The little-noticed sixtieth Psalm is addressed to us as “a Michtam of David, to teach.” We should allow it to teach us, for it gives lessons to learn in these trying times today. It was composed at the time of King David’s struggles with the Edomites, descendants of Esau who were a constant thorn in Israel’s side throughout much of Old Testament history. There are prophetic currents here that may speak to our own day, as well. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states, “it may be a question whether…the Oracle is fact or prophecy.” Indeed, it is both!
The Psalm begins with the statement, “O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again.” At the time of King David, neither the House of Israel nor the House of Judah had yet been exiled and scattered. Historians speculate that this passage refers to a relatively minor battlefield defeat at the hands of Edom, a nation dwelling at that time to the south of the land of Judah. Yet prophetically it foretold the coming monumental defeat and scattering of the people of Israel that took place at the hands of Assyria and Babylon between the years 732 and 587 B.C. Yes, God was wroth with Israel because of their sins and would exile and scatter them wholesale to foreign lands.
The Psalmist continues, “Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh. Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.” (vv. 2-3) The people of Israel, knowing they were God’s chosen covenant-bearers, were astonished that that they could be defeated and scattered by their enemies. Could God really allow this to happen? They had only lost a small battle with their adversaries, but it portended a much greater defeat and exile of the entire nation yet to come. There are theologians even today who still deny that it could and did happen!
A significant statement occurs next in verse four: “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.” The word, “selah,” means to think and reflect deeply on these things. Barnes Commentary states, “The word rendered “banner” (Hebrew, “nes”) means properly anything elevated or lifted up, and hence, a standard, a flag, a sign, or a signal…Here it doubtless refers to the flag, the banner, the standard of an army; and the idea is that God had committed such a standard to his people that they might go forth as soldiers in his cause.” Even today, banners replete with historic heraldic emblems identify nations and armies. Israel, too, had such emblems to identify them. The stag or unicorn, with a secondary emblem of a bull or ox, identified the northern Israelite House and tribe of Ephraim. (See: Symbols Of Our Celto-Saxon Heritage, by W.H. Bennett) A lion identified the House of Judah. Is it mere happenstance that Great Britain combines every one of these symbols into the heraldry of their royal house and throne? The term, “John Bull,” is a definite identification of the British nation, and the British royal arms combine both the lion and the unicorn. No other people on earth have these heraldic marks of Israel today! These marks were “a standard [for identification] to His people.”
This passage of Scripture is more important than we realize. The Biblical Illustrator informs us, “The humblest Christian has received a banner to display because of the truth. We are working for a cause which is old as eternity and lofty as heaven. Our personal success or defeat is nothing; but the victory of the truth is everything. This great verse was given out by Ebenezer Erskine beneath the castle walls of Stirling when he and his congregation were turned out of the Church of Scotland; and it has been connected with other great historical scenes in the history of the Church.”
What does it mean to display the banner, or Israel heraldry, “because of the truth?” Barnes Commentary observes, “What was true then of the people of God, is true of the church now. God has given to his church a banner or a standard that it may wage a war of justice, righteousness, and truth; that it may be employed in resisting and overcoming his enemies; that it may carry the weapons of truth and right against all injustice, falsehood, error, oppression, and wrong; that it may ever be found on the side of humanity and benevolence—of virtue, temperance, liberty, and equality; and that it may bear the great principles of the true religion to every territory of the enemy, until the whole world shall be subdued to God.” How then can we correctly embrace the good fight and fulfill our Divine commission unless we know under what banner we serve and understand our heritage and its responsibilities? We cannot effectively fulfill Israel’s responsibilities under a banner of an alien identity. As the commentary puts it, “Thus the purpose [of the banner] is that Israel, God’s ‘beloved, may be delivered’ [verse 5].”
The psalm continues, “God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth. Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim also is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver;” (verses 6-7) Barnes states, “God had made promises in regard to the land of Canaan or Palestine, as a country to be put into the possession of Abraham and his posterity. Gen. 12:7; Gen. 13:15; Gen. 17:8; Psa. 105:8-11…It is to this promise made to Abraham that he doubtless refers in the passage before us.”
The reference to Judah as “lawgiver” is perhaps a bit imprecise. The Biblical Background Commentary tells us that these verses more properly refer to “Ephraim, Judah as helmet and scepter. In this metaphorical portrayal of Yahweh as the divine warrior, the two kingdoms of Israel—Ephraim and Judah—serve as helmet and staff of office respectively. A similar image is found in Zech. 9:13, where Judah is God’s bow and Ephraim his arrow.…The scepter is now often identified as a ceremonial engraved mace, which kings are sometimes portrayed holding in their hands as a symbol of office. It is referred to elsewhere in Gen. 49:10 and Num. 21:18.” Yes, the Davidic line of Judah held the scepter of rulership, which David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ, will take possession of to reign on earth upon His return. Ephraim, representing the Ten Tribes of the House of Israel, was to be God’s warriors, His “helmet,” His “battle ax and weapons of war” (Jer. 51:20). What “company of nations” (Gen. 35:11) is descended from Ephraim and as a witness has historically fulfilled their martial heritage? Who has fulfilled these prophecies other than the nations of Western Europe and their offspring in America and other lands?
The final section of this Psalm refers more directly to Israel’s historic and prophetic adversaries, most especially the Edomites [or Idumeans]. We read, “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me. Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom? wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off?” (verses 8-10) Here is a Divine irony, for although Israel was to be “cast off” in exile, God would “cast out” the Edomites, who were to be removed from any inheritance within Israel. What is “the strong city?” Lang’s Commentary identifies it: “This is distinguished by the parallel member of the verse as the capital of the Idumeans (2Ki. 14:7), namely…the renowned Petra, compare Gen. 36:42; Jer. 49:16; Obad. 1:3; Psa. 108:10.” God will visit Petra in angry judgment. Yet misled evangelicals think that “Israel” (who they equate 100% with Jews) will flee into Petra for safety during the end times. The irony is that God will instead judge and punish the inhabitants of Petra!
According to Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitzsch, “Edom the crafty and malicious is forcibly taken possession of by him and obliged to submit;…The throwing of a shoe over a territory is a sign of taking forcible possession, just as the taking off of the shoe is a sign of the renunciation of one’s claim or right: the shoe is in both instances the symbol of legal possession.” Although theologians may debate over who represents the progeny of Edom in the world today, there is no question that Esau’s descendants have no legal Divine right to possess the land of Israel.
The Psalm concludes in verses 11 and 12 with a definite note of triumph: “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” Yes, we are in dire straits today, both literally and Spiritually. Who, asks the psalmist, can save us? The answer is, none but God. Let us then place our hope and trust in Him. Amen!