The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 60

Psa 60:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "A MIKTAM OF DAVID. FOR TEACHING. WHEN HE FOUGHT ARAM NAHARAIM AND ARAM ZOBAH, AND WHEN JOAB RETURNED AND STRUCK DOWN TWELVE THOUSAND EDOMITES IN THE VALLEY OF SALT". "Miktam" sig "to cut, engrave (Jer 2:22), or write (Exo 17:14)", and hence to remember. The 6 "miktam" psalms are thus "memorial" psalms, of a very personal nature, having the hope of resurrection as a common theme (Psa 16:10,11; 56:13; 57:3; 58:10,11; 59:16; 60:5,12).

CONTEXT: 2Sa 8: When David was seen to be firmly established as king over the twelve tribes, all the surrounding Gentile nations took fright, and as one man they determined to crush him before the combined resources of twelve united tribes made him invincible. The first trials of strength (vv 1,2) came from the west and the east -- from Philistia and Moab. The Philistines esp had reason to panic at the prospect of David reigning securely in Jerusalem. The campaign against Moab (v 2) was only a preliminary trial of strength.

V 3 is ambiguous: "David smote also Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he (?) went to recover his (?) border at the river Euphrates." Was it Hadadezer or David who went to recover his own border at Euphrates? At first look it would seem to be the former. But perhaps instead it was David, who had ambitions to reign over the full territory promised to Abraham (Gen 15:18). If so, "recover" would seem to be the wrong word, since David's territory had never extended anywhere nearly as far as the Euphrates River. But by the change of one letter v 3 could read "establish" instead of "recover". And so David fought well against "Aram-zobah" (a small independent kingdom in the general locality of Damascus: 1Sa 14:47; 2Sa 8:3) and "Aram-naharaim" (Syria of the "two rivers" -- ie Abana and Pharpar, or Euphrates and Tigris) (2Sa 8:3-6; Psa 60, title).

But while David was rounding off this highly successful campaign a long way from home in the north, he was shocked to learn that Judah, left almost defenseless in his rear, had been invaded by the Ammonites, the Moabites again, and the Edomites. (V 13 should certainly read "the Edomites in the valley of salt" -- cp LXX and RSV -- the difference between "Aram" (Syria) and "Edom" in Heb is only a tittle, and textual confusion between the two is quite common. "The valley of salt" was at the south end of the Dead Sea.) David's acute despair (Psa 60:1-3) suggests how severe the inroads of these southern invaders were; and the mention of Shechem in v 6 shows that not only were the eastern tribes in peril but that now their threat was felt west of Jordan as well as in the extreme south, from Edom.

The "stab-in-the-back" tactics from Edom readily explains the strong resentment which the psalm expresses. This antagonism is demonstrated in the unusual savagery of the campaign. God had promised David another great victory over the invading forces (Psa 60:6-12), and thus it came to pass (2Sa 8:13,14). The figures of 12,000 casualties (psalm title) and 18,000 casualties (2Sa 8:13) could probably be reconciled easily enough, if only more detail were known about the three-pronged assault led by David (2Sa 8:12,13), Abishai (1Ch 18:12), and Joab (1Ki 11:15,16; Psa 60 title). The heavy slaughter may poss reflect esp the brutality of the character of Joab, who "cut off every male in Edom" (1Ki 11:16)!

Psa 60:2

An actual earthquake? Or a "political" one?

Psa 60:4

A BANNER: In such a tight situation David (well-instructed in Samuel's school of the sons of the prophets) recalls the desperate threat of the Amalekites against Israel in the wilderness. The upraised hands of Moses the prophet, sustained by the "priest" (Aaron) and "king" (Hur, of Judah), turned the tide of battle (Exo 17:11-15).

(NT) "Nes", an ensign or standard, as in Isa 11:10,12 -- where the "root of Jesse" shall stand for an ensign (nes) of the people. This is mindful of Exo 17, when Israel was attacked at Rephidim by the powerful Amalekites. To celebrate the great victory which God gave them then, Moses built an altar and called it Jehovah-nissi -- "the Lord our banner". So Psa 60 portrays the complete victory of Christ over all the forces of evil in the world, social and religious and political -- a victory made poss by the sacrifice of the One Perfect Man, who was "lifted up" (as an ensign or standard!) on a cross (Num 21:8,9; Joh 3:14; 12:32). (Cp Psa 20:5n, where the ideas are similar but a different Heb word for "banner" -- "dahgal" -- is used.)

TO BE UNFURLED AGAINST THE BOW: The Heb "qoshet" is an unusual one; in fact, it is unique to this passage. A similar word (qosht) is translated "certainty" in Pro 22:20,21, and another related word (qeshot) as "truth" in Dan 2:47; 4:37. Some texts, however, read "qesheth" here, a Heb word which is translated "bow" in many other passages (thus RV mg, RSV, and LXX; Moffatt has "archers"). Or... "That it may be displayed because of the truth" (AV). That is, because of God's Messianic promise to David, in 2Sa 7. This is the frequent meaning.

SELAH: "Rock", another name (2Ki 14:7) for Petra (Gr "Rock"), which is prob referred to as "the strong city" in Psa 60:9. See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 60:5

HELP US WITH YOUR RIGHT HAND: The ensuing vv suggest that, as in 1Sa 23:9 and 30:7, David appealed to God by means of Urim and Thummim for reassurance and guidance. He is referring to the right hand of the high priest, receiving and dispensing the affirmative "answer" from God. The root hand of the Lord stretched out on behalf of His people is the great instrument of deliverance and victory: Psa 20:6; 21:8; 44:3; 48:10; Exo 15:6.

RIGHT HAND: Strength (Exo 15:6; Psa 20:6; 63:8; 118:15,16); righteousness (Psa 48:10); authority (Isa 62:8); honor (Gen 48:13-18; 1Ki 2:19); salvation (Psa 17:7; 60:5); and fellowship (Psa 16:11).

Psa 60:6

Vv 6-8: A sequence of Yes or No answers: 'Shall I attack the enemy in Shechem?' 'Shall I then deliver Succoth?' 'Shall I go against Gilead?' 'Manasseh?' 'Ephraim?', etc. Thus the entire campaign, a complicated three-pronged affair, was mapped out for him: Shechem lay to the west of the Jordan (1Ki 12:25); the valley of Succoth (Gen 33:17) and Gilead to the east of the Jordan. Manasseh was on both sides of the river. Ephraim was west of Jordan to the north, and Judah of course was west of Jordan in the south.

The scope of these geographical locations gives some idea of the extent of David's military undertakings. "Had not God promised that 'five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight' (Lev 26:8)? Had not God promised Abraham: 'Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates' (Gen 15:8)? Had not God promised that all David's enemies would be cut off (2Sa 7:9)? Whilst these promises will have their complete fulfillment in the work of David's greater Son at his 2nd advent, the first kingdom of God had [also] to be established securely" (Geoff Tucker). In this connection, see also Psa 89:35.

SHECHEM... SUCCOTH: Echoes Gen 33:17,18, when Jacob returned to his inheritance. Shechem was also the place where Abraham received the promise: "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (Gen 12:6,7).

Psa 60:7

EPHRAIM... JUDAH: An allusion to the ancient Messianic rivalry between the two most powerful tribes (WBS 74-77). But here they gladly cooperate under David's inspiring leadership. ("Ephraim" is sometimes used comprehensively, to describe the ten tribes under its headship: 2Ch 25:6,7.)

EPHRAIM IS MY HELMET: "Ephraim also is the strength of mine head" (AV) might be read in the sense of "my leader, or commander" -- thus corresponding with the next phrase (see below). It was upon his grandson Ephraim's head that Jacob laid his hand to pronounce a special blessing (Gen 48:14).

JUDAH MY SCEPTER: "Judah is my lawgiver" (AV). Lit, "my scepter" (RSV) or even "king" (LXX).

(NT) The promise of Gen 49:10, to be fulfilled by "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev 5:5).

Psa 60:8

MOAB IS MY WASHBASIN: A designed ct with the occasion when Moab was the source of Israel's defilement, through the immoral enticements of its women (Num 25:1)? Or, more generally, a sign of contempt: a mere basin to hold the dirty water when the warriors' feet had been washed after victory (cp Psa 58:10). It was the servant's duty to wash the master's feet (cp 2Ki 3:11). Moab -- always remarkable for its arrogance (Isa 16:6) -- is to become the most menial of Israel's slaves!

OVER EDOM I TOSS MY SANDAL: A play on words: in Heb "hadom" (cp Edom) means footstool. Poss the practice implies taking possession of a piece of land (cp Rth 4:7,8; Deu 25:6-10), or even "treading down" (as Psa 60:12). In any case, this means slavery for both Moab and Edom (2Sa 8:2,14; ct Oba 1:3). "The shoe is considered unclean. In Palestine there is always a threshold called the mastaby, where the people of the house and all guests remove their shoes and enter barefooted. Shoes are never worn in well-to-do homes, and are never spoken of with respect, but in terms of very great disrespect. The shoe was always associated with everything that was low, filthy, and contemptible" (Str Scr 67,68). This will explain Exo 3:5; Jos 5:15; and Amo 2:6; 8:6.

PHILISTIA: See Lesson, Philistia in prophecy.

OVER PHILISTIA I SHOUT IN TRIUMPH: "Philistia, triumph thou because of me" (AV). Psa 108:9 has "Over Philistia will I triumph" (cp RSV), which is obviously more correct (note that Psa 60:5-12 = Psa 108:6-13). So v 8 here is surely a clear case of textual corruption.

Psa 60:9

WHO WILL BRING ME TO THE FORTIFIED CITY?: Petra, Edom's rock-hewn city: "The city was carved out of red rock, and could only be approached by a very narrow path about 1 1/2 miles long. On each side were steep cliffs rising almost perpendicularly, making it almost impregnable" (Tucker).

Psa 60:10

Quoted in Psa 44:9, a Hezekiah psalm, when there was a comparable crisis of hopelessness. Does this v imply that David's army were initially repulsed in attempting to avenge their earlier losses (vv 1-3) against Edom -- perhaps because David did not first consult the Lord?

Psa 60:12

WITH GOD WE WILL GAIN THE VICTORY: The assurance of God's deliverance, given through Urim and Thummim. (But the "we" recognizes that David and his followers had a job to do also!) There is also a ref to Num 24:18 and its prophecy about Edom. Clearly David did know his Bible!

HE WILL TRAMPLE DOWN OUR ENEMIES: Alluded to in Isa 63:3, another "Edom" prophecy. First fulfilled by David, of course, in 2Sa 8:13,14; secondly in Hezekiah's punitive raid on Edom after the Assyrian debacle; and lastly it will be fulfilled again when Christ comes to save Israel from their vindictive Arab enemies.

SUBSCRIPTION: "FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS": "Neginoth" (Psa 3, 5, 53, 54, 60 -- "Neginah", singular, Psa 66, 75; Hab 3:19; Isa 38:20). "Neginoth" sig "to strike", as upon a musical instrument, or in affliction. Trials of affliction are for the development of godly character; so we should sing in the Philippian jail.

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