The rebellious now rise up and offend the Anointed One on a daily basis. There is, in the present age, amongst the ‘civilised’, no more fear of the Lord.
Psalm 68 opens by telling us that this lack of fear was present even in the days of David. That is why, in the face of God’s rising, that the enemies shall be scattered and shall flee; just as darkness is driven away in face of light, so is wax in the face of fire, and the wicked will perish.
But this is not a Lord of terror; the God we love is the Father of the fatherless and protector of widows (v5). In the land of the desert, the prisoners will be led into a life of prosperity; whereas the rebellious who have scattered and fled will dwell in a parched land. A land without water; without fruit; without life. Is that not how the rebellious live in this age? In the pretense and cover of life, when the substance of life – the Holy Spirit – is absent from them?
So the God of Israel, the One who appeared to them at Sinai, is the God who provides a prosperous abode. He is the One who rains down in abundance; He is the one who restores our languishing inheritance. Just like the women who announced the good news of Christ on the day that He rose again, the women who announce the news of the Lord’s word are a great host (v11). Christ’s resurrection is the sign of the fleeing of the kings of this world. These rulers, kings, principalities flee because Christ’s work could no longer be undone.
Vv12-14 are hard to comprehend, and commentators express the same sentiment. Spurgeon has this to say about the scattering of kings being placed alongside the snow falling on Zalmon (v14):
Zalmon, properly Tsalmon, Nwmlu a woody hill near Shechem (Jud 9:48). Whether it is this that’s referred to in Ps 69:14, is disputed. Some interpreters take Nwmlu here in its etymological meaning of darkness, Mlu; thus Luther renders the clause “so wird es helle wo es dunkel ist, “thus it be bright where it is dark, and understands it with a Messianic reference. Ewald adopts much the same rendering. The majority, however, retain the name as a proper name, but exhibit great variety in their explanation of the passage. Hengstenberg thinks that the phrase, “it snows on Tsalmon, “is equivalent to “there is brightness where there was darkness, “the hill, originally dark with wood, is now white with snow. De Dieu supposes a comparison: Tsalmon is white with the bones of the slaughtered kings, as if with snow. Some suppose that there is here a mere note of time: it was winter, the snow was on Tsalmon (Herder); and this Hupfeld adopts, with the explanation that the statement is made derisively, with reference to those who tarried at home, deterred by the winter’s snow. He considers the passage (Ps 68:12-14) as a fragment of an ancient song, celebrating some of the early conquests of Israel in Canaan, and deriding those, who, from indolence or fear, shrank from the enterprise. He translates thus:
“The kings of the armies, flee, flee,
And the housewife shares the spoil!
Will ye lie among the shippens?
Pigeons feathers decked with silver,
And their wings with yellow gold!
As the Almighty scattered kings therein,
It was snowing on Tsalmon.”
—William Lindsay Alexander, in “A Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature.” 1866.
Despite the apparent fruit and favour on the mountain of Bashan, the Lord chose another mount for his abode. Sinai is now in the sanctuary — not Bashan. Christ is the Lord who ascended on high, leading a host of captives in His train, and receiving gifts among men. Look at Ephesians 4:8, which is different from Psalm 68:18 — instead of ‘receiving gifts amongst men’, Paul wrote that He gave gives to men. Spurgeon explains the following:
Some think it refers to God’s goings forth on behalf of his people Israel, leading them forth to victory, taking their enemies captive, and enriching them with the spoils. Suppose it be so, we are warranted to consider it as mainly referring to Christ, for so the apostle has applied it. Eph 4:8. The apostle not only applies it to Christ, but proves it applicable. Thus he reasons (Ps 68:9-10), “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended,” etc. The captivity which he led captive was our spiritual enemies who had led us captive—Satan, death; and, having obtained the victory, he proceeds to divide the spoils. Gifts to men—as David made presents. And hence comes our ordinances, ministers, etc. There was a glorious fulfilment immediately after his ascension, in a rich profusion of gifts and graces to his church, like David’s presents. Here it is received; in Ephesians, gave. He received that he might give; received the spoil that he might distribute it.
That Paul applies this verse to Christ shows that he considered Jesus divine; however, the verb ‘receive’ (in Hebrew, laqakh) can have the idea of ‘receive in order to give’, or ‘to fetch’ (e.g. Genesis 18:4-5, where it is ‘bring’). The purpose of this psalm is to focus on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, the division of spoils for those who had been persecuted. This fits the context, where v12 describes the women who divide the spoils upon the scattering of the kings.
David continues by describing the Lord as One who daily bears us up; He who delivers us from death; He who strikes the heads of His enemies; He who will redeem them from the world of Bashan, from the judgment of sea. This image of redemption is juxtaposed with the image of the divine procession; the image of worship, praise, music, order, harmony. Why does David then only speak of Benjamin, Judah, Zebulun and Naphtali? Spurgeon has the following observations:
The tribe was small, having been greatly reduced in numbers, but it had the honour of including Zion within its territory. “And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders.” Little Benjamin had been Jacob’s darling, and now the tribe is made to march first in the procession, and to dwell nearest to the holy place. The princes of Judah and their council. Judah was a large and powerful tribe, not with one governor, like Benjamin, but with many princes “and their company, “for so the margin has it. “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel, “and the tribe was a quarry of stones wherewith to build up the nations: some such truth is hinted at in the Hebrew. The princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali. Israel was there, as well as Judah; there was no schism among the people. The north sent a representative contingent as well as the south, and so the long procession set forth the hearty loyalty of all the tribes to their Lord and King. O happy day, when all believers shall be one around the ark of the Lord; striving for nothing but the glory of the God of grace. The prophet now puts into the mouth of the assembly a song, foretelling the future conquests of Jehovah.
There is indeed, no schism amongst the people, because both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are united — this procession is one of national unity. One ought to also notice that Jesus’ ministry started with the land of Zebulun and Naphtali (Matthew 4:13, citing Isaiah 9:1-2), because those tribes are also the first in the Northern kingdom to have been taken into captivity by the Assyrians; so Jesus starts his redemption work there. As with Benjamin and Judah, the least of the tribes and the tribe from which Jesus came, so also the tribes due to be thrown into captivity first are prophetically the tribes partaking in the procession.
Vv28-31 then describe the salvation of the Gentiles. Because of God’s temple at Jerusalem, foreign kings shall bear gifts to Him; nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God. That has always been the Lord’s plan – to ensure the salvation not merely of one nation, but to have that nation become and agent of his salvation to all. That is what the psalmist had sung about in Psalm 67 – and Psalm 68 describes the realisation of that prophecy. Vv32-35 thus end the Psalm on a high note of an image of new creation — but this realisation can take place now on earth, as it has been achieved in heaven. Not only is the restoration of Israel as one kingdom prophesied; so also the kingdoms of the earth sing praises to the Lord. The prince of the sky (Ephesians 2:2) is replaced by the king of the heavens and ancient heavens. Awesome is He who rules from the heavenly sanctuary, He who gives power and strength to his people (c.f. v.18).