"Let All the Peoples Praise You" (Psalms 67-68) August 14-16
Neginoth in the superscription of Psalm 67 likely means, as the NKJV translates it here and in other places, "stringed instruments."
George Knight's Daily Study Bible Series commentary Psalms says: "Obviously this psalm was composed for public worship. Perhaps it belonged particularly to the autumn harvest festival [i.e., the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering] (see verse 6)" (comments on verses 1-7). This he takes from the RSV, which renders verse 6 as "The earth has yielded its increase," whereas other translations understand the verb here as future tense—"shall yield." Of course, the annual harvest does portray a future harvest, as was pointed out with respect to Psalm 65, which begins the current grouping of psalms—and that is certainly a major theme here as well.
The song opens with a prayer for God's mercy and blessing and that His face would shine—smile in favor—on His people (67:1). As previously pointed out in regard to Psalm 31:16, the language here is taken from the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:25 (see also Psalm 4:6; 44:3; 80:3, 7, 19; 119:135). The Zondervan NIV Study Bible says that this song's "content, form and brevity suggest that it served as a liturgical [i.e., worship service] prayer of the people at the conclusion of worship, perhaps just prior to (or immediately after) the priestly benediction" (note on Psalm 67).
"God's blessing on his people (as well as his saving acts in their behalf) will catch the attention of the nations and move them to praise (65:2)" (same note). Indeed, this is a rather exciting thought within the psalm. Note the repetition in the refrain of 67:3 and verse 5. The excitement here is not just for the increased praise for God, but for the fact that all peoples will be able to rejoice when they experience the establishment of His righteous government over all nations. In their happiness over this certain hope, God's people are expressing love for all mankind.
Given all this, the focus of verse 6 is clearly future. The earth yielding its increase speaks not only of God's great agricultural provision in the world to come, but of the great harvest of humanity that will then take place—to the "ends of the earth" (verse 7), as the nations learn to properly fear and respect Him and His people are vastly blessed as never before.
In Psalm 68 David calls on God to deal with His enemies and for the righteous to rejoice in His triumph. The first half of the psalm (to verse 18) reviews God's historic acts on behalf of the Israelites, progressing from the wilderness of Sinai to the conquest of the Promised Land. Verse 18 carries the meaning forward to Christ's day, as we will see, and then the second half of the psalm "looks forward with expectations of God's continuing triumphs until the redemption of his people is complete and his kingly rule is universally acknowledged with songs of praise" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 68).
In Psalm 68:4 God's name is given as "Yah" (see also Isaiah 12:2), a shortened form of Yhwh, usually transliterated as Yahweh. This longer form, replaced in most Bible versions with the word "Lord," is the third-person form of the name that God gave in the first person in Exodus 3:14. In that verse God gave a long version of this name, "I AM WHO I AM," as well as a short version "I AM." Just the same, the third-person form Yhwh means "He Is Who He Is," while the shorter form Yah means "He Is" or "He Who Is." This short form appears in the names of many people in the Bible, such as Elijah (i.e., Eli-Yah), Isaiah (i.e., Yitza-Yah) and Jeremiah (i.e., Yerem-Yah).
Psalm 68:5-6 expresses God's special concern for the orphan and widow and His care to make those who are lonely part of families. His desire is to help those in need, which brings us to the next clause in verse 6—delivering the oppressed. Actually, the specific wording here—of bringing those who are bound into prosperity but the rebellious to desert exile—probably relates, given the context of the verses that follow, to God's merciful deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and their subsequent rebellion and wilderness wanderings (see also 66:10-12).
God still continued to provide for His people. Psalm 68:8-9 appears to paraphrase a few lines from the Song of Deborah in Judges 5:4b-5 about God providing rain to the Israelites in the Sinai desert. The provision of rain also ties the psalm to Psalm 65:9-10. God's "inheritance" (Psalm 68:9) is a reference to Israel (see Deuteronomy 9:29)—synonymous in the next verse with His congregation and the poor for whom He provided (Psalm 68:10).
Verses 11-14 speak of God granting victory to Israel in its battles against the armies of various kingdoms on the way to subduing the Promised Land. Zalmon in verse 14 is a mountain near Shechem in northern Israel (see Judges 9:46-48). Bashan (Psalm 68:15) is a high plateau northeast of the Sea of Galilee. It was part of the territory of King Og when the Israelites came to the land. "Mountain" in these verses seems to symbolize land and dominion. That is, the mountain of Bashan is the land or kingdom of Bashan. God says it is now a mountain of His (verse 15)—that is, it is incorporated into His dominion as part of the Kingdom of Israel. The mountain's peaks (verse 16) would represent its various sub-kingdoms or city-states. These peaks are erupting, like volcanoes, with envy against the takeover by God and His people. God, however, says He desires to dwell in this mountain—the Promised Land—forever.
Yet, depending on when David wrote this psalm, the mountain of God could perhaps be more specifically identified as Mount Zion—of which the whole land of Israel is an extension (just as Zion, the Mountain of the Lord's House, will, after Christ's return, represent both Jerusalem and the whole Kingdom of God). For it is in Jerusalem that God has chosen to dwell: "For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: 'This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it'" (Psalm 132:13-14).
With this in mind, consider Psalm 68:17. It mentions God's vast chariot army, and then notice how the NRSV translates the second half of the verse: "The Lord came from Sinai into the holy place." The Hebrew wording here is difficult, but this meaning fits well in context. That is, what has gone before in the account has shown the progress from the wandering in the wilderness to the permanent establishment of God within His sanctuary in Israel—probably on Mount Zion.
The first phrase in the next verse, "You have ascended on high" (verse 18), would fit with the idea of God's entourage moving from lower surrounding lands to the heights of Israel (especially in the sense of ascending to the place that was to represent the spiritual peak among the nations of the earth). The mountain of God, we have seen in other psalms, represents the heavenly Zion as well—just as it does here. Indeed, there is much more to this verse.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul notes something remarkable about this passage. He quotes from it in Ephesians 4:8. Then, in verse 9, he asks: "Now this, 'He ascended,'—what does it mean but that He also first descended...?" Paul realizes that this verse refers to God, who dwells in the highest heaven. So how can He be portrayed as ascending to a higher place or station? Only if He first descended—and this Paul explains as prophetic of God coming down from heaven as a human being, Jesus Christ, to then later ascend back up to heaven to reassume His divine majesty. We will see more about Paul's explanation of this when we come to the book of Ephesians in the Bible Reading Program.
The next phrase in Psalm 68:18, also referred to by Paul, "You have led captivity captive," finds an earlier parallel in the Song of Deborah: "Arise, Barak [the leader of Israel's army], and lead thy captivity captive" (Judges 5:12, KJV). In that passage, the NKJV translates the phrase simply as, "Lead your captives away." Indeed, the idea here seems merely to be: "Take those you have captured and lead them away as captive." Many see in this a sort of victory procession (compare Psalm 68:24-25). The NIV, similar to the NRSV, renders the phrase in Psalm 68:18 as "You led captives in your train." However, it is not clear if the captives here are humiliated and paraded enemies (compare also Colossians 2:15) or those whom God has converted to His truth—themselves victorious with God in the procession (compare Psalm 69:33; Romans 6:16-22; Ephesians 3:1).
The next clause in Psalm 68:18 says, "You have received gifts among men." Paul in quoting this seems to reverse it, saying that God "gave gifts to men" (Ephesians 4:8)—referring to the apportioning of spiritual gifts to Christ's followers (verses 7, 11-16). The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "Paul does not cite either MT [the Masoretic Text] or LXX [the Septuagint].... Some have claimed that, under the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul felt free to amplify the meaning of the Psalm, since the giving is implicit in the receiving for. But it seems more probable that the apostle was drawing on an ancient oral tradition reflected in the Aramaic Targum on the Psalter and the Syriac Peshitta version, both of which read, 'Thou hast given gifts to men.' Early rabbinical comments applied the verse to Moses when he received the Law on Sinai so as to bring it to the people" (note on Ephesians 4:8, emphasis added). Zondervan notes on this verse: "Paul apparently takes his cue from certain Rabbinic interpretations current in his day that read the Hebrew preposition for 'from' in the sense of 'to' (a meaning it often has) and the verb for 'received' in the sense of 'take and give' (a meaning it sometimes has—but with a different preposition...)." Of course, God receives from people only what He has already given them or produced in them—so Paul's understanding was certainly correct in any case.
Verse 19 of Psalm 68 continues in the theme of God providing for His people: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits." However, it is possible that the latter clause should be rendered, as in the NRSV, "who daily bears us up" (i.e., carries us), or, as in the NIV, "who daily bears our burdens."
But those who oppose God will not fare so well in the end (verses 21-23). Crushing enemies in blood under foot (verse 23) recalls Psalm 58:10. As there, this is not to relish the destruction of others but to portray a meting out of justice on those who refuse to repent.
In these verses, we are moving beyond ancient Israel's subjugation of the Promised Land to the future subjugation of the earth to God's Kingdom at Christ's coming. As we saw, Psalm 68:18, besides representing the establishment of the ancient sanctuary in Jerusalem, also represented the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ to the heavenly sanctuary. Yet it also represents the ascension of Christ to the throne of the earth in His Kingdom (as in Psalm 47), when the future temple is established at Jerusalem (see 68:29).
Verse 30 is probably to be interpreted by verses 31-32, so that "beasts of the reeds" (verse 30)—likely descriptive of the crocodile and hippopotamus of the Nile—represents Egypt and Ethiopia (verse 31) and "the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples" (verse 30) represents the various "kingdoms of the earth" (verse 32), both great and small. Though initially rebuked, most will soon become part of a great chorus of nations praising God (see verses 32-35), as was called for in the previous psalm.