Psalm 68:1-6

1. God shall arise: his enemies shall be scattered; and they who hate him shall flee before him. 2. As smoke is driven away, thou shalt drive them away; as wax melteth before the fire, the wicked shall perish from the presence of God. 3. But the righteous shall be glad; they shall rejoice before God, and leap for exultation. 4. Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: exalt him that rideth upon the clouds in Jah1 his name, [or, in his name Jah,] and rejoice before him. 5. A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in the habitation of his holiness. 6. God who setteth the solitary in families, who bringeth, out those who are bound with chains;2 but the rebellious shall dwell in a dry land.


1. God shall arise: his enemies shall be scattered. In this verse the Psalmist intimates, as it were by way of preface, the subject which he proposed to treat in the psalm, and which related to the truth that God, however long he may seem to connive at the audacity and cruelty of the enemies of his Church, will eventually arise to avenge it, and will prove himself able to protect it by the mere forth-putting of his hand. I agree with other interpreters in thinking that the sentiment is borrowed from Moses, (Numbers 10:35)3 There can be little doubt that in dictating the form of prayer there referred to, he had an eye to the instruction and comfort of all succeeding ages, and would teach the Lord's people confidently to rely for safety upon the ark of the covenant, which was the visible symbol of the Divine presence. We may notice this difference, however, that Moses addressed the words to God as a prayer, while David rather expresses his satisfaction and delight in what he saw daily fulfilling before his own eyes. Some indeed read, Let God arise; but they appear to misapprehend the scope of the Psalmist. He means to say that observation attested the truth which Moses had declared of God's needing only to rise up that all his enemies might be scattered before his irresistible power. Yet I see no objections to the other reading, provided the idea now mentioned be retained, and the words be considered as intimating that God needs no array of preparation in overthrowing his enemies, and can dissipate them with a breath. We are left to infer, that when his enemies at any time obtain an ascendancy, it is owing to an exercise of Divine forbearance, and that rage as they may, it is only with his permission; the time being not yet come for his rising. There is much comfort to be derived from the circumstance, that those who persecute the Church are here spoken of as God's enemies. When he undertakes our defense, he looks upon the injuries done to us as dishonors cast upon his Divine Majesty. The Psalmist adds a striking figure to illustrate how easily God can overthrow the machinations of our enemies, comparing them to smoke which vanishes when blown upon by the wind, or wax which melts before the fire.4 We consider it utterly incredible that such a formidable array of opposition should be made to disappear in a moment. But the Spirit takes this method of chiding the fearfulness of our carnal minds, and teaching us that there is no such strength in our enemies as we suppose, -- that we allow the smoke of them to blind our eyes, and the solid mass of resistance which they present to deceive us into a forgetfulness of the truth, that the mountains themselves flow down at the presence of the Lord.5

3. But the righteous shall be glad. It is here intimated by David, that when God shows himself formidable to the wicked, this is with the design of securing the deliverance of his Church. He would seem indirectly to contrast the joy of which he now speaks with the depression and grief felt by well affected men under the reign of Saul -- suggesting, that God succeeds a season of temporary trouble with returns of comfort, to prevent his people from being overwhelmed by despondency. He leaves us also to infer, that one reason of that joy which they experience is derived from knowing that God is propitious to them, and interests himself in their safety. The Hebrew words, ynpm, mipne, and ynpl, liphne, admit of the same meaning; but I think that the Psalmist intended to note a distinction. The wicked flee from the presence of God, as what inspires them with terror; the righteous again rejoice in it, because nothing delights them more than to think that God is near them. When commenting upon the passage, Psalm 18:26, we saw why the Divine presence terrifies some and comforts others; for "with the pure he will show himself pure, and with the froward he will show himself froward." One expression is heaped by the Psalmist upon another, to show how great the joy of the Lord's people is, and how entirely it possesses and occupies their affections.

4. Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: exalt him6 that rideth, etc. He now proceeds to call upon the Lord's people to praise God. And he begins by pointing out the grounds in general, as I have already hinted, which they have for this exercise, because he comprehends the whole world under his power and government, adding, that he condescends to take the poorest and the most wretched of our family under his protection. His infinite power is commended, when it is said that he rides upon the clouds, or the heavens,7 for this proves that he sits superior over all things. The Holy Spirit may signify by the expression, that we should exclude from our minds every thing gross and earthly in the conceptions we form of him; but he would, doubtless, impress us chiefly with an idea of his great power, to produce in us a due reverence, and make us feel how far short all our praises must come of his glory. We would attempt in vain to comprehend heaven and earth; but his glory is greater than both. As to the expression which follows, in Jah, his name, there has been some difference of opinion. The Hebrew preposition b, beth, may here, as sometimes it is, be a mere expletive, and we may read, Jah is his name.8 Others read, in Jah is his name;9 and I have no objection to this, though I prefer the translation which I have adopted. It is of less consequence how we construe the words, as the meaning of the Psalmist is obvious. The whole world was at that time filled with the vain idols of superstition, and he would assert the claim of God, and set them aside when he brought forward the God of Israel. But it is not enough that the Lord's people should bow before him with suppliant spirits. Even the wicked, while they fear and tremble before him, are forced to yield him reverence. David would have them draw near to him with cheerfulness and alacrity; and, accordingly, proceeds to insist upon his transcendent goodness shown in condescending to the orphans and widows. The incomprehensible glory of God does not induce him to remove himself to a distance from us, or prevent him from stooping to us in our lowest depths of wretchedness. There can be no doubt that orphans and widows are named to indicate in general all such as the world are disposed to overlook as unworthy of their regard. Generally we distribute our attentions where we expect some return. We give the preference to rank and splendor, and despise or neglect the poor. When it is said, God is in the habitation of his holiness, this may refer either to heaven or to the temple, for either sense will suit the connection. God does not dwell in heaven to indulge his own ease, but heaven is, as it were, his throne, from which he judges the world. On the other hand, the fact of his having chosen to take up his residence with men, and inviting them familiarly to himself there, is one well fitted to encourage the poor, who are cheered to think that he is not far off from them. In the next verse, other instances of the Divine goodness are mentioned -- that he gives the bereaved and solitary a numerous offspring, and releases the bonds of the captive. In the last clause of the verse, he denounces the judgment of God against those who impiously despise him, and this that he might show the Lord's people the folly of envying their lot as well as strike terror into their minds. The sense of the words is, That we ought to comfort ourselves under the worst afflictions, by reflecting that we are in God's hand, who can mitigate all our griefs and remove all our burdens. The wicked, on the other hand, may congratulate themselves for a time upon their prosperity, but eventually it will fare ill with them. By dwelling in a dry land, is meant being banished, as it were, to a wilderness, and deprived of the benefits of that fatherly kindness which they had so criminally abused.

1 "C'est, Qui est Jah, ou l'Eternel? " -- Fr. marg. "That is, Who is Jah, or Jehovah?" Jah seems simply a contraction of the word Jehovah, the name which expresses, as far as can be expressed by words, the essence, self-existence, and eternity of the Supreme Being.

2 The original word twrswkb, bakosharoth, which Calvin renders, with chains, is rendered by Dathe, ad abundantiam; and by Berlin, ad opimitates; and is explained by Simeon, in his Lexicon, as "loca omnibus affluentia proprie abundantiae." According to Gesenius, hrswk denotes "happiness, abundance, prosperity." The LXX. render it ejn ajndre>ia, in strength, i.e., bound firmly. Fry reads, "Bringing forth prisoners into scenes of plenty."

3 That passage contains the words which Moses used when the ark began a procession. Whenever the tabernacle was moved, and the Levites marched onward, bearing upon their shoulders the ark of the covenant, and the whole host of Israel proceeded on their march, "Moses said, Rise up, Lord," etc. Martin observes, that "the God whom these opening words of the psalm have in view is manifestly the same of whom it is said in verse 18, that he ascended up on high, and led captivity captive. Now he of whom that is said, being, according to the interpretation of the Apostle Paul, (Ephesians 4:8,) Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it clearly follows that it was the Son of God, the true God, Jehovah the eternal God, whom the Prophet had in his eye in the first verse and in the rest of the psalm." See Appendix.

4 As wax melteth before the fire, "a proverbial expression, denoting speedy dissolution, consumption, and death." -- Bythner.

5 "Sed quasi fumo hebetari nostros oculos; falli etiam nos in ipsa duritie, quia non reputamus solo Dei conspectu liquefieri montes ipsos." -- Lat. "Mais qu'il y a comme une fumee qu'il nous esblouist les yeux; semblablement que nons nous abusons quant a leur durete et obstination; pource que nous ne venons point a considerer qu'au seul regard de Dieu les montagnes mesmes fondent et s'ecoulent." Fr.

6 The reading of the Septuagint is, 'Odopoih>sate, "Make way." The Hebrew word wlo, sollu, has this sense, as well as that of exalt. In two passages in Isaiah, the forms of expression are very like the present passage, (Isaiah 57:14,) "Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way;" and (Isaiah 62:10,) "Cast up, cast up the highway." Jerome has, "Praeparate viam," "Prepare yea way." Walford adopts the same translation, -- "Prepare a way for him who rideth through the deserts," -- which he explains in the following note: "The imagery is borrowed from the custom of Eastern princes, who sent pioneers before their armies, to reduce the hills, and carry raised roads through the valleys, to facilitate their progress. God is described as riding through the deserts, from his having accompanied Israel through the wilderness, to conduct them to Canaan."

7 The word twbreb, baaraboth, here rendered the clouds, or the heavens, is by the LXX. translated the west, as if it were derived from bre, ereb, evening; and by the Vulgate, "Super occasum," "Upon the going down of the sun." Others translate it "deserts." Thus, Jerome reads, "ascendenti per deserta," "for him that rideth through the deserts." In this he is followed by Dr Boothroyd, Bishops Lowth and Horsley, Drs Kennicott and Chandler, Fry, and others; but critics of no less note read heavens, as Paginus, Buxtorf, and Hammond. "The feminine hbre," says this last critic, "is frequently taken for a plain, and so for the desert; but twbre, in the plural, is acknowledged by the Hebrews to signify the heavens." The idea is altogether fanciful which has been put forth by some, that this word, which frequently signifies a plain or desert, is applied to the highest heavens, "either as being plain and void of stars, and so a kind of superior desert, without anything in it, or (as the learned Grotius piously conjectures from 1 Timothy 6:16) because, as a desert, it is ajpro>soiton, not approached or approachable by any."

8 This is the rendering in all the ancient versions, as the Septuagint, Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate, etc. Many instances might be produced in which b it is redundant; as, for example, Exodus 32:22, Proverbs 3:26.

9 This is the translation given by Horsley, who applies the passage to Christ; and his criticism upon it is excellent. "Upon mature consideration," says he, "I am inclined to take the text as it stands, and render it literally with Jerome, 'In Jah is his name;' i.e., his name, who is riding through the wilderness, is in Jehovah, in the Self-existent One. He who led the armies of Israel through the wilderness, when they first came up from Egypt, was Christ. He who brought the captives home from Babylon was Christ. He who shall finally bring the revolted Jews home to his Church, and, in a literal sense, bring the nation home to its ancient seat, is Christ. Christ, therefore, is intended here, under the image of one riding through the wilderness, ('ascendenti per deserta,' Jerome,) not upon the heavens, at the head of the returning captives. 'His name is in Jah:' Christ's name is in Jehovah. Ms, 'the Name,' is used, in the Hebrew language, for the thing imperfectly apprehended, to which, however, a name belongs. Thus, for God all languages have a name; and all men have an idea of the Being intended by that name, as the First Cause, the Maker, and Governor of the universe. Yet the human intellect, -- we may say, more generally, the created intellect, -- comprehends not the nature of this Great Being, nor can it enumerate his attributes. 'The name of God' is the incomprehensible Being who is all that the name imports, more than is expressed; more, at least, than any name can express to the finite understanding. Thus, when we are commanded to fear the name of God, the injunction is, that we carry in our minds a constant fear of the Being to whom that name belongs. The name, therefore, of Christ is Christ himself, considered as known by a name, but yet imperfectly understood, or rather incomprehensible in his nature. The sentence, 'His name is in Jehovah,' is an emphatical assertion of his divinity, introduced here to justify and enforce the worship enjoined. 'Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: cast up a way for him that is riding through the wilderness.' Who is he that is riding through the wilderness, that we should pay him this respect? 'He,' says the Psalmist, 'who cannot be described.' 'His name is in Jah.' His name and his nature are involved in the name and nature of the Godhead. Name him: you name the All-glorious One. Name the All-glorious One: you name him. Name him as distinct from the All-Good and Glorious: you name him not aright."


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