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To the chief Musician, A Psalm or Song of David.
It is not necessary to follow the discursive paths of modern criticism in attempting to fix the date, occasion, and authorship of this majestic and incomparable lyric. Two thoughts chiefly pervade it: the ark of God as the abode of the divine majesty, and the transcendent power of God as displayed in the victories of Israel over his enemies. The language is exceedingly rich, exhaustive of all the grandest conceptions of the older Hebrew poetry and the chief wonders of Israel’s providential history, carrying with it an outlook upon the future submission of the nations, and, as is usual in the highest flights of the prophetic rhapsody, a foregleam of Messiah. The reference to Egypt and Ethiopia (Psalms 68:31) as the ruling foreign nations known to Israel, with the absence of all allusion to Assyria and the East, indicate that the psalm dates before Israel came in contact with the eastern monarchies. Expositors have not always paid due regard to the vast moral and national importance of two events as furnishing subjects for the lyric muse, namely, the recovery of the ark from the power of God’s enemies, and its removal to Zion instead of Shiloh, under the strong protection of David’s government. Our psalm is of earlier date, but of the same general occasion, as Psalms 78:0, (which see,) the latter a maschil, or instructive psalm, the former a triumphal ode of the primitive type. See the notes for further proof. Hitzig calls this psalm “a Titan which it is not easy to master;” and Delitzsch says, “It is in the style of Deborah, (Judges 5:0,) stalking along upon the highest pinnacles of hymnic feeling and recital.”
The psalm celebrates the sovereignty of God in Israel’s history, and his future rule over the nations. The prophetic outlook is grandly evangelical. The strophic divisions may be thus given: Psalms 68:1-6 extol the righteousness of God as the deliverer of his people and the punisher of the wicked; Psalms 68:7-14 are a retrospection of God’s providence over Israel in earlier days; Psalms 68:15-18 celebrate Zion as the hill of God where the ark should rest, which is the central idea of the psalm; Psalms 68:19-28 must be construed prospectively, as a celebration of victories yet to be given as the completion of the divine plans concerning Israel; Psalms 68:29-31 are a prediction of the moral effect of the divine judgments in the conversion of the nations to the true worship; Psalms 68:32-34, a call upon all nations to join in praising God for his power, majesty, and grace; Psalms 68:35 an epode of devout ascription to God as terrible to Israel’s enemies and mighty to save his people.
On the Psalm or Song in the title see the preceding psalm and Psalms 30:0
1. Let God arise The form of words pronounced by Moses upon the breaking up of the camp of Israel. Numbers 10:35. The previous psalm began with the form of blessing which Aaron and his sons were to use. See on Psalms 67:1. Thus the judgment upon Jehovah’s enemies and his benediction upon his people stand in contrast. The future of the verb denotes the scattering of God’s enemies to be an event yet to come, but we are not to suppose a state of war now existing, or a battle impending, but to construe the prayer, or prediction, as general. The Church is always surrounded by enemies, and her march should be always victorious. It was for chanting this psalm by the noble Christian matron, Publia, with her virgins, in the city of Antioch in Syria, in the summer of A.D. 362, during the apostate Emperor Julian’s stay there and while he was passing her door, that the enraged monarch ordered her to be buffeted on either side of her face. Julian was engaged in restoring the heathen rites, but unsuccessfully, in that early seat of Christianity. Acts 11:22-26. ( Theod., book iii, chap. xix, quoted by Milner.)
2. Smoke… wax Emblems of the feebleness and instability of such as fight against God.
4. Extol him Hebrew, Cast up to him. The same word is used Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10, and elsewhere, for the levelling and smoothing (grading, as we would say) of public royal and military highways. The sense of “extol” exalt by praises is admissible, but the figure requires the sense of prepare, cast up, as of a highway for Jehovah.
Rideth upon the heavens Hebrew, Rideth ( בערבות , ba-Araboth) along the desert plains. The word is in the plural; the singular, Arabah, is the name anciently given to the great valley extending from the sources of the Jordan to the Gulf of Akaba, in Arabia, called modernly el-Ghor in its northern and Arabah in its southern half, (BURCKHARDT, Travels in Syria, pp. 441-443,) but may apply to any desert plain or steppe. It often occurs in Scripture, and is almost always translated plain, never “heaven,” except in this place. Desert plain is the idea, which here literally applies not only to the Arabah just mentioned, through the entire length of which the Israelites marched, (Deuteronomy 2:1-3,) but to the valleys and plains of Arabia as well. The imagery is military. Jehovah, the sovereign, marches through the lands where of old he led his people, and a suitable way should be prepared. A herald goes before and calls upon the tribes and nations to cast up a highway along the desert steppes. The figure is resumed in Psalms 68:7. The spiritual sense, without which the language is simply turgid, is found in Isaiah 40:3; Luke 3:4-5.
Jah A poetical form for Jehovah. Read Cast up [the way to] him who rides in the desert plains by his name Jah. This is his essential name.
5. Father of the fatherless This fatherly tenderness toward the most helpless of our race is “Jah’s” especial honour, while coupled with the character of a righteous judge, as in the next sentence.
Is God in his holy habitation Of which the place of the shekinah in the “holy of holies” was the symbol.
6. Setteth the solitary in families This is not necessarily restricted to conjugal life, but is a direct expression of sympathy for those who, by providential causes, are bereft of kindred and thrown out as waifs upon society. God leads them, with or without marriage, to a family relation which restores their social status, and opens to them the hopes and enjoyments of life. But the promise applies only to such as fear and trust God.
7. Wentest forth… didst march Military phrases, specially denoting the going forth to battle, Psalms 44:9; Habakkuk 3:13; Numbers 27:17. The triumphal march of Psalms 68:4 is resumed, and the proper theme of the psalm is here taken up, which is, to show that God, who has always acted as the captain and leader of his people, disposing every thing concerning them by his supreme command, has now directed the settlement of the ark at Zion. See Psalms 68:15-16. Psalms 68:7-9 are a quotation from Judges 5:4-5.
Wilderness The desert of Sinai, which Moses calls “ the waste, howling wilderness.” Deuteronomy 32:10. In Judges 5:4 the desert of Sinai and the Arabah south of the Dead Sea, (Psalms 68:4,) are both mentioned.
8. The heavens… dropped That is, distilled. The accusative of the thing “ dropped,” namely, water, must be here understood. In the parallel place, Judges 5:4, the same word is used, and supplemented by “the clouds also dropped water.” In Psalms 68:9 it is explained by plentiful rain, where the word rendered plentiful, (Hebrews plural, plentifulnesses,) not only denotes copiousness, but regularity, as if both a liberal and stated supply were given. Furst’s rendering of גשׁם נדבות , ( geshom nedaboth,) by “ rain of libations, that is, of plentiful gifts of manna,” is totally inadmissible. In Psalms 77:17-18, the same is described as a copious rain, “the clouds poured out water,” accompanied with thunder and lightning. Much of the region about Sinai is fertile in its numerous wadies, and formerly more so than now. Plentiful moisture, with care, would even now restore it. The text indicates that by providential and abundant rains one of the marked blessings of their desert life the fertile valleys and gorges were made to yield much more than common for the wants of the people and their flocks, besides cooling and rendering more refreshing the atmosphere.
At the presence of God Literally, From the face of God, as signifying its direct and miraculous impartation.
God of Israel The covenant title of God. It first occurs Exodus 24:10, and dates at Sinai because there, by the delivery of the law, God entered more closely into covenant with his people.
9. Confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary Literally, Thine inheritance, when it was faint, thou hast established. The privations of the desert naturally induced impatience, doubts, and murmurings, but from time to time the people were re-established in faith and constancy by those opportune supplies. Thus, God tempers the trial. 1 Corinthians 10:13. “Inheritance” is a term of endearment, and points to the intimate relation of Israel to God as Father, Proprietor, and Lord. Deuteronomy 32:9
10. Thy congregation hath dwelt therein Literally, Thy living creatures have dwelt in it, that is, in the desert. The word rendered “congregation” denotes any thing that has life, a living creature of any kind, and is often used substantively for animal, beast. Here it includes flocks and herds with the people. So the Septuagint, τα ζωα σου , thy living creatures, or animals: Vulgate, animalia tua habitabunt, thy animals shall dwell. See same word in Psalms 68:30. It is spoken of as a wonder that such a multitude of people and animals could subsist so long in the desert of Sinai, where climate and soil yielded no adequate natural supplies, and the simple fact was a standing evidence of the power and care of God. The supposition that it applies to the people alone, considered as a flock, is against usage, and the reference to 2 Samuel 23:11; 2 Samuel 23:13 is too dubious to give any satisfaction. The word never means “congregation,” as in the English text.
For the poor The afflicted, with the accessory idea of humble, meek.
11. The Lord gave the word The scene abruptly changes. The suffering Church in the wilderness is no longer under reproach and privation, but now rises to nationality, power, and honour. What follows must not be taken as a description of any one battle, or any series of battles, but of the changed fortunes and growth of the nation from nomadic to national life from the time they emerged from their wanderings in the desert down to the time of David and onward. It is a rapid generalization of national prosperity and development under the theocracy, with a prophetic anticipation of the universal kingdom of Jehovah. “Word,” here, is to be taken generically for the oracle of command and promise which gave impulse to the nation from time to time, and from whence all their victories arose.
Great was the company of those that published it The Hebrew participle, translated “those that published,” is in the feminine gender, and should be rendered, the women that published. Women were accustomed to celebrate victories in song. See Psalms 68:25 and Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 5:1; Judges 5:12; 1 Samuel 18:6; 2 Samuel 1:20. The original is simple, The female tiding-bearers, a great host; or, The women publishing [the victory are] a great host. The word host, here, is to be taken, not in its common signification of army, but its more rare sense of multitude, company. The dative sense of the participle, “The publishers [of victory] to the great army,” (Furst,) or “females announced the glad tidings to the mighty host,” (Gesenius,) cannot be accepted, because females never announced a victory to the army. The genetival sense, “of the women bearing tidings there is a great host,” is to be preferred. The Septuagint spiritualizes the clause and reads, “The Lord God will give a word to them that preach, in great power,” in which it is followed as usual by the Vulgate, Evangelizantibus virtute multa. Compare Isaiah 40:9; Isa 52:7 .
12. Kings of armies That is, kings with their armies.
Did flee apace Hebrew, Shall flee, shall flee. The rout shall be total and irretrievable.
She that tarried at home That is, the housewife, as the words denote; she that dwelt in the house, as distinguished from the husband, who went out to battle.
Divided the spoil Shared the spoil, which, by a law of equity, fell, by distribution, to her husband. See 1 Samuel 30:24; and compare Judges 5:28-30. The wealth of the enemy shall enrich the households of the victors. The language is highly martial and oriental.
13. Among the pots Literally, and more properly, Between the sheepfolds, or cattle-pens. The word is in the dual, and refers to the double or divided enclosure in which the cattle or sheep were placed at night for safety. Between the apartments were troughs, and some render, Though ye have lain among the troughs. The allusion is to the easy quiet of the shepherd, with his soiled and neglected apparel, sleeping with his flocks and herds by night exactly the idea of Judges 5:16 and Genesis 49:14, where “couching down between two burdens” should be rendered, lying between the hurdles, or cattle-pens, which accords with Psalms 68:15.
Wings of a dove Delitzsch hits it: “The new circumstances of ease and comfort [and honour] are likened to the varied hues of a dove disporting itself in the sun.” The class of oriental dove known as the pigeon, says Van Lennep, “is always blue, with touches of white or black, and silvery or even golden hues, according to the species.” The indolent and pent-up life of the herdsman is contrasted with the freedom and beauty of the dove as it glances on the wing.
14. Scattered kings These kings are enumerated in Joshua 12:0.
In it That is, in the land. The allusion seems to be specially to the conquest of the nations of Canaan by Joshua. See chapters 10 and 12.
White as snow in Salmon It is not necessary to add the word “white” to the translation, and the Hebrew conjunction for “as” is wanting. The English Version proceeds upon the supposition that the whiteness of “snow” is the point of the figure. But the word is a verb in Hiphil, and simply means, Thou wilt cause it to snow; or, understanding it in the preterite, Thou didst cause it to snow. It is the falling of snow flakes, not the whiteness of snow, which is the point intended; and if we are to seek a historical basis of the allusion as in the preceding member of the verse, taking “Salmon” or Zalmon, (the words are the same in Hebrew,) not as an appellative, but the name of a mountain near Shechem, Judges 9:48, it is easy to perceive that an atmosphere that would discharge so terrible a hail storm at Bethhoron (see Joshua 10:11) might be darkened by snowflakes at Salmon, twenty-five miles distant, and thus, by such an unprecedented phenomenon, spread alarm among the mustering tribes of the northern section.
15. The hill of God A Hebraistic superlative for most excellent of its kind. The psalmist turns to the central thought of the psalm, which he strikes in the next verse the hill Zion, which God has chosen to dwell in. As a mountain, physically, it cannot be compared with many others, but in historic association it transcends all and awakens the envy of all.
Bashan The district of Bashan, mainly identical with the ancient kingdom of Og, lay east of the Jordan, and extended from the Jabbok to Hermon. Deuteronomy 3:8; Joshua 12:4-5. But the “hill of Bashan” is nowhere mentioned, and as it is here spoken of as chief of the mountains, it is probable that either Hermon or the whole range of Gilead is intended.
High hill Hebrew, Mountain of heights. The relative height of mountains is the point of comparison, and Hermon was the loftiest of all.
16. Why leap ye, ye high hills The word translated “leap,” which occurs nowhere else, would be better rendered in the sense of looking askance, watching insidiously. Why will ye be jealous, or envious, ye lofty mountains? These mountains on the northern outskirts of Israel might, as inhabited mostly by heathen, be supposed to be envious of the honour ascribed to Zion, (somewhat as the rivers of Damascus to Jordan, 2 Kings 5:12,) and, according to the heathen idea of worshipping upon high places and the tops of lofty mountains, might claim the precedence. But God looketh not to such outward and material grandeur, and, in choosing Zion, rebukes it.
This is the hill which God desireth Namely, Zion. It was not necessary to name it, it is identified by the fact “God desireth to dwell in” it.
17. Chariots of God War chariots. The verse contains a strong anthropomorphism, as Habakkuk 3:8-15, and here represents the triumphal march of God to Zion as exceeding in grandeur all displays of earthly power.
Twenty thousand Literally, Twice ten thousand. The Hebrews could not carry their exact enumeration above ten thousand; beyond this they proceeded by multiplying the myriad. Hence, thousands of angels, are literally, thousands of repetition, that is, thousands many times repeated, or thousands of thousands, a term for a great but indefinite number. The word “angels” is not in the text, but is inferred from Deuteronomy 33:2, where, on the same theme, it reads, “Ten thousands of his holy ones.”
The Lord is among them, as in Sinai The meaning is, that Zion, though not equally honoured with the external displays of the majesty of God, is not inferior to Sinai as the place of the revelation and manifestation of the divine glory. In the same sense the glory of the second temple exceeded that of Solomon. Haggai 2:9
18. Thou hast ascended on high Literally, Thou hast gone up to the height. That this has a typical application to the ascension of Christ is proved by Ephesians 4:8-9. But it must have had a historical significance in the ascent of the ark to Zion, when “all Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting:” (2 Samuel 6:15: compare also Psalms 47:5; Jeremiah 31:12; Ezekiel 20:40;) or, if taken as an allusion to the king ascending to the judgment-seat, see on Psalms 7:7.
Thou hast led captivity captive See a similar form of speech Judges 5:12, also Deuteronomy 21:10, where the Hebrew is, “And thou hast led captive thy captivity,” the noun being in the abstract, “captivity,” as in Psalms 68:13, not in the concrete for captive, prisoner. To lead “captivity captive” denotes the most perfect triumph. The source and cause of captivity is itself led captive.
Received gifts for men Literally, Received gifts in men, as if the chief spoils of the victory were the prisoners. But the grand prophetic idea must take the ascendency here. No close rendering, or mere historic application, can give the fullness of the language. All is explained by the apostle. Ephesians 4:8-12; Colossians 2:15. Psalms 68:19; Psalms 68:19 is a doxology for the great and abundant grace just described.
20. Suddenly the psalmist leaves the triumphal procession at Zion, to celebrate the martial power of God over Israel’s enemies.
Issues from death Goings forth, or escapes from death. In his hands are the methods leading to and from death. See Ecclesiastes 7:18
21. Hairy scalp That is, The hair-covered crown. Luxuriant hair was a sign of beauty and strength, and an occasion of pride and lofty airs, and shaving the head a sign of degradation. See Deuteronomy 32:42, where, instead of “from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy,” translate, from the uncoverings of the head of the enemy.
22. I will bring again from Bashan Bring whom? The verb has no object. Some suppose the enemies of Israel are meant, whom God will bring back from their flight and hiding-places, whether in mountain or sea, and quote Amos 9:1-3 as a parallel passage. Others suppose Israel is intended, and certainly the most simple and natural solution is to preserve the historic form of the allusion. The conquest of Bashan, under Moses, Numbers 21:33-35, was a marked event. It completed the victories east of Jordan, and accomplished the first important step in the settlement of the tribes. Thus it became an illustrious example and pledge of God’s power in saving his people. He will restore them as at Bashan.
From the depths of the sea From the heights of the battle-fields in Gilead and Bashan, the poet suddenly turns to the passage of the Red Sea. The latter delivered from Egypt, the former introduced to Canaan. These heroic reminiscences are the pledges that no obstacles shall baffle the all-conquering power of God.
23. Thy foot… dipped in… blood The Hebrew word for “dipped” means to dash, crush, and is translated wound in Psalms 68:21. The Septuagint has it, βαπτω , ( bapto,) to dip, stain, colour. The metaphor is that of passing over the dead bodies of the slain on the battlefield while pursuing a retreating enemy, when the feet become stained with blood. Same as “treading under foot” an enemy, Psalms 44:5; see, also, Isaiah 63:1. The idea of great slaughter is conveyed. So “dipping the foot in oil” has the idea of copiousness. Deuteronomy 33:24; Job 29:6. See, of God’s enemies, Revelation 19:17-18; Revelation 19:21.
And the tongue of thy dogs An expression of great contempt and dishonour of the dead. See 1 Kings 21:19. Wild dogs and jackals always followed an army. Thus will the enemies of Jehovah perish.
24. They have seen That is, The people at large, the nations. The victories of Moses and Joshua, and the miraculous interferences in behalf of Israel in the times of the Judges, were publicly known to all the neighbouring nations.
In the sanctuary In the holy place; so translated in Psalms 68:17. But here the connexion requires the “ark,” or the “holy of holies,” where the ark rested, to be specially understood, as in Exodus 28:43; Exodus 29:30. With the ark, the “goings” or marchings of God in the wilderness were regulated. See Numbers 10:35-36, and note on Psalms 61:4. Later, the Philistines had seen God’s “goings” in, or with, his ark. See 2 Samuel 5:6. Thus the nations, as well as Israel, had seen the jealous care and loving protection which God had of his own abode and worship, and were impressed with his supreme majesty and holiness.
25. “What is now described, in Psalms 68:25-28, is not the rejoicing over a victory gained in the immediate past, nor the rejoicing over the earlier deliverance at the Red Sea, but Israel’s joyful celebration when it shall have experienced the avenging and redemptive work of his God and King.” Delitzsch. The Jehovic victories through Israel of the Old Testament, become the harbingers and types of Messiah’s triumphs through the New Testament Church.
The singers went before The order of the triumphal procession to Zion is now given. “The singers” precede; the “players on instruments” follow; in the midst, or between, are the virgins “playing with timbrels.” See on Psalms 68:11, and compare Exodus 15:20-21; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Samuel 18:6-7
26. From the fountain of Israel That is, Ye who are of the fountain of Israel; of the pure Hebrew stock or ancestry.
27. Little Benjamin Or, Benjamin the younger, as the word often signifies, (Genesis 43:33; Genesis 48:13;) or it may here denote “little” or few as to numbers, compared with other tribes, and from the cause mentioned Judges 20:47. This also would contrast with Judah, if we take רגמה , ( rigmah,) council, in the more obvious sense of multitude, thus: “Little Benjamin… the princes of Judah, their multitude.” The tribes mentioned represent not only the extreme parts of the land, but such as had distinguished themselves by their valour, strength, or dominion.
There In the procession.
Benjamin with their ruler Compliment to Saul, who had signalized himself by conquest. 1 Samuel 14:46-48.
Princes of Judah See Genesis 49:8-10; Psalms 60:7.
With their council With their throng of population, as above.
Zebulun, and… Naphtali Two of the most distinguished of the northern tribes. Judges 5:18
28. Thy God hath commanded thy strength The great victories and dominion celebrated Psalms 68:19-27 are all of God, who only can confirm and strengthen the nation in such honour. Isaiah 26:12. But the Messianic application must here prevail.
29. From this to Psalms 68:31 the effect upon the nations produced by this display of the majesty and grace of God in Israel is recorded, (comp. Psalms 66:3,) but its full realization is only in the Redeemer and the triumphs of his gospel.
Thy temple at Jerusalem “Temple,” here, is to be understood of the tabernacle, as 1 Samuel 1:9; 2 Samuel 22:7; and note on Psalms 65:4
30. Rebuke the company of spearmen Literally, Rebuke the wild beast of the reed, or cane-brake. This is commonly supposed to be an Egyptian phrase, the beast of the reed denoting the crocodile, and symbolizing the Egyptian tyrant. But it is more in harmony with both the connexion from Psalms 68:11, and the historic age of the psalm, to suppose the imagery to be purely Hebrew. The banks of the Jordan, especially north, in the valley of Huleh, (Waters of Merom,) abounded in thick cane-brakes, where the wild beasts from Lebanon found a covert, and the lion lurked for his prey. The lion or wild beast of the cane-brake, symbolizes a northern enemy, probably Syria.
The multitude of the bulls Literally, (preserving the figure,) The herd of the strong ones; but wild bulls are intended, which also frequented Huleh, Hermon, and Bashan. See on Psalms 22:12; Psalms 50:13; Isaiah 34:7; Jeremiah 50:11, where the same word is translated “bulls,” a fit emblem of powerful and pitiless kings who make war for conquest and plunder.
Calves of the people Either an emblem of “wild mercenary troops of all kinds of people,” (Furst,) or of young, wanton, and untamed princes, from whose power this deprecatory prayer pleads deliverance. See the figure, Jeremiah 31:18; Hosea 4:16; Psalms 29:6. Scatter thou the people, etc. Better, Thou hast scattered, or put to flight. The verb is in the past tense, not imperative; the deed is done, God has already given the victory. This is exegetical of the preceding imagery, and comprehends all; a large advance from “rebuke,” in the first member of the verse.
31. The language is henceforward only prophetic of the victories of Messiah, his majesty and glory, and the submission of the nations.
Egypt The first of the nations who oppressed Israel, shall adopt her faith and submit to Jehovah. Comp. Isaiah 19:18-22.
Ethiopia Hebrew, Cush, the dark skinned, which more commonly applies to Arabia, but in later times sometimes to Ethiopia proper.
Stretch out her hands unto God That is, pray to God, (for this was the form of prayer, Psalms 44:20,) in evidence that she had cast off her idolatry. Psalms 28:2
32. Sing unto God The call is upon all the kingdoms of the earth. The reign of Messiah is cause of universal joy.
33. The heavens of heavens The highest “heavens.”
Of old That is, the primeval heavens. He is God the Creator, ruling the worlds and “riding along in the primeval heavens of heavens.” A description of the glory and majesty of God anterior to the creation of man. See Deuteronomy 10:14; Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalms 18:10. But when he connects his sovereignty with human history, he rides along the steppes, or desert plains. See on Psalms 68:4.
His voice… a mighty voice In nature the thunder, Psalms 29:3-9; but it may allude to Sinai, Exodus 20:18-19, and emphatically to his word and providences to the nations in all ages.
35. Holy places Or sanctuaries. The plural is used either for heaven and earth, as places of his abode and worship, or to denote that his earthly sanctuary, where he may be statedly found, is manifold. Giveth strength and power unto his people Precious thought!
“This awful God is ours,
Our Father and our love.”
The psalm properly closes with an ascription of praise to God.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 68". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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