In this psalm it was David's design to celebrate the victories which, through the blessing of God, he had gained over his enemies;1 but, in the opening verses, he commends the power and goodness of God generally, as seen in the government of the world at large. From this he passes to the consideration of what God had done in redeeming his chosen people, and of the continued proofs of fatherly care which he had manifested to the posterity of Abraham. He then proceeds to the subject which he had more particularly in view, prosecuting it at length, and in terms of the most exalted description; praising the signal display of Divine power which he, and the whole nation with him, had experienced. Now that he had been made king, he infers that the Church was brought to a settled condition, and that God, who seemed to have departed, would now at length erect his throne, as it were, in the midst of it, and reign. In this it would evidently appear, that he designed, typically, to represent the glory of God afterwards to be manifested in Christ.
To the chief musician. A psalm or song of David.
1 As to the time and occasion of the composition of this psalm, the majority of interpreters refer it to the translation of the ark from the house of Obed-Edom to Mount Zion, and with this every part of it would, no doubt, harmonize. But other critics, as Drs Geddes, Boothroyd, and Morrison, think (and Calvin's opinion seems to be the same) that it was penned after some great victory; probably after David's signal victory over the Ammonites and Syrians, when the ark was brought back in triumph to Jerusalem, (1 Chronicles 19:10-19.) That the ark accompanied the army in those ways we learn from the words of Uriah to David, in 2 Samuel 11:11, compared with 2 Samuel 12:31. As every thing under that dispensation was typical or prophetical, it is very natural to regard the triumphant manner in which the ark ascended the holy mountain, as an emblem of the far more triumphant and glorious ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ (of whom the ark, and the tabernacle, and the temple itself, were all figures) to the highest heavens, after he had overcome his own and his people's enemies; and in this application the 18th verse of this psalm is quoted by the Apostle Paul, (Ephesians 4:8, 9.)
This inspired composition, though highly sublime and beautiful, is universally acknowledged by critics to be of very difficult interpretation. Dr Adam Clarke pronounces it "the most difficult psalm in the whole Psalter;" and, after quoting the words of Simon de Muis, -- who observes, that "it may not be improperly termed the torture of critics, and the reproach of commentators," -- he says, "There are customs here referred to, which I do not fully understand: there are words whose meaning I cannot, to my own satisfaction, ascertain; and allusions which are to me inexplicable. Yet of the composition itself I have the highest opinion: -- it is sublime beyond all comparison; -- it is constructed with an art truly admirable; -- it possesses all the dignity of the sacred language; -- none but David could have composed it; and, at this lapse of time, it would require no small influence of the Spirit that was upon him to give its true interpretations."