This Psalm is written to be accompanied with stringed instruments, and specifically described as a ‘song’. In other parts of Scripture, stringed instruments are often used in the context of revival, of worship in new creation: Isaiah 38:20; Habakkuk 3:19.
In particular, there is something unique about this Psalm, different from those preceding it. Whilst the previous Psalms speak of the persecuted seeking refuge, and the destruction of the wicked, this Psalm shares a different message altogether.
At vv 1-3, Asaph powerfully commences the Psalm by referring to the known God whose name is great in Israel, having established an abode and dwelling place in Salem and Zion.
It is interesting that Asaph refers to God’s dwelling place as Salem, since such reference is rarely used in Scripture and only in two other books: see Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7. Interestingly, it is King Melchizedek, one of the most mysterious figures of the Old Testament, who hails from Salem. Otherwise it is a region without history in the Bible.
The meaning of the name for this mysterious region is “peace“. Which is why it is telling that the capital of the promised land Israel, is Jerusalem, strictly meaning the city of peace.
Then there is the more commonly used new creation name of the promised land – Zion, frequently referred to as the city of David.
This sets the context of the Psalm. Asaph is deliberately referring to a time when God’s victory is secured. It is not going to be established in Salem, his dwelling place is not going to be in Zion, but it has been and is in Salem and in Zion. It is the city of Jesus, the man who came to deliver the message of eternal peace and a renewed creation for the men and women of God to dwell in.
It is also in that place (v.3 refers to the action taking place ‘there‘ i.e. in Salem/Zion) that He broke the flashing arrows, shield, sword and weapons of war. In new creation, the vocabulary of war is utterly removed. The lion and lamb shall lie together: Isaiah 11:6.
As Spurgeon says:
“Without leaving his tranquil abode, he sent forth his word and snapped the arrows of his enemies before they could shoot them. The idea is sublime, and marks the ease, completeness, and rapidity of the divine action. The shield, and the sword, and the battle. Every weapon, offensive and defensive, the Lord dashed in pieces; death bearing bolts and life preserving armour were alike of no avail when the Breaker sent forth his word of power. In the spiritual conflicts of this and every age, the like will be seen; no weapon that is formed against the church shall prosper, and every tongue that rises against her in judgment, she shall condemn. Selah. It is meet that we should dwell on so soul stirring a theme, and give the Lord our grateful adoration,—hence a pause is inserted.”
The subsequent verses develop this theme further. God’s glory and majesty (v4) is compared with the men of war who are stouthearted and rely on their hands and strength (v5). One rebuke and the storms lay still (Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24); so also one rebuke the powerful rider and horse shall lay stunned (v6).
The warriors of this Psalm are almost described as synonymous as those who do not fear God. V.7 makes that assumption – i.e. that God is to be feared, and yet there there those who try to stand before Him when they should be kneeling in humility.
If one rebuke can stun nature, what about when He utters judgment? Asaph describes the earth as fearing and standing still. Can we imagine what that looks like? When we are riddled with natural disasters, hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, to name the least; the image of ‘Mother Nature’ humbling herself before God in judgment is but another way of telling us — if even powerful forces know when to take heed to God’s judgment, how much more ought we be humble? For only the humble of the earth shall be saved (v.9). If creation waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-24), then ought we not humble ourselves and eagerly await for peace and revelation of those who are saved, to come after the Last Day?
Then comes the interesting verse – surely the wrath of man shall praise you. Why would man’s sinful wrath turn into praise? Only by God’s hand: Genesis 50:20; only He can turn a curse into a blessing, a weapon into worship. Spurgeon says:
It shall not only be overcome but rendered subservient to thy glory. Man with his breath of threatening is but blowing the trumpet of the Lord’s eternal fame. Furious winds often drive vessels the more swiftly into port. The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, and then the Lord fashions it for his own purposes. Let men and devils rage as they may, they cannot do otherwise than subserve the divine purposes. The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Malice is tethered and cannot break its bounds. The fire which cannot be utilised shall be damped. Some read it “thou shalt gird, “as if the Lord girded on the wrath of man as a sword to be used for his own designs, and certainly men of the world are often a sword in the hand of God, to scourge others. The verse clearly teaches that even the most rampant evil is under the control of the Lord, and will in the end be overruled for his praise.
In the present age, we have simply forgotten about ‘fearing’ God. The non-Christians are nauseous at the idea of a God who judges and destroys; the Christians are quick to clarify that we believe in a God who loves unconditionally. Neither are correct. God loves conditionally – the one condition being Jesus’ work on the cross, the ultimate act of self-humility.
Outside of that love, he does judge and destroy. Inside that love, we are freed from our shackles and we are freed from the wars of this world. Outside of that love, we are required to be warriors, equipping ourselves with the shield, the sword and weapons of this world in order to survive. Inside of that love, we rid ourselves of those tools as we are equipped instead with the spiritual armour to fight spiritual battles (Ephesians 6) and advance His kingdom of peace, telling the story of Salem. Outside of that love, we label ourselves as princes, princesses, kings and queens of our own kingdoms, and we give gifts to ourselves; inside of that love, we are labelled by Him as His co-heirs of the eternal kingdom and we freely give gifts to others – and bring gifts to Him (v.12).
Where exactly do we stand before Him? Are we humbling ourselves, kneeling before the king, and through that we are exalted into a realm of peace today and inherit his kingdom (Matthew 5:5)? Or are we clinging onto our sword, by which we shall be rebuked into servility or submission; or otherwise live a life that only leads to death (Matthew 26:52)?