for their work, and enables the faithful to persevere in their fidelity. Blessed be God: let that Redeemer, whose grace works all for us, and in us, receive the praise of all.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 68". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany