Psalm 68:11-14

11. The1 Lord shall give the word to the women who announce the great army.212. Kings of armies shall flee -- shall flee; and she that tarries at home shall divide the spoil. 13. Though you should lie among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and which behind is of the paleness of gold.314. When the Almighty scattered kings in it, thou shalt make it white4 in Salmon.


11. The Lord shall give the word, etc. David now adverts to the victories by which God had signally displayed his power in behalf of his people. He had himself been the instrument of restoring peace to the country, by putting down its foes, and he had extended the boundaries of the kingdom; but he ascribes the praise of all that had been done in stratagems and counsels of war to God. In representing God as issuing orders for the song of triumph, he intimates, figuratively, that it is he who determines the successful issue of battles. Notice is taken of the women who announce the army, for it was the custom anciently for women to sing the song of triumph, as Miriam, the sister of Moses, with her companions, sounded the praises of God upon the timbrel, and the women celebrated David's victory upon the harp, when he slew Goliath, and routed the Philistines, (Exodus 15:20; Judges 12:34; 1 Samuel 18:6.) In making this reference to a song of praise, the Psalmist, as I have already said, intended to impress the truth upon the people, that the victories gained were entirely owing to God; though, at the same time, he tacitly reminds them of its being their duty to proclaim his benefits with due gratitude.

From the verse which succeeds, we are taught that the mightiest preparations which the enemies of the Church may make for its destruction shall be overthrown. We may consider the words as spoken in the person of the Psalmist himself, or as forming the song of the women mentioned above. It was a circumstance illustrative of the Divine favor, that the most formidable kings, before whom the Jews could never have stood in their own strength, had been put to flight. That princes, who could easily have overrun the world with their forces, should have not only departed without obtaining their purpose, but been forced to fly to a distance, could be accounted for on no other supposition than God's having stood forward signally as their defender. In the Hebrew the verb is repeated, they shall flee, they shall flee, signifying that the attacks of the enemy had been repelled by Divine assistance once and again. The greatness of the spoil taken is intimated by the circumstance stated, that a share of it would come even to the women who remained at home. While the soldiers would return from battle clothed with the spoils, such would be the quantity of booty taken, that the females, who took no part in war, would partake of it.

13. Though ye should lie among the pots.5 Having spoken of God as fighting the battles of his people, he adds, by way of qualification, that they may lie for a time under darkness, though eventually God will appear for their deliverance; There can be little doubt that he hints at the state of wretchedness and distress to which the nation had been reduced under the government of Saul, for the interposition was the more remarkable, considering the misery from which it had emerged. The words, however, convey a further instruction than this. They teach us the general truth, that believers are, by the hidden and mysterious power of God, preserved unhurt in the midst of their afflictions, or suddenly recovered so as to exhibit no marks of them. The language admits of being interpreted to mean either that they shine even when lying under filth and darkness, or that, when freed from their troubles, they shake off any defilement which they may have contracted. Let either sense be adopted, and it remains true that the believer is never consumed or overwhelmed by his afflictions, but comes out safe. An elegant figure is drawn from the dove, which, though it lie amongst the pots, retains the beauty which naturally belongs to it, and contracts no defilement on its wings. From this we learn that the Church does not always present a fair or peaceable aspect, but rather emerges occasionally from the darkness that envelops it, and recovers its beauty as perfectly as if it had never been subjected to calamity.

14. When the Almighty scattered kings in it. We might read extended, or divided kings, etc., and then the allusion would be to his leading them in triumph. But the other reading is preferable, and corresponds better with what was said above of their being put to flight. There is more difficulty in the second part of the verse, some reading, it was white in Salmon; that is, the Church of God presented a fair and beautiful appearance. Or the verb may be viewed as in the second person -- Thou, O God! Didst make it fair and white as mount Salmon6 with snows. The reader may adopt either construction, for the meaning is the same. It is evident that David insists still upon the figure of the whiteness of silver, which he had previously introduced. The country had, as it were, been blackened or sullied by the hostile confusions into which it was thrown, and he says that it had now recovered its fair appearance, and resembled Salmon, which is well known to have been ordinarily covered with snows.7 Others think that Salmon is not the name of a place, but an appellative, meaning a dark shade.8 I would retain the commonly received reading. At the same time, I think that there may have been an allusion to the etymology. It comes from the word Mlu, tselem, signifying a shade, and mount Salmon had been so called on account of its blackness.9 This makes the comparison more striking; for it intimates, that as the snows whitened this black mountain, so the country had resumed its former beauty, and put on an aspect of joy, when God dispelled the darkness which had lain upon it during the oppression of enemies.10

1 Dr Geddes here observes, that "the poet passes rapidly from former times to his own days, and the occasion of composing his psalm, namely, the discomfiture and flight of the combined kings of Syria, Ammon, Moab, and Edom: for with all these David had been engaged in this war."

2 The original word for "the women who announce" is twrsbmh, hamebasseroth. It is from rsb, bisser, "to announce joyous tidings;" and, being a participle of the feminine gender, is very properly referred to women, who were wont to celebrate victories, or any kind of good news, with songs and music. But we find it on one occasion used to express melancholy news, (1 Samuel 4:17.) The women here are represented as announcing the victory by singing congratulatory songs. All the difficulty is, whether twrsbmh, hamebasseroth, be in the dative or the genitive case. If in the genitive case, then abu, tsaba, which Calvin renders army, must, as Hammond observes, be rendered company -- great was the company of the women who thus sang; and abu, an host, is often taken for the congregation or assembly employed in the service of God. But it, may also be taken in the dative, as the same critic remarks, and as Calvin here renders it. Castellio gives a similar translation. "And thus the LXX. may be understood: O Qeo>v Ku>riov dw>sei rJh~ma toi~v eujaggelisame>noiv (I suppose it should be tai~v eujaggelisamei>aiv) duna>mei pollh~; 'the Lord shall give the word or matter to the women that evangelise to or for the great army;' i.e., which supply the office of proecones thereto, in proclaiming their victories; though it is certain the Latin that renders it 'virtute multa,' 'by much virtue,' did not thus understand it." -- Hammond.

3 "Et posteriora ejus in pallore auri." -- Lat. In the French it is, "Et laquelle par derriere est comme fin or bien jaune;" -- "and which behind is as fine yellow gold."

4 "Ou, elle fust blanche." -- Fr. marg. "Or, it was white."

5 The interpretation of this verse is attended with great difficulty. Speaking of it and the following verse, Dr Lowth says, "I am not at all satisfied with any explication I have ever met with of these verses, either as to sense or construction, and I must give them up as unintelligible to me. Houbigant helps out the construction in his violent method: 'Aut invenit viam, aut facit.'" It is pretty generally admitted, that in the first part of this verse a "state of wretchedness and distress," as Calvin remarks, is indicated; but it is difficult to ascertain the meaning of the word Mytps, shephataim, which he renders pots, and, consequently, to ascertain to what the allusion particularly is. None of the old translators have so rendered it; and numerous significations have been given to it. The Chaldee renders it, "bounds in the divisions of the way;" the Syriac and Arabic, "paths" or "ways;" the Septuagint, klh>rwn, "allotments," "inheritances," or "portions," apparently deriving the word from tps, divisit, ordinavit, and perhaps attaching to it a similar idea as in the preceding translations, men's portions of land or possessions having been divided and distinguished by paths. Jerome, adhering to the Septuagint, makes it "inter medios terminos." Thus, the word will not be without significance, expressing a forlorn and wretched condition, lying down betwixt the bounds; that is, in the highways. But many modern critics think that it signifies something in relation to pots, and that it may very probably be the same as that which the Arabs call ypata, Athaphi, stones set in a chimney for a pot to rest on, the pots being without legs. "Of these," says Hammond, "the Arabians had three, and the third being commonly (to them in the desert) some fast piece of a rock, or the like, behind the pot, -- as in a chimney the back of the chimney itself, and that not looked on as distinct from the chimney, -- the other two at the sides, which were loose, might fitly be here expressed in the dual number Mytps; and then the lying between these will betoken a very low, squalid condition, as in the ashes, or amidst the soot and filth of the chimney." "These two renderings," he adds, "may seem somewhat distant; and yet, considering that the termini or bounds in divisions of ways were but heaps of stones, or broken bricks, or rubbish, the word Mytps, which signifies these, may well signify these supporters of the pots also, in respect of the matter of these being such stones or broken bricks."

Parkhurst takes a view somewhat similar to this last interpretation. He reads, "among the fire ranges," or "rows of stones." "Those," says he, "on which the caldrons or pots were placed for boiling; somewhat like, I suppose, but of a more structure, than those which Niebuhr says are used by the wandering Arabs. 'Their fire-place is soon constructed: they only set their pots upon several separate stones, or over a hole digged in the earth.' Lying among these denotes the most abject slavery; for this seems to have been the place of rest allotted to the vilest slaves. So, old Laertes, grieving for the loss of his son, is described by Homer (in the Eleventh Book of the Odyssey) as, in the winter, sleeping where the slaves did, in the ashes near the fire: --

'--Oqi dmwev eni oikw
En koni agci purov.'"

See his Lexicon on tps ii.

The Chaldee has "broken bricks," or "rubbish," that are thrown away; the word, according to this sense, being derived from hps, shephah, to bruise, to trample on. A similar noun, tpsa, ashpoth, derived from the verb hps, is used in Psalm 113:7, for a dunghill, or the vilest place, whither all kinds of rubbish are cast out, and where the poor are said to lie. When Job was brought by Satan to the lowest depths of affliction, he sat down among the ashes, and scraped himself with a potsherd, which indicated the state of extreme sadness and debasement to which he was reduced. If this is the sense here, "lying among the broken bricks or rubbish" expresses, in like manner as the preceding translations, the most mean, dejected, and wretched condition.

Harmer's attempt to explain this passage is at least very ingenious: -- As shepherds in the East betake themselves, during the night, for shelter to the caves which they find in their rocky hills, where they can kindle fires to warm themselves, as well as dress their provisions, and as doves, as well as other birds, frequently haunt such places, he conjectures that the afflicted state of Israel in Egypt is here compared to the condition of a dove making its abode in the hollow of a rock which had been smutted by the fires which the shepherds had made in it. He supposes the word here translated pots to mean the little heaps of stones on which the shepherds set their pots, there being a hollow under them to contain the fire. -- Harmer's Observations, volume 1, pp. 176, 177.

Gesenius thinks the word is equivalent to Mytpsmh, hammishpethaim, which occurs in Judges 5:16, and which our English version makes "sheepfolds," the only difference between the two words being, that the word here wants the formative letter m, mem. Thus, it may refer to the condition of the Israelites when living among their flocks in the wilderness. We have not yet exhausted the different significations affixed by commentators to this word; but, without referring to more, we shall only add, that, according to some, the allusion is to the condition of the Israelites in Egypt, who were doomed to the drudgery of brick-making and pottery, and had probably to sleep among the brick-kilns or earthenware manufactories in which they were employed.

With respect to the second clause of the verse, in which an image taken from the dove is introduced, a difficulty which has been stated is, how her feathers can be said to resemble yellow gold. From the circumstance, that the splendor of gold is here intermingled, Harmer concludes that this is not a description of the animal merely as adorned by the hand of nature, but that the allusion is to white doves that were consecrated to the Syrian deities, and adorned with trinkets of gold, the meaning being, "Israel is to me as a consecrated dove; and though your circumstances have made you rather appear like a poor dove, blackened by taking up its abode in a smoky hole of the rocks, yet shall you become beautiful and glorious as a Syrian silver-coloured pigeon, on which some ornament of gold is put." -- Harmer's Observations, volume 1, p. 180. But there are certainly doves which answer to the description here given, some of them having the feathers on the sides of the neck of a shining copper color, which in a bright sun must resemble gold. See Encyc. Brit. Art. Columbia. Besides, the reference is not necessarily to the color of gold, but to its brilliancy. How highly poetical an emblem, to depict the glorious change effected in the condition of the Hebrews by the deliverance which God had granted them over the proud and formidable enemies who had kept them in the degrading condition represented in the first clause of the verse!

6 Salmon is the name of a mountain in Samaria, in the tribe of Ephraim, (Judges 9:48,) white with perpetual snow.

7 Carrieres, in his paraphrase, has, "You became white as snow on mount Salmon." "We certainly think," says the author of the Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible, "that Carrieres has seized the right idea. The intention evidently is, to describe by a figure the honor and prosperity the Hebrews acquired by the defeat of their enemies, and to express this by whiteness, and superlatively by the whiteness of snow. Nothing can be more usual in Persia, for instance, than for a person to say, under an influx of prosperity or honor, or on receiving happy intelligence, 'My face is made white;' or gratefully, in return for a favor or compliment, 'You have made my face white;' so also, 'His face is whitened,' expresses the sense which is entertained of the happiness or favor which has before been received. Such a figurative use of the idea of whiteness does, we imagine, furnish the best explanation of the present and some other texts of Scripture."

8 Instead of "in Salmon," the Targum has, "in the shade of death;" and Boothroyd has,

"The Almighty having scattered these kings,
hath by this turned death-shade to splendor."

Walford gives a similar version, and explains the meaning to be, "Though you have been in bondage and the darkness of a dejected condition, you are now illuminated with the splendor of victory and prosperity."

9 That is, it was so called from the dark shade produced by its trees.

10 "Que comme les neiges font blanchir ceste montagne, laquelle de soy est obscure et noire, ainsi quand il a pleu a Dieu d'oster l'obscurite qu'apportoit l'affliction des ennemis, lors on a veu la terre reluire d'un lustre naif, et par maniere de dire, porter une face joyeuse." -- Fr.