Psalm 68:18-24

18. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive:1 thou hast received gifts among men;2 even the rebellious, that the Lord Jehovah3 might dwell amongst his people. 19 Blessed be the Lord daily: this Lord will load us with deliverances. Selah. 20. He that is our God is the God of salvations; and to the Lord Jehovah4 belong the issues from death. 21. Surely God shall wound the head of his enemies, the crown of the hair of him who walketh on in his wickedness. 22. The Lord said, I will bring back from Bashan; I will bring again from the depths of the sea: 23. That thy foot may be stained with blood, the tongue of thy dogs even in that of thine enemies. 24. They have seen thy goings, O God! even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary.


18. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive. There can be little doubt that these words are intended to magnify the proofs of Divine favor granted upon the elevation of David to the throne, by contrasting the state of matters with that under Saul. The ascending on high implies the being previously low, and intimates, that under the melancholy confusions which had prevailed in the kingdom, there was no longer the same conspicuous display of the Divine glory as formerly. The government of Saul, which, from the first, had originated in a way that was condemnable, was doomed to fall under the displeasure of God, while his favor, on the other hand, was to be restored under David; and the undeniable appearances of this left no room for doubt that one who began his reign under such auspices was the object of the Divine choice. David, although he had acquitted himself with courage in the battles which were fought, ascribes all the glory of them to God, saying, that it was he who had taken captive the enemy, and forced them to pay tribute, and reduced the more fierce and rebellious to subjection. By the term Myrrwo sorerim, rebellious, contumacious, or revolters, he would evidently seem to mean a distinct class of persons from the other enemies, whom he mentions as having been taken captive; and it intimates, that while those who did not venture to resist, and who surrendered, had been brought under the yoke, the more proud and unyielding had been forced into submission. The end designed by this is stated in the words which follow, that God might dwell in the midst of his people; and that he might demonstrate himself to be an all-sufficient protector to those who put their trust in him.

As the passage which we have now been considering is applied by Paul in a more spiritual sense to Christ, (Ephesians 4:8,) it may be necessary to show how this agrees with the meaning and scope of the Psalmist. It may be laid down as an incontrovertible truth, that David, in reigning over God's ancient people, shadowed forth the beginning of Christ's eternal kingdom. This must appear evident to every one who remembers the promise made to him of a never-failing succession, and which received its verification in the person of Christ. As God illustrated his power in David, by exalting him with the view of delivering his people, so has he magnified his name in his only begotten Son. But let us consider more particularly how the parallel holds. Christ, before he was exalted, emptied himself of his glory, having not merely assumed the form of a servant, but humbled himself to the death of the cross. To show how exactly the figure was fulfilled, Paul notices, that what David had foretold was accomplished in the person of Christ, by his being cast down to the lowest parts of the earth in the reproach and ignominy to which he was subjected, before he ascended to the right hand of his Father, (Psalm 22:7.) That in thinking upon the ascension, we might not confine our views to the body of Christ, our attention is called to the result and fruit of it, in his subjecting heaven and earth to his government. Those who were formerly his inveterate enemies he compelled to submission and made tributary -- this being the effect of the word of the Gospel, to lead men to renounce their pride and their obstinacy, to bring down every high thought which exalteth itself, and reduce the senses and the affections of men to obedience unto Christ. As to the devils and reprobate men who are instigated to rebellion and revolt by obstinate malice, he holds them bound by a secret control, and prevents them from executing intended destruction. So far the parallel is complete. Nor when Paul speaks of Christ having given gifts to men, is there any real inconsistency with what is here stated, although he has altered the words, having followed the Greek version in accommodation to the unlearned reader.5 It was not himself that God enriched with the spoils of the enemy, but his people; and neither did Christ seek or need to seek his own advancement, but made his enemies tributary, that he might adorn his Church with the spoil. From the close union subsisting between the head and members, to say that God manifest in the flesh received gifts from the captives, is one and the same thing with saying that he distributed them to his Church. What is said in the close of the verse is no less applicable to Christ -- that he obtained his victories that as God he might dwell among us. Although he departed, it was not that he might remove to a distance from us, but, as Paul says, "that he might fill all things," (Ephesians 4:10.) By his ascension to heaven, the glory of his divinity has been only more illustriously displayed, and though no longer present with us in the flesh, our souls receive spiritual nourishment from his body and blood, and we find, notwithstanding distance of place, that his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed.

19. Blessed be the Lord, etc. David would have us to understand, that in recounting the more particular deliverances which God had wrought, he did not mean to draw our minds away from the fact, that the Church is constantly and at all times indebted for its safety to the Divine care and protection. He adds, Blessed be God daily. And he intimates, that deliverances might be expected from him with great abundance of every blessing. Some read, he will load, others, he will carry;6 but it is of little importance which reading we adopt. He points at the fact, that God extends continued proofs of his kindness to his people, and is unwearied in renewing the instances of it. I read this Lord in the second part of the verse, for the letter h, he, prefixed in the Hebrew, has often the force of a demonstrative pronoun; and he would point out, as it were with the finger, that God in whom their confidence ought to be placed. So in the next verse, which may be read, this our God is the God of salvation. What is here said coincides with the scope of what immediately precedes, and is meant to convey the truth that God protects his Church and people constantly. In saying this God, he administers a check to the tendency in men to have their minds diverted from the one living and true God. The salvation of God is set before the view of all men without exception, but is very properly represented here as something peculiar to the elect, that they may recognize themselves as continually indebted to his preserving care, unlike the wicked, who pervert that which might have proved life into destruction, through their unthankfulness. The Hebrew word in the 20th verse is salvations, in the plural number, to convince us that when death may threaten us in ever so many various forms, God can easily devise the necessary means of preservation, and that we should trust to experience the same mercy again which has been extended to us once. The latter clause of the verse bears the same meaning, where it is said, that to the Lord belong the issues of death. Some read, the issues unto death,7 supposing that the reference is to the ease with which God can avenge and destroy his enemies; but this appears a constrained interpretation. The more natural meaning obviously is, that God has very singular ways, unknown to us, of delivering his people from destruction.8 He points at a peculiarity in the manner of the Divine deliverances, that God does not generally avert death from his people altogether, but allows them to fall in some measure under its power, and afterwards unexpectedly rescues them from it. This is a truth particularly worthy of our notice, as teaching us to beware of judging by sense in the matter of Divine deliverances. However deep we may have sunk in trouble, it becomes us to trust the power of God, who claims it as his peculiar work to open up a way where man can see none.

21. Surely God shall wound, etc. The enemies of the Church are fierce and formidable, and it is impossible that she can be preserved from their continued assaults, without a vigorous protection being extended. To persuade us that she enjoys such a defense, David represents God as armed with dreadful power for the overthrow of the ungodly. The verse stands connected as to scope with the preceding, and we might render the Hebrew particle Ka, ach, by wherefore, or on which account; but it seems better to consider it as expressing simple affirmation. We are to notice the circumstance, that God counts all those his enemies who unjustly persecute the righteous, and thus assures us of his being always ready to interpose for our defense. The concern he feels in our preservation is forcibly conveyed by the expressions which follow, that he will wound the head of his enemies, and the crown of their hair;9 intimating, that he will inflict a deadly and incurable wound upon such as harass his Church. This is still more strikingly brought out in what is added immediately afterwards, when God is described as wading through destruction.

22. The Lord said, I will bring back from Bashan. That the Israelites might not be led to take an irreligious and self-glorious view of their victories; that they might look to God as the author of them; and rest assured of his protection in time to come, David sends them back to the first periods of their history, and reminds them how their fathers had been originally brought by the victorious hand of God out of the lowest depths of trouble. He would have them argue that if God rescued his people at first from giants, and from the depths of the Red Sea, it was not to be imagined that he would desert them in similar dangers, but certain that he would defend them upon every emergency which might occur. The prophets are in the constant habit, as is well known, of illustrating the mercy of God by reference to the history of Israel's redemption, that the Lord's people, by looking back to their great original deliverance, might find an argument for expecting interpositions of a future kind. To make the deeper impression, God is introduced speaking himself. In what he says he may be considered as asserting his Divine prerogative of raising the dead to life again, for his people's passage through the Red Sea, and victory over warlike giants, was a species of resurrection.10 Some read, I will cause the enemy to fly from Bashan;11 but this cannot be received, and does not agree with the context, as it follows, I will bring back from the depths of the sea. In representing God as bedewed or stained with blood, David does not ascribe to him anything like cruelty, but designs to show the Lord's people how dear and precious they are in his sight, considering the zeal which he manifests in their defense. We know that David himself was far from being a man of cruel disposition, and that he rejoiced in the destruction of the wicked from the purest and most upright motives, as affording a display of the Divine judgments. That is here ascribed to God which may be asserted equally of his Church or people, for the vengeance with which the wicked are visited is inflicted by their hands. Some read the close of the verse, the tongue of thy dogs in thine enemies, even in him, i.e., the king and chief of them all. This is not the meaning of the Psalmist, which simply is, that the tongues of the dogs would be red with licking blood, such would be the number of dead bodies scattered round.

24. They have seen thy goings, O God! This verse may refer to processions of a warlike kind, or to such as are made in times of peace by those who give thanks for victory. It is customary for the people of God, on occasions of the latter description, to go forth and present peace-offerings in the temple. This has led some to understand by the goings of God,12 the crowds of his people when they proceed to the temple. But I am disposed to think that God himself is here represented as a king leading and marshalling forth his armies. Accordingly, it is added, in the sanctuary, under which expression there is an apt allusion to the visible symbol of the Divine presence. The great reason why God undertakes the guardianship of his people, and goes before them to repel the attacks of the enemy, is his having promised that he will hear their prayers in the sanctuary. He is therefore described as if he were seen coming out of his holy habitation, that he might conduct his people to victory. David calls him his King, to divert the attention of the people from himself, and lead them to view a name which belonged to a frail mortal man such as he was, in its higher application to the supreme Head of all. He speaks, it is true, in the name of the people, but not to the exclusion of himself.

1 "That is, a number of prisoners captive. See Judges 5:12; Esther 2:6; Isaiah 20:4." -- Archbishop Secker. See the like phrase in 2 Chronicles 28:5, 11; Numbers 21:1; Deuteronomy 21:10. "The allusion may be to public triumphs, when captives were led in chains, even kings and great men, that had captivated others." -- Dr Gill.

2 Hebrews Mdab baadam, in man, "in human nature," says Dr Adam Clarke, "and God, manifest in human flesh, dwells among mortals." "The gifts which Jesus Christ distributes to man he has received in man, in and by virtue of his incarnation, and it is in consequence of his being made man that it may be said, 'the Lord God dwells among them;' for Jesus was called Immanuel, 'God with us,' in consequence of his incarnation."

3 The Hebrew here is not hwhy, Jehovah, but hy, Jah.

4 "It is worthy of remark, that whilst Myhla occurs twenty-six times, ynda seven times, and la five times in this psalm, hwhy only occurs twice." -- Rogers' Book of Psalms in Hebrew, etc. volume 2, p. 221.

5 Paul's words are not exactly those of the Septuagint, the present reading of which is, e]labev domata ejn ajnqrw>pw, "Thou hast received gifts for man;" while Paul's words are, e]dwke do>mata toi~v ajnqrw>poiv. But Bloomfield thinks that ejn ajvqrw>pw in the Septuagint is a corruption for ejpj ajnqrw>poiv; and that Paul read in that version e]laqev domata ejpj anqrw>poiv, which is the true sense of the Hebrew words, being no other than this, "Thou hast received gifts on account of men;" i.e., to give to men. Paul, therefore, might say e]dwke instead of e]laqev ejpi, to make the sense plainer; as also does the Chaldee Paraphrast, and the Syriac and Arabic translators. Paul's words are evidently not intended to be a regular quotation, as appears from his changing the second person into the third.

6 "The word Mme, amas, which we translate to load, signifies to lift, bear up, support, or, to bear a burden for another. Hence it would not be going far from the ideal meaning to translate, 'Blessed be the Lord, day by day, who bears our burthens for us.'" -- Dr Adam Clarke. Boothroyd, on the contrary, asserts, that "as an active verb it signifies 'to load, to lay a burthen on another,' but in no instance to bear or support one, 1 Kings 12:2."

7 The Septuagint has, Tou~ Kuri>ou die>xodoi tou~ qana>tou, "To the Lord belong the passages of death," expressing the ways by which death goes out upon men to destroy them. The Vulgate has, "exitus mortus," "the goings out of death;" and the Chaldee Paraphrast, "From before the Lord, death, and the going out of the soul to suffocation, do contend or fight against the wicked." Hammond follows the LXX. He observed, that the original words "must literally be rendered goings forth to death, and must signify the several plagues and judgments inflicted by God on impenitent enemies, the ways of punishing and destroying the Egyptians and Canaanites, drowning in the sea, killing by the sword, infesting by hornets, etc.; and these are properly to be attributed and imputed to God, as the deliverances of the Israelites, his people, in the former part of the verse; and to this sense the consequents incline, verse 21, 'Even God shall wound.' Horsley reads the verse,

"He that is our God is a God of salvation,
And for death are the goings forth of the Lord Jehovah;

"i.e.," says he, "When Jehovah takes the field, deadly is the battle to his enemies."

8 Agreeably to this, Hewlett observes, that the "issues of death mean the many providential escapes and deliverances from death;" and Boothroyd reads,

"For to Jehovah we owe our escapes from death."

The Syriac version has, --

"The Lord God is the Lord of death and of escaping."

9 Bishops Hare and Horsley suppose that there is here an allusion to the usage of the people in those Arabian regions, who nourished their hair on the crown of their head, that by their unshorn heads and shaggy hair they might appear more fierce. "The expressions, 'the head,' and 'the hairy crown,'" observes Bishop Horne, "denote the principal part, the strength, the pride, and the glory of the adversary which was to be crushed;" and Roberts, in his Oriental Illustrations, observes, that "this language, 'wounding the crown of the hair,' still used in the East, is equivalent to saying, 'I will kill you.'"

10 Or, "I will bring again from Bashan," may be thus explained. I will perform for my people the like wonders which I did in the days of old; I will render them victorious over their proud enemies, as I before enabled them to triumph in the conflict with Og king of Bashan, (Deuteronomy 3:3, 4;) and I will deliver them from the greatest dangers, as I saved them from the Red Sea, by opening up a passage for them through the midst of it.

11 Walford considers the persons here intended, not God's people, but their enemies. "It is evident," says he, "from the next verse, that the persons who are here meant are the enemies of God and his people; because the purpose for which they were to be brought was, that his people might completely triumph over them in their utter slaughter and destruction. These, he says, I will bring back from Bashan, and from the abysses of the sea; thus referring to the victories that had been gained over the kings of the Canaanites, and the triumph of Israel at the Red Sea. The design of this declaration is, to express the determination of God to bring forth all his enemies to destruction: be they on the heights of Bashan, or in the profoundest depths of the ocean, they shall not escape; his hand will lay hold upon them, and his power utterly destroy them. In Amos 9:2, and in Obadiah 4, there are two sublime illustrations of the sentiment that is here delivered." "Bashan was east of Judea," says Boothroyd, "and the sea in the west, so that the meaning is, that God would bring his enemies from every quarter to be slain by his people."

12 "This doubtless refers to the order of the procession then on its march, and to that of religious processions in general. In the religious and festal processions of the Hindoos there is the same order and classes of performers. The singers, men and women, precede, singing songs appropriate to the occasion; and then the players on instruments follow after." -- Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible.