Psalm 68

Psalm 68[a]

Song of Victory

1 For the director.[b] A psalm of David. A song.

2 [c]May God rise up, and his enemies be scattered;
may his foes flee before him.
3 As smoke is blown away in the wind,
so will they be blown away.
As wax melts away before a flame,
so will the wicked perish before God.
4 But those who are righteous will rejoice;
they will exult before God,
crying out with great delight.
5 [d]Sing to God, sing praise to his name;[e]
exalt him who rides upon the clouds.
Rejoice in the presence of this God
whose name is the Lord.
6 [f]The Father of orphans and the defender of widows:
such is God in his holy dwelling place.
7 He gives a home to those who are forsaken
and leads out prisoners amid chants of exultation,
while rebels are forced to live in an arid land.
8 [g]O God, when you set out at the head of your people,
when you went marching through the wilderness, Selah
9 the earth quaked,[h]
and rain poured down from the heavens,
at the presence of God, the One of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
10 [i]You poured down rain in abundance, O God,
and revived your exhausted inheritance.
11 It was there that your people settled;
and in your great goodness, O God,
you provided for those who were needy.
12 [j]The Lord issues the word,[k]
and a vast army proclaims good tidings:
13 “Kings and their armies are beating a hasty retreat;
even those who remained in camp are dividing up the spoils.
14 “While you linger by the sheepfolds,
the wings of the dove are covered[l] with silver,
its feathers brilliant with shining gold.”
15 When the Almighty[m] routed the kings there,
it was like snow fallen upon Zalmon.
16 [n]The mountains of Bashan are God’s mountains;
the mountains of Bashan are mighty peaks.
17 Why, O rugged mountains, do you gaze enviously
at the mountain[o] that God has chosen as his abode,
where the Lord himself will dwell forever?
18 The chariots of God[p] are myriad,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord has come down from Sinai
and entered into the holy place.
19 You ascended on high,
leading captives in your train;
you accepted slaves as tribute,
so that even rebels might dwell with the Lord God.[q]
20 [r]Blessed be the Lord, day after day,
the God of our salvation, who carries our burden. Selah
21 Our God is a God who saves;
the Lord God delivers from death.[s]
22 God himself will smite the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crowns of those who persist in their sins.
23 The Lord has said:
“I will bring them back even from Bashan,
I will bring them back even from the depths of the sea,[t]
24 so that you may bathe your feet in the blood of your foes
and the tongues of your dogs may have their share.”[u]
25 [v]Your procession, O God, comes into view,
the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
26 The singers enter first,
with musicians trailing behind them,
while in their midst are the maidens playing tambourines.[w]
27 Bless God in the assembly;
the Lord, the source of Israel.
28 In the lead is Benjamin, the smallest in number,
with the princes of Judah in a council,
as well as the princes of Zebulun and Naphtali.
29 [x]Marshal your power once again, O God,
the power of God that you have often wielded for us.
30 For to your temple in Jerusalem
kings will come to you bearing gifts.[y]
31 Rebuke those wild beasts of the reeds,[z]
the herd of mighty bulls, the calves of nations,
who bring bars of silver and prostrate themselves;
rout the nations that delight in war.
32 Envoys will come from Egypt;
Ethiopia will stretch out its hands to God.[aa]
33 [ab]Sing to God, all you kingdoms of the earth;
sing the praises of the Lord, Selah
34 who rides the ancient heavens above[ac]
and speaks with his voice of thunder.
35 Acknowledge the power of God,
whose majesty is over Israel
and whose power is in the skies.
36 Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
the God of Israel, who gives power and strength to his people.[ad]
Blessed be God!

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 68:1 This psalm may have been used in a processional liturgy celebrating the triumphal march of Israel’s God to his sanctuary, possibly as part of the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles that included a procession of the tribes (vv. 25-28). With the words “May God rise up, . . .” the poet sets in motion the procession with the Ark, as at the time when it went before the marches of the people (v. 2; see Num 10:35). And he lets the whole history of Israel unfold before our eyes like a grand march of God, like his procession into the heart of Jerusalem. God rises, and the darkness dissipates; he takes the head of his people, and the adversaries are thrown into disorder. This epic poem assembles a series of allusive images, many of which remain obscure for us.
    In this coming of God, however, we will recognize stirring moments in the destiny of Israel: the Exodus from Egypt and the divine manifestation at Sinai (vv. 8-9; see Ex 19:16), the wonders of the Exodus (vv. 10-11), the exploits of the Judges (vv. 12-15; see Book of Judges), the Conquest of Jerusalem (vv. 15-19), the sad fate of the criminal Ahab (v. 24; see 1 Ki 21:19), and the solemn Passover of Hezekiah who had reunited all the tribes of Israel (vv. 25-36; see 2 Chr 30), which foreshadowed the gathering in the holy city of the pagans who had finally come to render homage to the Lord of all nations.
    The important thing in this psalm is not so much to grasp all the allusions as it is to let ourselves be carried along by the rhythm of the chant; we should listen to it as to a heroic march, as the glorious epic that draws Israel out of the atmosphere of everyday life. It is the ideal psalm for processions to the temple.
    In the ascent of God, who rises to take possession of the sacred hill of Jerusalem, the apostle Paul sees the Ascension of Christ, who draws after him the redeemed people, the Church that is filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (v. 19; see Eph 4:8-11). When Christians sing this hymn, they recall the presence of God in the working out of the world’s destiny and the march of humanity, which is continually called by God until it is made one again in glory.
  2. Psalm 68:1 For the director: these words are thought to be a musical or liturgical notation.
  3. Psalm 68:2 This first of nine parts prays that God will come at the head of his people to defeat their enemies and enter his sanctuary in triumph.
  4. Psalm 68:5 This second part calls for God to be praised as savior.
  5. Psalm 68:5 Name: see notes on Pss 5:12; 8:1. Who rides upon the clouds: the psalmist applies to Yahweh the image of the Canaanite storm-god Baal riding to battle on storm clouds; he thus stresses that Yahweh rather than Baal is the exalted God who makes the storm clouds his chariot (see v. 34; Pss 18:10f; 104:3; Deut 33:26; Isa 19:1; Hab 3:8; Mt 26:64).
  6. Psalm 68:6 The Lord watches over the whole human race, acting on behalf of those who seek protection and vindication: the fatherless, the widows, the forsaken, and the exiles. His rule brings about justice out of injustice and vindication out of oppression (see Pss 10:14; 25:16; 79:11; 102:20f; 103:6; 146:9; Ex 22:21-23; Deut 10:18; Isa 61:1; Bar 6:37).
  7. Psalm 68:8 This third part recalls God’s march at the head of his people from Egypt, through the Desert of Sinai, and into the Promised Land (see Ps 60:14; Ex 13:21; 19:16; Num 14:14; Deut 33:2; Hab 3:3).
  8. Psalm 68:9 Earth quaked: a reference to the “trembling” of Mount Sinai (see Ex 19:18). Rain poured down from the heavens: although there is no record of rain in the Sinai story, there is mention of “thunder, lightning, a dense cloud” (see Ex 19:16), which would usually indicate rain. In addition, rain is connected with the shaking of the earth (see Jdg 5:4).
  9. Psalm 68:10 These two verses evoke the miracles of the Exodus: the cloud (see Ex 13:21; Num 14:14), the manna and quail (see Ps 78:24f; Ex 16:4f), and the entrance into the Promised Land (v. 11: it was there).
  10. Psalm 68:12 This fourth part recalls the defeat of the Canaanite kings by God.
  11. Psalm 68:12 Issues the word: God foretells his victory over the Canaanites (see Ex 23:22f, 27f, 31; Deut 7:10-24; 11:23-25; Jos 1:2-6).
  12. Psalm 68:14 Wings of the dove are covered: even while in camp, before the battle, Israel (God’s “dove”: see Ps 74:19; Hos 7:11) is already assured of enjoying the booty (silver and gold) of the Canaanite kings, for God had guaranteed it (see Jos 2:8-11; 5:1; 6:16).
  13. Psalm 68:15 Almighty: the Hebrew is Shaddai, “the Mountain One.” The name by which God revealed himself to the patriarchs was El-Shaddai: “God Almighty” (see Gen 17:1), which stressed God’s power or his home in the mountains (see Ps 121:1). Zalmon: a mountain near Shechem (see Jdg 9:46-48) or a dark volcanic mountain in Bashan or Hauran east of the Sea of Galilee. It was known as the “dark one” in opposition to the “white one,” Lebanon.
  14. Psalm 68:16 This fifth part celebrates the taking of Jerusalem to which God ascends and from which he will rule the world.
  15. Psalm 68:17 The mountain: Mount Zion, a little mount, which God has made the highest mountain because he has placed his temple there and dwells in it.
  16. Psalm 68:18 Chariots of God: the heavenly hosts (see Hab 3:8, 15), later termed “legions” by Jesus (see Mt 26:53). It may also refer to the heavenly chariots seen by Elisha (see 2 Ki 6:17) rather than the chariots of Solomon (see 1 Ki 10:26).
  17. Psalm 68:19 When God went up to his place of enthronement on Mount Zion (see Ps 47:6f), he had captives in his train and received gifts like a victor in battle. The apostle Paul applies this verse in its Greek translation to the ministry of the ascended Christ (Eph 4:8: “When he ascended to the heights, / he took prisoners into captivity / and gave gifts to men”). It assures all who believe in Christ that by trusting him they can overcome evil.
  18. Psalm 68:20 This sixth part offers joyous praise and the fervent hope that God’s victories will continue.
  19. Psalm 68:21 Delivers from death: God delivers his faithful from the death inflicted on them by their enemies and also from the death that comes to all human beings (see notes on Pss 6:6; 11:7; 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:16; 73:23-26; 139:18; Job 19:23-29; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2; see also 1 Cor 15).
  20. Psalm 68:23 From Bashan . . . from the depths of the sea: i.e., the heights and the depths, the farthest places to which enemies might flee.
  21. Psalm 68:24 A vivid expression indicating complete victory over one’s foes that was common in the Near East (see Ps 58:11). It alludes to the predictions of Elijah (1 Ki 21:19f) about the death of Ahab (1 Ki 22:38), his son Joram, wounded at Ramoth Gilead and brought back to Jezreel (2 Ki 8:29; 9:15), and Jezebel (2 Ki 9:36).
  22. Psalm 68:25 This seventh part describes the procession as it approaches the temple and renews God’s taking up residence there (see Pss 24; 47) in the presence of all Israel, both north and south. It also alludes to the Passover of Hezekiah in which all the tribes participated (see Ps 80:2f; 2 Chr 30:1ff; Isa 9:1).
  23. Psalm 68:26 Tambourines: instruments played especially after a victory in battle (see Ex 15:20; 1 Sam 10:5; 18:6; 2 Sam 6:5; Jer 31:4).
  24. Psalm 68:29 This eighth part gives the prayer that God may continue to rule over the enemies of his people and exact tribute from them.
  25. Psalm 68:30 The defeated nations, led by their kings, will bring tribute to the Lord who has established his majesty in his temple at Jerusalem (see Ps 76:12; Isa 18:7; 60:3-7; 66:20; Hag 2:7; Zec 2:11-13; 6:15; 8:21f; Rev 21:24).
  26. Psalm 68:31 The prayer contains a petition to strike the nations that will not submit to the Lord. Wild beasts of the reeds: the reference is to the crocodile, a symbol for Egypt (see Ezek 29:3), which in turn stands for all the hostile nations. Herd of mighty bulls: the “lords of nations” who oppress and seduce their peoples. Bars of silver: tribute from the foreign nations brought to Zion.
  27. Psalm 68:32 Egypt will submit, as will Ethiopia (i.e., the upper Nile region) who usually formed an alliance with Egypt (see Isa 18:1—19:15; 20:1-6).
  28. Psalm 68:33 This ninth part calls upon all nations to praise the God of Israel who dwells in the temple and acclaim him as the God of all nations (see Ps 47).
  29. Psalm 68:34 The words who rides the ancient heavens above indicate the Lord’s majesty, for he rules the highest heavens (see Deut 10:14; 1 Ki 8:27). The thunder symbolizes the power and majesty of his rule (see Pss 18:14; 29:3) on behalf of his people (see Deut 33:26).
  30. Psalm 68:36 Although the Lord is awesome in his deeds (see Pss 47:3; 65:6; Ex 15:11; Deut 10:17; Rev 15:3f), he condescends to be present to his people in the sanctuary in order to aid them.

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