A psalm of wonderful power and compass, of living fire and dramatic picturesqueness, ranging from the remote past with its triumphs, onward to a final and irreversible victory in the future…
…with figures which startle us by their sternness (ver. 23), and others (ver.30) that teach us the spirit in which we should read the whole.
With what a blast of irresistible storm it breaks out, sweeping all enemies before it in hopeless ruin, and then clear like a silver trumpet rising from the din of the battle, comes the call to ‘rejoice in God!’ ‘But let the righteous be glad,’ followed by the reason of the summons so strange and touchingly tender like rain from a thunder-cloud:
‘Because the Lord a father is
Unto the fatherless;
God is the widow’s judge, within
His place of holiness.’
And then the psalm moves on by the memories of Sinai and Horeb, of manna provision,and water from the stricken rock, through march and conflict, and ‘garments rolled in blood,’ till it ends in the conquest of the world for the King of righteousness and peace. The sword in it is that which God permits, in his righteous government, the sword with which sin executes judgment on itself; the peace is that which Christ promises as his legacy and gift, and which is more fully described in Ps. 72.
This 68th Psalm was known among the Huguenots as the ‘song of battles,’
…and was raised by them in many a bloody and desperate conflict. The words in their old version are:
‘Que Dieu se montre senlement
Et l’on verra soudainement
Abandonner la place,
Le camp des ennemis epars,
Et ses haineux, de toutes parts
Fuir devant sa face.’
An old Camisard, as the hunted Protestants of the Cevennes were called, says,
‘We flew when we heard the sound of the psalms, we flew as if with wings. We felt within us an animating ardour, a transporting desire. The feeling cannot be expressed in words. It is a thing that must have been felt to be known. However weary we might be, we thought no more of our fatigue, and grew light as soon as the psalms reached our ear.’
It was chanted by Savonarola and his brother Dominicans, A.D. 1497, as they marched to the grand Piazza of Florence to meet the trial of fire to which they had been summoned by their enemies. The corruption of the Church of Rome was never deeper in the lives of pontiffs and clergy; and, in the midst of it, rose the wonderful contrast and protest of Fra Angelico who breathed into his paintings the mystic beauty of a seraphic soul, and of Savonarola, whose outraged conscience broke forth in words of flame.
Both belonged to the same convent of San Marco, and Rome spared the artist, but burned the Reformer, Savonarola, May 23, 1498. While in prison awaiting his death, he wrote a brief exposition of Ps. 51 and Ps. 31, pouring out his soul in a torrent of the most fervid feeling. A few lines help us to see the prisoner in his dungeon, and to hear the sobs with which he pressed David’s words close to his heart.
‘Be pitiful to me, 0 Lord; not according to the mercy of man, which is small,but according to thine, which is great, immense, incomprehensible. Have mercy upon me, 0 Lord, not according to thy small mercy, for thy mercy is small when it relieves and liberates men from bodily miseries; but it is great when thou pardons sin,and raises men above the level of the earth. So, Lord, have mercy upon me, according to thy great mercy. According to the multitude of thy mercies, cancel my iniquity, and cleanse my heart from every impurity; let it become white and clean, that thy finger may write on it the law of thy love with which sin can never more dwell. I come to thee, 0 Lord, not as the Pharisee, but as the publican, for I know my iniquity; I come to thee, bowed down with sin, and I weary myself day and night with the moaning of my heart.’
1599 Geneva Bible
To him that excelleth. A Psalm or song of David.
1 God will arise, and his enemies shall be scattered: they also that hate him, shall flee before him.
2 As the smoke vanisheth, so shalt thou drive them away: and as wax melteth before the fire, so shall the wicked perish at the presence of God.
3 But the righteous shall be glad, and rejoice before God: yea, they shall leap for joy.
4 Sing unto God, and sing praises unto his name: exalt him that rideth upon the heavens, in his Name Jah, and rejoice before him.
5 He is a Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, even God in his holy habitation.
6 God maketh the solitary to dwell in families, and delivereth them that were prisoners in stocks: but the rebellious shall dwell in a dry land.
7 O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people: when thou wentest through the wilderness, (Selah.)
8 The earth shook, and the heavens dropped at the presence of this God: even Sinai was moved at the presence of God, even the God of Israel.
9 Thou, O God, sentest a gracious rain upon thine inheritance, and thou didst refresh it when it was weary.
10 Thy Congregation dwelled therein: for thou, O God, hast of thy goodness prepared it for the poor.
11 The Lord gave matter to the women to tell of the great army.
12 Kings of the armies did flee: they did flee, and she that remained in the house, divided the spoil.
13 Though ye have lain among pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove that is covered with silver, and whose feathers are like yellow gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as the snow in Zalmon.
15 The mountain of God is like the mountain of Bashan: it is an high mountain, as mount Bashan.
16 Why leap ye, ye high mountains? as for this Mountain, God delighteth to dwell in it: yea, the Lord will dwell in it forever.
17 The chariots of God are twenty thousand thousand Angels, and the Lord is among them, as in the Sanctuary of Sinai.
18 Thou art gone up on high: thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men: yea, even the rebellious hast thou led, that the Lord God might dwell there.
19 Praised be the Lord, even the God of our salvation, which ladeth us daily with benefits. Selah.
20 This is our God, even the God that saveth us: and to the Lord God belong the issues of death.
21 Surely God will wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy pate of him that walketh in his sins.
22 The Lord hath said, I will bring my people again from Bashan: I will bring them again from the depths of the Sea:
23 That thy foot may be dipped in blood, and the tongue of thy dogs in the blood of the enemies, even in it.
24 They have seen, O God, thy goings, the goings of my God, and my king, which art in the Sanctuary.
25 The singers went before, the players of instruments after: in the midst were the maids playing with timbrels.
26 Praise ye God in the assemblies, and the Lord, ye that are of the fountain of Israel.
27 There was little Benjamin with their ruler, and the Princes of Judah with their assembly, the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali.
28 Thy GOD hath appointed thy strength: establish, O God, that which thou first wrought in us,
29 Out of thy Temple upon Jerusalem, and kings shall bring presents unto thee.
30 Destroy the company of the spearmen, and multitude of the mighty bulls with the calves of the people, that tread under feet pieces of silver: scatter the people that delight in war.
31 Then shall the princes come out of Egypt: Ethiopia shall haste to stretch her hands unto God.
32 Sing unto God, O ye kingdoms of the earth: sing praise unto the Lord, (Selah)
33 To him that rideth upon the most high heavens, which were from the beginning: behold, he will send out by his voice a mighty sound.
34 Ascribe the power to God: for his majesty is upon Israel, and his strength is in the clouds.
35 O God, thou art terrible out of thine holy places: the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto the people: praised be God.
Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”
Edited for thought and sense.