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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
In the title, this psalm is ascribed to David. The occasion on which it is said to have been composed was after he had been engaged in wars in the East - in Aramea - and when he was meditating the completion of his conquests in the subjugation of Idumea. The time of its composition, according to the title, was that referred to in 2 Samuel 8, compare 1 Chronicles 18. The occasion will be best understood by an explanation of the title.
On the phrase "To the chief Musician," see the notes at the introduction to Psalm 4:1-8.
The phrase "upon Shushan-eduth" means properly "Lily of Testimony." The word שׁושׁן shôshân means properly lily. See the notes at the title to Psalm 45, where, as in the titles to Psalm 69; 80, the plural form of the word occurs. This is the only instance in which it is found in the singular number, when in the title to a psalm. The word עדות ‛êdûth means properly testimony; law; precept; revelation. It is applied to the law of God, as a testimony which God bears to the truth, Psalm 19:7; 2 Kings 11:12; and especially to the ark, called "the ark of the testimony," as containing the law or the divine testimony to the truth. Exodus 25:21-22 (compare Exodus 16:34); Exodus 26:33-34; Exodus 30:6, Exodus 30:26; Exodus 31:7. The word occurs frequently, and is uniformly translated testimony. Exodus 27:21; Exodus 30:36; Exodus 31:18, et saepe. See the notes at Psalm 19:7. The lily of the law would properly express the meaning of the phrase here, and it may have been the name of a musical instrument having a resemblance to a lily - open-mouthed like the lily; perhaps some form of the trumpet.
Why the term earth - testimony or law - was connected with this, it is not easy to determine. Gesenius (Lexicon) supposes that the word means revelation, and that the term was used in these inscriptions because the authors of the psalms wrote by revelation. But if this was the reason, it would not explain why the title was prefixed to these psalms rather than others, since all were composed by revelation. Prof. Alexander, somewhat fancifully, supposes that the name lily is used in this title to denote beauty; that the reference is to the beauty of the law, and that the psalm is designed to celebrate that beauty. But it is sufficient to say in reply to this that there is no particular mention of the law in this psalm, and no special commemoration of its beauty. If the title had been prefixed to Psalm 19:1-14, or to Psalm 119, there would then have been some foundation for the remark. On the whole, it seems impossible to determine the reason of the use of the term here. It would seem most probable that the allusion is to a musical instrument, or to some classes of musical instruments to which the term had been originally applied with reference to the use of those instruments in the services connected with the "ark of the testimony," or the celebration of the law of God; but on what occasion such instruments were first used, or why the term was applied, we cannot hope now to understand.
On the word Michtan, see the notes at the Introduction to Psalm 16:1-11. It indicates nothing here in regard to the character of the psalm to which it is prefixed. It may be merely one form of denoting that it was a composition of David.
The word rendered "to teach," means here that the psalm was adapted to impart instruction, and in this sense it is not unlike the word Maschil (Title to Psalm 32:1-11), as being a psalm suited to impart valuable information on the subject referred to, or perhaps to be learned and treasured up in the memory. It is not possible for us, however, to understand why the language was applied to this psalm rather than to others.
The psalm is said to have been composed when David "strove with Aramnaharaim and with Aram-zobah, when Joab returned and smote in the valley of salt twelve thousand." The allusion is to the transactions referred to in 2 Samuel 8 and 1 Chronicles 18. In those chapters we learn that David made extensive conquests in the East, extending his victories over Moab, Syria, and Hamath, and subduing the country as far as the Euphrates. It is to these victories that the psalm refers, see Psalm 60:7-8. The words rendered Aram-nahaim mean properly Aram (or Aramea) of the two rivers, and the reference is to Syria or Mesopotamia. The compound word occurs elsewhere in the following places, in all of which it is rendered Mesopotamia, Genesis 24:10; Deuteronomy 23:4; Judges 3:8; 1 Chronicles 19:6. The word Aram is of frequent occurrence, and properly refers to Syria. The name comprehended more than Syria proper, and the term Aram-naharaim, or Aram of the two rivers, was used to designate that part of the general country of Aramea which was between the Tigris and the Euphrates. The compound term Aram-zobah refers also to a part of Aramea or Syria. This kingdom was in the neighborhood of Damascus, and perhaps comprehended Hamath, and probably extended as far as the Euphrates. The king of this country is represented as making war with Saul 1 Samuel 14:47, and with David 2 Samuel 8:3; 2 Samuel 10:6. In 2 Samuel 8:3, David is represented as having smitten "Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates." It is to these wars, and to this conquest, that the title of the psalm alludes.
The language in the title "when Joab returned," would seem to imply that these conquests were achieved not by David in person, but by Joab - a circumstance not at all improbable, as he was the leader of the armies of David; 2 Samuel 20:23, "Now Joab was over all the host of Israel." David had thus subdued Syria, and Moab, and the children of Ammon, and the Philistines, and the Amalekites, and Hadadezer, king of Zobah, and had dedicated to the Lord the silver and the gold which he had taken in these conquests 2 Samuel 8:11-12; but it would seem probable that Edom or Idumea stilt held out, or that at the time of composing the psalm that country had not been subdued. But the subjugation of that land was necessary to complete the conquests of David, and to make his kingdom safe. It was at this time probably, in the interval between 2 Samuel 8:12 and 2 Samuel 8:14, that the psalm was composed, or in view of the strong desire of David to subdue Edom; see Psalm 60:8-9, "Over Edom will I cast out my shoe,"..."Who will lead me into Edom?" It would seem that there were some special difficulties in the conquest of that country; or that there had been some partial discomfiture in attempting it Psalm 60:1-3, and David was now fearful that he had in some way incurred the divine displeasure after all his conquests, and that Edom - a place so strong and so important - was likely to remain unsubdued. And yet the conquest was made, for it is said in the title "that Joab smote of Edom in the valley of salt twelve thousand." Compare 2 Samuel 8:13.
The phrase "the Valley of Salt" is explained by the fact that not a few valleys are found in Arabia and Syria, which are at certain periods - in the wet seasons - stagnant pools; but which, when they are dried up, leave an incrustation of salt, or a saline deposit on the sand. Travelers make mention of such pools, from which they obtain their supplies of salt. Van Hamelsveld, Bib. Geog., i. p. 402. What valley is here referred to is not certain. It would seem most probable that it was the valley in which the Dead Sea is situated, as being eminently the valley of salt, or the valley in which such deposits abounded. Dr. Robinson (Researches in Palestine, vol. ii. p. 483), supposes that this "valley of salt" is situated at the southern end of the Dead Sea - the Ghor south of the Dead Sea; and adjacent to the Mountain of Salt - "the whole body of the mountain being a solid mass of rock-salt" p. 482. This valley separates the ancient territories of Judah and Edom, and would, therefore, be the place where the battle would naturally be fought.
This victory is said in the title of the psalm to have been achieved by Joab; in 2 Samuel 8:13, it is attributed to David; in the parallel place in 1 Chronicles 18:12, it is said to have been achieved by Abishai - in the margin, Abshai. There is no discrepancy between the account in 2 Samuel, where the victory is ascribed to David, and that in the title to the psalm where it is ascribed to Joab, for though the battle may have been fought by Joab, yet it was really one of the victories of David, as Joab acted under him and by his orders - as we speak of the conquests of Napoleon, attributing to him the conquests which were secured by the armies under his command. There is greater difficulty in reconciling the account in 1 Chronicles ith the title to the psalm, where one ascribes the victory to Joab, and the other to Aibishai. Some have supposed that either in the title to the psalm or in 1 Chronicles here has been an error in transcribing. But such an error could hardly have occurred. The most probable opinion seems to be that the victory was achieved by the joint action of the forces under Joab and his brother Abishai, and that with propriety it may be spoken of as the victory of either of them. We know that on one occasion Joab thus divided his forces, retaining the command of a portion of the army to himself, and assigning the other portion to his brother Abishai 2 Samuel 10:9-10, and it is possible that there may have been such a division of the army here, and that the victory may have been so connected with the skill and valor of Abishai that it might without impropriety be spoken of as his victory, while there was no impropriety also in ascribing it to Joab, as entrusted with the general command, or to David who had planned and directed the expedition.
There is, also, a discrepancy in the numbers mentioned as slain, in the title to the psalm, and in the account in Samuel and Chronicles. In 2 Samuel 8:13, and in 1 Chronicles 18:12, the number is "eighteen thousand;" in the title to the psalm, it is "twelve thousand." Why the statement varies, it is impossible to determine with certainty. We cannot suppose that the author of the psalm was ignorant of the usual estimate of the number, and we have no evidence that there is an error in the transcription. The probability is, that there may have been, as is often the case, in the account of battles, two estimates. The common and more moderate estimate may have been that the number was twelve thousand - and this was adopted by the author of the psalm. The more accurate and well-ascertained estimate may have been that which was placed in the regular history, in the Books of Samuel and the Chronicles. If the actual number was in fact as great as eighteen thousand, then there is no contradiction - for the greater number includes the less. If eighteen thousand were actually slain, there was no falsehood in the assertion, according to the first estimate, that twelve thousand had fallen in the battle, for that statement was in fact true, though a subsequent and more accurate "return" from the army made the number larger. Both statements were true. In saying that three men were drowned in a flood, or lost at sea in a storm, I do not falsify a declaration which may be made subsequently that not only three perished but six or more.
There is no reference, in the accounts in Samuel and the Chronicles, to the partial discomfiture referred to in the psalm Psa 60:1-3; and the impression from those historical narratives would probably be that the armies of David had been uniformly successful. Yet it is possible that some things may have been omitted in the rapid survey of the conquests of David in Samuel and the Chronicles. The design of the authors of those books may have been to give a general summary of the wars or series of wars by which David obtained a final victory over his enemies, and brought into subjection all that he regarded as properly his territory, or all that had been included in the general promise to Abraham and his posterity, without noticing the reverses or disasters that may have occurred in securing those triumphs. Perhaps the most probable supposition in the case is, that during the absence of the armies in the east the Edomites had taken occasion to invade the land of Palestine from the south, and that in endeavoring to repel them, there had been some defeats and losses in the comparatively small forces which David was then able to employ. He now summoned his armies on their return, and made a vigorous and decided effort to expel the Edomites from the land, to carry the warfare into their own country, and to add their territory to that which he had already brought under subjection. In this he was entirely successful. 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Chronicles 18:13.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
I. A statement of the disaster which had occurred, as if God had cast his people off, and as if, after all, they might be given up into the hands of their enemies, Psalm 60:1-3.
II. A statement of the object for which God now summoned his people to war - that of carrying forth the banner of truth, or of bringing nations into subjection to the true religion, Psalm 60:4-5.
III. A reference to the conquests already made, or to the dominion which David had set up over Shechem, Succoth, Gilead, Manasseh, Ephraim, Judah, Moab, and Philistia, Psalm 60:6-8.
IV. The expression of a strong desire to complete the series of conquests by subduing Edom or Idumea, Psalm 60:8-9. That alone remained. That offered formidable resistance to the armies of David. The conquest of that seemed difficult, if not hopeless, and the psalmist, therefore, asks with deep solicitude who would aid him in this war; who would bring him successfully into the strong city - the strong fortifications of Edom, Psalm 60:9.
V. An appeal to God to do it; to that God who had cast them off; to him who had left their armies to go forth alone. David now calls on him to return to those forces, and to render aid - expressing the confident assurance that he would thus return, and that the victory would be secured, Psalm 60:10-12.
1‹‹To the chief Musician upon Shushaneduth, Michtam of David, to teach; when he strove with Aramnaharaim and with Aramzobah, when Joab returned, and smote of Edom in the valley of salt twelve thousand.›› O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again.
O God, thou hast cast us off - The word used here means properly to be foul, rancid, offensive; and then, to treat anything as if it were foul or rancid; to repel, to spurn, to cast away. See the notes at Psalm 43:2. It is strong language, meaning that God had seemed to treat them as if they were loathsome or offensive to him. The allusion, according to the view taken in the introduction to the psalm, is to some defeat or disaster which had occurred after the conquests in the East, or during the absence of the armies of David in the East 2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 18; probably to the fact that the Edomites had taken occasion to invade the southern part of Palestine, and that the forces employed to expel them had been unsuccessful.
Thou hast scattered us - Margin, broken. So the Hebrew. The word is applied to the forces of war which are broken and scattered by defeat, 2 Samuel 5:20.
Thou hast been displeased - The word used here means "to breathe"; to breathe hard; and then, to be angry. See the notes at Psalm 2:12. God had treated them as if he was displeased or angry. He had suffered them to be defeated.
O turn thyself to us again - Return to our armies, and give us success. This might be rendered, "Thou wilt turn to us;" that is, thou wilt favor us - expressing a confident belief that God would do this, as in Psalm 60:12. It is more in accordance, however, with the usual structure of the Psalms to regard this as a prayer. Many of the psalms begin with a prayer, and end with the expression of a confident assurance that the prayer has been, or would certainly be heard.
2Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh.
Thou hast made the earth to tremble - This refers, doubtless, to some calamity that might be compared with an earthquake - some disaster, discomfiture, or defeat that had shaken their hopes, as a city is shaken by an earthquake. Such comparisons are common in the Scriptures.
Thou hast broken it - As if it were broken up, or convulsed.
Heal the breaches thereof - That is, Appear for thy people, and repair their disasters, as if after an earthquake thou shouldst appear and fill up the rents which it had made. The prayer is that he would place things in their former condition of prosperity and success.
For it shaketh - It is convulsed or agitated. That is, there is still commotion. Things are unsettled and disturbed. The prayer is, that there might be stability or continued success.
3Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.
Thou hast showed thy people hard things - Thou hast caused them to see reverses, disappointments, and trials. This refers, according to the supposition in the Introduction to the psalm, to some calamitous events which had occurred. The probability seems to be that the Edomites may have spread desolation over the land.
Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment - The word rendered "astonishment" - תרעלה tar‛êlâh - occurs only here and in Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22 - in both of which verses in Isaiah it is rendered trembling. It means properly reeling, drunkenness; and the idea here is, that it was as if he had given them a cup - that is, an intoxicating drink - which had caused them to reel as a drunken man; or, in other words, their efforts had been unsuccessful. Compare Psalm 11:6, note; Isaiah 51:17, note.
4Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.
Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee - The word rendered "banner" - נס nês - means properly anything elevated or lifted up, and hence, a standard, a flag, a sign, or a signal. It may refer to a standard reared on lofty mountains or high places during an invasion of a country, to point out to the people a place of rendezvous or a rallying place Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 18:3; or it may refer to a standard or ensign borne by an army; or it may refer to the flag of a ship, Ezekiel 27:7; Isaiah 33:23. Here it doubtless refers to the flag, the banner, the standard of an army; and the idea is that God had committed such a standard to his people that they might go forth as soldiers in his cause. They were enlisted in his service, and were fighting his battles.
That it may be displayed because of the truth - In the cause of truth; or, in the defense of justice and right. It was not to be displayed for vain parade or ostentation; it was not to be unfolded in an unrighteous or unjust cause; it was not to be waved for the mere purpose of carrying desolation, or of securing victory; it was that a righteous cause might be vindicated, and that the honor of God might be promoted. This was the reason which the psalmist now urges why (God should interpose and repair their disasters - that it was his cause, and that they were appointed to maintain and defend it. What was true then of the people of God, is true of the church now. God has given to his church a banner or a standard that it may wage a war of justice, righteousness, and truth; that it may be employed in resisting and overcoming his enemies; that it may carry the weapons of truth and right against all injustice, falsehood, error, oppression, and wrong; that it may ever be found on the side of humanity and benevolence - of virtue, temperance, liberty, and equality; and that it may bear the great principles of the true religion to every territory of the enemy, until the whole world shall be subdued to God.
5That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.
That thy beloved may be delivered - The word beloved is in the plural number, and might be rendered beloved ones. It refers not merely to David as his servant and friend, but to those associated with him. The reference is to the calamities and dangers then existing, to which allusion has been made above. The prayer is, that the enemy might be driven back, and the land delivered from their invasion.
Save with thy right hand - The right hand is that by which the sword is handled, the spear hurled, the arrow drawn on the bow. The prayer is, that God would put forth his power and deliver his people.
And hear me - literally, Answer me. The answer which he desired was that God would lead his armies successfully into Edom, Psalm 60:8-9.
6God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.
God hath spoken in his holiness - That is, as a holy God; a God who is true; a God whose promises are always fulfilled. The idea is, that the holiness of God was the public pledge or assurance that what he had promised he would certainly perform. God had made promises in regard to the land of Canaan or Palestine, as a country to be put into the possession of Abraham and his posterity. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 17:8; Psalm 105:8-11. The original promise of the gift of that land, made to Abraham under the general name of Canaan Genesis 12:7, embraced the whole territory from the river (that divided the land from Egypt) to the Euphrates: "Unto thy seed, addressed to Abraham, have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates," Genesis 15:18. This would embrace the country of Edom, as well as the other countries which are specified in the psalm. The natural and proper boundary of the land on the east, therefore, according to the promise, was the river Euphrates; on the west, Egypt and the Mediterranean sea; on the south, the outer limit of Edom. It was the object of David to carry out what was implied in this promise, and to secure the possession of all that had been thus granted to the Hebrews as the descendants of Abraham. Hence, he had been engaged in carrying his conquests to the east, with a view to make the Euphrates the eastern border or boundary of the land: "David smote also Hadarezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates," 2 Samuel 8:3. Compare 1 Chronicles 18:3. In the prosecution of the same purpose he was anxious also to subdue Edom, that the entire territory thus promised to Abraham might be put in possession of the Hebrews, and that he might transmit the kingdom in the fullness of the original grant to his posterity. It is to this promise made to Abraham that he doubtless refers in the passage before us.
I will rejoice - I, David, will exult or rejoice in the prospect of success. I will find my happiness, or my confidence in what I now undertake, in the promise which God has made. The meaning is, that since God had made this promise, he would certainly triumph.
I will divide Shechem - That is, I will divide up the whole land according to the promise. The language here is taken from that which was employed when the country of Canaan was conquered by Joshua, and when it was divided among the tribes: "Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them," Joshua 1:6. Compare Joshua 13:6-7; Joshua 14:5; Joshua 18:10; Joshua 19:51; Joshua 23:4; Psalm 78:55; Acts 13:19. David here applies the same language to Shechem, "and the valley of Succoth," as portions of the land, meaning that he would accomplish the original purpose in regard to the land by placing it in possession of the people of God. Shechem or Sichem was a city within the limits of the tribe of Ephraim, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, called by the Romans Neapolis, and now Nablus. It is about two hours, or eight miles, south of Samaria. It seems to be mentioned here as being the spot where the law of Moses was read to the people of Israel, and especially the blessings and curses recorded in Deuteronomy 27; Deuteronomy 28, which Moses commanded to be read to the different tribes on the above-named mountains, Deuteronomy 27:11-13. This was actually done, Joshua 8:33. Shechem, therefore, as lying between these mountains, and as being the place where the great mass of the people were assembled to hear what was read, became a central place, a representative spot of the whole land, and to say that that was conquered or subdued, was to speak of that which implied a victory over the land. David speaks of having secured this, as significant of the fact that the central point of influence and power had been brought under subjection, and as in fact implying that the land was subdued. The importance of that place, and the allusion to it here, will justify a more extended reference to it, which I copy from "The Land and the Book," by Dr. Thomson, vol. ii. p. 203, 204.
"Nablus is a queer old place. The streets are narrow, and vaulted over; and in the winter time it is difficult to pass along many of them on account of brooks which rush over the pavement with deafening roar. In this respect, I know no city with which to compare it except Brusa; and, like that city, it has mulberry, orange, pomegranate, and other trees, mingled in with the houses, whose odoriferous flowers lead the air with delicious perfume during the months of April and May. Here the billbul delights to sit and sing, and thousands of other birds unite to swell the chorus. The inhabitants maintain that theirs is the most musical vale in Palestine, and my experience does not enable me to contradict them.
"Imagine that the lofty range of mountains running north and south was cleft open to its base by some tremendous convulsion of nature, at right angles to its own line of extension, and the broad fissure thus made is the vale of Nablus, as it appears to one coming up the plain of Mukhna from Jerusalem. Mount Ebal is on the north, Gerizim on the south, and the city between. Near the eastern end, the vale is not more than sixty rods wide; and just there, I suppose, the tribes assembled to hear the 'blessings and the curses' read by the Levites. We have them in extenso in Deuteronomy 27 and Deuteronomy 28; and in Joshua 8 we are informed that it was actually done, and how. Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin, stood on Gerizim; and Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulon, Dan, and Naphtali, on Ebal; while all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side of the ark and on that side before the priests which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord; the whole nation of Israel, with the women and little ones, were there. And Joshua read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings; there was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel. This was, beyond question or comparison, the most august assembly the sun has ever shone upon; and I never stand in the narrow plain, with Ebal and Gerizim rising on either hand to the sky, without involuntarily recalling and reproducing the scene. I have shouted to hear the echo, and then fancied how it must have been when the loud-voiced Levites proclaimed from the naked cliffs of Ebal, 'Cursed be the man that maketh any graven image, an abomination unto Jehovah.' And then the tremendous amen! tenfold louder, from the mighty congregation, rising, and swelling, and re-echoing from Ebal to Gerizim, and from Gerizim to Ebal. amen! even so let him be accursed. No, there never was an assembly to compare with this."
And mete out the valley of Succoth - Measure out; that is, measure or survey for the purpose of "dividing" it, or assigning it to the conquerors, to the people of God, according to the promise. There is the same allusion here, as in the former clause, to the dividing of the land in the time of Joshua. Succoth, in the division of the land by Joshua, fell to the tribe of Gad; Joshua 13:27. It was on the east side of the river Jordan, and is now called Sakut. It is first mentioned in Genesis 33:17, in the account of the journey which Jacob took on returning from the East to the land of Canaan. At this place he paused in his journey, and made booths for his cattle; and hence, the name Succoth, or booths. Why this place is referred to here by David, as representing his conquests, cannot now be ascertained. It seems most probable that it was because it was a place east of the Jordan, as Shechem was west of the Jordan, and that the two might, therefore, represent the conquest of the whole country. Succoth, too, though not more prominent than many other places, and though in itself of no special importance, was well known as among the places mentioned in history. It is possible, also, though no such fact is mentioned, that there may have been some transaction of special importance there in connection with David's conquests in the East, which was well understood at the time, and which justified this special reference to it.
7Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim also is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver;
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine - That is, My dominion or authority is extended over these regions - Gilead, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Judah. The idea here is substantially the same as in the former verse, that his dominion extended over the country on both sides of the Jordan; or that in the direction of east and west it embraced all that had been promised - "from the great sea to the river Euphrates." In verse 6, this idea is expressed by selecting two spots or towns as representatives of the whole country - Shechem on the west, and Succoth on the east; in this verse, the same idea is expressed by a reference to the two regions so situated - Gilead and Manasseh on the east, and Ephraim and Judah on the west. Gilead was on the east of the river Jordan, properly embracing the mountainous region south of the river Jabbok, Genesis 31:21-48; Sol 4:1. The word has sometimes, however, a wider signification, including the whole mountainous tract between the rivers Arnon and Bashan, and thus including the region occupied by the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh, Numbers 32:26, Numbers 32:29, Numbers 32:39. Hence, in this place, it is put for the region occupied by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. "Manasseh" refers to the district or region occupied by the half tribe of Manasseh, on the east of the Jordan. These two portions - Gilead and Manasseh - or, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh - would, therefore, embrace the whole of the land of promise, north and south, on the east of the Jordan. The limits of these regions to the east were properly the banks of the Euphrates; that is, the original promise would embrace this. David had gone to carry the boundaries of his country to those assigned limits 2 Samuel 8:3, and he now says that he had completed that undertaking.
Ephraim also - Ephraim and Judah were the principal tribes on the west of the Jordan, and they would well represent that part of Canaan. The idea is, that the whole of the promised land, east and west, was now under his control. There needed only the territory of Edom, on the south, to complete the conquest, and place the whole of the promised land under his dominion, Psalm 60:8-9.
Is the strength of my head - This means that Ephraim constituted his chief strength, or was that on which he mainly relied. It was that which protected him, as the helmet does the head; that on which his very life in battle depended. This honor is given to the tribe of Ephraim because it was one of the largest tribes, and because it was situated in the very center of the land.
Judah is my lawgiver - This means that the tribe of Judah, by its position, its numbers, and the prominence given to it in the prophecies Genesis 49:8-12, actually gave law to the nation. Its influence was felt in all the institutions of the land. The controlling influence went out from that tribe in the time of David; and its authority in this respect was recognized, perhaps partly in anticipation of what it had been said would be its importance in future times: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come." Genesis 49:10.
8Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.
Moab is my washpot - Moab was a region of country on the east of the Dead Sea, extending as far north as the river Arnon. See the notes at Isaiah 15:1-9. The words rendered wash-pot mean properly a pot or basin for washing, a wash-basin; and the expression is used here as one of contempt, as if he would use it as the meanest vessel is used. It implies that Moab was already subdued, and that the author of the psalm could make any use of it he pleased. It also implies that Moab was not regarded as adding much to his strength, or to the value of his dominions; but that, compared with other portions of his kingdom, it was of as little value as a wash-basin compared with the more valuable vessels in a house.
Over Edom will I cast out my shoe - Edom or Idumea was the country which still remained unsubdued. This David was anxious to possess, though the conquest had been delayed and prevented by the adverse circumstances to which allusion has already been made in the notes at the psalm. On the situation of Idumea, see the notes at Isaiah 34. It was a region whose possession was necessary to complete the acquisition of territory that properly pertained to the promised land; and David was now intent on acquiring it. He here expresses the utmost confidence that he would succeed in this, notwithstanding the adverse events which had occurred. It is supposed that there is allusion in the expression "I will cast out my shoe," to the custom, when transferring a possession, of throwing down a shoe on the ground as a symbol of occupancy. Compare Ruth 4:7. In the middle ages this was expressed by throwing down a glove; in the time of Columbus, by solemnly taking possession and setting up a cross; in other times, by erecting a standard, or by building a fort. Compare Rosenmuller, Das alte und neue Morgenland, No. 483. The idea is, that he would take possession of it, or would make it his own.
Philistia, triumph thou because of me - On the situation of Philistia, see the notes at Isaiah 11:14. In the margin this is, "triumph thou over me, by an irony." It may be regarded as irony, or as a taunt, meaning that Philistia was no longer now in a situation to triumph over him; or it may be understood as referring to the exultation and shouting which would ensue on the reception of its sovereign. The former seems to be the most probable interpretation, as the language is undoubtedly intended to denote absolute subjection, and not the voluntary reception of a king. The language in the entire passage is that of triumph over foes.
9Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?
Who will bring me into the strong city? - The strong city - the fenced, the fortified city - referred to here is doubtless the capital of Idumea. This was the celebrated city Petra, situated in the rocks, and so difficult to be taken by an enemy. For a description of it, see the notes at Isaiah 16:1. It was this city, as the capital of the land of Edom, which David was now so anxious to secure; and he asks, therefore, with interest, who among his captains, his mighty men, would undertake the task of conducting his armies there.
Who will lead me into Edom? - Into the capital, and thence into the whole land to subdue it. This was done under the combined command of Joab and Abishai his brother. See the notes at the title to the psalm.
10Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?
Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst east us off? - See the notes at Psalm 60:1. The meaning is, that although God had seemed to reject and forsake them, they had no other resource, and the appeal might be still made to him. The psalmist hoped that he would again be favorable to his people, and would not forsake them altogether. It is still true that although God may seem to forsake us, that although he may leave us for a time to discouragement and darkness, yet we have no other resource but himself; it is still true that we may hope in his mercy, and plead for his return.
And thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies? - Who didst suffer us to be defeated. See the notes at Psalm 60:2-3.
11Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.
Give us help from trouble - From the troubles which have now come upon us and overwhelmed us.
For vain is the help of man - Margin, salvation. The idea is, that they would look in vain to man to assist them in their present difficulties. They must depend on God alone. What is here said of temporal troubles is true as absolutely in the matter of salvation. When we are burdened with the consciousness of guilt, and trembling under the apprehension of the wrath to come, it is not man that can aid us. Our help is in God alone. Man can neither guide, comfort, pardon, nor save; and in vain should we look to any man, or to all people, for aid. We must look to God alone: to God as the only one who can remove guilt from the soul; who can give peace to the troubled heart; who can deliver us - from condemnation and ruin.
12Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.
Through God - By the help of God.
We shall do valiantly - literally, we shall make strength. That is, we shall gain or gather strength; we shall go forth with spirit and with courage to the war. This expresses the confident assurance that they would secure the aid of God, and that under him they would achieve the victory.
For he it is that shall tread down our enemies - He will himself tread or trample them down; that is, he will enable us to do it. The psalm, therefore, though begun in despondency and sadness, closes, as the Psalms often do, with confident hope; with the assurance of the favor of God; and with the firm belief that the object sought in the psalm would be obtained. The history shows that the prayer was answered; that the armies of David were successful; that Edom was subdued; and that thus the territories of the Hebrew people had, in fact, in the time of David, the boundaries promised to Abraham.