This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. Set to “Lily of the Testimony.” A Michtam of David. For teaching. When he fought against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah, and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
Lily of the Testimony may refer to an instrument or to a tune.
This is a Michtam, a golden psalm of David, intended for teaching, to instruct his present and future generations, especially about relying upon God and nothing else in conflict.
The historical markers against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah, and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt place it sometime in the earlier part of King David’s reign, when he subjected neighboring nations. 2 Samuel 8:1-8 records David’s victories over Philistia, Moab, and Syria. 2 Samuel 10:1-19 tells of David’s victories over Ammon and Syria. 1 Chronicles 18:11-13 gives us David’s victories over Edom (and specifically in the Valley of Salt), Moab, Ammon, Philistia, and Amalek.
The victories described in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles do not mention the kind of setbacks lamented in this psalm. It reminds us that the historical record often condenses events, and that the successes were real, yet not always immediate.
A. The defeated nation.
1. (1-3) A plea for mercy from God who has afflicted His people.
O God, You have cast us off;
You have broken us down;
You have been displeased;
Oh, restore us again!
You have made the earth tremble;
You have broken it;
Heal its breaches, for it is shaking.
You have shown Your people hard things;
You have made us drink the wine of confusion.
a. O God, You have cast us off; You have broken us down: David and the armies of Israel fought against foreign armies and experienced some measure of defeat. David knew that when the Lord fought for Israel, victory was assured; if there was defeat, it was likely because of God’s displeasure. Therefore David appealed to what he believed to be the ultimate cause, not the immediate cause.
i. Worse than defeat was the sense of separation from God. “God’s people live a meaningless existence without his presence. They take defeat seriously, because divine abandonment is the most miserable condition.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “But for this psalm and its title we should have had no inkling of the resilience of David’s hostile neighbours at the peak of his power.” (Kidner)
b. Oh, restore us again: If in some way God had caused the defeat of Israel, it did not discourage David from appealing to Him that His favor be restored. This cry, restore us again, immediately brings hope to the matter.
i. “To be cast off by God is the worst calamity that can befall a man or a people; but the worst form of it is when the person is not aware of it and is indifferent to it. When the divine desertion causes mourning and repentance, it will be but partial and temporary.” (Spurgeon)
c. You have made the earth tremble: David felt as if the whole earth shook at the defeat of God’s people, yet the God who could shake the earth could also heal its breaches.
d. You have shown Your people hard things; You have made us drink the wine of confusion: Israel’s defeat was hard to understand, and there were many other aspects of their situation that caused David confusion. Still, there was a kind of comfort in understanding that God was the author of it all, because what God does in judgment or discipline, He can restore in love and mercy.
i. “Thou hast showed thy people hard things, God will be sure to plough his own ground, whatsoever becometh of the waste; and to weed his own garden, though the rest of the world should be let alone to grow wild.” (Trapp)
ii. The wine of confusion: “We reel as drunken men; we are giddy, like those who have drank too much wine; but our giddiness has been occasioned by the astonishment and dismay that have taken place in consequence of the prevalence of our enemies, and the unsettled state of the land.” (Clarke)
iii. “So far gone was Israel, that only God’s interposition could preserve it from utter destruction. How often have we seen churches in this condition, and how suitable is the prayer before us, in which the extremity of the need is used as an argument for help.” (Spurgeon)
2. (4-5) Hope in His deliverance.
You have given a banner to those who fear You,
That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah
That Your beloved may be delivered,
Save with Your right hand, and hear me.
a. You have given a banner to those who fear You: David felt that God had cast off and broken Israel, yet he would not stop flying the banner of allegiance and trust in God. The truth about God – who He is and what He has done – demanded that this banner be displayed.
i. “He gave them an ensign, which would be both a rallying point for their hosts, a proof that he had sent them to fight, and a guarantee of victory.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The concept of the banner was connected to Israel’s reliance upon God and His victory for them. “When Amalek fought against Israel in Rephidim, victory came to the people of God as Moses, supported by Aaron and Hur, prayed on the mount and Joshua went forth to battle. After the victory Moses built an altar, and called the name of it ‘Jehovah Nissi,’ that is, Jehovah our Banner.” (Morgan)
iii. Selah: “Note the ‘Selah’ at this point, suggesting especial attention to this fact. For the sake of that banner the cry for deliverance is raised.” (Morgan)
b. That Your beloved may be delivered: Claiming himself as God’s beloved, despite the present defeat, David understood that his rescue would be found in greater allegiance to God, not less.
i. Beloved: “The Hebrew word belongs to the language of love poetry; it appeals to the strongest of bonds, the most ardent of relationships.” (Kidner)
B. The victorious God.
1. (6-8) God’s word of triumph over the nations.
God has spoken in His holiness:
“I will rejoice;
I will divide Shechem
And measure out the Valley of Succoth.
Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine;
Ephraim also is the helmet for My head;
Judah is My lawgiver.
Moab is My washpot;
Over Edom I will cast My shoe;
Philistia, shout in triumph because of Me.”
a. I will rejoice: Speaking as an inspired prophet, David understood the words God Himself spoke. God Himself would rejoice in His Lordship over Israel and His victory over the nations.
b. I will divide Shechem and measure out the Valley of Succoth: With these and the following lines, God proclaimed how the land of Israel was His special possession. The specific mentions of Shechem, of the Valley of Succoth, of Gilead, of Manasseh, of Ephraim, and of Judah show that God did not speak symbolically, but geographically. Though He is Lord over all the earth, He has a special care and regard for the land of Israel.
i. As the nations battled, it was as if David understood the LORD to step forward and settle the disputes with His authority. “It is no longer a matter of rivals fighting for possession, but of the lord of the manor parceling out his lands and employments exactly as it suits him.” (Kidner)
ii. “Ephraim is called a ‘helmet’ (literally, ‘the strength of my head’), symbolic of force; Judah is a ‘scepter’ (cf. Genesis 49:10), symbolic of dominon and governance.” (VanGemeren)
iii. “Note the repeated mine and my, for everything is His, not theirs, and those to whom He gives it are His tenants and stewards. Yet it is theirs all the more securely for that.” (Kidner)
c. Moab is My washpot; over Edom I will cast My shoe: God also said that He would exalt Himself over the surrounding nations. Both Moab and Edom were noted for their pride (Isaiah 16:6, Obadiah 1:3). Here God gives them places of humble service.
i. “The picture of Moab coming with a washbasin for the warrior to wash his feet represents her subjugation to servant status.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “Will I cast out my shoe, i.e. I will use them like slaves; either holding forth my shoes, that they may pluck them off; or throwing my shoes at them, either in anger or contempt, as the manner of many masters was and is in such cases.” (Poole)
2. (9-12) Renewed trust in the God who helps.
Who will bring me to the strong city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
Is it not You, O God, who cast us off?
And You, O God, who did not go out with our armies?
Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.
Through God we will do valiantly,
For it is He who shall tread down our enemies.
a. Who will lead me to Edom? Is it not You, O God, who cast us off: David knew that their previous defeat was because God did not fight for them, who did not go out with our armies. He trusted that God would lead Israel to victory over the strong city.
i. The strong city: “When David speaks of ‘the fortified city’ he can only mean Petra, the most inaccessible and apparently impregnable mountain stronghold of Edom. Only God could give victory over a fortress like that, and David knew it. So he cries to God, acknowledging that ‘the help of man is worthless.’” (Boice)
b. Give us help from trouble, for the help of man is useless: David had seen many brave men accomplish great things on the field of battle. Yet for David and for Israel, the help of man was not enough; indeed, it was useless. God’s help would lead them to victory.
i. “For vain is the help of man. As they had lately experimented in Saul, a king of their own choosing, but not able to save them from those proud Philistines.” (Trapp)
ii. “The king is not looking for a military solution to his problems, such as alliances with other kings, because he knows that their ‘help is worthless.’” (VanGemeren)
c. Through God we will do valiantly, for it is He who shall tread down our enemies: David understood that it wasn’t God’s desire for Israel to leave off fighting and passively see what God would do. Instead, they would fight, but fight through God. Their fighting through God would be brave and valiant, and in it they would see God tread down our enemies. The psalm that began in defeat would end in victory.
i. We will do valiantly: “Divine working is not an argument for human inaction, but rather is it the best excitement for courageous effort.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “For our part, there will be valiant deeds; for God’s part, there will be not only His hand on ours, but His foot on the enemy.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org