TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO SHUSHAN EDUTH. A MIKTAM OF DAVID; FOR INSTRUCTION; WHEN HE STROVE WITH ARAM-NAHARAIM AND WITH ARAM-ZOBAH, AND WHEN JOAB ON HIS RETURN STRUCK DOWN TWELVE THOUSAND OF EDOM IN THE VALLEY OF SALT.
1 O God, you have rejected us, broken our defences; you have been angry; oh, restore us. 2 You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open. repair its breaches, for it totters. 3 You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger. 4 You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah
5 That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer us! 6 God has spoken in his holiness: “With exultation I will divide up Shechem. and portion out the Vale of Succoth. 7 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my sceptre. 8 Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
9 Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? 10 Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies. 11 Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! 12 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.
This is a psalm where God’s people are engaged in battle. David is often at war with the surrounding nations (vv8,9) and with the Lord’s help wins his battles (2 Sam 8). However, on this occasion Israel is under attack and the enemy, Edom, ( v9), is gaining ascendancy (vv1-3). The war is not going in Israel’s favour (v10) though a counter attack is soon to take place (v9). How David reacts to his troubles is instructive for us all.
David’s strategy is to trace the defeat back to the source, back to God. The situation in his world is chaotic and dismaying: Edom is overwhelming Israel. However, David realises, ultimately it is not Edom but the Lord who is controlling events. And so David looks to the Lord. He brings his complaint to the Lord – you have rejected us (v1; 44:8). His cry for help soon follows – oh restore us (v1). It is in the presence of the Lord that perspective is to be found (Ps 73). It is he who controls history. God’s intimate involvement in the affairs of his people and indeed the nations is a given throughout Scripture. Nothing is by chance. What may at first sight be the result of human aggression or some other upheaval is really the hand of God; it is he, not Edom, that has broken his peoples defences and torn up the land (v1,2). The Lord has been a warrior against his people rather than for them. Their defeat is from the Lord. Israel’s distress is from the Lord – they have staggered with the cup of wrath as he has visited his people in judgement (v1-3). We are not told why the Lord is angry with them. Yet it is knowing that their defeat is from the Lord that gives hope. If he has brought them into defeat then he can also deliver them if they call on him; Israel, is his people whom he loves (v5).
From the outset David cries for the Lord to ‘repair her breaches’. He looks to the Lord to deliver his ‘people’, his ‘beloved ones’. Indeed, he sees that God has already in mercy ‘set up a banner’ for them to flee to in retreat. (Jer 4:6). He has not been a banner in this instance to lead them into battle but he is their refuge in defeat. This signals God’s continuing care for his people and that he has not ceased to be their Saviour and deliverer (v5). David is confident that God will deliver them and grant them salvation.
Where there is serious and persistent sin God judges his people. Persecution or other troubles may arise because of serious sin in the professing church. However, God also disciplines his people as he trains them in holiness (Hebs 12:5-11; 1 Pet 4:12-19). It may also be that God’s people are called to suffer for righteousness sake and for Christ’s sake (Matt 5). We are called to share in the sufferings of Christ (Matt 8:34). Whatever the trauma, behind it is the sovereign hand of God who loves his people. Whatever the threat, those who fear God find their refuge in him. He is their rallying point. They take strength from his salvation promises and courage from his presence.
In Israel, the land and the people under attack belong to God and therein is their security and blessing. God’s declaration of ownership rings out.
“With exultation I will divide up Shechem. and portion out the Vale of Succoth. 7 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my sceptre.
The land being attacked is the Lord’s land and he in grace apportions it out. Its tenants are his people and he is the triumphant divine warrior with Ephraim his helmet (for defence) and Judah his sceptre (for rule); Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south (the two major tribes) represent the whole land and people. If the land and its tenants are his then both are ultimately safe. Meanwhile the nations, vessels for menial use, are his to use as he will (Roms 9:20). Moab is his washbasin, on Edom he places his sandal and over Philistia he shouts in triumph (Cf Ps 108:9). All are expressions of contempt and disdain. The Lord calls on his people to lead him out to the enemy. Edom’s ‘fortified city’ was apparently virtually inaccessible but God is not fazed by this. Perhaps herein lies the reason for Israel’s failure in battle; they have not been sufficiently trusting in the Lord to lead them into battle. Whatever the reason for his controversy with his people it is now resolved and now victory is assured (1 Kings 11:15,16) The perspective of trusting triumphant faith is found in the closing words
11 Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! 12 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes
It is God who is the strength of his people. It is he who always leads them in triumph (2 Cor 2:14). The arm of flesh will fail (Cf. 2 Chron 32:7,8). As God’s people today we too are engaged in warfare. Our enemies ,unlike David’s, are not flesh and blood but spiritual powers in high place that seek to overthrow the church (Eph 6:12). We cannot conquer them in our own strength, we need to be ‘strong in the Lord and the power of his might’. We need to trust in him and refuse sin. We need the complete armour of God (Eph 6). We need to recognise that greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). In Christ we are more than conquerors (Roms 8).
In fact, as is so often the case in the Psalms there is probably an eschatological perspective to the Psalm. It not only provides a model for our spiritual warfare it anticipates a time when all the enemies of the people of God are overthrown by the Warrior who champions his people who trust in him. This eschatological dimension seems even clearer in the parallel psalm (Ps 108).
We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender! We go not forth alone against the foe; strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender, we rest on thee, and in thy name we go; strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender, we rest on thee, and in thy name we go.
Yea, in thy name, O Captain of salvation! In thy dear name, all other names above: Jesus our righteousness, our sure foundation, our Prince of glory and our King of love, Jesus our righteousness, our sure foundation, our Prince of glory and our King of love.
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling, and needing more each day thy grace to know: yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing, “We rest on thee, and in thy name we go”; yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing, “We rest on thee, and in thy name we go.”
We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender! Thine is the battle, thine shall be the praise; when passing through the gates of pearly splendour, victors, we rest with thee, through endless days; when passing through the gates of pearly splendour, victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.
Edith Gilling Cherry