Psalm 68

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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.

Psalm 68 is attributed to David and is specifically called a “song.” At the time David became king of Israel numerous enemies remained to be subdued, and he looked to his God to assist him.

The opening words of this psalm (verse 1[2]) parallel Numbers 10:35, which words were spoken when the ark of the covenant began to be moved out of the camp of Israel. (See the Notes section.)

For God to arise (as from a seated position) would signify his taking action. This would denote defeat for the enemies or haters of God, forcing them to scatter as they resorted to fleeing in panic.

The psalmist looked to God to drive the enemies away just as easily as smoke is blown away and dissipates. The heat from a fire melts wax, depriving it of firmness and stability. Like such melting wax, the “wicked” (“sinners,” LXX) or those arrayed against God were to lose their strength and perish before him.

Apparently with reference to the deliverance effected for them, the upright would have reason to be joyful, exulting before God. Through repetition of various terms denoting joy, the psalmist expressed how unsurpassingly great it would be.

The imperatives “sing to God” and “sing praises to his name” are parallel expressions, as the name stands for the person who bears the name. No object appears in the Hebrew text for the imperative meaning “cast up” or “lift up.” Numerous translators have chosen to render the verb as “exalt” or “extol” (NAB, NIV, Margolis, Tanakh), representing the imperative as meaning to extol God, the one riding. Others have added “way” (“prepare a way,” GNT, Second Edition) or “song” (“lift up a song” [based on the previous mention of singing], ESV, NASB, NRSV). In the Septuagint, the Hebrew term is rendered by a form of the verb hodopoiéo, meaning “prepare a way.” The one who rides through the deserts is identified as bearing the name Yah, the abbreviated form of YHWH. Probably the reference to the deserts refers to the fine sand characteristic of dry deserts. In Nahum 1:3, the clouds are poetically described as the dust of YHWH’s feet. In this psalm, his riding through the “deserts” may likewise denote riding over the clouds, and “clouds” is the rendering in a number of translations. (NAB, NIV, Tanakh) Verse 4(5) concludes with the imperative, “Exult before his face,” or rejoice before him.

There is a possibility that the psalmist is portraying a past event, namely, God’s leading the Israelites through the deserts by a column of cloud by day and a column of fiery cloud by night. Because of what YHWH had done for them in liberating them from Egyptian enslavement and thereafter leading them through the deserts, the Israelites had good reason to sing praises to him and to exult before him.

YHWH is the “father of orphans,” assuring the fatherless of his fatherly care. As the judge of widows, he is the defender of their rights. Perhaps the psalmist’s expressions are an allusion to the circumstances of the Israelites while in Egypt. In the state of enslavement, they were like an orphan without the protective care of a father. But YHWH proved to be a father to them, liberating them from slavery as his “firstborn.” (Exodus 4:22) In Egypt, the Israelites had been like a helpless widow, with no one to plead for them. Then YHWH intervened and effected their liberation. His holy dwelling place likely means his heavenly habitation.

To those in a solitary state, forsaken, or friendless, God gives a home, and he leads those unjustly imprisoned to prosperity. According to the Septuagint, God leads the prisoners out in a manly or mighty manner. While enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites appeared to be forsaken as if living alone in an unfriendly, inhospitable desert. They had no home of their own but were hated resident aliens. The Most High delivered them, providing a home for them in the Promised Land. As slaves, they had been prisoners in Egypt, but YHWH freed them and made it possible for them to prosper. On the other hand, rebellious ones or those who stubbornly resist God end up living in a parched land. The judgment that befell the defiant Egyptians was comparable to their having to live in a land scorched by the sun without the refreshing blessings of divine favor.

Regarding the wandering of the Israelites through the desert after their departure from Egypt, the psalmist referred to God going forth before his people and marching through the wilderness. When God, “the God of Israel,” revealed himself at Mount Sinai, the land quaked, and rain poured down from the sky above.

The “inheritance” mentioned in verse 9(10) could be the land inheritance of the Israelites. Abundant rains would refresh the parched land. A number of translations represent the “inheritance” as being the land. “When your land was thirsty, you sent showers to refresh it.” (CEV) “You claimed a land as your own, O God.” (NAB) “You released a bountiful rain, O God; when Your own land languished, You sustained it.” (Tanakh) “You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary Promised Land.” (NLT)

In the land, God’s flock (“living creatures,” LXX), probably meaning the Israelites, found a place to dwell. The Almighty, in his goodness, provided for the needy.


God is the source of the “saying” or “command,” for he gives it. This “saying” could relate to his command for the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan, or it could refer to his providing the occasion for the news of victory a great host of women would declare. When the victorious men would return from battle, the women would greet them with song and dance. The tidings the joyful crowd of women would convey appear to embrace part of the words that follow. (See the Notes section on verse 11[12].)

Faced with defeat, kings leading their hosts in battle “flee, they flee.” The women who stayed at home divided the spoil the victorious men brought back from the field of battle.

There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew term shephattáyim (verse 13[14]), which has been variously understood to mean “ash heaps,” “campfires,” and “sheepfolds.” Those dwelling or lying among the “ash heaps” or “campfires” would be the encamped Israelite forces. On the other hand, those among the “sheepfolds” would be taking care of the flocks. (Compare 1 Samuel 17:14, 15, 17-22, 28.) Possibly the “dove” (perhaps a collective singular) having wings covered with silver and pinions covered with “green gold” would be part of the booty. The renderings of translations vary considerably, depending on which meaning of shephattáyim has been adopted. “And for those who stayed back to guard the sheep, there are metal doves with silver-coated wings and shiny gold feathers.” (CEV) “Even for those of you who lie among the sheepfolds there are wings of a dove sheathed in silver, its pinions in fine gold.” (Tanakh) “The women at home divided what was captured: figures of doves covered with silver, whose wings glittered with fine gold. (Why did some of you stay among the sheep pens on the day of battle?)” (GNT, Second Edition)

A number of translations represent the Israelites as God’s precious dove or as resembling aspects of a dove. “Even while you sleep among the campfires, the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver, its feathers with shining gold.” (NIV) “Though they lived among the sheepfolds, now they are covered with silver and gold, as a dove is covered by its wings.” (NLT) “When you lie down among the sheep, you are like the wings of a dove covered with silver, and the end of its wings with shining gold.” (NLB)

Another possible meaning is that the Israelite force, after the campaign, is here being likened to a dove. Although the warriors may have had to lie between the ash heaps or campfires during the campaign, they would come out of it like a dove, strong of wing and impressive in appearance as if covered with silver and gold.

It “snowed on Zalmon” at the time the Almighty scattered the defeated kings. This may mean that the abundant spoils the fleeing enemies left behind or the great number of their slain warriors littered the battlefield like snow on Zalmon. It appears less likely for the reference to be to divine intervention by means of an unseasonable snowstorm.

The psalmist referred to the “mountain” or mountainous region of Bashan as a “mountain of God” and a “many-peaked mountain.” The designation “mountain of God” could mean a high or majestic mountain or the expression may indicate that, by reason of his creatorship, God is the possessor of the mountain. The mountainous region of Bashan may have included lofty Mount Hermon, with an elevation exceeding Mount Zion by more than 6,500 feet. As his representative place of dwelling, YHWH did not choose any of the high peaks of mountainous region of Bashan but selected the much lower height of Mount Zion. This is the basis for the psalmist’s question about the many-peaked mountain looking with envy at the mountain YHWH desired as his abode and where he would reside for time to come.

From Sinai, where he had revealed himself to the nation of Israel, God is seemingly portrayed as coming to the “holy place” (Zion), with thousands upon thousands of chariots. The reference to the many chariots may allude to the fact that Zion was initially captured from the Jebusites, and the psalmist recognized that this was accomplished with God’s aid.

When the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, was transferred to Zion, it was as if God himself had ascended to his representative dwelling place. Also at other times, when the Israelite forces battled, they perceived that YHWH was with them. After the victory, they would have regarded him as ascending to his representative place of dwelling with the captives he had empowered them to take. If the meaning of the Hebrew is “gifts from men,” the “gifts” would be tribute. “You went up to the heights, having taken captives, having received tribute of men, even of those who rebel against the LORD God’s abiding there.” (Tanakh) In case the Hebrew denotes “gifts among men,” the captives who had formerly been rebellious or stubbornly defiant would be assigned to menial tasks at the temple and could be spoken of as residing there. According to Ezra 8:20, David and the princes assigned Nethinim (seemingly captives) to assist the Levites. Er fährt zur Höhe hinauf und führt Gefangene mit. Menschen huldigen ihm mit Gaben, sogar die Rebellen unterwerfen sich und dürfen wohnen bei dem Herrn, unserem Gott. (He rides up to the height and leads captives along. Peoples adore him with gifts, even the rebellious ones subject themselves and are allowed to reside with the Lord our God. [Gute Nachricht Bibel]) (For additional comments on verse 18[19], see the Notes section.)


God is to be blessed or praised daily for the way he carried (“prospered,” LXX), sustained or supported his people and had proved himself to be the source of deliverance. As the “God of salvation,” YHWH saved them from death.

God would shatter the head of his enemies, completely crushing them. The one “walking” or conducting himself in his “guilty ways” would be one who opposed YHWH and his people. Possibly the “hairy crown” alludes to the long hair of a warrior, which made him look more fierce. That “hairy crown” would be smashed.

God’s declaration may be understood to mean that he would bring back the foes who sought refuge in the mountains region of Bashan or in a place of concealment comparable to the “depths of the sea.” This suggests that they would not escape.

The blood from the enemies slain in battle would be abundant. This is indicated by the reference to the “foot” stomping in blood. (See the Notes section on verse 23[24].) Scavenger dogs would have their portion, devouring the carcasses of the slain enemy. The designation “your dogs” is probably to be understood in the sense that they would be sharers in the results of the victory that had been granted to the Israelites.

After the victory, the Israelites would see, on the way to the sanctuary, the processions that credited God with the triumph. The psalmist acknowledged these processions as being those of his God and his King.

In the procession, the singers would be first, and instrumentalists would follow them. Among them would be maidens playing timbrels. The Septuagint does not include a reference to singers but places rulers or princes in the leading position. This suggests that the translator read the Hebrew as being sarím (princes) and not sharím (singers).

At the sanctuary, the assembled Israelites would bless or praise YHWH. The expression “fountain of Israel” may signify that Israel owed its existence to God or that they were the people who descended from Jacob or Israel. The New Jerusalem Bible represents the Israelites as blessing God since their foundation or beginning as a people. “In choirs they bless God, Yahweh, since the foundation of Israel.” A number of other translations add words to link the expression “fountain of Israel” specifically to the people. “In assemblies bless God, the LORD, O you who are from the fountain of Israel.” (Tanakh) “Bless God in the great congregation, the LORD, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!” (NRSV; ESV)

Four tribes are specifically mentioned as having shared in the victory. Benjamin is identified as little, young, or insignificant. Benjamin was Jacob’s youngest son, and the Septuagint rendering neóteros ([the] younger) appears to focus on this aspect. During the period of the judges, punitive action against the tribe of Benjamin nearly brought about its annihilation. Accordingly, Benjamin came to be “little” in number. In the Septuagint, Benjamin is spoken of as being in “ecstacy.” The Hebrew text, however, may be understood as placing Benjamin in a ruling or leading position. This would agree with the tribe’s having provided Israel’s first king, Saul. Possibly the link of the “princes of Judah” to “their throng” may serve to stress that Judah, the most prominent tribe, was also very populous. The Septuagint reads, “princes of Judah, their rulers.” Probably the “princes of Zebulun” and the “princes of Naphtali” are representative of the northern tribes of Israel. In the time of Barak and Deborah, the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali played a significant role in the campaign against Sisera, and this may be the reason for their specific mention in a representative sense. (Judges 4:6-10; 5:18)

A literal reading of verse 28(29) would be, “Commanded has your God your strength. Show your strength, O God, as you [previously] have done for us.” The Hebrew could be understood to mean that God infused his people with strength. In the Septuagint, the first reference to God is (as in the second reference) in the vocative case. “Command, O God, your strength.” For God to “command” his strength would signify using his might to aid his people, just as he had revealed his strength in the past.

The kings who would bring gifts or tribute would be kings who had been subjugated. If the opening words “because of your temple at Jerusalem” are to be understood as explaining why the kings were bringing gifts, this could suggest that they had come to recognize the greatness of YHWH. Another possibility is that the words about the temple are linked to the previous verse. “Your God has ordained strength for you, the strength, O God, which You displayed for us from Your temple above Jerusalem. The kings bring You tribute.” (Tanakh) “Summon again, O God, your power, the divine power you once showed for us. Show it from your temple on behalf of Jerusalem, that kings may bring you tribute.” (NAB) “Show your power, O God, the power you have used on our behalf from your Temple in Jerusalem, where kings bring gifts to you.” (GNT, Second Edition)

Possibly the “beast of the reeds” designates the hippopatamus or the crocodile. A number of translations interpretively identify this “beast” as Egypt. “Rebuke Egypt, that wild animal in the reeds.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Punish Egypt, the beast in the tall grass along the river.” (NCV) Based on the context, the “beast of the reeds” and the “herd of bulls among [the] calves, the peoples” are representative of the enemies of the Israelites. The psalmist petitioned that God rebuke these enemies, bringing about their defeat. These foes found delight or pleasure in warfare.

In verse 30(31), there is uncertainty about the words involving “pieces of silver.” This has given rise to a variety of interpretive renderings. “Blast the beast of the marsh, the herd of bulls among the peoples, the calves, till they come cringing with pieces of silver. Scatter the peoples who delight in wars!” (Tanakh) “Rebuke the beast among the reeds, the herd of bulls among the calves of the nations. Humbled, may it bring bars of silver. Scatter the nations who delight in war.” (NIV) “Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples. Trample under foot those who lust afer tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war.” (NRSV) (See the Notes section on verse 30[31] for additional comments.)

It appears that the psalmist next portrayed Egypt and Ethiopia (Cush) as bringing tribute. (See the Notes section for additional comments on verse 31[32].)

The “kingdoms of the earth” are called upon to sing praises to God. He is depicted as “riding” in the heavens, “the ancient heavens,” and sending forth his mighty voice. This “voice” would be the sound of thunder.

The Septuagint begins verse 34(35) with the imperative, “Give glory to God.” In the Masoretic Text, however, the people are invited to “give” or ascribe “strength to God,” acknowledging him as the source of matchless power. “His majesty [is] over Israel, and his might [is] in the clouds.” As the protector of his people Israel, the Most High revealed his majesty as their Sovereign. From on high, he came to their aid, and so his strength could be referred to as being in the clouds or in the skies.

From his “sanctuary,” God revealed himself to be fear-inspiring when acting for the defense of Israel. He granted them might and strength and, therefore, deserved to be blessed or praised. (Also see the Notes section.)


In this psalm, the designation “God” appears far more frequently than does the divine name (YHWH), and a number of times “Lord” is the reading in the Masoretic Text.

In Numbers 10:35, the divine name (YHWH) appears, but verse 1(2) of Psalm 68 reads “God.” For comparison purposes, a literal translation of both passages follows. “Arise, O YHWH, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those hating you flee before your face.” “Let God arise. Let his enemies be scattered, and let those hating him flee before his face.”

In verse 4(5), the Septuagint rendering for “deserts” is dysmaí, meaning “west” or “sunset.” The apparent reason for this is that the translator understood the Hebrew word to be ‘érev (“evening” or “sunset”) and not ‘araváh (“desert”). In the Septuagint, this verse concludes with words not found in the Masoretic Text, “They will be troubled before his face,” which appears to refer to the distress the foes of God’s people would experience before him.

The Septuagint reading of the concluding part of verse 6(7) is obscure (“likewise those embittering those dwelling in tombs”). Perhaps this could mean persons who embittered those whose pathetic lot was comparable to having to live in tombs.

Verses 7(8), 19(20), and 32(33) conclude with “selah,” a term of uncertain significance.The Septuagint rendering is diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.” Although “selah” does not appear at the end of verse 13(14) in the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint does conclude with the expression diápsalma.

In verse 11(12), the participle for “bearing tidings” is in the feminine gender and preceded by the definite article. Therefore, it can denote women messengers or women who make known the news. While a number of translations make this aspect explicit, others do not preserve the feminine gender. “The LORD gives a command; the women who bring the news are a great host.” (Tanakh) “You gave the command, and a chorus of women told what had happened.” (CEV) “The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those [footnote, company of the women] who bore the tidings.” (NRSV) “The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it.” (NIV) In the Septuagint, the participle for “declare the glad tidings” is not in the feminine gender.

In verse 12(13), the extant text of the Septuagint is obscure. It reads, “The king of the forces of the beloved, of the beloved, and [for the] beauty of the house to divide spoils.” (The repetition of “the beloved” is based on fourth-century Codex Vaticanus.)

Translations vary considerably in the placement of quotation marks to indicate how much of this psalm forms part of the tidings. Some include only the first half of verse 12(13), others represent verses 12(13) and 13(14) as being the message, and still others do not conclude the quotation until the end of verse 23(24). As in the previous verse, not all translations preserve the feminine gender in verse 12(13). “Kings and armies flee in haste; in the camps men divine the plunder.” (NIV) “Kings and their armies retreated and ran, and everything they left is now being divided.” (CEV) “Every household will share the booty.” (NAB)

The Hebrew of verse 18(19) is obscure. This has given rise to a number of interpretive renderings, with words being added that are not in the Hebrew text. “You went up to its lofty height; you took captives, received slaves as tribute. No rebels can live in the presence of God.” (NAB) Du bist aufgefahren zur Höhe und führtest Gefangene gefangen; du hast Gaben empfangen unter den Menschen; auch die Abtrünnigen müssen sich, Gott, vor dir bücken. (You have ascended to the height and led captives captive; you have received gifts among the peoples; also the rebellious ones, God, must bow before you.) (Luther, 1984 revised edition) “When you climbed the high mountain, you took prisoners with you and were given gifts. Your enemies didn’t want you to live there, but they gave you gifts.” (CEV) “He goes up to the heights, taking many captives with him; he receives gifts from rebellious people. The LORD God will live there.” (GNT, Second Edition) “When you ascended to the heights, you led a crowd of captives. You received gifts from the people, even from those who rebelled against you. Now the LORD God will live among us here.” (NLT) Note that, according to a number of renderings, God would reside in the location to which he had ascended.

In the letter to the Ephesians (4:8-10), the words of Psalm 68:18(19) are adapted to show that Christ ascended to heaven after he had descended to the earth. The gifts he gave to men to benefit the community of believers were apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The quotation in the book of Ephesians preserves the basic meaning but is not the same as the extant Septuagint text. Ephesians 4:8 reads, Anabás eis hypsos echmalóteusen aichmalosían kaí [numerous manuscripts omit kaí (and)] édoken dómata tois anthrópois. (Having ascended to [the] height, he led a captivity captive and gave gifts to men.) The Septuagint rendering is, Anébes eis hypsos echmalóteusas aichmalosían, élabes dómata en anthrópo. (You ascended to [the] height; you led a captivity captive. You received gifts in [or, among] man.) Whereas “man” is singular in the Septuagint (as it is in the Masoretic Text), the term may be regarded as a collective singular denoting “men” or “people.”

In verse 23(24), the Hebrew verb associated with the foot is macháts, which literally means “shatter,” “wound,” or “smash.” It may be expressive of the force exerted by the foot as it passed through the blood of the slain. Translators have variously rendered the verse—“that your feet may wade through blood” (Tanakh), “that you may plunge your feet in blood” (NIV), and “that you may bathe your feet in blood” (NRSV). The Septuagint reads, “that your foot may be dipped in blood.”

In verse 30(31), the obscure reading of the Septuagint possibly may be understood to mean that the rebuke of the “beasts” would prevent those who had been tested by silver from being “shut out” or experiencing calamity.

In verse 31(32), the items to be brought from Egypt could be bronzeware or red cloths. There is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew term chashmán. The Septuagint reads, “Ambassadors [elders] will arrive from Egypt.” The action of Ethiopia with its “hands to God” could either be to present tribute or to make supplication in humble submission.

In the concluding verse, the term for “sanctuary” is plural and is probably to be understood as a plural of excellence, for it designated YHWH’s unique sanctuary.