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Deeper Commentary

Psa 68:1

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David. A song-
This appears to be a song sung as the Israelites went out to battle. They took courage from God's previous marchings forth to victory, both from Egypt and then through Canaan; and the spirit of those victories was to be repeated, and come to ultimate term in the victory of the Lord Jesus and the establishment of His Kingdom upon earth.

Let God arise! Let His enemies be scattered! Let them who hate Him also flee before Him-
The allusion is clearly to the High Priestly blessing of the people in Num. 6:24,25, given whenever they began their onward journey to the promised land. This was how Ps. 67:1 begins, but the point is made in that Psalm that the blessing was to be shared with all the Gentiles. This is the same idea with which Ps. 68 begins, supporting the suggestion that the Psalms are often paired. Ps. 67 would thus be an introduction to Ps. 68.

God sees those who love the world as hating Him. Likewise the Bible speaks of the world as being sinful and actively hating God, whereas to human eyes the world is for the most part ignorant. Thus the Canaanite nations did not know much about the God of Israel, and yet they are described as actively hating Him (Num. 10:35 NIV; Ps. 68:1).

Psa 68:2

As smoke is driven away, so drive them away. As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God-
This is the language used by David of the final judgment (Ps. 1:4; 112:10) but he sees in every victory of God's people a foretaste of the final victory. It was this kind of victory which could have been granted to the exiles over Babylon (s.w. Is. 41:2)- had they desired to really leave and restore the Kingdom. But they didn't, and so this kind of victory over the nations surrounding Zion will be finally given to the Lord Jesus at the last day (s.w. Mic. 1:4).


Psa 68:3

But let the righteous be glad, may they rejoice before God; yes, let them rejoice with gladness-
The conflicts between Israel and other nations are seen by David as a struggle between the righteous and the "wicked" (:2). But Israel themselves were never totally righteous; the dichotomy is over simplistic and even self-righteous. But it will ultimately be this way when the Lord Jesus returns.


Psa 68:4

Sing to God! Sing praises to His name! Extol Him who rides on the clouds: to Yah, His name! Rejoice before Him!-
God "rode upon the heavens" to save Israel from Egypt and the Egyptians (s.w. Dt. 33:26; Hab. 3:8). David felt this was how God had delivered him personally (s.w. Ps. 18:10). The allusion is clearly to the cherubim, the chariots upon which God rode. In the context of the exiles, God was ready to ride forth upon the cherubim which Ezekiel had seen in vision in Babylon by the Chebar river. But Israel would not.


Psa 68:5

A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in His holy habitation-
The exiles were those who had been left as fatherless and widows in the destruction of Jerusalem (s.w. Lam. 5:3), because they had despised the fatherless (Ez. 22:7). But God was prepared to arise and deliver the fatherless. But the reality was that they precluded this potential operation of God by preferring to remain in Babylon. 


Psa 68:6

God sets the lonely in families. He brings out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land-
The allusion is to how Israel in Egypt were saved through uniting in family units around the Passover lamb. Those without families were set together with families, and were delivered as families. And God was willing to repeat the Exodus deliverance for the captives in Babylon / Persia. See on Ps. 107:41.

We forsake all human relationships to follow the Lord Jesus (Mt. 19:27-29). And He promises to compensate for this even in this life. But it depends to what extent we are willing to accept and perceive it. Through meaningful fellowship with our brethren we will find those relationships which we have given up compensated for, even if we aren’t physically close to our brethren. To be set in a new family is paralleled with being brought out from slavery. Part of the process of our redemption is that we are set in a new ecclesial family. The implication of Ps. 68 could be that it was in these family groups that they travelled through the wilderness. The N.C.V. reads: “God is in his holy Temple. He is a father to orphans, and he defends the widows. God gives the lonely a home. He leads prisoners out with joy...”. The very house / family of God becomes the house / family of the lonely. Hence the ecclesia is the house of God (1 Cor. 3:16). We find true family in the new family of God.


Psa 68:7

God, when You went forth before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness... Selah-
As God went before the people in the pillars of fire and cloud, so He would lead His people to victory again. And the particular reference was to the possibility of delivering the exiles from captivity and leading them through the wilderness, perhaps also led by Angels, to the promised land.


Psa 68:8

The earth trembled. The sky also poured down rain at the presence of the God of Sinai- at the presence of God, the God of Israel-
Earthquake and rain was sent at the time of the exodus. This was in fact to soften up Canaan for the arrival of the Israelites; they could have entered a land well watered by these rains, with harvest ready to be picked (:9). But because of their rebellion, this great potential didn't come about; because they in their hearts turned back to Egypt. And so it was with the exiles.

 
Psa 68:9

You, God, sent a plentiful rain. You confirmed Your inheritance when it was weary-
As noted on :8, this rain was to prepare Canaan to be full of fruit by the time the Israelites arrived there. They left at Passover, and were intended to arrive in Canaan at harvest time. But such great potentials are wasted all the time by the desire to remain in Egypt / Babylon.


Psa 68:10 Your congregation lived therein. You, God, prepared Your goodness for the poor-
This 'preparation' is as explained on :8,9. The language of inheritance (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4) and preparation of reward (Mt. 25:34; Jn. 14:1) in the NT is alluding to the OT background of the land being prepared by the Angels for Israel to inherit (Ex. 15:17 Heb.; 23:20; Ps. 68:9,10 Heb.) . We must be careful not to think that our promised inheritance is only eternal life; it is something being personally prepared for each of us. The language of preparation seems inappropriate if our reward is only eternal life.


Psa 68:11

The Lord announced the word; the women who proclaimed it are a great company-
There is the implication that a great number of Angels- perhaps the guardian Angels of each of the Israelites- were with them too: "great was the company of those that published it... even thousands of Angels" (Ps. 68:11 AV). This "great company" is defined in :17 as "the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels". These Angels were the cherubic chariots which are envisaged as going out with the Israelites to every battle. The word published was the word concerning Israel leaving Egypt and overcoming every obstacle that lay in the way to entering and possessing the promised land. The same promise is to each of us in our journey from the Red Sea of baptism to the Kingdom (1 Cor. 10:1,2).

If we prefer the rendering "the women...", then the reference is to Miriam and the women of Israel proclaiming God's word of deliverance as already fulfilled. And it was women who first proclaimed the Lord's resurrection, the surmounting of all that may appear to lie in our way towards possession of the Kingdom.


Psa 68:12

Kings of armies flee! They flee! The women who wait at home divide the spoil-
We note the emphasis upon the women (:11). The Canaanites did indeed flee, but Israel failed to believe that. They preferred to think that the Canaanites were invincible, and to return to Egyptian bondage. It was the same in principle at the restoration. Enemies would turn their backs and flee only if Israel were faithful to the covenant.


Psa 68:13

while you men sleep among the campfires-
This appears to allude to the rebuke of Deborah that the men of Israel were cowards and not using the great Divine potential for victory (Jud. 5:16). This would fit the context of the praise of women at this time (:11,12).

 

the wings of a dove sheathed with silver, her feathers with shining gold-
Israel is the turtle dove (Ps. 74:19). Perhaps this is an allusion to some poem known at the time, lamenting the glory which could have been Israel's but was wasted potential. In which case this battle cry is urging the male warriors to not be like their historical counterparts and fail to use all the Divine potential for victory. Or the idea may be to rebuke a love of silver and gold rather than arising and fighting to possess the land- a rebuke appropriate to the exiles who preferred the wealth of Babylon.


Psa 68:14

When the Almighty scattered kings in her, it snowed on Zalmon-
The scattered kings in the land ("her") would drop their weapons and armour and flee (:12). With the sun shining off all those items, it would appear like the snow which fell on Salmon, a hill near Shechem (Jud. 9:48), the central point in the land. Or perhaps there is reference to a snowstorm assisting the rout of enemies.


Psa 68:15

The mountains of Bashan are majestic mountains, the mountains of Bashan are rugged-
LXX "The mountain of God is a rich mountain; a swelling mountain, a rich mountain". This would refer to Zion (as in :16), which was to be elevated as the central focus of God's Kingdom. "Mountains" would then be read as an intensive plural for the one great mountain. The one great mountain of Bashan, if we retain that reading, would be Hermon.


Psa 68:16

Why do you look in envy, you rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign? Yes, Yahweh will dwell there forever-
The Psalm now moves in focus away from being a battle song as the troops marched out (:1) to describing the Kingdom of God to be restored in Israel. For this was to be the final outcome of all Israel's battles. Yahweh will dwell there eternally only when the Kingdom is reestablished in Israel. The surrounding hills around Zion represent therefore the nations surrounding Israel. They were not to be envious, but rather to accept Israel's God enthroned in Zion (:30,31).


Psa 68:17

The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands. The Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the sanctuary-
As explained on :11, the huge Angelic activity of God at the time of the exodus could have been replicated for the exiles, and for Israel in any of their conflicts. There is the implication that God would again gather Israel through those Angels to make another covenant with them. Jer. 31 and Ez. 20 offered a new covenant to the exiles, seeing they had broken the old covenant. But they refused it. These things were all reapplied and rescheduled. For the huge cherubic activity of God now works to bring individuals of all nations to a point, as at Sinai, where delivered from Egypt they can accept the new covenant.


Psa 68:18

You have ascended on high, You have led away captives in your victory train, You have received gifts to distribute among men, yes, among the rebellious also, that Yah God might dwell there-
These words are quoted specifically about the victory of the Lord Jesus on the cross, His ascension to Heaven and gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:8). As noted on :17, the exiles generally refused the scenario made possible for them. And yet the offer of a new covenant remains and has been extended to individuals of all nations, brought through the Red Sea of baptism to a point (cp. Sinai, :17) where they can enter covenant.

Israel were slaves in Egypt, and then after the Red Sea baptism became slaves of God. Ps. 68:18 pictures them as a train of captives being led out of Egypt, merging into the image of a train of a captivity led into a different captivity. Romans 6 powerfully brings home the point: we were slaves of sin, but now are become slaves of righteousness. The gifts of the Spirit which were given were initially revealed in a miraculous form, but the essential purpose of the gift of the Spirit is so that God might dwell among us, even in the hearts of the formerly rebellious. And this is just as much His activity today as ever before.


Psa 68:19

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burdens, even the God who is our salvation. Selah-
LXX "Blessed be the Lord God, blessed be the Lord daily; and the God of our salvation shall prosper us". Israel's deliverance and salvation from Egypt become the spiritual experience of all those saved in Christ. "Burdens" were associated with the slavery in Egypt; it was as if God was with them in that slavery, carrying their burdens with them. And this would have had special relevance to the exiles in Babylon and Assyria.


Psa 68:20

God is to us a God of deliverance; to Yahweh the Lord belongs escape from death- Remember that this was initially a battle song as troops began to march to war (see on :1). The comfort was that God would save them from death, because that is the lead characteristic of Yahweh. And that would be ultimately true- even if they died in battle, the Israelites had the unique hope of the resurrection of the body.


Psa 68:21

But God will strike through the head of His enemies, the hairy scalp of such a one as still continues in his guiltiness-
Thus would suggest that the Israelites were only marching to war against the impenitent who had refused God's calls to repent. The allusion is to the striking of the serpent upon the head (Gen. 3:15), and Israel were to be as the seed of the woman bringing this about.


Psa 68:22

The Lord said, I will bring you again from Bashan, I will bring you again from the depths of the sea-
This appears to reference words of God unrecorded in the previous historical records. Or the idea may be that as God had saved Israel from Egypt through the Red Sea, so He would do so "again" in every struggle of the Israelites. And this will come ultimately true at the last day.


Psa 68:23

that you may crush them, dipping your foot in blood, that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from your enemies-
The taking of a portion or inheritance may allude to the conquest of Canaan, which the Israelite soldiers were to replicate every time they marched to battle (:1). These words were used by David of how God had wounded all his enemies under his feet (Ps. 18:38) and he wished this to be the experience of all God's people. So often he sees his life as a pattern for God's people to follow.


Psa 68:24

They have seen Your processions, God, even the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary-
The "they" may refer to God's enemies (:23), but it is hard to understand how they had seen the processions in the sanctuary. Perhaps the processions were victory parades after the victory, with the captive enemies seeing them in shame (see on :25). Or we may go with LXX "Thy goings, O God, have been seen; the goings of my God, the king, in the sanctuary". We note that David repeatedly calls God "my king" or "the king". He realized that he was only king on God's behalf, and all the desire of Israel for a human king had been a rejection of Yahweh.


Psa 68:25

The singers went before, the minstrels followed after in the midst of the ladies playing with tambourines, singing-
We note the repeated focus upon the role of women (see on :11,12). The reference to tambourines recalls Miriam and the women of Israel rejoicing at the salvation from Egypt. The processions in the sanctuary of :24 were therefore envisaged as processions of praise for victories granted in the spirit of that over Egypt.


Psa 68:26

Bless God in the congregations, even the Lord in the assembly of Israel!-
This could be an invitation to the Gentiles to praise God along with the Israelites. This is a common theme of David. The "congregations" may be an intensive plural for the one great congregation of Israel. David often talks of how he wishes the congregation to praise God. It is the struggle of every spiritually minded and righteous man to humble himself to accept he is only part of a far wider congregation, comprised of believers who may frankly be less spiritually minded than himself (Ps. 26:12; 35:18; 68:26). David and the Lord Jesus are parade examples of achieving this sense. LXX "Praise God in the congregations, the Lord from the fountains of Israel".


Psa 68:27

There is little Benjamin, their ruler, the princes of Judah, their council, the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali-
The idea may be that the two and ten tribe kingdoms were represented together. LXX "There is Benjamin the younger one in ecstasy, the princes of Juda their rulers, the princes of Zabulon, the princes of Nephthali". Perhaps Zebulun and Naphtali were chosen because they were commended for their bravery at the time of Deborah (Jud. 5:18), and she has been in view in :13, in her criticizing of the other tribes for not being as Zebulun and Naphtali. Or in the context of the exiles, it could be that they are mentioned as the areas which suffered most from the invaders (Is. 11:1). But they are envisaged here in glory in Zion.


Psa 68:28

Your God has commanded your strength. Strengthen, God, that which You have done for us-
There may be an allusion here to 'Hezekiah', strengthened by Yah.


Psa 68:29

Because of Your temple at Jerusalem kings shall bring presents to You-
Clearly this was rewritten at some point after David, or maybe David was looking forward to the temple which Solomon would build. In this case, his vision for that temple was as a focal point for the Gentiles to come to and learn of Yahweh. Instead it became filled with their paganic images.


Psa 68:30

Rebuke the wild animal of the reeds, the multitude of the bulls, with the calves of the peoples. Being humbled, may they bring tribute of bars of silver. Scatter the nations that delight in war-
The vision was that entity which had abused God's people, be it Babylon, Assyria or Egypt, would be humbled and come to Zion in repentance with tribute to Yahweh; and those who refused to repent would be scattered in condemnation. But LXX has "Rebuke the wild beasts of the reed: let the crowd of bulls with the heifers of the nations be rebuked, so that they who have been proved with silver may not be shut out: scatter thou the nations that wish for wars". Those refined as silver refer to the exiles after their spiritual education in Babylon; but the truth was that they did not respond as intended, and remained not purified.


Psa 68:31

Princes shall come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall hurry to stretch out her hands to God-
What began as a battle song ends up with a vision of the Gentile enemies accepting the God of Israel. This was the intended outcome of the campaign, rather than mere punishment for its own sake.


Psa 68:32

Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth! Sing praises to the Lord! Selah-
This appears to be encouragement to the Gentile enemies to praise Israel's God. This was ever David's vision, as it is God's.


Psa 68:33

To Him who rides on the heaven of heavens, which are of old; behold, He utters His voice, a mighty voice-
LXX "Sing to God that rides on the heaven of heaven, eastward: lo, he will utter a mighty sound with his voice". The reference to "eastward" would allude to the east wind which destroyed the Egyptians, associated with the clouds upon which the cherubim as it were rode. The mighty voice of God may be that which is verbalized in :34; it is an appeal for repentance and acceptance of Yahweh. "Which are of old" suggests that how God has acted in history, He will do again; a major theme of this Psalm.


Psa 68:34

Ascribe strength to God! His excellency is over Israel, His strength is in the skies-
This is an appeal for the enemies to repent; to perceive that He is king over Israel, they are His Kingdom; and the Gentile peoples can likewise become part of that Kingdom. For that was ever God's intention.


Psa 68:35

You are awesome, God, in Your sanctuaries. The God of Israel gives strength and power to His people. Praise be to God!-
The reference to "the God of Israel" is because as noted in the previous verses, the appeal is for the Gentiles to become part of God's Kingdom. "Your sanctuaries" may refer to the one great sanctuary, Zion. It was David's vision that Zion with the temple upon it should become the parade example of God's manifestation, and would serve as a magnet for the Gentiles to come. This vision is repeated in the prophets.