Psalm 68:28-30

28. Thy God hath commanded thy strength; strengthen, O God! that which thou hast wrought in us. 29. From thy temple upon Jerusalem kings shall bring presents unto thee. 30. Destroy the company of spearmen, (literally, of the reed,) the multitude of bulls with the calves of the people, treading with their feet upon pieces of silver: scatter thou the people that delight in war.


28. Thy God hath commanded thy strength. Men are always disposed to arrogate to themselves the glory of what they may have done instead of tracing their success to God, and David reminds the people once more that they had not triumphed by their own strength, but by power communicated from above. If they had acquitted themselves with energy on the field, he would have them consider that it was God who inspired them with this valor, and would guard them against the pride which overlooks and disparages the Divine goodness. As a consideration which might farther tend to promote humility in their minds, he adverts to the dependence in which they stood of the future continuance of the same favor and protection; this being the great cause of presumptuous confidence, that we do not feel our own helplessness, and are not led under a sense of it to resort humbly to God for the supply of our wants. Another lesson which the passage teaches us is, that more is required than that God should visit us at first with his preventing grace; that we stand constantly in need of his assistance throughout our whole lives. If this be true in the literal warfare, where our conflict is with flesh and blood, it must be still more so in matters of the soul. It is impossible that we could stand one moment in the contest with such enemies as Satan, sin, and the world, did we not receive from God the grace which secures our perseverance.

What is said of the temple in the following verse is intended to carry out the same strain of sentiment which has been already expressed. It gives the reason why God had exerted his power in behalf of the Israelites rather than others; which was, that it might be displayed as coming forth from the sanctuary and the ark of the covenant. Hence the emphasis with which David calls him in a previous part of the psalm -- the God of Israel. It was not in vain that God had erected his sanctuary, or promised his presence in connection with it; and his power is here represented as issuing from the temple, to denote that the only security for his favor was to be found in his gracious covenant and promises. Some read, From thy temple in Jerusalem -- a frigid interpretation, and one which does not express the meaning of the Psalmist. His prayer is to the effect that the Divine power might be commanded from the sanctuary upon his chosen people, here denoted by a common figure of speech by Jerusalem. It may be asked how he speaks of the temple, when it had not been yet built. The word temple or palace may have been used to express the tabernacle. This, at least, I think more probable than that he should speak of the temple by anticipation, as some suppose; and there can be no doubt that the ark had already been placed in Zion. Having already traced all the honor of the recent victories to God, he next proceeds to vindicate his claim to reap the fruits of them, by asserting that the kings who had been subdued would acknowledge God to have been their conqueror, as well as yield themselves tributary to David and his successors, -- a circumstance which should lay the people of God under an additional obligation to present him with their free-will offerings of praise.

30. Destroy the company of spearmen. Some read rebuke, but I approve of the distinction which has been noticed by those who are most skilled in the Hebrew language, that while the verb reg, gear, has this meaning when the letter b beth, is interposed, it signifies without it to destroy. The word, tyx, chayath, which I have rendered company, has been translated beast,1 but no such sense can apply to it here. David evidently prays in this passage that God would deliver his chosen people by destroying their cruel and bloody enemies. In calling these the company of the reed or cane,2 he does not mean to say that they are weak, but alludes to the kind of armor which they wore, and which were lances or spears. The reed grows in some countries to a tree, or at least has all the consistency of wood, and the people are in the habit of making darts from it. In the East missile weapons are commonly used in war. He compares them for their fierceness to bulls, so I have rendered the word Myryba, abbirim; for though it may be translated strong or stout persons -- the congregation of the strong -- it occasionally bears the other meaning; and as David adds, calves of the people,3 it would seem evident that he uses a figure to represent the rage and fury of the enemy, and perhaps their strength, which the Israelites were wholly unequal to combat except with Divine assistance. It is not so easy to discover the meaning of the next clause in the verse, treading upon pieces of silver. The Hebrew verb opr, raphas, signifies to tread, or literally, (for it, is here in the hithpael conjugations) causing themselves to tread; and some consider that the allusion is to the arrogance and vain-glorious boasting of the enemy. Others attach exactly the opposite sense to the words, holding that they denote submission, and that the enemy would bring pieces of silver in token of subjection.4 But how could we suppose that David would pray for the destruction of enemies who were already subdued, and paying tribute in the character of suppliants? To this it has been said in reply, that enemies may retain their animosity in all its force within their own breasts, ready to vent itself in rebellion upon the first opportunity, although when deprived of arms they cannot display it openly, and that this is especially true of the enemies of the Church, whose antipathies are virulent, ever breaking forth afresh so soon as an occasion offers. But I see no necessity for doing violence to the words of the Psalmist, and would take them in their plain acceptation, as meaning that the enemy in their pride trampled upon pieces of silver. The reference may be to attachments of silver upon their sandals, as the Eastern nations were always proverbial for their luxury.5 What immediately follows by no means favors the sense we have formerly adverted to, scatter the people who delight in war, where he hints that they sought groundless occasions for quarrel and tumult, and gratuitously attacked such as were disposed for peace. When we find David, after all the victories he had gained, still commending himself and his people to the protection of God, it should teach us to abandon the hope of ever seeing the Church placed in a state of perfect tranquillity in this world, exposed, as it is, to a succession of enemies raised up by the malice of Satan, and designed by God for the trial and exercise of our patience. In comparing their enemies to the beasts here mentioned, and taking notice that they delighted in war, it was no doubt his intention to influence the minds of the people of God to the contrary dispositions of clemency and mercy, as being that frame of spirit in the exercise of which they might expect to receive the Divine assistance. The more violently their enemies raged, and the more lawless their attempts might prove, they had only the more reason to expect the interposition of God, who humbles the proud and the mighty ones of this world. Such being the character of God, let us learn from this prayer of David to resort to him with confidence when the objects at any time of unmerited persecution, and to believe that he is able to deliver us at once from all our enemies.

1 Instead of the company of spearmen, the greater number of modern critics consider the wild beast of the reeds as the most correct translation; and this is understood by many to represent the Egyptian people and government under the emblem of the hippopotamus or river-horse, the behemoth of Scripture. This animal -- which is a quadruped of enormous size, of prodigious strength, fierce and cruel in its disposition, and whose skin is so impenetrable that no arrows can pierce it -- shelters and reposes itself among the tall reeds which skirt in abundance the banks of the Nile, (Job 40:21.) It is a very appropriate emblem of the Egyptian power, in the height of its greatness so formidable, and the inveterate enemy of Israel. And that the Psalmist here refers to it has been thought the more probable, from his mentioning, in the clause immediately following, the bulls and calves of the people, these animals having been honored and worshipped as deities by that degenerate and superstitious nation. Or, the wild beast of the reeds may, as is supposed by others, denote the same power under the representation of the crocodile, to which the characteristics of the hippopotamus, now specified, are equally applicable. By this ferocious and truculent animal Pharaoh king of Egypt is represented in Ezekiel 29:3, 5, and 32:2; and in Psalm 74:14. This, it would appear, was anciently employed as an emblem of Egypt. On a medal which the Emperor Augustine caused to be struck after he had completely reduced this powerful kingdom, Egypt is represented by the figure of a crocodile bound with a chain to a palm-tree, with the inscription, Nemo antea relegavit. Dathe, however, rejects the opinion, that the crocodile, and under it the King of Egypt, is pointed at; and observes, that David cultivated peace with the King of Egypt, and that, in verse 31st, the Egyptians are commemorated as worshippers of the true God. He supposes that the wild beast of the reeds may be an epithet applied to the lion, who is accustomed to haunt places where reeds grow, and that under this image the King of Syria may be referred to, with whom David carried on lengthened and bloody wars, as is abundantly evident from sacred history. Dr Lowth also supposes that the lion is meant, (see his Lectures on Sacred Poetry, volume 1, p. 135;) and the same view is adopted by Schnurrer, Rosenmuller, and others.

2 The original term is hnq, kane; hence the English word cane.

3 While by the multitude of bulls some understand powerful leaders, by the calves of the people they understand the mass of the people, undistinguished for rank or power, and particularly the young men. But others, as Bishop Horne, suppose, that by the calves of the people is meant the idol-calves of the Egyptians, their Apis, Osiris, etc., whom they made the objects of their religious worship. Horsley reads, "The assembly of those who place their strength in the calves;" that is, as he explains it, "The people of Egypt, who worshipped calves, and trusted in them as their gods."

4 In Bagster's interlinear version, the rendering is, "shall be each submitting itself with pieces of silver." Wheatland and Silvester translate,

"Till each submiss, from hostile acts shall cease,
And with the tribute-silver sue for peace."

5 Various other explanations have been given of the words, Pokaayurb oprtm, mithrappes beratsey-kaseph, rendered by Calvin, treading with their feet upon pieces of silver, and by which critics have been much perplexed. "Berlin translates the words 'calcantem frusta argenti,' which he explains by 'pavimentum argento tessellatum.' De Rossi explains the words thus, 'Who advance with laminae of silver under their horses' hoofs.' Immanuel Ben Solomon, whose Scholia on select passages of the Psalms were published by De Rossi, gives the following explanation. 'Dicit [vates scil.] quod Deus disperdit nationes, quae volunt malum inferre Israeli, et coetum taurorum, seu reges illustriores, ut reges Assyriae et Babylonis, quorum quisque conculcat frusta argentea; i.e., incedunt cum lamina aurea sub pedibus suis ob multitudinem divitiarum suarum.'" -- Rogers' Book of Psalms, volume 2, p. 223. Dr Geddes' version is:

"The assemblage of the potent lords of nations,
Who tread on tiles of silver;"

and he supposes that the poet alludes to the floors in the palaces of the Oriental kings, which were paved with silver. Dr Jubb renders the phrase, "who excite themselves with fragments of silver;" and considers the allusion to be to the dancing of the Egyptians before their idol-calves, with the tinkling instruments called Sistra. That they were accustomed to dance before these idols is evident from Exodus 32:6, where we are taught that the people of Israel, in imitation of the Egyptian idolatry, rose up to shout and dance before the golden calf; for such is the meaning of the words, "they rose up to play," as appears from verses 17, 18, and 19. And that they used the sistrum in religious feasts, Herodotus informs us in the second book of his History. The words, pieces of silver, according to Jubb, signify the little loose pieces of metal with which the sistrum was hung round, which produced the jingling noise when the instrument was played upon. This description fits the Egyptians; and that it really belongs to them may be inferred, with some degree of probability, from the following verse, where it is said, "Princes shall come out of Egypt," as if the subjugation of this nation, imprecated in the preceding verse, were here supposed complete. Tucker has here a very good remark. "David," says he, "invokes the Messiah to bring down the power of Egypt; but in his abhorrence of their idolatry, deigns not to designate them except in the most contemptuous terms. He says not, Rebuke the assembly of those who worship bulls and calves, and dance round altars to the sound of instruments of silver, but he classes the people on a par with the idols which they worshipped, -- 'the assembly of bulls and calves, who dance to bits (or pieces) of silver.'"

"The sistrum was of an oval figure, or a dilated semicircle, in the shape of a shoulder-belt, with brass wires across, which played in holes wherein they were stopped by their flat heads. The performer played on it by shaking the sistrum in cadence, and thereby the brass wires made a shrill and loud noise." -- Mant.