This is a psalm of David which appears to deal with different subjects. Some commentators believe it’s a collection of short psalms that were sung by the priests as they went to the sanctuary.
Others believe it’s connected with the coming of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 6, celebrating not only that event, but also God’s faithfulness to give Israel victory over her enemies, and to make Jerusalem secure enough to bring the ark into the city.
Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding of the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.
1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.
2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.
3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.
4. How it was used.
The heading tells us that this psalm is a psalm of David, a song for the director of music. Some commentators believe that the ‘director of music’ is God Himself and others believe that it is a song leader who led choirs or musicians, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 1 Chronicles 16:17 / 1 Chronicles 25:6.
David begins by asking God to arise, so that Israel would be victorious over their enemies. None of His enemies could stand against God, therefore they scattered and fled from Him.
Since Moses said those words when the ark of the covenant led Israel from Mount Sinai, Numbers 10:35. It’s possible that David uses the same words when the ark came to Jerusalem.
Because none of Israel’s enemies could stand against God, they are described as smoke which is blown away and wax which has melted. In other words, David asks God that the wicked would disappear quickly.
While the wicked disappear, the righteous will be glad and rejoice, they will be happy and filled with joy because of what God had done for them.
The righteous will sing to God and praise His Name, this indicates how well they know God. The KJV adds ‘Jah,’ or ‘Yah’, which is a contracted form of the word Yahweh. This was Israel’s name for God.
David gives two reasons why the righteous will rejoice, first, because He is extolled, that is praiseworthy, Isaiah 57:14 / Isaiah 62:10, He rides on the clouds in glorious triumph over the earth and, second, He revealed Himself to humanity in the name Yahweh, showing His loving kindness to His people.
God is a Father to the fatherless, and a defender of widows, that is, He is the Father to all those who are defenceless, orphans and widows are especially defenceless, and so, they deserve special attention by God, James 1:27.
God sees all those who are weak and needy and provides a dwelling place for the homeless. He frees those in bondage but consigns to parched land those who rebel against His will.
David now turns his attention to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, their receiving of the word at Mount Sinai, and their wandering in the wilderness because of their sin. God’s presence with Israel and His care for them is seen in that He went out before them when Israel were making their way to Canaan, Exodus 19:16-19.
You may notice at the end of verse seven, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine David pausing for a breath as he contemplates how God led Israel through the wilderness.
Because God was with Israel in the wilderness, the earth shook, which means God protected them. It appears that God caused the heavens to pour down rain in the wilderness when Israel was wandering there for 40 years, Judges 5:4. This pouring of rain was a sign that God was caring for His people in a desert place.
When Israel were at Mount Sinai, they experienced the revelation of His power and glory. Mighty mountains shook at the very presence of God, Judges 5:5. The promised land of Canaan was the inheritance that was given to Israel.
When the nations heard the ‘word’, that is, they heard of the wonders of God that He worked through Israel, they fled before them. If they didn’t willingly flee, they were defeated by God working through the army of Israel.
Notice it was the women who were the first to make the proclamation of what God had done, Matthew 28:1-10 / Luke 24:1-10. The announcement was that God has won a great victory over His enemies, that is, ‘kings and their armies’, and the woman benefited even though they didn’t directly fight, they remained home and divided the spoils.
The women who stayed behind with the sheepfolds when the battles were raging divided the spoil of conquered enemies. The army of Israel returned to the women victorious, like wings of a dove, loaded with the spoils of war, gold and silver.
The exact location of Mount Zalmon in Palestine isn’t known, Judges 9:48, however, Israel’s defeat of the armies of the Canaanites was so easy with God’s help, that it was like the natural snowfall on Zalmon.
David now turns his attention to thanking God for his daily blessings. Mount Bashan was a mountainous area in northeast Galilee. Notice that David personifies these mountains to be as those who were envious of where God dwells.
Despite Israel not having many chariots, Deuteronomy 17:16, God still protected them from their enemies. God’s power was simply too much for them, His power was greater than tens of thousands and thousands of chariots.
Notice the words, ‘when you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people.’ The apostle Paul quotes these words in Ephesians 4:8-10, and when we read Paul’s words, we have to imagine a Roman triumph, a great procession entering Rome led by a victorious king, returning from a great war, riding on a white horse.
At the back of him, there is a train of people, those who have been taken captive during the war and all the spoils the victorious king has gained and now brings with them. As the procession goes along, he gives gifts to men, some captives were set free, whilst others were executed.
It’s a picture of the victorious Christ who gave gifts to His people, God has blessed all Christians with at least one gift, if we read further on in the passage, we see that some gifts are mentioned, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
In Psalm 68:18, we have a picture of David looking forward to the future. It’s prophetic, David says, ‘received gifts’ but Paul says, ‘gave gifts’. This is David looking forward and Paul looking at the fulfilment of this passage.
But who are the captives? From the Psalm, it’s clear that they were the enemies of Israel who were defeated when Jerusalem was captured. In Ephesians the captives are the enemies of Christ, namely, Satan, sin, and death, in other words, Christ had victory over Satan, sin and death and gives gifts of the Spirit to those who have been identified with Him, Colossians 2:13-15.
And please notice that Paul doesn’t mention the word, ‘hell’, he speaks about Christ ‘descending to the lower, earthly regions’. What does this mean? ‘Descended to the lower, earthly regions’ isn’t a reference to hell, but His birth. We find the Psalmist using similar words in Psalm 139:15.
In other words, Paul is referring to Christ’s coming to earth as a baby, he’s speaking about Christ coming into Mary’s womb. Paul is saying that Jesus, who went up to heaven, that is in His ascension, is the same Jesus, who earlier came down from heaven. Paul isn’t speaking about Christ going to ‘hell’, he’s speaking about Christ’s birth as a human.
David now praises his Lord and Saviour for providing for Israel throughout their history, when they obeyed His commands they were blessed.
You may notice at the end of verse nineteen, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine David pausing for a breath as he contemplates God’s great victory over Israel’s enemies.
It was God who saved them from death at the hands of their enemies, just as the Messiah would crush the head of Satan, Genesis 3:15, God would crush the heads of Israel’s enemies.
The words, ‘hairy crowns’, maybe a reference to the soldiers who allowed their hair to grow when they were in conflict with an enemy. It was shaved when they returned home. In other words, God would inflict punishment on the wicked who opposed His people.
God will bring them from Bashan, that is, He will deliver and save His people from there, Numbers 21:33-35. God will bring them from the depths of the sea, that is, He would intervene when His people were in danger, Exodus 14:22.
The words, ‘your feet may wade in the blood of your foes’, relate to God crushing their enemy’s heads, it speaks of complete victory over the enemy.
The words, ‘the tongues of your dogs have their share’, speak of the tongues of dogs would be employed in licking up the blood of the enemies. The point of these verses is simply to tell us how God totally destroyed His enemies.
David now speaks about how he and Israel could bring back the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem after God had wiped out their enemies, 2 Samuel 6. This was God’s procession, David’s God and David’s King’s procession, all the glory went to God for what He has done and is doing.
With the procession of the singers and players, the Lord is pictured as going into the sanctuary, that is, the tabernacle. Benjamin the small tribe, and Judah, the southern kingdom, with Zebulun and Naphtali, the northern kingdom, represent all of Israel. Here we see the respect David has for King Saul because Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin.
Although David was grateful for all the victories God gave Israel, he asks God to show them His strength, suggesting that David was aware that there were many more battles ahead.
Despite the many battles which lay ahead, David is confident that kings will bring gifts to Israel. Remember the ‘temple’ wasn’t built in David’s lifetime, so the word should read ‘tabernacle’.
Notice how David personifies the beast and the bulls, these animals represented the raging nations who were against Israel. Reeds are usually associated with the River Nile and so David asks God to keep them safe from the Egyptians and Cush, that is Ethiopia.
He wants God to keep them safe until both Egypt and Cush come with their gifts, which speaks of total submission to Israel. From Egypt and Cush came those who submitted to Solomon, Jeremiah 13:23 / Amos 9:7.
David conquered the enemies of Israel, but Solomon reigned over them. Through trade, foreign nations came to admire the wisdom of Solomon and the greatness of his kingdom. Solomon increased the wealth of Israel because of his relationship with foreign nations.
Because David knew these things would happen, he invited the kingdoms of the earth to worship God.
You may notice at the end of verse thirty-two, that some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine David pausing for a breath as he contemplates the kingdoms worshipping God in submission to Him.
God is described as the one ‘who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens’, God is victorious, He is majestic, Psalm 18:10, the highest heavens and ancient heavens is a reference to God’s dwelling place, where angels serve Him. His voice is powerful like thunder, Psalm 29:3.
When Israel’s enemies acknowledge God’s power and care for His people, Psalm 29:1, they would benefit from doing so. David says that God is awesome in His sanctuary, Psalm 45:4 / Psalm 65:5 / Psalm 66:5, He gives His people power and strength, in other words, God is worthy of praise because He is more than able to protect His people.
David mentions God as being in the highest heavens, the ancient heavens, the word, ‘heavens’ often confuses people as most people believe there is only one heaven. I think it would be useful to look at what the Bible says about heaven.
We know that ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’. In Genesis 1:1, Moses uses the word ‘heavens’ plural. The Bible tells us there are actually three heavens.
Speaking about himself, the apostle Paul says in ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago, was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.’ 2 Corinthians 12:2.
So, we have three ‘heavens’.
1. The heaven which is God’s spiritual eternal home. This isn’t physical and isn’t created.
2. The heaven where the stars and planets are. This is physical and is created.
3. The heaven surrounding the earth where the atmosphere is, and the birds fly. This is physical and is created.
The word ‘heavens’ is used in different ways in the Bible.
1. It’s used of the two heavens that God created.
2. It’s also used of the third heaven. This is the uncreated heaven where God has always been from eternity.
The two heavens were created by God, Genesis 1:1. So God existed before the heavens and the earth. These aren’t the heavens He has always lived in, these are the heavens where the atmosphere is, and the birds fly and the heaven where the stars are.
The third heaven is where God has always lived, it isn’t physical, it hasn’t been created, ‘God is spirit’, John 4:24. He doesn’t need a physical place to live in. He doesn’t need pictures or images or temples churches or shrines to live in, Acts 17:24-25.