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THIS psalm is one of triumphant praise and jubilation, the crown and gem of the Second Book. Professor Cheyne calls it "a patriotic and religious ode of wondrous range and compass, and in the grandest style." He also notes that it was a favourite with the Huguenots, who called it "The Song of Battles," and that it was chanted by Savanarola and his brother monks as they marched to the trial of fire in the Piazza of Florence. While some critics assign it to the post-Captivity period (Ewald, Cheyne), the greater number, and the most acute (Botticher, Hitzig, Hengstenberg, Kay, Dean Johnson, etc.)see in it one of the earliest, as well as the most beautiful, specimens of Hebrew poetry. The ascription to David, which we find in the "title," is by these critics accepted as fully borne out by the contents. The antique language, the impressive descriptions, the fresh powerful tone of the poetry, the lyric emotion which pervades the ode, and makes it live, are all worthy of the "sweet psalmist of Israel," and of him alone among known Hebrew composers of hymns. Whether it can be probably assigned to any special period in David's life is disputed, but Hengstenberg's suggestion that it celebrated the final victory in the Ammonitic war, and the capture of Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26-31), seems to deserve mention.
The psalm has been variously divided, but may best be considered as consisting of five portions:
1. An introduction (Psalms 68:1-6), in which God is praised on general grounds.
2. Praise of God for his doings at Sinai and in the wilderness (Psalms 68:7-10).
3. Praise of God for the conquest of Canaan, and the series of victories terminating in the full establishment of David's rule (Psalms 68:11-23).
4. Praise of God in connection with his sanctuary (Psalms 68:24-27).
5. Prophetic announcement of future triumphs (Psalms 68:28-35).
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let them also that hate him flee before him. Compare the chant with which the ark set forth in the wilderness, "Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee" (Numbers 10:35). Both utterances are expressions of confidence, that, whenever God arises, his enemies will be scattered and dispersed before him. Neither refers to any one special occasion.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away. As clouds of smoke are dispersed and driven away by the wind, and totally disappear, so let God, whenever his enemies congregate, scatter and disperse them, and reduce them to nothingness. As wax melteth before the firs, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. As smoke vanishes, so wax entirely melts away and disappears before a hot fire (comp. Psalms 22:14; Psalms 97:5).
But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. When the wicked are destroyed, the righteous receive relief, and cannot but rejoice at God's goodness to them (comp. Psalms 52:6; Psalms 58:10; Psalms 64:7-10, etc.).
Sing unto God, sing praises to his Name (comp. Psalms 64:4): extol him that rideth upon the heavens. This passage is now generally translated, Cast up a highway for him that rideth through the deserts (Hengstenberg, Kay, Dean Johnson, Professor Cheyne, Revised Version). The image is that of a king travelling through a waste, for whom a way was made beforehand (comp. Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 49:11). By his name Jah; rather, Jah is his Name. "Jah"—the shortened form of "Jehovah"—occurs first in the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:2). It is repeated here in Psalms 68:18, and recurs in Isaiah 26:4. Dr. Kay suggests that "it represents the concentration of God's redeeming power and love." And rejoice before him (comp. Isaiah 26:3).
A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God. A defender, i.e; of the oppressed and downtrodden (comp. Isaiah 1:17). In his holy habitation. The heavenly and not the earthly dwelling place—whether tabernacle or temple—seems to be intended. God from his holy seat in the highest heaven pours clown his grace and mercy, his defence and protection, on all those who specially need his aid.
God setteth the solitary in families; or, in a home; i.e. gives "solitary ones"—outcasts, wanderers—a home to dwell in. The reference is to the settlement of the nomadic Israelites in Canaan. He bringeth out those which are bound (see Psalms 146:7, "The Lord looseth the prisoners;" and compare the many references to the "bondage" of Israel in Egypt). The Exodus is glanced at, but not exclusively. God "brings men out" from the tyranny of worldly oppressors, of ghostly enemies, and of their own lusts and sins. With chains; rather, into prosperity (Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version). But the rebellious dwell in a dry land. Rebels against God are not "brought out." They are left to dwell in the "dry land" of their own impenitence and self-will (comp. Numbers 14:29-35).
In the central portion of the psalm, from Psalms 68:7 to Psalms 68:28, God is praised for his doings in connection with the history of Israel; and, first of all, in the present passage, for his doings at Sinai and in the wilderness.
O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people (see Exodus 13:20-22). The present verse and the next are an echo of the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:4, Judges 5:5), "Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water; the mountains melted from before the Lord, even that Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel." When thou didst march through the wilderness. The entire march from Etham to Pisgah is in the poet's mind; but he can touch only certain features of it. And first, the scene at Sinai.
The earth shook, the heavens also dropped, at the presence of God (see Exodus 19:16-18; Deuteronomy 5:22, Deuteronomy 5:23). The "dropping" of the heavens was the descent of a thick thundercloud upon the mount, which rested upon it, and spread around a dense and weird darkness. Even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God; literally, yonder Sinai, as if it were in sight, and could be pointed at. The God of Israel. Our God, who did all these great things for us.
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain. Not a literal rain, but a shower of blessings—manna, quails, water out of the rock, protection against enemies, victories, etc. Whereby thou didst confirm (or, establish) thine inheritance (see 2 Samuel 7:13). When it was weary. The wandering in the wilderness must have been inexpressibly dull and wearisome, especially to those who had left Egypt with the hope of a quick march through the waste, and a speedy entrance into "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:17). The "establishment" in Palestine under Joshua was a blessing that could not but be highly valued after well nigh a century of cruel bondage in Egypt, and forty years of aimless wandering in the Sinaitic peninsula.
Thy congregation hath dwelt therein; thy troop, or thy host (see 2 Samuel 23:11, 2 Samuel 23:13). The word used (חיּה) is an unusual one. Thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor; or, thou, O God, didst in thy goodness make preparation for the poor. "The poor" are the Israelites, brought low by their sufferings in Egypt and the wilderness; the preparations those by which their conquest of Palestine was facilitated (Exodus 25:28; Joshua 24:12).
From God's mercies to his people at Sinai and in the wilderness, the psalmist goes on to consider those connected with the conquest of Canaan, and the establishment of David's widespread rule. The passage is difficult and obscure, perhaps from its embodying fragments of the earlier Hebrew poetry. It is also full of curious transitions, and of ellipses which make the meaning doubtful.
The Lord gave the word. The reader naturally asks—What word? Commentators answer variously: "the watchword" (Cheyne); "promise of victory" (Kay); "the word of command" (Dean Johnson); "announcement of an actual victory gained" (Hengstenberg). I should rather understand a sort of creative word, initiating the period of strife (comp. Shakespeare's "Cry havock, and let slip the dogs of war!"). Great was the company of those that published it; literally, great was the company of the women that heralded it. The reference is to the female choirs which took a prominent part in the war songs of ancient days (see Exodus 15:20, Exodus 15:21; Jdg 5:1; 1 Samuel 18:6, 1 Samuel 18:7).
Kings of armies did flee apace; literally, did flee—did flee; i.e. fled repeatedly before Israel (see Joshua 8:19-22; Joshua 10:19, Joshua 10:20; Joshua 11:8, Joshua 11:9; Judges 3:10, Judges 3:29; Judges 4:14-16; Judges 7:19-25; Judges 8:11, Judges 8:12; Judges 11:29-33; Judges 15:14-16; 1 Samuel 7:10, 1Sa 7:11; 1 Samuel 11:11; 1 Samuel 14:47, 1Sa 14:48; 1 Samuel 15:7, 1 Samuel 15:8; 1Sa 17:52; 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1, 2 Samuel 8:2, 2 Samuel 8:4, 2 Samuel 8:5, 2 Samuel 8:13; 2 Samuel 10:6-18, etc.). And she that tarried at home divided the spoil. The wives of the conquerors shared in the spoil when it was brought home (Judges 5:28-30).
Though ye have lien among the pots; rather, Will ye lie down among the sheepfolds? Will ye, O ye laggarts of Israel, like the Reubenites in the war against Sisera, instead of going out to war with your brethren, "abide among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks" (see Judges 5:16)? Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. It is certainly wrong to supply, yet shall ye be before as the wings of a dove." There can be no promise of good made to these laggarts. Probably the meaning is, "Will ye be," or "Will ye seek to be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers of yellow gold?" i.e. Will ye abide in your prosperity and your riches, decked in gorgeous apparel, resplendent with silver and gold, while your brethren are bearing the brunt of battle, with all its ghastly sights and sounds, in your and the land's defence?
When the Almighty scattered kings in it; i.e. "in the land" (comp. Psalms 68:10). Most of the defeats of kings, referred to above (see the comment on Psalms 68:12), took place within the limits of Palestine. It was white as snow in Salmon. The present text has only the two words which mean, "it snows on Salmon;" whence it is concluded that something must have fallen out. Professor Cheyne supplies כְּמוֹ ֵהַשֶּׁלֶג like snow," and understands the passage to mean that, when the kings were scattered, "it was like snow when it snows on Salmon"—the ground was all covered with glistering arms, armour, and garments. Salmon was a wooded hill near Shechem (Judges 9:48).
The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan; rather, a mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan. A sudden transition, and perhaps a quotation from an ancient poem. The special object of the psalmist's thought is not Bashan, but Mount Zion; and what he is about to celebrate is Jehovah's choice of Mount Zion for his dwelling place, and his establishment on it. But he prefers to introduce the subject by a contrast with the great range of Canaan. Bashan, he says, is truly "a mountain of God"—i.e. a very great mountain (see the comment on Psalms 36:6)—"one which seemed in an especial degree to show forth creative power." It is also an high hill; or rather, a mountain of peaks, containing numerous pointed summits. Yet God did not choose one of these for his habitation.
Why leap ye, ye high hills? rather, Why look ye askance, ye mountains of peaks? In jealousy at not being chosen. This is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; rather, on the mountain which God desireth to dwell in—a continuation of the preceding sentence. The mountain intended is, of course, Mount Zion, a comparatively low elevation. Yea, the Lord will dwell in it forever; i.e. make it his permanent, not merely his temporary, habitation, like Sinai.
The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. Another abrupt transition. The psalmist sees God move from Sinai, where he had represented him as present in Psalms 68:8, into the sanctuary of Mount Zion. He is, of course, accompanied by his angelic host. This is described as a host of chariots—twenty thousand in number, and "thousands of repetition"—or thousands multiplied by thousands, as Hengstenberg understands the phrase (comp. Daniel 7:10). The Lord (Jehovah) is among them; or, "in their midst." As in Sinai, in the holy place; rather, Sinai is in the sanctuary. The glories of Sinai are, as it were, transferred thither.
Thou hast ascended on high; i.e. ascended into the sanctuary, Mount Zion—gone up with the ark when it was transferred thither (see 2 Samuel 6:12-19; 1 Chronicles 15:11-28). Thou hast led captivity captive; i.e. thou hast made many captives—or enabled us to take many prisoners. Thou hast received gifts for men; rather, among men. Tribute from Israel's enemies is probably intended. Yea, for the rebellious also; literally, yea, rebels also; i.e. enemies, that when reduced have rebelled, and then submitted to pay tribute a second time. That the Lord God (Jah Elohim) might dwell among them; "That God, after the nations had been subdued and submitted themselves, might rest quietly thenceforth in Zion."
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation; rather, blessed be the Lord day by day; he will bear (our burden) for us, (he is) the God of our salvation.
He that is our God is the God of salvation; rather, God is to us a God of saving deeds (Kay), or of deliverances (Revised Version); i.e. net of salvation only in the abstract (Psalms 68:19), but of deeds by which we are saved. And unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. It is through God only that, when death threatens, men escape it.
But God shall wound the head of his enemies; or, "yet surely God will smite," etc. Though he gives escape from death, yet he will not do so always. On the contrary, he will assuredly smite and destroy his enemies, wounding them where a wound is fatal. And the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses. "The hairy scalp," says Dr. Kay, "points almost certainly to Absalom." Others take it as merely indicating the young and strong.
The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea. Our translators' interpolation of the words, "my people," is unhappy. The psalmist means to represent God as threatening his enemies, not as encouraging his faithful ones. Though his enemies (Psalms 68:21) fly to Bashan and bury themselves in its woods, or though they even hide themselves in the depths of the sea, he will search them out, and "bring them back," that vengeance may be taken on them (see Psalms 68:23).
That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies; i.e. "I will bring them back for thee, my people, to dip your feet in their blood." The same metaphor is used in Isaiah 63:1-3; but it is God himself who, in that passage, has his feet reddened in his enemies' blood, And the tongue of thy dogs in the same. The Authorized Version has omitted one word of the original here. Translate, And that the tongue of thy dogs may have its portion from the same.
Again we find a transition. The conquest of Canaan is complete—God is gone up into his sanctuary. The nations are led captive or put to tribute Rebels are crushed; the last remnants of them sought out, brought back, and delivered into the hands of Israel. Now we have a description of God's "goings in the sanctuary" (Psalms 68:24). Some critics suppose a particular occasion to be pointed at; but the expression "goings" rather indicates something habitual, or, at any rate, recurring. God is from time to time glorified in his sanctuary by ceremonies which the poet describes.
They have seen thy goings, O God; i.e. men have seen—friends and foes alike—even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary. God is at once both Israel's God and Israel's King. The monarchy has not wholly destroyed the theocracy.
The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after. In Assyrian musical processions the players on instruments precede the singers. Among them were the damsels playing with timbrels; rather, in the midst of the damsels, etc. The damsels are represented, not as intermixed with the (male) singers and players on instruments, but as encircling them. (On the use of "timbrels" (tambourines) by Israelite maidens, see Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34.)
Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel. This is probably the refrain of the hymn sung (comp. Exodus 15:21; 2 Chronicles 5:13; Ezra 3:11). By "the fountain of Israel" is no doubt meant the sanctuary on Mount Zion—"the ever-living fountain of praise" (Kay).
There is little Benjamin with their ruler. "With" is wrongly supplied by our translators. "Little Benjamin" the "smallest of the tribes of Israel" (1 Samuel 9:21)—is called "their ruler," as having furnished the first king, and the one who began the conquests celebrated in Psalms 68:11-23. If the psalm is to be accounted as David's, we may note it as a graceful act on his part that he places Saul's tribe first. The princes of Judah and their council. Again "and" is wrongly supplied. "The princes of Judah" are called "their council," or "their bulwark" (Kay), as holding the most important position in Israel at the time. The reading, however, is doubtful. The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali. Four tribes only are mentioned, not because no more than four took part in the processions, but as representatives of the whole number. The tribes selected for mention are from the two ends of the land—the extreme south and the extreme north. Zebulun and Naphtali were the most important of the northern tribes (see Judges 4:6, Judges 4:10; Judges 5:18), as Judah and Benjamin were of the southern ones.
The psalmist now turns to the future. First, he prays that God will complete the work which he has begun by continually strengthening Israel (Psalms 68:28). Then he rises to prophecy. Kings and princes shall bring presents to Zion; empires shall prostrate themselves; Egypt and Ethiopia shall hasten to bow down; all the kingdoms of the earth shall ultimately "sing praises unto the Lord." Israel and the God of Israel will thus be glorified exceedingly.
Thy God hath commanded (or, ordained) thy strength. It is fixed in the Divine counsels that Israel shall be strong. This was determined long ago, and is in course of accomplishment. But more is needed. The psalmist therefore prays, Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us. Complete thy work; "strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees;" weaken also and bring down our enemies (Psalms 68:30).
Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee. So Ewald, Kay, and the Revised Version, though critics generally doubt whether min can have this meaning. If min has its usual sense of "from," we must regard the kings as having entered the temple courts, and from thence stretching out their hands, and offering their gifts, to God, who is in the holy of holies. (On the offering of gifts by heathen kings, see Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:16; and comp. Psalms 72:10.)
Rebuke the company of spear men; rather, the wild beast of the reeds; i.e. the crocodile or the hippopotamus, either of which may well symbolize the empire of Egypt, the mightiest of the heathen powers in David's time. The multitude of the bulls represents other heathen powers, Assyria perhaps especially, which had the human-headed and winged bull for its principal emblem. With the calves of the people; rather, of peoples—an obscure phrase, perhaps meaning inferior powers. Till every one submit himself with pieces of silver; literally, (each) submitting himself to thee with pieces of silver. This is given as the result of the rebukes. When the various earth powers have been "rebuked" or chastised by God, then they will submit to bring gifts, or pay tribute, to Israel (comp. Psalms 68:18). Scatter thou the people that delight in war. This is exegetical of the first clause—rebuke these various world powers that delight in war by "scattering" them, or putting them to flight before their enemies.
Princes shall come out of Egypt. Then shall princely ambassadors come to Zion out of Egypt, and make submission (comp. Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14). Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. The Ptolemies, in their wars with Syria, often sought the favour of the Jews. Christian Churches at an early date were established both in Egypt and in Abyssinia, and some of the most promising mission fields today are in Africa.
Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord. All the world powers having submitted to the Church, all the kingdoms of the earth can be called upon to join in the praise of God.
To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens (comp. Psalms 68:4; and for the expression "heavens of heavens," see Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27). Which were of old. In which God dwelt from all eternity—long before he created the "heavens" of Genesis 1:1. Lo, he doth send out his voice, and that a mighty voice. A voice that is heard and obeyed in every part of creation.
Ascribe ye strength unto God; or, "might," "power"—that which makes him Shaddai, "the Almighty." His excellency is over Israel; or, "his majesty" (Kay). And his strength is in the clouds. Not in earth only, but in heaven also.
O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places. "Terrible," i.e; in the things that thou accomplishest out of thy holy places," as Sinai, Zion, heaven. (On the "terribleness" of God, see Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 37:22; Psalms 47:2; Psalms 66:3, Psalms 66:5; Jeremiah 20:11; Zephaniah 2:11; Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 4:14; Neh 6:1-19 :32; Hebrew Nehemiah 12:29.) The God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people (comp. Psalms 68:28). Blessed be God. A worthy ending to this glorious hymn of praise.
Psalms 68:3, Psalms 68:4
Joy in God.
"Let the righteous be glad," etc. The Bible, like human life, has its dark as well as bright side. Rather say, shows human life thus double-sided—half in light of happiness, knowledge, goodness; half in night of weeping. And as the earth in her path round the sun makes her own night, rolling into her own shadow; so the darkness of life results from man's turning away from God, the source of light, life, joy. No depths of sorrow so dark as those the Bible reveals. No heights of joy so bright. Almost the first page records the incoming of sin and death. Almost the last page, the forecast of doom. But before the record of sin, the declaration that man was created in God's image; and that all which God had made was good. After prophecy of judgments, the promise of new heavens and earth—the unclouded glory of the heavenly city. The text, in harmony with large part of Psalter, brings before us the bright side of life—joy in God.
I. GROUNDS OF THIS JOY.
1. Deepest and highest of all reasons for joy in God—his character: righteousness, truth, mercy, or (as same word beautifully translated) loving kindness; eternal opposition to evil, and delight in good. All this is summed up in two words: "holiness," "love." These do not divide God's character; each describes the whole. In regard to his own perfection—pattern and fountain of all goodness—God is holy. In regard to his creatures, God is love. Peculiar inalienable glory of Bible—it lays this moral spiritual basis for religion. Worship, which regards the infinite greatness and glory of the Creator; obedience ("the fear of God"), which regards his authority and power as Lord of all;—these are everywhere inseparably joined with faith (trust), which goodness alone can command or warrant. The more we disinter the relics of ancient religions (inscriptions, sacred books, etc.), the more evident how widely the knowledge of the true God was once diffused; how gradually the darkness swallowed up the light (Romans 1:1). We meet with wonderful and beautiful settings forth of Divine glory. Yet the contrast with religious teaching of Bible only grows more marked. One reason—nowhere else do we find a practical revelation, even the very notion or pretence, of God's character by continuous course of dealings and messages, parallel with human history. Nowhere else any hint, much less lull unfolding, of a Divine message to the whole human race, "God so loved the world;" to every individual, "Be ye reconciled to God."
2. Second ground of joy—our personal relation to God. Now Testament full of this. "Children of God" (Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:1). Modern heresy of substituting what is called "the universal Fatherhood of God" for message of gospel, substitutes a general for a personal relation. Throws back religion into Genesis. Each Hebrew, under Law of Moses, was brought into personal relation to God:
(1) by the covenant at Sinai, to which "his Name Jah" (equivalent to "Jehovah") referred;
(2) by sacrifices, which had direct reference to his own sins. Conversion to God cannot be more truly described than as coming consciously, joyfully, trustfully, though penitently, into personal relation with God, in and through Christ. The vital question forevery one is, "On what footing am I with the Father of spirits?' Is it possible—not even on speaking terms? Or, if not so bad as that, yet so that you cannot, dare not, say, "My God; my Father"? Then you cannot rejoice in God.
3. Third reason for joy in God—his unchangeableness. This is what gives value to all past revelations; trustworthiness to promises; security for the future; for eternity.
4. Fourth reason—the assured triumph of right over wrong; good over evil, because God reigns. A severe side to this. Perfect goodness cannot but have its severe side, in world swarming with injustice, cruelty, falsehood, last. Powerful tendency of present day to ignore this; look only on soft side of goodness. But perfect love must include perfect hatred of all that debases and rains human life. Illust.: Father sees child maimed or blinded, through carelessness or cruelty; Christian meekness represses desire of vengeance; but not to feel righteous anger would be monstrous insensibility. And welfare of society may demand exemplary punishment. God's character assures us that he has "no pleasure in the death of a sinner;" but equally, that "the wages of sin is death."
II. INFLUENCE OF THIS JOY IN GOD. Suppose the agnostic right; revelation an illusion; faith a blind conjecture flung out into void of ignorance. Even so, it would remain true that the believer has spring of unselfish motive, inspiration of pure, lofty aim, fount of comfort and joy, the world cannot give or take away. but "we have not followed … fables." If deprived of this wonderful Book of Psalms, of whole story of God's dealings and messages down to nineteen hundred years ago, this would not alter Glory or certainty of fact that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."
A plentiful rain.
Closely rendered, "A rain of free bounty didst thou shed forth, O God! Thine inheritance, when weary, thou strengthenedst it." In the poetic Hebrew phrase, the land suffering from drought is said to be "weary;" as if exhausted and thirsting for the rain. If the reference here (as commonly supposed) be to the manna and other blessings, even including spiritual blessings, bestowed by God on Israel; yet the image is drawn from nature. Nothing is more delightful to every sense than an abundant rain after scorching drought. None of God's works is more full of usefulness, beauty, or spiritual symbolism than the rain. Take some of its lessons.
I. THE RICHES OF GOD'S BOUNTY. As its uncounted millions of drops fall from the sky, they vividly remind us that "every good gift is from above." All life, of man and lower creatures, hangs on those tiny drops. In wells, springs, storage reservoirs, they furnish the life-giving draught; which lacking, intolerable torments of thirst would presently end in death. At the roots of grass, corn, trees, plants of divers kinds they are food for man and beast; and not food only, but clothing, habitation, fuel, inexhaustible material of industry. Gathered in streams and rivers, or vanishing again in steam, they are motive power, slaves of traffic, builders of homesteads and of cities. Truly does another psalm say, "Thou greatly enrichest it." Our wealth and luxury, as well as food and drink, descend in the "plentiful rain."
II. THE GENTLENESS OF DIVINE POWER. The silent softness with which the raindrops fall conceals the tremendous strength stored up in them. Now and then waterspouts, floods, hailstorms, show how easily the rain may become the minister of ruin and death, instead of nourishment and growth. God's gentleness makes us great. A drop of rain from a mile high will not hurt a child's hand. An ounce of ice from the same height would kill a giant.
III. GOD'S FAR-WORKING POWER AND ALL-EMBRACING WISDOM. The provision for rain—in the seas and oceans covering so large a proportion of our globe; in the heat which raises the vapour, the winds which bear the clouds, the forces by which the rain drops are formed and fail—presents a network of contrivance encompassing the whole globe; one of the most wonderful and beautiful examples of creative design. No wonder the references in the Bible are so numerous: St. Paul, to the idolaters of Lystra (Acts 14:17); Amos 5:8; Jeremiah 14:22; our Saviour (Matthew 5:45). The general laws according to which this prime necessary of life is supplied are simple and uniform, and there are regions in which they work with monotonous regularity; but in the countries chosen for the principal education of the human race there is a wide margin of mystery and apparent irregularity, which seems specially intended to give scope for the discipline of providence and for prayer (Amos 4:7, Amos 4:8; James 5:17, James 5:18).
IV. THE RAIN IS THE IMAGE OF SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS, ESPECIALLY OF DIVINE TRUTH AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Isaiah 4:1-6:10, 11; Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 44:4; Ezekiel 36:25, Ezekiel 36:26.) And as the rain falls in vain on the sea and on the sandy waste, so the truth and grace of God are offered in vain to thankless, unbelieving hearts (Hebrew Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:8; 2 Corinthians 6:1).
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
The ark and Christ.
It is said that "the testimony of [or, 'concerning'] Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10). This is specially true of this psalm, it might be called a song of the ark. As Moses spake of the setting forward and resting of the ark (Numbers 10:35, Numbers 10:36), so the psalmist sings of the glorious march of Messiah at the head of his Church—onward from victory to victory—to the final rest. We may bring out much of its spiritual significance by marking some points of resemblance between the ark and Christ.
I. THE LAW OF GOD WAS PLACED WITHIN THE ARK. The Law was the "testimony" to God's character and will, and the foundation of his "covenant" with Israel. That this might be kept in perpetual remembrance, the Law was put in the ark as the most sacred place (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Therefore the ark was called "the ark of the testimony" and "the ark of the covenant" (Exodus 16:34; Deuteronomy 31:26; Hebrew Deuteronomy 9:4). The ark was thus a figure of him that was to come, of whom it was written, "Thy Law is within my heart" (Psalms 40:8; cf. Isaiah 42:21; Matthew 5:17; John 4:34; John 17:4; Romans 10:4; Revelation 11:19).
II. THE ARK WAS SET IN THE FOREFRONT OF ISRAEL IN ALL THEIR GOINGS. It was always at the head. When it moved, Israel moved. When it rested, Israel rested. In the wilderness, at the passage of the Jordan, and on during the conquest of Canaan, the ark always went before, as showing that they were under the guidance of God, and that in all their doings they must have regard to the will of God. The Law within the ark was to be the Law of Israel (Psalms 68:7; Numbers 10:33; Joshua 3:3). So it is with Christ, as saith Isaiah, "Behold, I have given him for a Leader and Commander to the people" Isaiah 55:4). We see this beautifully illustrated in our Lord's earthly life. He was the good Shepherd, of whom it is said, "He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out;" "He goeth before them, and they follow him" (John 10:3, John 10:4). The word of the Lord to his disciples is always, "Follow me." What was said of the twelve is true of all others. "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went before them" (Mark 10:32).
III. THE ARK WAS THE MEETING PLACE BETWEEN GOD AND HIS PEOPLE. (Cf. Exodus 25:22, "There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony.") What was here in shadow we have now in substance. Christ is the meeting place between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). "Through him we have access unto God the Father" (Ephesians 2:18). He is Immanuel, God with us (Mat 1:23; 1 John 1:3; Hebrew 1 John 4:16).
IV. THE ARK WAS ASSOCIATED WITH THE GREAT EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL. Some of these are recorded in this psalm. So Christ has been with his people from the beginning. Their life, their conquests, their achievements, have all been through him. And he promises to be with them to the end (Matthew 28:20).
V. THE ARK WAS ENTHRONED WITH THE HIGHEST HONOURS IN THE HOUSE OF GOD. There had been many trials and conflicts, but at last there was victory. The ark was carried in triumph to Jerusalem, and set in glory on Mount Zion. Afterwards it was removed, and placed in the most holy place in the temple on Mount Moriah (verses 18-31). All this may be said to have been typical of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow, when he was received into heaven, and seated in glory on the right hand of God (Psalms 24:1-10; Ephesians 4:11; Hebrew Ephesians 2:9, Ephesians 2:10; 10:12, 13). But there are certain differences. The ark was carried by human hands, but Christ conquered and ascended in his own strength (Hebrew Isaiah 9:11). The ark was set in an earthly tabernacle, but Christ "is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens" (HebrewIsaiah 8:1; Isaiah 8:1, Isaiah 8:9, 24). The ark was but a temporary thing, a symbol that served its purpose and has long since passed away. Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." The Gospels set forth his glory; we see his royal progress in the Acts of the Apostles; and the Revelation of St. John bears witness to his continued triumphs, till the end come, when he shall be hailed by Jew and Gentile as "the King of kings and Lord of lords."—W.F.
Psalms 68:5, Psalms 68:6
Comfort for the desolate.
I. EARTHLY CROSSES. What significance in the terms "fatherless" and "widows"! They tell of death, of war and pestilence and famine, of desolated homes and broken hearts and innumerable sorrows. Then in "the solitary," all the ills of life seem gathered up.
II. HEAVENLY COMFORTS. It is a great comfort to believe that there is a God who made the world, and cares for the world that he has made. But there is much more here. God is represented as not only great, but kind; not only as mighty, but merciful; not only as ruling over all his works in righteousness, but as making the weak and the sorrowful his special care. There are three great comforts here.
1. God's Fatherhood. (Jeremiah 49:11.)
2. The brotherhood of man.
3. The blessedness of home.
"God setteth the solitary in families." This is in part fulfilled here. Perhaps "the solitary," like Moses in the desert, finds a home. instead of wandering alone, he is blessed with a wife and children, and the sweet joys of family life. Again, "the solitary" may have friends raised up to him. In the Church and in society he finds true companionships and healthy occupation, and walks no more with aimless feet. Or it may be that God works such a change in his heart that he rises superior to circumstances. There are "spiritual presences" with him. Though alone, he is yet not alone, because God is with him (Acts 8:39; 2 Timothy 4:17). But the highest fulfilment is to come. Heaven is the eternal home. There is no "solitary" there. It is the house of God, of many mansions, of happy families, and of endless fellowships and joys. While the text shows the Divine origin and the manifold blessings of "the family," it hints also at its immortality. It has withstood the greatest shocks of time, and it may, in some higher way, survive in the eternal world (Proverbs 12:7; cf. Ephesians 3:15, Revised Version).—W.F.
These words may be tken as symbolizing
God's love gifts to his people.
What he did to Israel in the wilderness, he will do to his Church to the end of the world. He is the great Sender, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and evermore the thought of his love awakens gratitude and praise. His gifts are characterized by—
I. SWEETNESS. They are sweet in themselves as the "rain," but they are sweeter still as sent from God. They have the impress of his hand. They are the tokens of his love (Acts 14:17; Deuteronomy 32:2).
II. COPIOUSNESS. Rain may be slight, partial, or temporary. Here it is "plentiful." It is like that which came on Carmel at the prophet's call—"abundance of rain" (1 Kings 18:41). It is a "rain of gifts"—large, generous, widespread, meeting the needs of all, reaching to the furthest part of the dry and parched land.
III. TIMELINESS. God does nothing in an arbitrary way. It is when his people are "weary" that he visits them with "times of refreshing." They are "weary" from toil, or conflict, or suffering, or long and anxious waiting; and their hearts are like the "parched ground" crying for "rain." God hears. When "rain" is most needed it is best appreciated. God promises "to pour water on the thirsty" (Isaiah 44:3).
IV. REFRESHMENT. "Confirm." This implies renewal of strength, invigoration of faith and hope and love. As the "rain" quickens and calls forth the life in the earth, so that the grass flourisheth and the corn ripens, so it is with God's people when he visits them with the outpouring of the Spirit. It is as if Pentecost were come again. Let us pray and wait. Let us turn new vigour to right use.
"As torrents in summer, half dried in their channels,
Suddenly rise though the sky is still cloudless,
For rain has been falling far off at their fountains;
So hearts that are fainting grow full to o'erflowing,
And they that behold, it marvel and know not
That God at their fountains far off has been raining."
in three aspects.
I. AS A FACT. "Thou hast ascended." What was shown in figure is now fulfilled. What was a faith is now a fact (Acts 1:2-9; Ephesians 4:7). While there is much that is strange, there is nothing that is incredible. The marvellous thing was not Christ's ascent, but his descent. Believe in the Incarnation, and all beside, down to the glorious ascent from Olivet, becomes not only credible, but natural.
II. AS A POWER. Christ ascended as a conqueror. His entrance into heaven was a triumph. His power is seen not only in victory over his enemies, but in blessings to his friends. Power over matter is great, but power over mind is greater. Christ's power is moral and beneficent. The work he did on earth was the earnest of the work he carries on in heaven. His "gifts" are not only kingly, but they are bestowed in the most kingly manner. "The rebellious" are not excluded. There is mercy for the greatest sinner, as there is grace to the uttermost for all the saints. Christ's "gifts" are not only precious, but permanent. As long as there is need on earth there will be supply from heaven (Hebrews 4:14-16).
III. AS A PROPHECY. Christ was the first, hut not the last, to ascend, He has "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." His ascent is the pledge of his people's ascent. "Where should the living members be but with their living Head?" His ascent is the sure prophecy of his second coming, and of the everlasting glory of his kingdom (Acts 1:11; Colossians 3:4; Hebrews 9:28). "In his blessed life we see the path, and in his death the price, and in his great ascent the proof supreme of immortality."—W.F.
"Blessed be the Lord, who daily beareth our burden" (Revised Version).
I. HERE IS A SWEET PICTURE OF GOD. It is sometimes said that the God of the Old Testament is a God stem and implacable, more to be feared than to be loved. This is to err. The picture here is very different. It is tender and winning. We see the Lord here stooping down in love, to help the weak, to relieve the weary, to bring deliverance to the oppressed. This is in accordance with his character. Thus he has dealt with his people, with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and countless others, in the time of their need. The thought of what God is and has done excites endless gratitude. Daily mercy calls forth daily praise. "Blessed be the Lord."
II. HERE IS A BRIGHT FOREGLEAM OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST. It may be said that we have the gospel preached here in a figure. Take this word as a test, and Christ's life is the comment. See how he came down to us. See how he bore the burden of our sins and weaknesses. See how gently he dealt with his first disciples, and so gave token of the way he would deal with his disciples to the end of the world. His love never faileth. From day to day, with unwearied patience and mercy, he hears our burden. Hear his voice ringing sweetly through the ages, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." What Christ does for us we should endeavour to do, so far as lieth in us, for others. We should help one another (Galatians 6:1, Galatians 6:2).
III. HERE IS A BEAUTIFUL REPRESENTATION OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. What we cannot do for ourselves, Christ will do for us. We are not alone, Christ is with us. We are not called to face the trials and to bear the burdens of life in our own strength; Christ is our Burden bearer. Our sins, which would have crushed us clown to hell, he has already borne, and the lesser burdens, also too heavy for us, he will bear for us. He may not take them off us, but if not, he will enable us to carry them. He will make his grace sufficient for us. Every day brings to us its burden, and every day we need anew the help of Christ. Though we can do nothing without him, we can do all things through his strength. Thus our path is onward. We go from strength to strength. Nearer and nearer comes the time when we shall lay our burdens down forever, and enter into the rest of God.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The subject of his grand hymn is
The entry of God into his sanctuary on Zion.
"These introductory verses contain the praise of God as the Almighty Destroyer of the wicked and the Deliverer of the just, and the exhortation to praise him as the Helper of all the miserable."
I. GOD SOMETIMES SEEMS TO SIT INACTIVE, AND NOT TO INTERFERE WITH HUMAN AFFAIRS. At such times wicked men and wicked nations seem to triumph over righteous men and righteous nations, and good men are filled with doubting and despondent thoughts. Hence they pray, "Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered."
II. BUT THERE ARE TIMES WHEN GOD SHOWS HOW WEAK IS THE STRONGEST WHEN ARRAYED AGAINST HIM. The wicked then flee before his face as smoke is driven before the wind, or as wax melts before the fire. Then good men are filled with rejoicing, and are confirmed in their highest thoughts of God. National revolutions and national growths are full of God's activity.
III. WHEN GOD ARISES TO WORK ANY GREAT CHANGE, WE HAVE TO PREPARE THE WAY FOR HIS COMING. (Psalms 68:4.) "Cast up a highway for him who rideth through the deserts," alluding to the custom of Eastern monarchs, who sent pioneers to prepare the route which they intended to follow; not "extol him that rideth upon the heavens." Here the preparation is evidently the joyful expectation of his coming to go before his people, and of the mighty deeds which he will work. By faith and joyful work we prepare God's way; and he goes before us to prepare our way. Both ideas here.
IV. GOD IS TO BE PRAISED NOT ONLY FOR HIS GREAT VICTORIES, BUT FOR HIS COMPASSION TO THE MISERABLE. (Psalms 68:4, Psalms 68:5.) He helps those most to be pitied, while the great earthly potentates respect only the rich and the noble.
1. He helps and comforts the widow and the fatherless.
2. He gives homes to the outcast and homeless.
3. He gives liberty to the captive. Only the rebellious abide in a land of drought.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 68". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/