These notes are based on the NASB text.
What is the background of Psalm 68?
The Psalm is ascribed to David. It is considered by many to be the toughest psalm to interpret. Some see it as a collection of short songs or key lines of as many as thirty separate hymns. The evidence suggests that the psalm was used in a service of worship in and near Jerusalem’s temple. It speaks of the impact of God’s presence upon the unrighteous and the righteous and upon history.
68:1 Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered;
And let those who hate Him flee before Him.
68:2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish before God.
Psalm 68 begins with a note of triumph. “Let God arise” was the proclamation that announced the movement of the ark of the covenant in the journeys and battles of the Israelites (see Numbers 10:35). The Psalm also defines the impact of God’s presence on both the unrighteous and the righteous. When God arises things happen! His enemies cannot stand before Him. Those who hate God cannot tolerate His presence nor overcome His power. As light dispels darkness, so God’s presence disturbs and drives away the wicked. Psalm 1:5 declares, “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”
Practical Consideration: God’s presence makes a difference.
As adults, we often forget the lessons we were taught as children and the lessons we try to teach our children. One of those lessons is that God’s presence makes a difference. When children are fearful of the dark we tell them not to be afraid because God is present. When we face dark and difficult days as adults, we too, should remember that God is present. As believers, we never have to face the issues of life alone. Knowing that God is present should encourage and embolden us to face all of life’s circumstances with courage and confidence.
68:3 But let the righteous be glad; let them sing before God;
Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.
68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him.
God’s presence also has an impact upon the righteous. It causes the righteous to be glad and rejoice. The assurance that God is for us (Romans 8:31) and that He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) should elicit from us a response of gratitude and rejoicing. God’s presence and goodness should also have an impact upon our worship. Our full and grateful hearts should find expression in joyous worship.
68:5 A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
68:6 God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
Verses 5 and 6 praise God for His concern, protection, and involvement in the lives of orphans, widows, the lonely (those destitute of friendship and help), and prisoners. Let it never be said that God does not care for those in need. The rebellious and wicked however, do not enjoy the benefits of being rightly related to a loving God.
Practical Consideration: There are no little people in God’s sight.
David marveled in Psalm 8 that the God of the macroscopic could be concerned with the microscopic, that the God who created the planets could be concerned with people. Psalm 68 affirms the concern of the awesome God of the universe for people, especially those often overlooked, ignored, or forgotten by our society. We can take comfort in the fact that there are no little people in God’s sight. Every person matters to God.
68:7 O God, when Thou didst go forth before Thy people,
When Thou didst march through the wilderness, [Selah]
68:8 The earth quaked;
The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
68:9 Thou didst shed abroad a plentiful rain, O God;
Thou didst confirm Thine inheritance, when it was parched.
68:10 Thy creatures settled in it;
Thou didst provide in Thy goodness for the poor, O God.
These verses recount the impact of God’s presence at Mount Sinai and through the wilderness experience. God was present with His people in the exodus and wilderness experience in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:17-22). Mount Sinai quaked at the presence of God (Exodus 19:18). God also refreshed His people with rain. On more than one occasion rain reassured God’s people of His concern for them (see the account of Sisera in Judges 4-5 and the ending of the drought predicted by Elijah in 1 Kings 18:41-45). Because of the rains sent by God, the Israelites were able to survive and dwell in an otherwise parched land.
Practical Consideration: God’s provision is always timely.
God’s provision for our needs is always timely. His provision also reminds and reassures us of His concern for our well being. We should recall God’s past provisions when facing present difficulties and needs. Doing so can help us to trust in Him and wait upon Him in spite of overwhelming odds.
68:11 The Lord gives the command;
The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host:
68:12 “Kings of armies flee, they flee,
And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!”
68:13 When you lie down among the sheepfolds,
You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver,
And its pinions with glistening gold.
68:14 When the Almighty scattered the kings there,
It was snowing in Zalmon.
Verses 11-14 recite the impact of God’s presence in battle. These verses describe victory in battle and the taking and dividing of spoil. Verse 12 is reminiscent of Sisera’s flight in Judges 4:17-22. Verses 13 and 14 are difficult to understand. Some scholars suggest that verse 13 refers to a specific object or trophy taken by the spoilers. Others suggest that it refers to Israel basking in prosperity after victory in battle. Some have honestly stated that they do not understand verses 13 and 14, suggesting that there are no helps to guide us in understanding what the writer was alluding to. Verse 14 may be a reference to the completeness of victory in battle and the scattering of enemies like wind-driven snow.
Practical Consideration: The battle belongs to the Lord.
God never intended for us to face and fight life’s battles alone. Victory can be ours only as we commit our difficulties to the Lord and face them in the strength that He provides.
68:15 A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan;
A mountain of many peaks is the mountain of Bashan.
68:16 Why do you look with envy, O mountains with many peaks,
At the mountain which God has desired for His abode?
Surely, the Lord will dwell there forever.
68:17 The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands;
The Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness.
68:18 Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captive Thy captives;
Thou hast received gifts among men,
Even among the rebellious also, that the Lord may dwell there.
“The mountain of God” in verse 15 is a way of expressing the superlative and should be understood as meaning “the mighty mountain.” The mountains of Bashan are pictured as being envious of Zion (a hill by comparison) because God has chosen it as his abode. Zion is a humble setting in comparison to the magnificent mountains of Bashan. Someone has noted, “It is much more honorable to be holy to God than to be high and great in the world.” There is security in Zion because of the power and presence of the Lord. God is here pictured as an absolute victor.
Practical Consideration: Our standing before God is more important than our standing before men.
It is easy for us to be impressed by the wealth, status, and power of others. It is also easy for us to expend our energies in pursuing the things that we feel will give us a greater standing before men. We should however, be more concerned about our standing before God. We should be more concerned about what we are than what we have. We should be more concerned about living holy lives than achieving and accumulating the things of this world. We should be humbled by the fact that God has chosen to abide in us in the person of His Holy Spirit.
68:19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden,
The God who is our salvation. [Selah]
68:20 God is to us a God of deliverances;
And to God the Lord belong escapes from death.
These verses praise God for His presence and provision through trials and difficulties. Verse 19 praises God for His all-sufficient daily care. Throughout the Scripture God invites us to cast our cares upon Him (Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:7), to trust Him with our concerns (Psalm 37:3-6), and to find rest in Him when we are burdened and stretched to the point of breaking (Matthew 11:28-30). We should praise God daily for daily bearing our burdens (verse 19). Verse 20 praises God for His watch care and protection. Every day we are exposed to both visible and known dangers as well as invisible and unknown dangers. Verse 20 praises God for rescuing us from danger, for keeping us safe in the midst of danger, and for giving us victory over danger. Such beneficent care should call forth great gratitude and daily praise from every child of God.
Practical Consideration: We should commit our cares and anxieties to the Lord.
God never intended for us to bear our burdens alone. God did not design our hearts and minds to hold all of the cares and anxieties of life. In fact, the Scripture warns us, “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down” (Proverbs 12:25a). That is why God repeatedly invites us to turn to Him and trust Him with life’s burdens. God did not design us with the capacity to go without sleep because of worry and fear. He reminds us in His Word however, that He never sleeps (Psalm 121:3-4). That is why He invites us to cast our cares upon Him … He’s going to be up all night anyway!
68:21 Surely God will shatter the head of His enemies,
The hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds.
68:22 The Lord said, “I will bring them back from Bashan.
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea;
68:23 That your foot may shatter them in blood,
The tongue of your dogs may have its portion from your enemies.”
These verses speak of the calamity that will befall the enemies of God and of His people. “The hairy crown” refers to an oath taken by a warrior to not cut his hair until after defeating an enemy. Those who persist in wickedness and align themselves against God have absolutely no hope of escape. They will have no place in which to hide and ultimately will be utterly destroyed. The wicked will find no refuge from the judgment of God in either the heights of Bashan or the depths of the sea (see also Amos 9:1-3).
Practical Consideration: It is impossible to escape the presence of God.
The Scripture teaches us that it is impossible for any man to escape the presence of God. Jonah reminds us that those seeking to run from God’s call cannot escape His presence. 1 and 2 Kings remind us that the evil or good that men do is always in the sight of God. People like Ahab and Jezebel remind us that it is impossible to escape the judgment of God. Knowing that we cannot escape the presence of God should motivate us to live lives that are pleasing to Him.
68:24 They have seen Thy procession, O God,
The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.
68:25 The singers went on, the musicians after them,
In the midst of the maidens beating tambourines.
68:26 Bless God in the congregations,
Even the Lord, you who are of the fountain of Israel.
68:27 There is Benjamin, the youngest ruling them,
The princes of Judah in their throng,
The princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
These verses portray a procession of worshipers led by singers, musicians, maidens, and princes (cf. 1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16-28) en route to the sanctuary.
68:28 Your God has commanded your strength;
Show Thyself strong, O God, who has acted on our behalf.
68:29 Because of Thy temple at Jerusalem
Kings will bring gifts to Thee.
68:30 Rebuke the beasts in the reeds,
The herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples,
Trampling underfoot the pieces of silver;
He has scattered the peoples who delight in war.
68:31 Envoys will come out of Egypt;
Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.
These verses call upon the nations to acknowledge the power and majesty of God. Egypt is one of these nations (see “beasts in the reeds”), as are many of the nations hostile to God’s people (referred to as “bulls”), and Ethiopia. Some see these verses as eschatological in nature, pointing to a future day when nations will acknowledge the power and majesty of God.
68:32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
Sing praises to the Lord, [Selah]
68:33 To Him who rides upon the highest heavens, which are from ancient times;
Behold, He speaks forth with His voice, a mighty voice.
68:34 Ascribe strength to God;
His majesty is over Israel,
And His strength is in the skies.
68:35 O God, Thou art awesome from Thy sanctuary.
The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people.
Blessed be God!
All nations are here invited to recognize the awesome majesty, power, and sovereignty (see “Him who rides upon the highest heavens”) of God and to respond by singing praises unto Him. Men should “ascribe strength to God,” that is, recognize his omnipotence and praise Him for it. A proper understanding of God will cause men to respond to him in reverence and praise.
Practical Consideration: We should praise God for who He is.
Our God is indeed an awesome God and worthy of praise. A proper understanding of who God is will cause us to respond to Him in reverence and praise.