John T. Willis

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Psalm 68:4-6

After the Introduction in Psalm 68:1-3, the first major section of this poem is verses 4-18, which traces Yahweh's mighty acts from the exodus from Egypt to Yahweh's choice of Jerusalem as his dwelling place. The story begins with these words in verses 4-6:

"Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
life up a song to him who rides upon the clouds--
his name is the Lord [Yahweh]--
be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land."

1. The summons to the hearers to "sing to God" in verse 4 calls to mind the beginning of the song which Moses and the Israelites sang east of the Red Sea just after Yahweh delivered them from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 15:1-2).
2. The Canaanite Ugaritic texts (13th-12th centuries B.C.) often refer to Baal as "him who rides upon the clouds." The Hebrew Bible affirms polemically that it is not Baal, but Yahweh, who actually rides on the clouds (see Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalm 18:9-13; Isaiah 19:1), for he alone is the true God. Yahweh is a great king, who rides through the skies on his royal chariot as he controls human affairs (Psalm 104:3).
3. The ideal king in the ancient Near East was responsible for protecting and providing the needs of widows and orphans. Yahweh has a special place in his heart for widows and orphans, since they have been left alone, and thus are especially vulnerable to oppressors and predators (see Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 24:17-22; Isaiah 1:16-17, 21-26; James 1:26-27).
4. Yahweh reverses human fortunes: he gives the desolate a home, causes prisoners to prosper, and punishes the rebellious.
Praise God for the many ways he helps those in need.

John Willis

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Psalm 68:1-3

Psalm 68 is very difficult to understand. The remarks in the following blogposts are very tentative. One way to analyze Psalm 68 is:

Introduction--May God, the mighty warrior KING, defeat his wicked enemies--verses 1-3.
Part I--Praise this KING because he delivered his people from Egyptian bondage, gave them
his law at mount Sinai, guided them safely through the wilderness, and gave them the
land of Canaan--verses 4-18.
Part II--Praise this KING because of his protection of Jerusalem from her enemies--verses

Following this understanding of the flow of Psalm 68, verses 1-3 contain this prayer:

"Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy."

1. "Rise up, O Lord" is a common cry in the Bible, pleading with God to "swing into action." The assumption is that at least from a human perspective God is not doing anything in behalf of his people right now. He is like a mighty warrior sleeping or resting somewhere, but his people need him desperately to come to their aid. Notice the cry: "Rise up, O Lord" in Psalms 7:6; 9:19; 10:12; 17:13; and especially 44:23-26:

"Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love."

2. The psalmist compares the overthrow of God's enemies with smoke that swirls up from a fire and quickly vanishes (see Psalm 37:20) and with wax that melts before the fire (see Psalm 97:5; Micah 1:4)--very graphic similes which emphasize the transitory nature of human powers.
3. God's appearance and presence in human life brings two responses: (a) God's enemies are scattered; they flee before him; they perish; (b) God's faithful servants are jubilant with joy at the appearance and activity of the God they serve.
Praise God for his presence and mighty works among all of us.

John Willis