Theme: How God’s People Respond
In this week’s lessons from the second part of Psalm 68, we learn that this psalm looks beyond David’s time to a day of future blessing concerning the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 68:19-35
A major shift in Psalm 68 occurs at verse 19, which is why I divided the study for last week and this week between verses 18 and 19. The shift is marked by the word “daily.” Up to this point the psalm has looked back to what God has done for Israel in the past, in history. At this point it begins to praise God for being the same in the present as he has been in the past, and that basic shift causes the writer to look ahead in time to what God will yet do.
Following up on the first half of the psalm, the people of God are now established in Zion, David is king and the ark is in God’s sanctuary. What are they to do now? The answer is two-fold.
They are to praise God. They were told to do this earlier, in the prologue (vv. 3, 4), but nothing was said about praising God during the historical recap of God’s progress from Sinai to Jerusalem (vv. 7-18). That follows naturally only after their victories are past and the kingdom is settled on a firm foundation. From this point on we find praise of God more often. It is in the procession section in verses 24-27. It comes to a peak in verses 32-35. It is the note on which the psalm ends: “Praise be to God” (v. 35)! This is the way our relationship to God goes. God acts. His acts result in his people’s salvation, and they praise him for it.
Have God’s saving acts in Christ resulted in your salvation? Then it is the most natural thing in the world for you to praise him for that, as the psalmist does. He sets the pattern.
They are to continue to trust God. The second thing the people are to do is trust God. Because he has shown himself to be “God [their] Savior,” they are to trust him to bear their daily burdens. Because he is “a God who saves,” they are to trust him even as they come face to face with death. The last reference could mean only that God will deliver his people from death in battle, especially since the next stanza begins to speak about battles. But it is probably wrong to limit it to that if only because the psalm is moving from the past through the present to the future. God may indeed save his people in the day of battle, but death comes anyway in time. What are they to expect of God then? Will death be the end? Will God abandon them? Not at all! “God is a God who saves” is in a continuous present tense. God has saved in the past. He saves today. Therefore, he can be expected to save in the future (and forever) also.
“Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). That is the theme of the Bible. But we must remember that it is not a philosophical statement but a confident hope of present and future blessing founded on the character of God who has acted for us savingly in the past. It is because God has saved that we believe he does and will. It is because of Jesus that we have a steadfast hope of eternal life.
The seventh stanza (vv. 21-23) deals with the people’s future victories. It is the place where the verbs of the psalm turn from past or present tenses to the future. But the victories described are set down in such extreme and bloodthirsty language that more than one commentator has been troubled by it. How shall we reply? If “plunging your feet in the blood of your foes, while the tongues of your dogs have their share” is to be referred only to a routine historical victory by Israel over one of her surrounding hostile foes, we may reply that in that case the words do indeed seem bloodthirsty, and the claim that theirs was a more violent, less sophisticated age than ours does not help much, especially when we remember that our age is violent too and that we should not excuse ourselves on that account. On the other hand, if this is a messianic reference, if we are to think not of Israel’s enemies primarily but of God’s enemies, then it is appropriate to think of such a complete destruction and rejoice in it.
A proper comparison might be the rejoicing of the righteous at the fall of Babylon, described in Revelation 18 and 19. Babylon represents the whole of the secular world system with its evil, sin, extortions, excess, greed, debauchery and godlessness. When it falls, the kings of the earth and the world’s merchants, which profited from Babylon, cry “Woe! Woe!” That is the theme of chapter 18. But in heaven the righteous, who desire the glory of God above all and deplore the world’s evil, rejoice shouting, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” And again (this is one of my favorite Bible statements): “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever” (vv. 1-3).
It would be wrong for us to rejoice over the fall of anyone like that in this life, because we are sinful ourselves and this is still the day of God’s grace. But it will not be inappropriate in heaven. In heaven we will glory in righteousness and rejoice at the punishment of evil.
The reference to God’s people being brought from Bashan and from the depths of the sea in verse 22 is probably to be explained by a passage like Amos 9:1-3, which describes God fetching people from the most remote and even inaccessible places to judgment. It may be that the psalm verses should be read as the older versions have them, referring to sinners being brought to judgment and not to the righteous being brought back to wallow in their enemies’ blood. Amos wrote, “Not one will get away, not one will escape. Though they dig down to the depths of the grave, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them.”
Certainly there will be no avoiding God by anyone on the day of his most certain judgment.
What word marks the major shift in the psalm?
What is the theme of the Bible?
Why can we have a steadfast hope of eternal life?
What topic do verses 21-23 deal with?
Reflection: How has God acted in your life to result in your salvation? Praise him for his blessings toward you, including how he is at work in your life now.