A Song of Victory
When have you felt victorious? What was the cause of your great feelings?
At one point in life, we all feel like winners. We invested time and talent into a contest; we emerge from it victorious. It is an expansive, addictive feeling. We're on top of the world, and we never want this feeling to end. We won once; we can win again.
These are the feelings evoked in Psalm 68. This psalm is flush with shouts of victory for the people, with clear references to liturgical use (a formal procession with song in 68:25-28). This public chant flowed from anticipation of God's activity, to realization, back to anticipation. YHWH acted once on behalf of the people; he would act again.
For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David. A song.
1 Let God arise!
Let his enemies be scattered!
Let them who hate him also flee before him.
2 As smoke is driven away,
so drive them away.
As wax melts before the fire,
so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
3 But let the righteous be glad.
Let them rejoice before God.
Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.
4 Sing to God! Sing praises to his name!
Extol him who rides on the clouds:
to Yah, his name!
Rejoice before him!
5 A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows,
is God in his holy habitation.
6 God sets the lonely in families.
He brings out the prisoners with singing,
but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land.
7 God, when you went forth before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness...
8 The earth trembled.
The sky also poured down rain at the presence of the God of Sinai—
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 You, God, sent a plentiful rain.
You confirmed your inheritance, when it was weary.
10 Your congregation lived therein.
You, God, prepared your goodness for the poor.
11 The Lord announced the word.
The ones who proclaim it are a great company.
World English Bible
Psalm 68 began with somewhat of a credal statement: God will come to act against his people's enemies and will be victorious (68:2-3). The faithful will worship with joyous celebration because of his victory (68:4-6); justice will return to the land (68:6-7). How could believer be confident in the Lord's coming? Remember the Exodus experience (68:8-11); God saved his people, revealed his power, and kept his promises to the patriarchs. This event that founded the nation would be the template of YHWH's future activity.
12 “Kings of armies flee! They flee!”
She who waits at home divides the spoil,
13 while you sleep among the campfires,
the wings of a dove sheathed with silver,
her feathers with shining gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings in her,
it snowed on Zalmon.
15 The mountains of Bashan are majestic mountains.
The mountains of Bashan are rugged.
16 Why do you look in envy, you rugged mountains,
at the mountain where God chooses to reign?
Yes, YHWH will dwell there forever.
17 The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands.
The Lord is among them, from Sinai, into the sanctuary.
18 You have ascended on high.
You have led away captives.
You have received gifts among men,
yes, among the rebellious also, that Yah God might dwell there.
19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burdens,
even the God who is our salvation.
20 God is to us a God of deliverance.
To YHWH, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will strike through the head of his enemies,
the hairy scalp of such a one as still continues in his guiltiness.
22 The Lord said, “I will bring you again from Bashan,
I will bring you again from the depths of the sea;
23 That you may crush them, dipping your foot in blood,
that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from your enemies.”
24 They have seen your processions, God,
even the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.
The tone shifted from anticipation to the fact of divine edict (68:12-15). God declared victory over the enemies of the nation. This was a time to divide the spoils, not to remain penned up in the city (numerous people remain in the sheepfolds). Notice the victory belongs to God alone. In 68:16-17, his adobe (the Temple in Jerusalem) is the envy of all other mountains (i.e., high places where sacrifice is offered to the gods). From Sinai, God led his uncountable forces up to the Temple on Mt. Zion and received tribute (68:18-19). The procession of the divine was a cause for praise, for he will act on behalf of the people. He will save them from death and will utterly shame his enemies (68:20-24).
25 The singers went before, the minstrels followed after,
in the midst of the ladies playing with tambourines,
26 “Bless God in the congregations,
even the Lord in the assembly of Israel!”
27 There is little Benjamin, their ruler,
the princes of Judah, their council,
the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali.
28 Your God has commanded your strength.
Strengthen, God, that which you have done for us.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem,
kings shall bring presents to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animal of the reeds,
the multitude of the bulls, with the calves of the peoples.
Being humbled, may it bring bars of silver.
Scatter the nations that delight in war.
31 Princes shall come out of Egypt.
Ethiopia shall hurry to stretch out her hands to God.
32 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth!
Sing praises to the Lord!
The procession of YHWH from Sinai (the Exodus) to the Temple in 68:18 was now made a formal procession of the people (68:25-28). The psalm hinted at a subtle insight: salvation was a journey from slavery in Egypt to the desert Exodus to the settlement of Promised Land (made final with the establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem). In other words, redemption was a pilgrimage led by YHWH. Before the Babylonian exile, this triumphalism might make sense in a Davidic monarchy. However, the tone shifted back to anticipation. The procession became a petition, a plea for God's help; “Give us your victory, O Lord, just as you did in Egypt!” This prayer has a humbling affect, at best; at worst, it was a desperate plea for action in the face of immanent threat. (68:29-32)
33 To him who rides on the heaven of heavens, which are
behold, he utters his voice, a mighty voice.
34 Ascribe strength to God!
His excellency is over Israel,
his strength is in the skies.
35 You are awesome, God, in your sanctuaries.
The God of Israel gives strength and power to his people.
Praise be to God!
The psalm ended with a universal command to praise (68:33-36). The nations saw the glory of YHWH in the desert; they should give him praise for his power over nature (his voice is the thunder in 68:34) and his command of the heavens. The God of all will protect the people he chose (68:36).
While there is a flow to the psalm, biblical scholars are unsure about it's construction and use. There is evidence of textual corruption (68:12-15) and possible editing. Because of the references to the Exodus journey, some scholars believe this psalm was part of Sukkoth, the Feast of Booths, that commemorated the Exodus journey. Nonetheless, the psalm's theme of victory and its use as a liturgical chant were clear.
Psalm 68 does give us some insight into our Christian spirituality. Our God will led us to victory, just as he did in the desert. Ours is a pilgrimage to a place promised to us. We can revel in what God has done for us and look forward to his triumph at the end of the age. With God, we are victorious!
How does Christ's victory over death strengthen you? How do you anticipate God's victory in your future?