When God moves His enemies tremble and His people rejoice! Psalm 68 rejoices in the power and protection of God.
It is likely that Psalm 68 was used as part of the celebration when the ark was brought into Jerusalem as described in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 15.
Psalm 68 is a difficult psalm to outline. It doesn't seem to fit into any clear structural format beyond the division into two halves of 18 verselines each. (This is hidden in our English translations because verse 30 is two verselines in length.)
The meaningful center can be found in verse 18 where we see God, the King, leading a line of captives as He ascends on high.
The first half feels more like a story than your standard praise song. We follow the King as He gets up from His throne, goes out to triumphantly scatter His enemies, and then ascends once more up to His throne.
The second half appears to have a more regular structure in this format:
Victory - Praise - Power
Victory - Praise - Power
The picture throughout this first half is that of God arising to defeat His enemies. It is as if a king is getting up from his thrown to lead his troops to victory.
God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him! Psalm 68:1
While His enemies scatter in terror the righteous rejoice to see God's justice and power on display.
But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Psalm 68:3
Attributes of Our King (Psalm 68:5-14)
- Protector of the weak (Psalm 68:5-6)
- Our Strength (Psalm 68:7-8)
- Provider (Psalm 68:9-10)
- Victor (Psalm 68:11-14)
Home of Our King (Psalm 68:15-16)
The psalmist is very creative in his imagery in this section. The fact that the King resides on Mount Zion is assumed. Rather than describe the location, the psalm, instead, personifies the other mountains. These mountains look on with envy at the mountain God has chosen.
Our King Ascends to His Throne (Psalm 66:17-18)
In the final verses of the first half we see God ascend, victorious, to His thrown while leading captives and receiving gifts.
If this was indeed sang as the arc was brought to the tabernacle in Jerusalem, we can picture the great procession rejoicing as they bring the arc literally upward to its new home on Mount Zion. But this same verse is also quoted in Ephesian 4:8 as a picture of Jesus rising from the grave.
Jesus arose from his thrown in heaven and conquered the enemy by descending to become a baby and live here among us. His perfect life and sacrificial death scattered the enemy and freed the captives. Jesus then freely gave spiritual gifts to men as he returned, ascending to the true tabernacle in heaven.
Blessed Be God
Blessed be the Lord
The second section is enveloped in praise. It begins with "Blessed be the Lord" (Psalm 68:19) and ends with "Blessed be God" (Psalm 68:35). Continuing this theme, verses 24-27 picture a procession of musicians and people as God enters his sanctuary. Once again, this is likely a picture of the procession as they brought the arc into Jerusalem.
Two other themes stand out in this section: God, our salvation, defeats His enemies, and God's awesome power on display.
God, our Salvation
In verses 19-20 we are twice told that "God is our salvation" and that "only He can bring deliverance". We see this deliverance in verses 21-23 as He "strikes the heads of His enemies". The image becomes quite graphic in verse 23 as it pictures those He rescues walking through the blood of their foes while their dogs lick up the blood. Although the image may be disturbing to modern readers, it is likely that David is recalling an image from one of His own victories. War at that time was a very personal and bloody affair. Notice, though, that this is not intended as a glorification of violence or war.
We return to this image in verse 30 where God is called upon to "trample underfoot those who lust after tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war". It is essential to realize the image is not one of a warmongering king conquering his neighbors out of pride, but rather of a hero defeating the warmongers and despots and setting the helpless captives free. The image is one of rescue and justice, not a glorification of war or violence.
God's Awesome Power
God's saving activity is on display throughout this psalm. The word "power" is repeated multiple times in verses 28 and 24-25. But the focus is not power alone. Power can be used for good or evil. God is worthy of our praise precisely because He uses His power to rescue and save.
Summon your power, O God,
the power, O God, by which you have worked for us. Psalm 68:28
Not only does He use His power for our good but He graciously gives His power to us to strengthen us.
He is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Psalm 68:35
This psalm is full of rich imagery exhorting us to praise our King and God. As Christians, we recognize that much of this imagery is fulfilled in Jesus, our King and champion. Why praise God? Because He is our Protector, Strength, Provider and Victor.
The structure of the second section with its repetition of praise, victory and power, leading back to praise, struck me as an important reminder:
- Praise leads to victory.
- We gain glimpses of His power during the victory.
- This leads to more praise, more victories and more power.
Finally we are reminded that we serve a generous God who shares His power with us so that we can continue to stand in the victory He has won.
Stand strong in the knowledge that God has won the victory in Christ and you now can access that power and live out that victory in your daily life!