George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 60

1. Structure

Shock of sudden God-wrought disaster

Hope of recovery

Detailed promises of success

Faith and a tranquil spirit

Verses 5-12 appear again in Psalm 108:6-13.

2. Titles

Michtam: See on Psalms 56 through 59.
Neginah (the subscription) = smiting, with reference to the overpowering situation which this psalm describes. (The singular of the more common Neginoth — see Psalms 3, 5, 53, 54, 66, and 75.)
Historical title: Of David, to teach; when he strove with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, when Joab returned, and smote of Edom in the valley of salt twelve thousand. See Par. 3.

3. Background history

The title makes it clear that a careful review of 2 Samuel 8 is a necessary preliminary: It is evident that, 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 especially 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.

Verse 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: 1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:3) and “Aram-naharaim” (Syria of the “two rivers” — i.e. Abana and Pharpar, or Euphrates and Tigris) (2 Sam. 8:3-6; Psa. 60, title).

But whilst 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. (Verse 13 should certainly read “the Edomites in the valley of salt” — cp. LXX and RSV — the difference between “Aram” (Syria) and “Edom” in Hebrew 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 (60:6-12), and thus it came to pass (2 Sam. 8:13,14). The figures of 12,000 casualties (psalm title) and 18,000 casualties (2 Sam. 8:13) could probably be reconciled easily enough, if only more detail were known about the three-pronged assault led by David (2 Sam. 8:12,13), Abishai (1 Chron. 18:12), and Joab (1 Kings 11:15,16; Psa. 60 title). The heavy slaughter may possibly reflect especially the brutality of the character of Joab, who “cut off every male in Edom” (1 Kings 11:16)!

4. Historical reference

Scattered = “Broken forth” (s.w. 2 Sam. 5:20).

Thou... thou... In these first five verses the pronouns “thou” and “thy” occur no less than ten times. The disaster and the salvation are alike in God’s hands. David lived always as in the sight of God, in bad times and good. Yet nowhere does he seem particularly to speculate on the “paradoxes” involved. Apparently he was content either way. “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh. An actual earthquake? But at least the political stability of the kingdom had been shaken.
The NIV reads, accurately and graphically, wine that makes us stagger.
Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee. 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 (Exod. 17:11-15).
Thy beloved. The word is plural. David thinks not just about himself but about his people.

Save (give victory: RV) with thy right hand. The ensuing verses suggest that, as in 1 Sam. 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.

Hear me is really “answer me”.
God hath spoken in his holiness. 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 (1 Kings 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 (2 Sam. 7:9)? Whilst these promises will have their complete fulfillment in the work of David’s greater Son at his second advent, the first kingdom of God had [also] to be established securely” (Geoff Tucker). In this connection, see also Psa. 89:35.

In Psa. 60 David — a fine Bible student — seems to be recalling the great “battle song” of Exod. 15:

Psalm 60

Exodus 15
That thy beloved may be delivered; save...
The Lord... is become my salvation.
Thy right hand.
Thy right hand.
God hath spoken in his holiness.
O Lord... glorious in holiness.
Ephraim... the strength of mine head.
The Lord is my strength.
Moab is my washpot.
Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them.
Over Edom will I cast out my shoe.
The dukes of Edom shall be amazed.
Over Philistia will I triumph (RSV).
Sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.
Through God we shall do valiantly he...shall tread down our enemies.
The Lord... hath triumphed greatly.
The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

Hath dashed in pieces the enemy.

I will divide (Shechem) implies its capture, by David from the invaders.

Shechem and Succoth echo 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).
Ephraim... Judah. An allusion to the ancient Messianic rivalry between the two most powerful tribes (see Whittaker, Bible Studies, pp. 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: 2 Chron. 25:6,7.)

Ephraim also is the strength of mine head 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). Alternatively, NIV and RSV have: “Ephraim is my helmet.”

Judah is my lawgiver. Literally, “my scepter” (RSV) or even “king” (LXX). Compare Gen. 49:10.
Moab is my washpot. A designed contrast 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. 2 Kings 3:11). Moab — always remarkable for its arrogance (Isa. 16:6) — is to become the most menial of Israel’s slaves!

Over Edom will I cast out my shoe. A play on words: in Hebrew hadom means footstool. Possibly the practice implies taking possession of a piece of land (cp. Ruth 4:7,8; Deut. 25:6-10), or even “treading down” (as Psa. 60:12). In any case, this means slavery for both Moab and Edom (2 Sam. 8:2,14; contrast Obad. 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” (Bowen, Strange Scriptures, pp. 67,68). This will explain Exod. 3:5; Josh. 5:15; and Amos 2:6; 8:6.

Philistia, triumph thou because of me. 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.
Who will bring me into the strong 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).
Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies? This is quoted in Psa. 44:9, a Hezekiah psalm, when there was a comparable crisis of hopelessness. Does this verse 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?
Through God we shall do valiantly. An allusion to 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 reference to Num. 24:18 and its prophecy about Edom:

“And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.”

Clearly David did know his Bible!

We shall tread down our enemies. This is alluded to in Isa. 63:3, another “Edom” prophecy:

“I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.”

This was first fulfilled by David, of course, in 2 Sam. 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.

5. Messianic fulfillment

The Second Coming is to take place at a time of Israel’s extremity, as they suffer invasion by vengeful Arabs from all directions. Consult Psalm 83; Obadiah; Ezekiel 35 and 36; and Isaiah 34.

A banner. 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 Exod. 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 Psalm 60 portrays the complete victory of Jesus Christ over all the forces of evil in the world, social and religious and political — a victory made possible by the sacrifice of the One Perfect Man, who was “lifted up” (as an ensign or standard!) on a cross (Num. 21:8,9; John 3:13; 12:32). (Compare Psa. 20:5 and notes, where the ideas are similar but a different Hebrew word for “banner” — dahgal — is used.)

That it may be displayed because of the truth. That is, because of God’s Messianic promise to David, in 2 Sam. 7. This is the frequent meaning. (But see v. 4 in the following paragraph, for an alternative rendering.)
That thy beloved (ones) may be delivered. They belong to “David (i.e. Beloved) my servant”, “David... their prince” (Ezek. 37:25,26)!

Thy right hand links with Psa. 80:15,17: “The man of thy right hand ... the son of man whom thou [the Lord] madest strong for thyself.”
Shechem... Succoth... Gilead... Manasseh... Ephraim... Judah. The Land cleared of its invaders. The twelve tribes are restored to their ancient inheritance.
Judah is my lawgiver. As noted above, this recalls the promise of Gen. 49:10, to be fulfilled by “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5).
Moab and Edom and Philistia will be tolerated only as peoples now glad to serve the Lord. See, in general, Psa. 72:8-10 and Isa. 60:11.
A sharp contrast between divinely-inflicted tribulation (v. 10) and hopelessness of help from any man or nation (v. 11), on the one hand, and a startling God-given salvation (v. 12) on the other!

6. Other details

Truth. The Hebrew qoshet is an unusual one; in fact, it is unique to this passage. A similar word (qosht) is translated “certainty” in Prov. 22:20,21, and another related word (qeshot) as “truth” in Dan. 2:47; 4:37. Some texts, however, read qesheth here, a Hebrew word which is translated “bow” in many other passages (thus RV mg., RSV, and LXX; Moffatt has “archers”).

Selah signifies “Rock” (Introduction, Chapter 7), and is another name (2 Kings 14:7) for Petra (Greek “Rock”), which is probably referred to as “the strong city” in Psa. 60:9.
Thy right hand. The right 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; Exod. 15:6.

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