Monday, January 25, 2016

Tom Lowe





Title: A Psalm in Defeat

Michtam 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; to the chief Musician, sung to the tune of Shushan-eduth (“the lily of testimony [covenants]”)

See the chart at the end of this lesson for more details on this superscription.


Theme: God’s people surrounded by enemies




Psalm 60 (KJV)


1 O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again.

2 Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh.

3 Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.

4 Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.

5 That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.

6 God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.

7 Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim also is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver;

8 Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.

9 Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?

10 Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?

11 Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.

12 Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.






Psalm 60 is a lament, apparently prompted by a defeat of Israel’s army in battle; but it is also unique, for it is the only one specifically designated for teaching.  The circumstances are recorded in 2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10:14; 1 Chronicles 18:1-13; and 1 Kings 11, passages that describe David’s various victories. It is a national Psalm which was to be taught to the people. [“Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them” (Deuteronomy 31:19)]The Levites must teach it to the people, and with it teach them both to trust in God and to triumph in Him; we must, teach it to ourselves and to one another. 


This psalm expresses confusion in the wake of confidence.  Israel had experienced a defeat in battle, usually a sign of God’s disfavor.  In this case, however, no explanation is given, and the people appear unaware of any reason God would have for allowing them to fall to their enemies.


David complains of hard things (v. 3) which they had seen (that is, which they had suffered), while the Philistines and other hostile neighbors took advantage of them; at every opportunity and for any reason.  He admits that God was displeased with them, for he believed that the Lord’s displeasure was the cause of all the hardships they had undergoneas well as the great defeat they had suffered— “thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased (v. 1).”


The psalm has a footnote which reads: “To the chief Musician upon Neginah.” “Neginah,” meaning “smitings,” is particularly appropriate in this psalm which deals with the way David was smiting his foes and the way his foes were striking at him.  Since life is full of smitings, this psalm has something to say to all those living in a time of strife.  When we feel the enemy about to overwhelm us in the struggle, let us come back and sing this psalm with the psalmist. 






(60:1-5): Something had gone wrong.  David was engaged in a fierce fight with his foes and was confident that he was fighting the wars of the Lord.  David’s battles were actually a resumption of those Joshua fought.  David swept aside all the dreadful years of failure and defeat, apostasy and backsliding, misery and grief under the judges and under Saul.  He picked up where Joshua left off to carry out the divine commission to clear the promised land of its foes.  For too long they had been entrenched in that which belonged to Israel.  David picked up Joshua’s fallen sword to finish the job.  But something had gone wrong.



1 O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again.


Israel had clamored for a king because her citizens were uneasy about the political stability of the nation.  Saul was made that king, but the great disaster at Gilboa ended the reign of Saul.  David inherited insurmountable problems; and now, while fighting the Syrians to the north, his kingdom had been invaded by the Edomites to the south.  It is in this context that he cries, “O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased.” David felt that Israel had been cast aside by God and shunned with contempt.  No greater calamity can occur in the life of God’s people than to be a cast away from Him; this idea had even invaded the mind of the Apostle Paul, for he said: “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul was simply afraid that he might be denied, rejected, cast off; that it would appear, after all, that he lacked, faith, and was not true to his religion, and would then be cast away as unfit to enter into heaven.


It becomes immediately apparent that the psalmist is aware of God’s anger, for he wrote “thou hast been displeased.” “Thou hast . . . thou hast . . . thou hast.” Eight times in four verses.  David recognized (1) that the defeat his army had just suffered was due to God withdrawing His help, but no reason is given for His withdrawal.  There is no confession of sin, or indication as to why God may have been displeased; or, (2) that any defeat suffered in fighting the battles of the Lord must be attributed to a basic spiritual cause.  In some way he had displeased God.  But for the moment he had completely lost his sense of the Lord’s presence and the Lord’s power.  He had been riding the crest of victory but then disaster had struck.


The title reveals that David was fighting in the far north.  He was battling two foes called here, Aram-naharaim and Aram-zobah.  The name “Aram” stands for Syria—Syria as it reached toward the east, toward Mesopotamia, where Aramaic and its dialects were spoken. Aram-naharaim literally means “Syria of the two Rivers” (the Tigris and Euphrates—the two great Rivers of the east which embraced the cradle of civilization).  The two great world empires of Assyria and Babylon, still in the future in David’s day, grew to strength between these Rivers. Aram-zobah is thought to have been eastward of Hamath and an important Assyrian city-state.  It was located in upper Syria in the valley of the Orontos River at the foot of Lebanon.


Remember, God had promised all this territory to Abraham—as far as the Euphrates River.  Joshua had subdued only a small part of Israel’s true inheritance and Joshua’s successors had given back to the enemy ground that Joshua had won.  David wanted everything that God had promised to His people.  He was winning victory after victory in territory never before subdued by Israel, but part of the promised land.  Perhaps he became overconfident.  Perhaps things were going so well that he leaned on the arm of flesh.  Undoubtedly he was so occupied with these new victories and the new frontiers of faith that he was neglecting other areas of his kingdom.  So God allowed him to suffer defeats where he thought himself to be safe and secure. His defeat was both very embarrassing and heart-breaking, therefore, he prayed, “O turn thyself to us again,” that is to say— “restore us.” The plural pronouns indicate that David was speaking to the Lord for the Israelites who felt themselves abandoned by God.


There is a spiritual lesson in all this.  We might be in the will of God seeking to take on new ventures in the work of the Lord, but we must not permit ourselves to become so gratified by victory that we become careless with the spiritual principles upon which those ventures rest.  God will never bless the flesh.  Moreover, we must not become so thrilled with new areas we are appropriating for God that we neglect other areas of our lives, long under control, long occupied and enjoyed.


David stopped suddenly.  He was aware that a catastrophic defeat had overtaken him where he least expected it.  He attributed it to God.  God was dealing with him and the issue was spiritual.


But it was not only a spiritual disaster.



2 Thou hast made the earth (land) to tremble (quake); thou hast broken it: heal the breaches (fractures) thereof; for it shaketh.


In the far south, Israel had a lingering enemy in the Edomites, a nation descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother.  While David’s army was fully occupied in the north and making its arms felt as far as Mesopotamia, the Edomites launch an invasion of Southern Judah.  It seemed to them an opportune time to drive a wedge into Israel and split open the whole nation.  On top of that, the government and military were in upheaval; nothing was stable.  The priests had been murdered by Saul, and the military power of Israel had been broken by the Philistines.  It was as if an earthquake had shaken the land.  David had learned that the wine of the vineyard of sin is squeezed from the grapes of God’s wrath.


David, his hands already engaged in the battle against his northern neighbors when the news came, saw the disaster as a direct blow from God Himself.  “Thou hast made ‘the earth’ (the land) to tremble”{2];thou hast broken it”—he feels as if God has physically shaken the land to the point of fracture; that Israel’s security has been shaken.  The ruin and devastation which have come in the wake of the battle is compared to the effects of an earthquake that leaves the land ripped apart with breaches (ruptures) and cracks.  David did not spend any time trying to figure out why this happened.  He simply laid before the Lord the devastating thing which had happened—this sudden, unprovoked, violent, and critical upheaval in an area of his kingdom that had been enjoying peace and security.


David’s request, “Heal the breaches thereof” shows his desire to reconcile all those differences which their civil wars have made among the tribes of Israel.



3 Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.


The expression “Thou hast shewed thy people,” is “made them to see,” in Hebrew—that is, to experience or feel, as seeing is often used.


“The wine of astonishment” is a figure of speech, meaning “wine that makes us stumble.” The people staggered like a man drunk with wine. David’s senses reeled and his whole kingdom was put at risk.  What use was it to win victories in the north if the foundations of the nation were being attacked in the south?  This new crisis left him stunned.  So there was dismay and alarm brought about by national defeat.  It was at this juncture that David seemed to have written this psalm.  We can see how relevant it was.  He was engaged in the Lord’s work, he was taking new territory for God, he was taking God’s promises literally, he was living in victory.  Then he discovered that Satan had attacked with frightening success in an area he thought was safe.


The last statement, in verse three, seems to hold the key that we need.  Firstly, all these horrors had been God’s doing, not man’s, we are told.  Secondly, “wine that makes us reel” is a phrase used where we have a vivid picture that shows how God allows sinners to bring about their own punishment. So, while the description above could of course be that of an actual enemy invasion, the enemy could also be a person’s own “staggering,” “reeling,” self-deception and folly.


In verses 4 and 5, we will see that David did what he always did in a crisis.  He encouraged himself in God.  No matter how or where we have failed; we may have acted presumptuously, or neglected a vital area, giving Satan an advantage—God can overrule.



4 Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth{4]. Selah.


The intended meaning of verse four is uncertain, according to some interpreters of God’s Word; however, of those explanations which have been offered, the best, in my opinion, is found in the phrase, “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee.” In David’s time and for three thousand years afterwards troops gathered around banners and then followed those banners into battle.  But here, David is thinking of God’s banner, which is for his faithful followers.  This is even more reason for claiming God’s help, because His people carry the banner of His truth.  If it is trailed on the ground, great dishonor is done to His holy name.  The picture this creates in our twenty-first century minds is like    the famous Pacific war photograph showing American soldiers in the heat of the battle on Iwojima, pushing up the standard bearing the Stars and Stripes to act as a rallying point for their stricken comrades.  David’s reference here, though, is to the pennant flag of the Lord of hosts.  It is the sign of victory, of triumph and rejoicing.


This verse provides us with some insight into David’s spiritual understanding: the nation of Israel existed for one sole purpose—to display the glory of God among the nations.  When Amalek fought with God at Rephidim, God gave His people a remarkable victory.  Moses built an alter and called upon God by a brand new name—Jehovah-Nissi—“the Lord our Banner.” David believed that when the enemy came in like a flood the Spirit of God would raise up a banner against him.  When Israel went to war against the forces of evil which surrounded her and was victorious that mystical banner was displayed; when she was defeated the banner was disgraced.  God’s name and honor were involved.  David believed that God would not allow His own honor to be disgraced by what was happening in his kingdom.  He staked his all upon God.  Whatever weakness he had left open to attack by the foe, God would have to cover.



5 That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.


When David heard about the incursion of Edom into his kingdom in the far south, he dispatched Joab and a detachment of the army to deal with the situation.  It was an anxious time.  Total victory in the north was in sight.  David hoped that this attack by Edom would not make it necessary for him to break off the battle before the victory was won.  David had every confidence in Joab’s ability as a general, for he was a proven military leader.  So far as we know, Joab never lost a battle.  But David’s confidence was in God, not in Joab: “Save with thy right hand, and hear me,” he prays. This phrase is often used when speaking of God’s victory becoming visible in the human realm—as in the illustration from Iwojima, the troops here are to congregate around God’s standard and find shelter from the arrows fired at them by the bowman.  Note that David refers to himself and His people as “thy beloved.” We are His people, and we are “beloved” indeed, if we are in the Beloved— “To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” Ephesians 1:6).  David knew that Israel was God’s own people, His “beloved” people (“David” means “beloved”) who feared (respected) Him, and that God had covenanted to give them success against their enemies (2 Samuel 7:9-11; see paragraph below).  In David’s heart, faith was conquering fear. 

“I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies” (2 Samuel 7:9-11)



This brings us to the next division of the psalm. From this point on, the psalm is nothing but confident and hopeful.  Since God’s anger has led to Israel’s defeat, nothing but His favor will restore them. 



(60:6-8): These verses are a divine oracle{1], declaring God’s intention with regard to the nations involved in the conflict.  The voice of God, heard in the sanctuary, expresses His determination to reoccupy all the land of Israel and to conquer His Gentile foes.



6 God hath spoken in his holiness (sanctuary); I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.


A map would be helpful in comprehending the geographical references that occur in verses 6-8.  The first series of places (v. 6) already belonged to Israel.  The cities of Shechem and Succoth roughly represent east and west, as do Gilead and Manasseh (v. 7) on a larger scale.


“Shechem” was a place of importance from the very outset of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan; but it had not yet yielded to David’s government.  It was the chief town of central Canaan (1 Kings 12:25). It stood at the foot of Mount Gerizim and was the chief rallying point for Joshua’s armies.  “Shechem” stands for the territory on the west side of the Jordon.  “The valley of Succoth” was near the Jabbok, the first place where Jacob, the pilgrim patriarch, halted on his way back into the promised land.  It stands for the territory of Israel on the east side of the Jordon.  Gilead and Manasseh were on the east side of the Jordon.  Ephraim and Judea stood on the west side.  David claimed all this land for God; however, the enemy had come in and attacked positions long held for God, but it is still God’s.  This attack, violent and vicious as it was, could not be final.  The land, all of it, is God’s.  David reasserted the sovereignty of the nation of Israel. 


He had prayed that God would hear him and save him; therefore, the expression “God hath spoken” may imply that God had done it already, and had spoken to him, and of him, about establishing his throne in Israel. “In his holiness” or, in the sanctuary or holy place, is where David used to ask God for His counsel, and where God usually gave out his oracles{1].


“I will divide . . . and mete out” is an allusion to God’s promise that His people would possess Canaan (Genesis 12:7, etc.).  And therefore the nation rejoices in its certain victory over its foes.  When we have any promise of God, we may confidently depend upon it coming to pass.The meaning of the verse may be, “I will divide up the whole land both east and west of the Jordon River, and give it to the people.”



7 Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim also is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver;


“Gilead is Mine” —Gilead, though lying across the Jordon, should not be cut off.  Manasseh and Ephraim, the military tribes, and Judah, the seat of government were welded into a strong United Kingdom, and should remain so. The centrally located and well-defended “Ephraim” is like a protective helmet for the nation.  It will take the lead in national defense.  All the military power of that tribe, the tribe from which David came, was under the command of David.  And “Judah” is His scepter, according to Jacob’s dying prophecy (Genesis 49:10); it will be the governmental seat.  So then, David reasserted the sovereignty of the nation of Israel.  He refused to concede defeat.  He simply cast himself all the more upon God in this dark hour of crisis when it seemed that, despite all his efforts to extend the kingdom, the enemy, attacking elsewhere, was going to win after all.  “Gilead . . . Manasseh . . . Ephraim . . . Judah” are the areas that together made up the kingdom of Israel.  God claims them as His own.  He will subdivide Shechem, on the west of the Jordon, and the valley of Succoth on the east.  He will possess the trans-Jordon land of Gilead, and the two territories of Manasseh, one on either side of the Jordon.



8 Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.


The remaining references (Moab, Edom, Philistia), are all persistent enemies of Israel, and had all been reduced to subjection—Moab, a washing tub (2 Samuel 8:2); Edom, a slave taking care of sandals (Matthew 3:11); “Philistia,” compelled to welcome David with shouts of triumph— “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe; over Philistia will I triumph.” (Psalm 108:9)—yet they are under God’s control just as surely as Israel.  Only in the days of David had Israel held sway over the Maritime Plain with Philistia.  Annexation will be the cause of special exultation. “Gilead . . . Manasseh . . . Ephraim . . . Judah” are the areas that together made up the kingdom of Israel.


“Moab” was a proud and troublesome neighbor of Israel, entrenched in a region to the east of the Dead Sea.  Moab was the result of Lots incestuous union with one of his daughters on that dark occasion when, a lonely fugitive from the doom of Sodom, he had been camped on the rugged, barren hills nearby.  “Moab is my washpot,” a washbowl in which David washed his feet—therefore, a symbol of humiliation and contempt.  I shall bring them into the lowest degree of servitude, and make them contemptible and miserable.  [“David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became subject to David and brought him tribute” (2 Samuel 8:2)]


“Edom,” of course, was the nation involved in this attack on Israel.  The Edomites, like the Moabites, were distant kinfolk of Israel.  The psalmist proclaimed, “Over Edom will I cast out my shoe.” (David was related to the Moabites.  See Ruth 4:13-22.) “Cast out my shoe” is a figure of speech meaning to be treated as a slave (Matthew 3:11) and signifying forcible possession.  Edom lived in towering pride and insolence in a land-locked stronghold in the mountains.  Edom was to be so reduced that it would become like a submissive slave to whom the master casts his shoes to be carried and cleaned.  When he declared, “Over Edom will I cast out my shoe,” everyone would have known what he meant, that He shall take possession of Edom and their mountain sanctuary.


The Philistines occupied the seacoast of Israel and David had triumphed over them more than once.  His very name must have been a word used by mothers in Gaza and Gath to terrify their children when they misbehaved. The expression “triumph thou because of me,” may be translated, “Over Philistia I shout in triumph.” The defeat and humiliation of this enemy will be complete.  With Joab’s detachment still on the horizon and marching to the south, with everything hanging in the balance, his armies depleted, with victory in the north hanging in the balance, and with the south being ripped apart by another foe, David simply rested in God.  He counted the victory as an already accomplish thing.  It is impossible for God to fail.  We are told how David quelled his fears.



9 Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?


It seems clear that the speaker changes at this point.  It could scarcely be the Lord’s voice because He would not need anyone to bring Him into the “strong (fortified)  city.”  So we understand these to be the words of David, longing for the day when the capital city of Edom (variously called Bozrah, Sela and Petra) will fall into the hands of the Israelites.  Of course, the city here stands for the whole country of Edom. 


In response to God’s pronouncement, the psalmist shows faith.  He realizes that God will not only provide aid against, but also victory over, Israel’s enemies (vs. 9-12).  He resumes his prayer, asking who will be the leader of the Lord’s host?  “Who will bring me into the strong city?” What Allies can I depend upon, to help me defeat the enemy’s country and their strongholds? Only God can do it, as he declares in the following verses.  Though sometimes they may be tempted to think that God has cast them off, and may be foiled in particular conflicts, yet God will bring them into the strong city at last.  The “strong city” is Petra, the impregnable rock-fortress of Edom which could be approached only by way of a narrow pass in the mountains.  David wanted to teach Edom a lesson.  They had invaded Judah; he wanted to carry the war right back into the heart of their territory and make them sorry that they had ever interfered with him.


(60:10-11): In verses 10 and 11, David tried to analyze why it was that the enemy had been able to gain so much ground so quickly in an area where he had thought that all was secure. 



10 Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?


It was God who had cast them off, and who had not previously gone out with Israel’s armies. David confessed that, to some degree, he had acted in the flesh, acted presumptuously, acted without God.  He was so confident that it was God’s will that all that had been promised should be claimed that he had launched his expedition in the north without getting all his frontiers covered.  This would never have happened if he had been more prayerful before going ahead with this new venture.  The new enterprise was prospering at the expense of other areas.  It is a warning we would do well to heed.  He now bathed Joab’s venture in the south with prayer.  He was not going to repeat the same mistake again.  It was a painful truth—to confess that he had acted in an independent spirit even when doing something that was covered by the promises of God.  It is a truth we all have to learn.



11 Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.


David was not going to trust in Joab’s military genius to defeat the Edomites and carry the war into their territory in a revengeful expedition.  Joab was to do the actual fighting; yet David was not looking to Joab, but to God.  We often have to rely on men to get things done and if we are wise, we will seek out the best men for the job.  But let us remember that our warfare is spiritual and must be fought on spiritual terms.  God is the only help when trouble strikes; for the help of man is useless.” “If the Lord build not the house they labored in vain that build it.” So David pleads for God to fight once again on behalf of His troubled people. 


We note from the history books of the Old Testament that Joab won a resounding victory.  He fought a desperate battle with the Edomites in the valley of Salt{3], near the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, and the Edomites suffered a crushing defeat in which they lost 18,000 men.  The victory was followed by the complete subjugation of Edom and by a vengeance which taught the Edomites a lesson they would never forget.



12 Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.


The news of Joab’s victory had not yet reached David.  Indeed, at this point the battle had not even been fought.  Outward circumstances were unchanged.  Everything was imperiled because the enemy had been able to win victories where everything had been deemed secure.  David, however, was confident that God is still on the throne; and since he ruled all nations of men, he can use foreigners and strangers as instruments of His judgment upon His own people, Israel.  He knew that both victory and defeat come from the Lord.  When disaster comes, one’s only hope is God. 


What was true of Israel in its military conflicts with its neighbors is abundantly true in the Christian’s warfare against “principalities and powers” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:11-20).  Since all our victories, as well as our courage, come from Him, all are crowns must be cast at His feet.



Something to think about


The believer’s enemies are the world, the flesh and the devil.  In himself he is powerless to conquer them.  And the help of other men is insufficient, no matter how well-meaning they might be.  But there is victory through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Those who trust in Him for deliverance will never be disappointed.


Psalm 60 will have a final fulfillment in the last days when the Jewish remnant, harassed and disheartened, looks to the Messiah for salvation and triumph.  Then the land of Israel will be apportioned among the tribes and the nation’s foes will be brought to bay.



The Superscription


  • Chief MusicianHe was instructed to conduct the public performance of this psalm.
  • Shushan-eduthThis is best interpreted as “the Lily of Testimony” and is probably a reference to a tune for the rendition of the psalm.
  • Michtam of DavidThese words announce that it is a teaching psalm and seems to imply that it was intended to be taught to Israel and preserved in her memory (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
  • When he strove with Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah—Aram-naharaim means Aram of the Two Rivers i.e., Tigris and Euphrates, which identifies the land of Mesopotamia. Aram-zobah is placed eastward toward Hamath.  Both sites are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 19:6.




{1] Oracle—an utterance, often ambiguous or obscure, given by a priest or priestess at a shrine as the response of a god to an inquiry. The person giving the message is also called an oracle.

{2] “Thou hast made ‘the earth’ (the land) to tremble,” according to some commentators, is a poetical and imposing expression, signifying great and dreadful changes among the people, similar to Haggai 2:7. (see also 1 Samuel 14:15).

{3]Valley of Salt—a deep valley at the southwest extremity of the Dead Sea from which the salty sea water had long since evaporated, leaving it solid with salt.

{4] Truth—The word translated “truth,” is an Aramaic form of the Hebrew “bow.”