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Heading (Psalms 60:1 a).
‘For the Chief Musician; set to Shushan Eduth. Michtam of David, to teach, when he strove with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and Joab returned, and smote twelve thousand men of Edom in the Valley of Salt.’
This Psalm is dedicated to the Chief Musician to the tune of Shushan Eduth, ‘the Lily of Testimony’. Compare for this the similar tune for Psalms 80:0 (shushannim eduth - ‘lilies of testimony’). It is a Michtam, a cry for cover and protection, and was for the purpose of teaching. Possibly the aim was that it should be learned by heart.
The background to the Psalm was when David had invaded Syria (Aram) to the north (2 Samuel 8:3-8), defeating the kings of Zobah and Damascus. Seemingly the Edomites to the south, with the assistance of the Syrians, had taken advantage of the opportunity to invade Southern Judah. It was at this point that the Psalm was written, when Judah was in despair at this sudden and unexpected invasion by their enemies, a despair shared by David as he learned news of what was going on. Subsequently he sent Joab and Abishai to deal with this invasion with the result that a Syrian-Edomite alliance in the South was driven back, inflicting heavy casualties (2 Samuel 8:13-14).
The opening of the Psalm is explained by this reverse which David initially suffered, of which he received news while he was fighting in the north. It may well be that while he was conducting his successful campaign in the north, the Edomites, encouraged by a contingent of Syrians, had invaded southern Judah. News of this having reached David he penned this Psalm, in which he calls on God, recognising that the reverse that Israel have suffered reveals that God is angry with them (otherwise He would surely have protected them). Declaring His certainty of victory because YHWH has raised His banner on His people’s behalf, he ends the Psalm by calling on God for His assistance.
He would then in practise proceed to deal with the invaders by despatching Joab with a powerful force, and it was Joab’s brother, Abishai, who would spearhead the attack which slaughtered 6,000 Syrians and 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt (1 Chronicles 18:12), and follow it up by subjugating Edom, thus gaining great renown for David (“getting him a name”). Israel were no longer the underdogs in the area as they had been in the past before the rise of David.
Notice the emphasis on the distinctiveness of His people. They are the ones who ‘fear Him’, that is, reverence Him and respond to Him, whilst He is the One Who ‘loves them and sees them as His own (Psalms 60:4-5). It is because of this that He raises up His standard on their behalf, and exultantly declares His control over the whole area, over Ephraim (Israel), Judah and the surrounding nations.
The Psalm may be divided into three parts:
1) David’s Distress On Learning Of The Disastrous Invasion Of Southern Judah By The Combined Syrian-Edomite Forces And His Confidence In The Face Of It (Psalms 60:1-4).
2) David Calls On God To Save Them By His Mighty Right Hand So That The People Whom He Loves Might Be Delivered, And Declares The Certainty Of YHWH’s Victory Because The Surrounding Nations Are Subject To Him (Psalms 60:5-8).
3) David Declares His Assurance That Although God Has Appeared For A While To Have Abandoned His People, He Will Now Arise And Enable Them To Gain The Victory (Psalms 60:9-12).
David’s Distress On Learning Of The Disastrous Invasion Of Southern Judah By The Combined Syrian-Edomite Forces And His Confidence In The Face Of It (Psalms 60:1-4 ).
Recognising that the invasion of Judah by the Syrian-Edomite alliance is a sign of God’s displeasure with Israel, he describes what has happened to southern Judah as being like a severe earthquake, which has caused them to tremble and stagger around. But he is nevertheless confident that God has now given them a banner which can be displayed because they are His true people.
‘O God you have cast us off, you have broken us down,
You have been angry, oh restore us again.’
He first calls on God for restoration for Israel, recognising that the reason why they have been cast off and broken down is because God has been angry with them. Were it not so He would surely not have allowed this to happen. Thus all he can do is pray for God to forgive them and restore them.
The rise of David to power, and his subsequent victories, may well have made the people of Israel complacent. They may well have settled down and grown cold towards YHWH, and slack in obedience to the covenant requirements. As a consequence moral behaviour may have sunk to a low level, with violence, corrupt business practises and deceit having become prominent. This would then explain why God had allowed them to suffer this reverse in order to wake them up to their failings.
It is a reminder to us that when we suffer reverses it may well be because God is chastening us because of our failings, with a view to our restoration.
Similar language was later used by the Moabite king in the Moabite inscription, when he cried to the Moabite god Chemosh suggesting that the defeat of Moabite cities by Omri, king of Israel, had been “because Chemosh was angry with his land”. But he would not have seen it as signifying that Chemosh was concerned with their moral state. The gods of foreign nations had no such concerns. Rahter he would see it as indicating that Chemosh was angry because he was not receiving the respect that he ‘deserved’.
‘You have made the land to tremble, you have torn it in two,
Heal its breaches, for it shakes.’
He pictures the land as having been devastated, almost as though a severe earthquake had struck it (compare Isaiah 24:18-20). Through the invasion God has made them tremble, and rent them apart, and devastated their towns, and shaken them, and he prays that He will therefore now put right the damage that has been done, and heal the breaches that have been made. He is not just sending Joab to deal with the situation, but calling on God to play His essential part.
We too, when we recognise that God has dealt with us in this way, should also call on God for His forgiveness and healing, looking to Him for restoration.
‘You have shown your people hard things,
You have made us drink the wine of staggering.’
But it is not only the land that has been devastated, but also the people. The people have also experienced hard things, and have been made by God to drink strong wine that has made them drunk, in other words, to experience His indignation in a way that has made them stagger. “Drinking the wine of staggering” is a regular picture of the effect on people of God’s revealed anger (Psalms 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15 ff.; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:22). When our foundations are being shaken it may well be that God has a purpose in shaking our foundations.
‘You have given a banner to those who fear you,
That it may be displayed because of the truth. [Selah.’
But God has not totally deserted His people, for to them, as the people who fear Him, He has ‘given a banner’ (raised His standard), a sign of His approval and support. It is a call for the people to rally behind it. It may be that this was a literal banner proclaiming the Name of YHWH, which Israel bore into battle. Or I could have been a metaphorical one, indicating an assurance of YHWH’s support for His people and guaranteeing victory (see Psalms 60:6-8). Its purpose is twofold. Firstly in order to call His people to stand firm for the truth, and secondly in order that it might be displayed or set up as a proof to all the nations, that Israel are truly His people who bring His truth to the world, something evidenced by their victory. Indeed, as we learn elsewhere, YHWH IS their banner (Exodus 17:15).
‘Selah.’ At this point there is a pregnant pause in the music in order to draw attention to the wonder of it.
David Calls On God To Save Them By His Mighty Right Hand So That The People Whom He Loves Might Be Delivered, And Declares The Certainty Of YHWH’s Victory Because The Surrounding Nations Are Subject To Him (Psalms 60:5-8 ).
David calls on God to personally save the people on whom He has set His love, and expresses his confidence that He will intervene, and this because God has exultantly declared His sovereignty over the area. It is all under His control and He will do with it as He will. Israel (Ephraim) is His helmet, and Judah His sceptre, the outward evidence of His rule, whilst the surrounding nations, Moab, Edom and Philistia are in inferior positions.
‘That your beloved ones may be delivered,
Save with your right hand, and answer us.’
In order that His beloved ones, the ones on whom He has set His love, might be delivered, he calls on God to save by means of His mighty right hand, answering His people (or answering David) as they call on Him.
We might ask, ‘if they are His beloved ones why has He allowed them to suffer these reverses?’ And the reply will be, ‘Whom YHWH loves He reproves and chastens, even as a father the son in whom he delights’ (Proverbs 3:12). David is aware of this and is confident that after rebuke will come blessing.
‘Answer us’ is the kethib (original reading), ‘answer me’ is the qere (suggested adjustment), the latter being a correction and alternative reading in the MT.
‘God has spoken in his holiness,
‘God has spoken in His holiness.’ ‘In His holiness’ expresses the uniqueness of what God is. He is the wholly righteous One Who is always true to His word, and the One Who is distinctive in His ‘otherness’, above, beyond and distinctive from His creation. He is ‘the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity Whose Name is Holy’ (Isaiah 57:15). And it is as such that He has spoken (made His solemn declaration), thus guaranteeing the end result.
“I will exult,
I will divide Shechem,
And mete out the valley of Succoth.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine,
Ephraim also is the defence of my head,
Judah is my sceptre.’
Moab is my washpot,
On Edom will I cast my shoe,
Philistia, shout you because of me.”
What God has spoken is now made plain. It may be that we are to see this as God raising His standard on behalf of His people (Psalms 60:4), or alternatively as God’s promise to David. But in either case it depicts God as arising victoriously, and exultantly carrying out His purpose and revealing His sovereignty. The whole area is under His control.
Shechem and Succoth were the two places which Jacob had first reached on entering the land after his sojourn in Paddan Aram (Genesis 33:17-18). Shechem was west of the Jordan, and Succoth east of Jordan. They may thus have been seen as representing the north of Israel on both sides of the Jordan over which God now claims to exercise His authority and control. The thought may be included here that God is fulfilling His promises to Jacob.
Gilead and Manasseh may be seen as representing the whole swathe of land east of the Jordan (Gilead is a flexible term often indicating a large part of the land east of Jordan). Although Manasseh was also well represented west of the Jordan, a large part of the land east of Jordan was territory belonging to the tribe of Manasseh. It is being emphasised that they belong to God.
Ephraim was the popular name for the central highlands and related territory, and was the name of the most powerful tribe in Israel. It would eventually became synonymous with northern Israel (a somewhat restricted Israel), but at this stage it was simply the largest and strongest tribe. This is portrayed as God’s battle helmet. Judah, of course, represented the southern part of the kingdom, the part which had first yielded to David’s rule (2 Samuel 3:2-5). It is represented as God’s sceptre, for it was through Judah that kingship was to be established (Genesis 49:10-12).
Thus the whole of the land over which David ruled is intended to be covered here (geography at that time was vague). The descriptions of Ephraim and Judah as His battle helmet and sceptre indicate how personal is God’s activity on their behalf. It is through Ephraim and Judah that He achieves His warlike success and sovereignty.
Moab, Edom and Philistia, Israel’s nearest neighbours, are portrayed as very much subservient to Israel. Moab is His washpot. That is, it is in Moab that He washes His feet. On Edom He casts His shoe. They are His slaves who are given his shoes to clean ready for Him to wear. Alternately some see the casting of a shoe as a claim to sovereignty. Philistia shout because of Him. The idea is that they proclaim His lordship, and possibly even that they run before His chariot clearing the way for Him.
Thus David is assured that the whole area is subject to God’s control, so that he need not fear that Edom will be successful in their attempts to take over southern Judah.
David Declares His Assurance That Although God Has Appeared For A While To Have Abandoned His People, He Will Now Arise And Enable Them To Gain The Victory (Psalms 60:9-12 ).
David now questions who it is who has caused him to venture against Edom, and who it is who will give Israel victory over them (lead them into Edom’s strong city, Petra)? Surely it cannot be God for God appears to have cast them off and not to be going forth with them. But his point is that they could be satisfied with nothing less than God’s help. Indeed, man’s help would be useless. And he ends on the assurance that God will indeed act and enable Israel to triumph.
It is a reminder to us that however hopeless the circumstances, and however dark things might appear to be, in the end those who are God’s can be sure that He will intervene on their behalf, even though outwardly He might not appear to be in a hurry.
‘Who will bring me into the strong city?
Who has led me to Edom?’
By now Joab would have been on his way with his strong relieving force, and David puts to God the question as to who will bring him (his invading forces) into Edom’s strong city, Petra, an almost inaccessible fortress in the wilderness (see Obadiah 1:3). Indeed, he questions as to who it is who has “led him to Edom”, that is, caused him to attempt what he is undertaking. Outwardly, he says, it would not appear to be God. He is attempting by this to bring home to God his own helplessness if God will not help him. But, of course, in his heart David’s hope was that God was indeed with him, even if at first it might appear not to be so.
‘Have not you, O God, cast us off?
And you do not go forth, O God, with our hosts.’
The initial success of Edomite/Syrian forces against the defenders of southern Judah (defenders who would be somewhat sparse because the majority of them would be with David in Syria proper) suggested that God had cast Israel off. For could not God save by many or by few? Thus Edom’s success could only indicate that God was not going forth with the defenders, something which was not only disastrous for Judah, but also, in the eyes of the nations, a sign of God’s weakness.
‘Give us help against the adversary,
For vain is the help of man.’
He thus urges God now to alter His position and give them help against their adversary, for he recognises that that help is vital. If he is to have certainty of victory he must have God’s support.
‘Through God we will do valiantly,
For he it is who will tread down our adversaries.’
The final verse of the Psalm demonstrates that he is satisfied that his prayers have ‘moved God’. He is sure now that God will be with his forces so that through Him they will do valiantly, and by Him they will tread down their adversaries. Victory is now assured, a victory that in fact resulted in the decimation of the forces of Syria/Edom and the conquest of Edom (2 Samuel 8:13-14).
For us it is a reminder that if we are suffering defeats in our spiritual lives, we must first of all examine ourselves and heed God’s chastening. And once we have done this, and repented and put things right, we can know that He will arise on our behalf, once again giving us victory. Indeed, to depend on anyone else would be futile.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 60". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent