Theme: The Last of David’s Historical Psalms
In this week’s lessons we see that even in times of blessing, when we feel closest to the Lord, there are nevertheless areas of our lives that will cause us trouble and need correcting.
Scripture: Psalm 60:1-12
Psalm 60 is the last of the psalms with an historical setting from the life of David. This setting is given in the title, and the title is the longest of such introductory titles in the psalter. Psalm 18 also has a long title, but this is longer. It occupies three-and-a-half lines in our text and about the same amount of space in the standard Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew text the titles are numbered as verses, and the title is actually the first two verses of the psalm.
It tells us that these words are about the time David “fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah [that is, the Arameans of the Mesopotamian River valley1], and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” The only possible time for these battles is after David had become king and had reigned for a considerable number of years. But if this is so, then Psalm 60 is an important historical document, for, as Derek Kidner says, “[Except] for this psalm and its title we should have no inkling of the resilience of David’s hostile neighbors at the peak of his power.”2 What Kidner means is that the only other accounts we have of this period speak of it only as a time of uninterrupted military victories. So far as we can tell, the title sets the psalm in a soaring account of David’s many and geographically widespread victories.
That suggests something a bit strange about Psalm 60. The title is about a victory, Joab’s victory over the Edomites in the Valley of Salt, but the psalm is about a defeat (“You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us.” v. 1).
The background of this psalm is in 2 Samuel 8:1-14.1 In the part of 2 Samuel immediately before this several things are recorded. First, David becomes king over all Israel (2 Sam. 5:1-5). Second, he conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital (5:6-16). Third, he achieves decisive victories over the Philistines (5:17-25). Fourth, he brings the ark to Jerusalem as a focus for the people’s worship (ch. 6). Fifth, God sends Nathan to him with the greatest message David received in his entire lifetime, namely, that God was going to establish his throne forever (ch. 7). It was a prophecy of the Messiah, which David immediately recognized. These are the unprecedented events preceding chapter 8, and it is immediately after them that the chapter about David’s many military victories, the setting for Psalm 60, occurs.
1Marvin Tate says that Aram-Naharaim is a name for Mesopotamia and that Aram-Zobah “refers to a major Aramean state during the time of David, located on the eastern slopes of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range in the Biqa Valley” (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 [Dallas: Word, 1990], pp. 104, 105).
2Derek 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. 215.
What is the setting for this psalm?
What curious thing is pointed out about this psalm and its title?
Read 2 Samuel 8:1-14. How did David fight Hadadezer and the Arameans? Who helped David in these defeats? Why did David become famous?
What did Nathan tell David? How is it a prophecy of the Messiah?
For Further Study: In addition to one’s personal and family devotions, James Boice’s preaching through the Psalms can also be used for various group studies. If you would like to have your own copy of this three-volume set, order yours from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and receive 25% off.