Theme: Paul’s Use of This Psalm
From this week’s lessons we see how in the Old Testament God showed his power on behalf of his people, and that this is the same God who goes before us and triumphs through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 68:1-18
One of the most fascinating things about Psalm 68 is the way the Apostle Paul used verse 18 in his letter to the Ephesians. He referred it to Jesus Christ, saying in the well-known fourth chapter of that letter, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” (vv. 7, 8). It is not so strange that Paul would take a verse which in the Old Testament refers to the arrival of the ark of the covenant at Mount Zion and refer it to Jesus who, in a similar way, ascended to the heavenly tabernacle after his resurrection to reign over the church from that location. What is puzzling is that in the psalm God is described as receiving gifts from men, even from people who have been rebellious, while in Ephesians Paul describes Jesus dispensing gifts to men. It seems to be a wrong or at least an unjustified twisting of the Old Testament quotation.
Some commentators have suggested that Paul just boldly altered the text for his own purposes, but it is hard to be satisfied with that since there was no compelling reason for him to quote the psalm at all. The point in Ephesians does not depend on it. The solution may be in the image itself: a victorious king would both receive gifts and dispense them, particularly dispensing the spoils of his conquest. But the solution may also be in the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “received,” which can also be rendered “brought.” This is supported by the fact that two ancient versions of Psalm 68, the Aramaic and Syriac, translate the Hebrew word as “gave.” So whatever Paul was intending in Ephesians, his view was not a novel but an established interpretation.
The point, of course, is that what is so beautifully described in the psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ, for which all the Old Testament pictures are but prophecies. It is he who has delivered us from slavery to sin and brought us from Sinai to Mount Zion, where we are to dwell forever. May Jesus Christ be praised!
How does Paul use Psalm 68:18 in his letter to the Ephesians?
In what way does Paul’s wording differ from the psalmist’s?
In what way can God both receive gifts and dispense them?
How does the psalm relate to Jesus Christ?
For Further Study: To learn more about the saving victory that Christ brings, download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message from Romans 6, “Present Victory.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)