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Psalm 68 -
God of Power, God of Grace
For the director of music.
Of David. A psalm. A song.
1May God arise, may His enemies be scattered;
may His foes flee before Him.
2As smoke is blown away by the wind,
may You blow them away;
as wax melts before the fire,
may the wicked perish before God.
3But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.
4Sing to God, sing praise to His name,
extol Him who rides on the clouds—
His name is the Lord—and rejoice before Him.
5A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in His holy dwelling.
6God sets the lonely in families,
He leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
This psalm of David’s depicts God as a God of power and might, who vanquishes His enemies, and a God of grace, who protects His people. David begins the psalm with a desire to see God’s power over His enemies: “May God arise, may His enemies be scattered; may His foes flee before Him. As smoke is blown away by the wind, may you blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God” (vss. 1–2). These opening words hearken back to the words Moses would recite whenever the Ark of the Covenant was moved: “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered; may Your foes flee before You’” (Num. 10:35). Because of the similarity, we can conclude that it is quite probable that David recited these words when he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (see II Sam. 6).
Moses would say, “Rise up, O Lord” at the moving of the Ark, because God’s presence would be shown to the people in the cloud that would accompany them on their travels. The glory of God would rise up before the people as they started to journey out into the wilderness. Just as the children of Israel in the wilderness had the presence of God in a cloud, we have the presence of God through Jesus Christ as we journey through the wilderness. I can’t help but apply these words of David prophetically to Jesus: “May God arise.” Of course, God did arise in the person of Jesus Christ, as He rose up from the tomb on Easter morning, and as He later rose and ascended to heaven.
The manifested physical presence of God incited the confidence of His people that He would intervene on their behalf: “May His enemies be scattered; may His foes flee before Him. As smoke is blown away by the wind, may You blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God” (vss, 1-3). Few would deny that the Lord of the Universe has the power and ability to vanquish His enemies. Many, however, doubt that God is willing to intervene in the affairs of men to do so. God’s visible presence before the children of Israel was a sign that, indeed, God is willing and does intervene in the affairs of men, and will vanquish His enemies.
It was not a difficult thing for God to vanquish His enemies: “As smoke is blown away by the wind, may You blow them away; as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God” (vs. 2). “How galling to the pride of the seemingly mighty foes to learn that they have no more stability than the driven smoke or the melting wax!” [JFB].
In the presence of God, the enemies of God can expect nothing but destruction. However, the children of God can rejoice in His presence: “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful” (vs. 3). “The Scriptures justly maintain a strong and fearful contrast between both the character and the destiny of the wicked and the righteous. They are not alike. They do not think feel, or fare alike” [Plumer, 669]. “The wicked flee from the presence of God, since it inspires them with terror; the righteous on the other hand rejoice in it, because nothing delights them more than to think that God is near them” [Calvin].
God’s presence must incite us to praise Him: “Sing to God, sing praise to His name, extol Him who rides on the clouds—His name is the Lord—and rejoice before Him” (vs. 4). “As it is a privilege, so it is a duty to be glad, to rejoice, yea, exceedingly to rejoice. He, who knows and loves and receives little, may rejoice little. But surely he, who has experienced the saving grace of God, ought not to be tame and torpid in exultations. If we duly rejoiced in God, we should not so often seek a portion here below” [Plumer, 669].
We have much to rejoice about when considering the character of our God. Though He is highly exalted as the Creator of the Universe, and though He can be an absolute terror to His enemies (see vs. 2), He is tender and compassionate to His own people, especially the more helpless of them: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling” (vs. 5). “The name, ‘a father to the fatherless’, is one of the most tender appellations that could be given to God, and conveys one of the most striking descriptions that can be given of His character. We see His greatness, His majesty, His power, in the worlds that He has made – in the storm, the tempest, the rolling ocean; but it is in such expressions as this that we learn, what we most desire to know, and what we cannot elsewhere learn, that He is a Father; that He is to be loved as well as feared. Nothing suggests more strikingly a state of helplessness and dependence than the condition of orphan children and widows; nothing, therefore, conveys a more affecting description of the character of God – of His condescension and kindness – than to say that He will take the place of the parent in the one case, and be a protector in the other” [Barnes]. We, children of God, should follow our heavenly Father’s example, and protect the weak, and help the helpless. The way of the world is to give help only to those who can give some benefit in return. The way of the godly is to help those who can give nothing in return, to help those who need help the most.
David continues: “God sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land” (vs. 6). Again, we are given a contrast between the way God treats His people, and the way He treats His enemies. Even the weakest of His own people are given all they need. The lonely are given comfort and friendship, as He sets them “in families”, the fellowship of the children of God. The prisoners of sin are set free in Him, and leave their manacles “singing.” “In the first six verses there is a wonderful description of God in His majesty and meekness, in His might and mercy. The contrasts are remarkable. He scatters His enemies. He is a Father of the fatherless. The wicked perish at His presence. He sets the solitary in families. There is no sense of contradiction. Rather the unity of the apparently dissimilar things is at once felt. His righteousness is the strength of His mercy. His might is the ability of His to help. The righteous need have no fear of His strength, but rather rejoice in it, trust in it, and co-operate with it” [Morgan, 120].
(The study of this Psalm will continue in the next issue, D.V.)