Psalm 60

The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.

Uncertainty also exists about the significance of the instructions following natsách. Translators have either chosen transliterations or rendered the words to incorporate the meaning of the first noun (“lily”)—“on shushan eduth” (Tanakh), “according to the Lily of the Covenant” (NRSV), “according to ‘The Lily of...’” (NAB), “to the tune of ‘The Lily of the Covenant’” (NIV), and “to the tune ‘Lily of the Promise’” (CEV). The Septuagint reading tois alloiothesoménois éti denotes “to those who will be changed still” or “to those who will be made different still.”

The Hebrew term commonly transliterated Miktam is rendered stelographía (inscription) in the Septuagint. This meaning of the Greek, however, is not necessarily the significance of the Hebrew word.

Psalm 60 is attributed to David, and its purpose is “for teaching.” The composition relates to the time his forces battled with Aram-Naharaim and Aram-Zobah and seemingly before Joab had returned from slaying 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. In 1 Chronicles 18:12, the number killed is reported as being 18,000 and the triumph is attributed to Abishai, the divisional captain serving under Joab. The number in 2 Samuel 8:13 also is 18,000, and the victory is attributed to David, possibly because his commanders and the forces serving under them had obtained the triumph for him. The reason for the number 12,000 in the superscription of Psalm 60 cannot be satisfactorily explained. Perhaps the military campaign against the Edomites is being presented from a different aspect.

Aram-Nahaharaim was situated between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. The Septuagint refers to it as “Mesopotamia of Syria.” Aram-Zobah was an Aramaean or Syrian kingdom located north of Damascus. Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus refer to it as “Syria Sobal.” The context of Psalm 60 seems to suggest that the Edomites attacked from the south while Israelite forces were battling in the north against Aram-Naharaim and Aram-Zobah. The Edomites appear to have been successful in their attack but later faced punitive action. It was then that the Israelite army slew thousands of them in the Valley of Salt. The initial success of the Edomites, however, made it appear that YHWH had abandoned his people.

To the psalmist, it appeared that God had withheld his protection. “O God, you have rejected us; you have broken through us. You have been angry. Restore us.” Instead of “restore us,” the Septuagint may be rendered to mean, “yet you have had compassion on us.” The “rejection” may be understood as denoting that the Almighty did not come to the aid of the Israelites. It was as if he had “broken through” or made a breach in the ranks of the army, exposing the warriors to the enemy. This is the reason for the appeal that God might restore them, granting his favorable attention and assisting them in the conflict.

It seems that the destruction the Edomites effected was comparable to a devastating earthquake, with the land shaking and being split open. Because this occurred by divine permission, the shaking and splitting open of the land is attributed to God. This occasioned the plea for him to “heal” or repair the breaches, as the land was “tottering” or “shaking” (LXX). The devastation the Edomite campaign had caused needed to be reversed for the land to be restored to its former stable and flourishing state.

At the hands of the enemies, the Israelites had been made to see or experience great hardships. Their bitter experience was as if they had been forced to drink wine to the point of drunkenness and reeled from its effects, staggering like an inebriate. Again, this is attributed to God, for he had permitted it to happen.

Still, at this time of peril, the Most High had provided a banner for those fearing him to assemble under from the bow (literally, ”face of the bow” [LXX] but ”face of the truth” [Masoretic Text]) or to escape from the arrows directed against them. The Septuagint reads, “You have given those fearing you a sign for flight from the face of the bow.” A number of translations render the Hebrew as an appeal and preserve the meaning “truth.” “Give those who fear You because of Your truth a banner for rallying.” (Tanakh; see the Notes section on verse 4[6] regarding the rendering “truth.”) Others, although rendering the Hebrew as an appeal, depart from the literal reading of the Masoretic Text. “Raise up a flag for those who revere you, a refuge for them out of bowshot.” (NAB)

God’s “beloved” would be his people Israel. The psalmist prayed that God would deliver them with his right hand or best hand, representative of his power, so that they might be rescued from their plight. He added, “and answer us,” or respond to our appeal for help.

“God has spoken in his holiness.” He is holy, clean, or pure in the absolute sense. Therefore, his words are pure and deserving of the utmost confidence. For him to speak in his holiness would denote his providing a dependable promise.

Possibly the city of Shechem is representative of Israelite territory west of the Jordan, whereas the Valley of Succoth would be representative of the Israelite territory east of the Jordan. As the owner of the land, God would exultingly divide Shechem and portion out the Valley of Succoth. The implication seemingly is that his people are the recipients of the portions.

God is portrayed as saying, “Gilead is mine and Manasseh is mine, and Ephraim is the protection of my head [the strength of my head, LXX]; Judah is my scepter [my king, LXX].” Gilead, the territory east of the Jordan, came to be the possession of the half tribe of Manasseh. In the ultimate sense, however, the region and the people belonged to God and were under his protection. As the most powerful and influential tribes, Ephraim (possibly because of being in a position to provide many warriors) was like a protection for the head or like a helmet and Judah wielded royal authority. Translators vary in their renderings respecting Ephraim, with some not choosing to take the Hebrew to mean a helmet for the head. The Tanakh, for example, reads, “Ephraim my chief stronghold.”

For Moab to be God’s washbasin suggests that the Moabites would cease to have an exalted standing and be reduced to a state comparable to one suited only for menial service. The Septuagint refers to Moab as the “cauldron of my hope,” suggesting a more positive prospect for the Moabites. Apparently Edom would lose its position as an independent state. The act of throwing the sandal on a piece of land could either express contempt or signify taking possession of the land. Shouting over Philistia apparently refers to attaining a victory and then shouting in triumph. The Septuagint reads, “Those of another tribe [the Philistines] have been subjected to me.”

At this point, the subject of the psalm changes, and two questions are raised. “Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will conduct me into Edom?” Possibly the prominent Edomite city of Bozrah is the fortified city. (Isaiah 34:6; 63:1; Jeremiah 49:13, 22; Amos 1:12) The questions imply that, to be victorious, the Israelites needed the Most High God to lead them to the fortified city and into Edom.

To the psalmist it appeared that God was not allowing them to gain the victory. He felt that the Most High had rejected his people and did not accompany their armies.

The psalm concludes with the appeal for God to help his people against the enemy, for deliverance by any human source, by a mere earthling, would fail. It was vain or useless. Only with God on their side would they have the strength to be triumphant. He would trample their foes. The Septuagint says, “He will set at naught those who afflict us.”


Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

In verse 4(6), the Masoretic Text has the word qóshet, meaning “truth.” This is the sole occurrence of the term. The final consonant of qóshet is teth (T), whereas the Hebrew term for “bow” (qésheth) ends in taw (T, th) but otherwise has the identical consonants. A number of translations read “truth,” but many others have chosen to depart from the Masoretic Text and to use “bow” or “bowshot.” The rendering “bow” has the support of the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac.

Verse 4(6) concludes with the “selah,” a term of uncertain significance. In the Septuagint, “selah” is rendered diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”