The psalmist calls upon God to arise, bless his people, and scatter his enemies, 1-3; exhorts them to praise him for has greatness, tenderness, compassion, and judgments, 4-6; describes the grandeur of his march when he went forth in the redemption of his people, 7,8; how he dispensed his blessings, 9,10; what he will still continue to do in their behalf, 11-13; the effects produced by the manifestation of God's majesty, 14-18; he is praised for has goodness, 19,20; for his judgments, 21-23; he tells in what manner the Divine worship was conducted, 24-27; how God is to be honoured, 28-31; all are invited to sing his praises, and extol his greatness, 32-35.
NOTES ON PSALM LXVIII
In the title of this Psalm there is nothing particular to be remarked. It is probable that this Psalm, or a part of it at least, might have been composed by Moses, to be recited when the Israelites journeyed. See Numbers 10:35; and that David, on the same model, constructed this Psalm. It might have been sung also in the ceremony of transporting the ark from Kirjath-jearim, to Jerusalem; or from the house of Obed-edom to the tabernacle erected at Sion.
I know not how to undertake a comment on this Psalm: it is the most difficult in the whole Psalter; and I cannot help adopting the opinion of Simon De Muis: In hoc Psalmo tot ferme scopuli, tot labyrinthi, quot versus, quot verba. Non immerito crux ingeniorum, et interpretum opprobrium dici potest. "In this Psalm there are as many precipices and labyrinths as there are verses or words. It may not be improperly termed, the torture of critics, and the reproach of commentators." To attempt any thing new on it would be dangerous; and to say what has been so often said would be unsatisfactory. I am truly afraid to fall over one of those precipices, or be endlessly entangled and lost in one of these labyrinths. There are customs here referred to which I do not fully understand; there are words whose meaning I cannot, to my own satisfaction, ascertain; and allusions which are to me inexplicable. Yet of the composition itself I have the highest opinion: it is sublime beyond all comparison; it is constructed with an art truly admirable; it possesses all the dignity of the sacred language; none but David could have composed it; and, at this lapse of time, it would require no small influence of the Spirit that was upon him, to give its true interpretation. I shall subjoin a few notes, chiefly philological; and beg leave to refer the reader to those who have written profusely and laboriously on this sublime Psalm, particularly Venema, Calmet, Dr. Chandler, and the writers in the Critici Sacri.
Let God arise
This was sung when the Levites took up the ark upon their shoulders; see Numbers 10:35,36, and the notes there.
Extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH
"Extol him who sitteth on the throne of glory, in the ninth heaven; YAH is his name; and rejoice before him."-Targum.
baaraboth, which we render in the high heavens, is here of doubtful signification. As it comes from the root arab, to mingle, (hence ereb the evening or twilight, because it appears to be formed of an equal mixture of light and darkness; the Septuagint translate it δυσμων, the west, or setting of the sun; so does the Vulgate and others;) probably it may mean the gloomy desert, through which God, in the chariot of his glory, led the Israelites. If this interpretation do not please, then let it be referred to the darkness in which God is said to dwell, through which the rays of his power and love, in the various dispensations of his power and mercy, shine forth for the comfort and instruction of mankind.
By his name Jah
Yah, probably a contraction of the word Yehovah; at least so the ancient Versions understood it. It is used but in a few places in the sacred writings. It might be translated The Self existent.
The solitary in families
yechidim, the single persons. Is not the meaning, God is the Author of marriage; and children, the legal fruit of it, are an inheritance from him?
O God, when thou wentest forth
This and the following verse most manifestly refer to the passage of the Israelites through the wilderness.
Didst send a plentiful rain
geshem nedaboth, a shower of liberality. I believe this to refer to the manna by which God refreshed and preserved alive the weary and hungry Israelites.
Thy congregation hath dwelt therein
chaiyathecha, thy living creature; ταζωα, Septuagint; animalia, Vulgate; so all the Versions. Does not this refer to the quails that were brought to the camp of the Israelites, and dwelt, as it were, round about it? And was not this, with the manna and the refreshing rock, that goodness which God had provided for the poor-the needy Israelites?
Great was the company of those that published it.
hammebasseroth tsaba rab; "Of the female preachers there was a great host." Such is the literal translation of this passage; the reader may make of it what he pleases. Some think it refers to the women who, with music, songs, and dances, celebrated the victories of the Israelites over their enemies. But the publication of good news, or of any joyful event, belonged to the women. It was they who announced it to the people at large; and to this universal custom, which prevails to the present day, the psalmist alludes. See this established in Clarke's note on "Isa 40:9".
Kings of armies did flee
Jabin and the kings of the Canaanites, who united their forces to overwhelm the Israelites.
Deborah the prophetess, a woman accustomed to tarry at home, and take care of the family; she divided the spoils, and vanquished their kings.
Though ye have lien among the pots
The prophet is supposed here to address the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who remained in their inheritances, occupied with agricultural, maritime, and domestic affairs, when the other tribes were obliged to go against Jabin, and the other Canaanitish kings. Ye have been thus occupied, while your brethren sustained a desperate campaign; but while you are inglorious, they obtained the most splendid victory, and dwell under those rich tents which they have taken from the enemy; coverings of the most beautiful colours, adorned with gold and silver. The words birakrak charuts, native gold, so exceedingly and splendidly yellow as to approach to greenness-from yarak, to be green; and the doubling of the last syllable denotes an excess in the denomination-excessively green-blistering green. The Targum gives us a curious paraphrase of this and the following verse: "If ye, O ye kings, slept among your halls, the congregation of Israel, which is like a dove covered with the clouds of glory, divided the prey of the Egyptians, purified silver, and coffers full of the finest gold. And when it stretched out its hands in prayer over the sea, the Almighty cast down kingdoms; and for its sake cooled hell like snow, and snatched it from the shadow of death." Perhaps the Romanists got some idea of purgatory here. For the sake of the righteous, the flames of hell are extinguished!
The hill of God is as the hill of Bashan
This and the following verse should be read thus: "Is Mount Bashan the craggy mount, Mount Bashan, the mount of God? Why envy ye, ye craggy mounts? This is the mount of God in which he has desired to dwell." The Targum countenances this translation: Mount Moriah, the place where our fathers of old worshipped God, is chosen to build on it the house of the sanctuary, and Mount Sinai for the giving of the law. Mount Bashan, Mount Tabor, and Carmel are rejected; they are made as Mount Bashan."
Why leap ye, ye high hills?
"God said, Why leap ye, ye high hills? It is not pleasing to me to give my law upon high and towering hills. Behold, Mount Sinai is low; and the WORD of the Lord has desired to place on it the Divine majesty. Moreover, the Lord dwells for ever in the heaven of heavens."-Targum.
The psalmist is speaking particularly of the mountains of Judea, and those of Gilead; the former were occupied by the Canaanites, and the others by Og, king of Bashan, and Sihon, king of the Amorites, whom Moses defeated.
The chariots of God are twenty thousand
ribbothayim alpey shinan, "two myriads of thousands doubled." Does not this mean simply forty thousand? A myriad is 10,000; two myriads, 20,000; these doubled, 40,000. Or thus: 10,000 + 10,000 + 20,000 = 40,000. The Targum says, "The chariots of God are two myriads; two thousand angels draw them; the majesty of God rests upon them in holiness on Mount Sinai." But what does this mean? We must die to know.
Thou hast ascended on high
When the ark had reached the top of Sion, and was deposited in the place assigned for it, the singers joined in the following chorus. This seems to be an allusion to a military triumph. The conqueror was placed on a very elevated chariot.
Led captivity captive
The conquered kings and generals were usually tied behind the chariot of the conqueror-bound to it, bound together, and walked after it, to grace the triumph of the victor.
Thou hast received gifts for men
"And gave gifts unto men;" Ephesians 4:8. At such times the conqueror threw money among the crowd. Thou hast received gifts among men, baadam, IN MAN, in human nature; and God manifest in the flesh dwells among mortals! Thanks be to God for his unspeakable GIFT! By establishing his abode among the rebellious, the prophet may refer to the conquest of the land of Canaan, and the country beyond Jordan.
Yea, for the rebellious also
Even to the rebellious. Those who were his enemies, who traduced his character and operations, and those who fought against him now submit to him, and share his munificence; for it is the property of a hero to be generous.
That the Lord God might dwell among them.
yah Elohim, the self-existing God; see on Psalms 68:4. The conqueror now coming to fix his abode among the conquered people to organize them under his laws, to govern and dispense justice among them. The whole of this is very properly applied by St. Paul, Ephesians 4:5, to the resurrection and glory of Christ; where the reader is requested to consult the note.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us
With benefits is not in the text. Perhaps it would be better to translate the clause thus: "Blessed be Adonai, our Prop day by day, who supports us." Or, "Blessed be the Lord, who supports us day by day." Or as the Vulgate, Septuagint, and Arabic: "Blessed be the Lord daily, our God who makes our journey prosperous; even the God of our salvation." The Syriac, "Blessed be the Lord daily, who hath chosen our inheritance." The word amas, which we translate to load, signifies to lift, bear up, support, or to bear a burden for another. Hence it would not be going far from the ideal meaning to translate: "Blessed be the Lord day by day, who bears our burdens for us." But loadeth us with benefits is neither a translation nor meaning.
The issues frown death.
The going out or exodus from death-from the land of Egypt and house of bondage. Or the expression may mean, Life and death are in the hand of God. "He can create, and he destroy."
The hairy scalp
kodkod sear. Does this mean any thing like the Indian scalping? Or does it refer to a crest on a helmet or headcap? I suppose the latter.
From the depths of the sea
All this seems to speak of the defeat of the Egyptians, and the miraculous passage of the Red Sea.
That thy foot may be dipped in the blood
God will make such a slaughter among his enemies, the Amorites, that thou shalt walk over their dead bodies; and beasts of prey shall feed upon them.
They have seen thy goings
These kings of the Amorites have seen thy terrible majesty in their discomfiture, and the slaughter of their subjects.
The singers went before
This verse appears to be a description of the procession.
Bless ye God
This is what they sung.
There is little Benjamin
This is a description of another part of the procession.
Thy God hath commanded
This and the following verses is what they sung.
Rebuke the company of spearmen
chaiyath kaneh, the wild beast of the reed-the crocodile or hippopotamus, the emblem of Pharaoh and the Egyptians; thus all the Versions. Our translators have mistaken the meaning; but they have put the true sense in the margin.
Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.
This verse had its literal fulfilment under Solomon, when Egypt formed an alliance with that king by his marriage with Pharaoh's daughter; and when the queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. But as this may be a prophetic declaration of the spread of Christianity, it was literally fulfilled after the resurrection of our Lord. There were Egyptians at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, who, St. Hilary tells us, on their return to their own country proclaimed what they had seen, and became in that country the ambassadors of Christ. The Ethiopian eunuch was one of the first among the Gentiles who received the Gospel. Thus princes or chief men came out of Egypt, and Ethiopia stretched out her hands to God. The words themselves refer to the sending ambassadors, and making alliances. The Hebrew is very emphatic: cush tarits yadiav lelohim; Cush will cause her hands to run out to God. She will, with great alacrity and delight, surrender her power and influence unto God. The Chaldee paraphrases well: "The sons of Cush will run, that they may spread out their hands in prayer before God."
Sing unto God
All the inhabitants of the earth are invited to sing unto God, to acknowledge him as their God, and give him the praise due to his name.
Rideth upon the heavens
He who manages the heavens, directing their course and influence, he formed every orb, ascertained its motion, proportioned its solid contents to the orbit in which it was to revolve, and the other bodies which belong to the same system. As an able and skilful rider manages his horse, so does God the sun, moon, planets, and all the hosts of heaven.
He doth send out his voice
At his word of command they run, shed, or reflect their light; and without the smallest deviations obey his will.
He thunders in the heavens, and men tremble before him.
His strength is in the clouds.
This refers to the bursting, rattling, and pounding of thunder and lightning; for all nations have observed that this is an irresistible agent; and even the most enlightened have looked on it as an especial manifestation of the power and sovereignty of God.
O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places
The sanctuary and heaven. Out of the former he had often shone forth with consuming splendour; see the case of Korah and his company: out of the latter he had often appeared in terrible majesty in storms, thunder, lightning,
He that giveth strength and power unto his people.
Therefore that people must be invincible who have this strong and irresistible God for their support.
Blessed be God.
He alone is worthy to be worshipped. Without him nothing is wise, nothing holy, nothing strong; and from him, as the inexhaustible Fountain, all good must be derived. His mercy over his creatures is equal to his majesty in the universe, and as he has all good in his possession, so is he willing to deal it out, to supply the utmost necessities of his creatures. Blessed be God! The Arabic adds, Alleluiah!
The best analysis I find of this Psalm is that by Bishop Nicholson. I shall give it at large; begging the reader to refer particularly to those passages on which the preceding notes are written, as in some of them the analysis gives a different view of the subject. The old Psalter gives the whole Psalm a spiritual and mystical interpretation. And this is commonly the case in the commentaries of the fathers.
ANALYSIS OF THE SIXTY-EIGHTH PSALM
There are many conjectures as to the occasion of the composing of this Psalm; but the most probable is, that it was composed by David when he brought up the ark of God, which was the type of the Church and symbol of God's presence, to Jerusalem. After the ark was sent home by the Philistines, it rested first in the obscure lodge of Aminadab; it then for a time stayed with Obed-edom, nearly sixty years in both places. It was David's care to provide a fit room for it in the head of the tribes, even in his own city; and to express his joy, and honour the solemnity, David led the way, dancing with all his might in a linen ephod; and all the house of Israel followed with shouts and instruments of music in a triumphant manner. Now, that the choir might not want to know how to express their joyful affections, the sweet singer of Israel made this anthem, beginning the verse himself, as was commanded at the removal of the ark, Numbers 10:35. The Psalm has six parts:-
I. The entrance, or exordium, Psalms 68:1-4.
II. The invitation to praise God, Psalms 68:4.
III. The confirmation of it by many arguments, Psalms 68:4-24.
IV. A lively description of triumph, or pomp of the ark's deportation, Psalms 68:24-28.
V. A petition, which has three parts, Psalms 68:28-31.
VI. An exhortation to all nations to praise God, Psalms 68:31-35.
I. "Let God arise" is either a prayer or acclamation; a prayer that he would, or an acclamation that he does, show his power and presence. Of which the consequence would be double:-
1. Towards his enemies, destruction; for he prays, "Let his enemies be scattered; let those that hate him fly before him."
He illustrates it by a twofold comparison:-
(1) "As smoke (when it is at the highest) is driven away, so drive them away."
(2) "As wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish in the presence of God."
2. Towards good men, his servants; which is quite contrary to the other: "Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice." Thus it happened; for when the ark was taken by the Philistines, the glory was departed from Israel, and there was nothing but sadness and sorrow: but with the return of the ark the glory returned and all was joy and gladness.
II. And so, by an apostrophe, he turns his speech to all good men, and exhorts them to praise God.
1. "Sing unto God." Let it be done with your voice publicly.
2. Psallite: "Sing praises to his name," with Instruments of music."
3. "Extol him." Show his way, as in a triumph. Thus, when our Saviour rode into Jerusalem they cut down branches, and strewed their garments in the way.
III. And so David enters upon his confirmation, producing his reasons why they should praise God.
1. Drawn from his majesty: "He rideth upon the heavens;" that is, he rules in the heavens.
2. From the essence: "By his name Jah," the contraction of Jehovah, I am. He gives essence to all things; therefore, "rejoice before him."
3. From his general providence and goodness towards his Church.
(1) "He is the father of the fatherless." Loves, cares, and provides an inheritance for them.
(2) "A judge of the widows." He cares for his people when deserted, and for whom no man cares, and when exposed to injury. Such is God in his holy habitation; whose presence is represented by this ark.
(3) "God setteth the solitary in families." He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be the joyful mother of children. As also the barren woman-the Gentile Church that had no husband, to bring forth children to God.
(4) He brings forth those which are bound with chains; as Joseph, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, Paul.
4. On the contrary: "But the rebellious dwell in a dry land;" perish with want and hunger.
IV. From his special providence toward his people Israel, which he introduces by an elegant apostrophe: "O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people;" thus amplified:-
1. God's going before them, and marching along with them in Egypt, in the wilderness. These signs manifested his presence: "The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel."
2. God's provision for them after he gave them the possession of the good land. He fed, sustained them there, counted them his inheritance, and gave them rain and fruitful seasons: "Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary. The congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor."
3. The victories he gave them over their enemies, Psalms 68:12, which he prefaces by imitation of the song of the victory, sung usually by the women and damsels of those times, Psalms 68:11: "The Lord gave the word," that is, either the word of war, or else the song; and then "Great was the company of those that published it." As Miriam, Deborah, of armies did flee apace; and she that tarried at home divided the spoil." So great was the prey.
4. The deliverance he sends from troubles, and the joy he gives after them. "Though ye have lien among the pots," that is, cast aside as some useless or broken pot, the offscouring of all things; "yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold; " i.e., shining and glorious. The allusion seems to be taken from some standard, whose portraiture and device was a dove so overlaid. The Babylonian ensign was a dove. But see the note on this passage.
And this he farther declares by another similitude: "When the Almighty scattered kings in it:" or for her, i.e., his Church, it was white-glittering, glorious, to be seen afar off; "it was white as snow in Salmon," with which it is generally covered.
5. From God's especial presence among them, which, that he might make it more evident, David enters upon the commendation of the hill of Sion to which the ark was at this time brought, comparing it with other hills, especially with Bashan. That is a hill of God; a high, plentiful, and fertile hill. As if he had said, So much I grant. But, "why leap ye, ye high hills?" Why are ye so proud? Why do ye boast your vines, your fruits, your pastures, your cattle? Sion has the pre-eminence of you all in two respects:-
1. For God's continual habitation and common presence is there: "This is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever."
2. For his defence of it. "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels:" and these are for the defence of Sion, his Church; "for God is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place;" in glory and majesty, to Sinai, and in Sion.
And yet he goes on to persuade us to praise God, 1. For his strange and wonderful works. 2. For the performance of his promises. Among his great works there was none so glorious as the ascension of our Saviour, of which the ark's ascension to Jerusalem at this time was a type.
First. 1. Before the ark David and the people used this acclamation: "Thou hast ascended on high." Thou, O God, whose presence is shadowed out by the ark, hast ascended from an obscure house to a kingly palace, Sion.
2. "Thou hast led captivity captive;" those that led us captives being captives themselves, and now led in triumph.
3. "Thou hast received gifts for men;" spoils and gifts from the conquered kings; or who may become homagers unto him, and redeem their peace.
4. "Yea, for the rebellious also: "Formerly so, but now tributaries.
5. "That the Lord God might dwell among them;" might have a certain place to dwell in; and the ark not be carried, as before, from place to place.
This is the literal sense; but the mystical refers to our Saviour's ascension. St. Paul says, Ephesians 4:8:
1. "Thou hast ascended on high:" when the cloud carried him from earth to heaven.
2. "Thou hast led captivity," those who captured us, "captive;" death, the devil, sin, the power of hell, the curse of the law.
3. "He received, and gave gifts to men:" The apostles, evangelists, prophets, doctors, and teachers, were these gifts-graces, gifts of the Spirit.
4. "Yea, for the rebellious also:" Paul, a persecutor; Austin, a Manichhaean.
5. "That the Lord God might dwell among them:" for to that end St. Paul says these gifts were given, "to the work of the ministry, to the edification of the Church, to the building up of the body of Christ." Ephesians 4:12,
The two effects of his ascension then were, one towards his enemies, the other for his friends: "When thou ascendest up on high:-"
1. "Thou leddest captivity captive:" this was the consequence to his enemies.
2. "Thou receivedst, and gavest gifts:" This for his friends. For which he sings, "Blessed be God;" for he comes over both again:-
1. The gifts to his friends: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation." "He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death." He knows many ways to deliver in death itself, when there is no hope.
2. The conquest of his enemies; for such he counts obstinate impenitent sinners; those he will destroy: "God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses."
Secondly, His last argument is, God's performance of his promise to save them. When you were in the wilderness; when you fought with Og, king of Bashan, when at the Red Sea, I delivered you. The Lord saith still to his people:-
1. "I will bring again from Bashan;" from equally great dangers.
2. "I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea:" when there is no hope.
3. And for thy enemies, they shall be destroyed by a great effusion of blood: "That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongue of thy dogs in the same;" thou shalt waste, and make a great slaughter.
4. And now he descends to set before our eyes the pomp and show which was used in the ascent and bringing back of the ark, and the proceeding of it.
1. The people were present to witness it: "They have seen thy goings, O God; even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary."
2. The manner of the pomp: "The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels."
3. In the pomp they were not silent; and that they be not, he exhorts them: "Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, from the fountain of Israel,"-Jacob's posterity.
4. And he gives in the catalogue of the tribes that were present, but these especially,-
1. "There is little Benjamin," Jacob's youngest son, or now the least, wasted with war, "with their ruler," the chief prince of their tribe.
2. "The princes of Judah, and their council."
3. "The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali;" the farthest tribes, therefore the nearest.
V. And in the midst of the pomp he makes a prayer which has three vows, before which he prefixes the acknowledgment that all the power and strength of Israel was from God: "Thy God hath commanded thy strength." He then prays,-
1. For the confirmation, establishment, and continuance of this strength: "Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us; " and let this be evinced "by the kings and tributaries that shall bring gifts. Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee."
2. For the conquest and subduing of the enemy, until they become tributaries, and do homage: "Rebuke the company of spearmen, the multitude of the bulls, with the calves of the people;" kings, princes, and their potent subjects; "till every one submit himself with pieces of silver: scatter thou the people that delight in war." See the note.
3. For the increase of Christ's kingdom, of which David was but a type, by the access of the Gentiles. "Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." These, by a synecdoche, being put for all nations.
VI. This excellent Psalm draws now towards a conclusion; and it is a resumption of that which he principally intended; that is, that God be blessed, honoured, praised. He first exhorts, then shows the reasons for it.
1. He exhorts all nations to perform this duty: at first, the Jews, but now all universally: "Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord."
2. His reasons to induce them to do it.
The majesty of God testified,-
1. By his works: "To him that rideth upon the heaven of heavens, which were of old."
2. His power, in his thunder, in his word: "He doth send out his voice, and that a mighty voice."
3. His wise protection of and providence over his people: "Ascribe ye strength unto God: his excellency is over Israel, and his strength is in the clouds."
4. His communication of himself to his Church in particular: 1. "O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places." 2. "The God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people." 3. "Blessed be God." With this epiphonema he concludes.