Theme: A Psalm of Triumph
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
Psalm 68 is a song of military triumph. It was the battle song of the French Huguenots. Henry of Navarre was the Protestant champion. On one occasion he and his armies were confined in the fortified town of Dieppe, threatened with destruction by the armies of the Catholic League under the Duc of Mayenne. Fog had rolled in, which kept Henry’s artillery from taking aim on the enemy; reinforcements had failed, and the soldier’s courage had been crushed by the overwhelming strength of the enemy. “Come,” said the king, “lift the psalm. It is full time.”
Thus, above the din of the clashing armies there rose the austere melody of Psalm 68, set to the words of Theodore de Beza (1519-1605):
Que Dieu se monstre seulement,
Et on verra soudainement
Abandonner la place
Le camp des ennemis espars,
Et ses haineux, de toutes pars,
Fuir devant sa face.
Pressing onward to the psalm’s sound, the men of Dieppe forced through the royalist lines, splitting their forces. The fog cleared, and Henry’s cannon fired on the opposing ranks of soldiers, the cannon actually marking the cadence of the psalm. The League was scattered. The year was 1589.
Sixteen years earlier, in 1573, the Protestant stronghold of Rochelle was under royalist attack. Four times the battle lines advanced, and four times they were driven back while the defenders raised their song of triumph from the ramparts: “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him.” The siege was raised, and Rochelle was spared.
One night, at the siege of Montauban in August 1621, a Protestant who was serving in the king’s army marched under the town’s battlements playing the tune of Psalm 68. It was a signal that the siege was to be lifted, which happened the next day.
Charlemagne and Oliver Cromwell loved the sixty-eighth psalm. In 1812, after the French general Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow, a service was held to celebrate the city’s deliverance and the Metropolitan of the city preached from Psalm 68:1, “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered.”
In the introduction to the last study it was reported that very little has been written about Psalm 67. That is not true of Psalm 68. A great deal has been written about this psalm, and there are many theories about it, in part because it contains a large number of verses hard to understand.
The psalm is a song about God’s mighty acts on his people’s behalf. Derek Kidner says, “Flanked by the ebullient prologue and epilogue, the two main parts of the psalm celebrate, first, God’s victorious march from Egypt, with its culmination at Jerusalem (vv. 7-18), and secondly the power and majesty of his regime seen in the ascendancy of his people and the flow of worshippers and vassals to his footstool (vv. 19-31).”1
One feature of the psalm is that it abounds in names for God. Six are explicit: Yahweh, Yah, Elohim, El, Lord and Shaddai. Others are in the form of descriptive words or phrases: him who rides on the clouds (v. 4), a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows (v. 5), the One of Sinai (v. 8), God our Savior (v. 19), the Sovereign LORD (v. 20), my God and King (v. 24) and he who rides the ancient skies above, who thunders with mighty voice (v. 33). Each stanza relates something different about God, progressing from God’s mighty acts in the past to the present and eventually even to anticipate the future. The psalm’s survey of the majestic sweep of God’s doings is superb. It is hard to find another psalm to equal it.
If there is a specific event for which the psalm was written and to which it refers, it is probably the occasion of the entrance of the ark into Jerusalem in the time of David, recorded in 2 Samuel 6. The Commentary on the Psalms by J.J. Stewart Perowne contains a survey of many other theories about the psalm’s origin, but Perowne also gives several cogent reasons for its having been written in David’s time. If we take seriously the fact that David is identified as the author, as we should, noting at the same time that the references in the psalm lead up to his period of history but not beyond it, except as prophetic anticipations of the Messianic age, then a setting in the latter years of David’s reign when the ark of God was brought to Jerusalem seems reasonable.
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), p. 238.
2J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 512-518. Original edition 1878-1879.
What kind of psalm is this?
What is the psalm about?
List the names of God mentioned in the psalm.
How do the stanzas progress?
What is the probable event for which the psalm was written?
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