Psalms 60 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Psalm 60
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

This psalm is composite; certainly two (Psalm 60:1-12), probably three, independent pieces (Psalm 60:1-12) compose it.

Psalm 60:5-12 appear again at Psalms 108. The fact that the compiler of that psalm began his adaptation with Psalm 60:5, and not where the ancient original piece begins (Psalm 60:6), as well as the trifling variations, show that this psalm was in its present state when the later arrangement was made. Most scholars agree in thinking that the oracular verses, 6-8, are Davidic, or belong to a period as old as David’s; and the inscription no doubt refers us to the series of events which this part of the poem reflects.

There is nothing to guide conjecture as to the time when the ancient oracular promise of victory was embodied in a poem, which evidently reflects a period of national depression, either from some crushing defeat by a foreign enemy, or from civil strife, in which the pious part of the community had suffered. The poetical form is necessarily irregular.

Title.—See title, Psalms 4, 16

Upon Shushan-eduth (comp. Psalms 80, and Psalms 45, title)—i.e., upon a lily of testimony; which has been variously explained to mean, “Upon lily-shaped bells,” “A harp with six strings,” &c. After the analogy of other titles, it is better to take it as the beginning of some hymn, to the tune of which this psalm was to be sung.

To teach.—This recalls 2 Samuel 1:18 : “To teach the sons of Judah the [song of the] bow.” This psalm, like the elegy over Saul and Jonathan, was possibly used to kindle the martial ardour of youthful Israel.

When he strove with . . .—The allusion to “Aram-naharaim”—i.e., Aram of the two rivers—and “Aram-zobah” are to be explained by the events narrated in 2 Samuel 8, 10. The English rendering of 2 Samuel 8:13 reads as if Syrians, and not Edomites, were then slain in the valley of salt; but the Hebrew seems rather to be, “And David gat him a name in the valley of salt [eighteen thousand], when he returned from smiting the Syrians.” This still leaves a discrepancy in the numbers; but it may be noticed that the mode of the introduction of the number in the history looks suspiciously like a gloss which may have been made from memory and afterwards crept into the text.

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.
(1) Hast scattered us.—Literally, hast broken us. A word used of a wall or fence, Psalm 80:12, but in 2 Samuel 5:20 applied to the rout of an army, an event which gave its name to the locality, “plain of breaches.” So in English:

“And seeing me, with a great voice he cried,

They are broken, they are broken.”—


On the other hand, the two succeeding verses seem to refer to a political convulsion rather than a military defeat, and it has been conjectured that the breach between the two kingdoms is here indicated. (See the use of perez=breach, in Judges 21:15.)

Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh.
(2) Earth.—Rather, land; since, though the image is drawn from an earthquake, in which the solid ground trembles and buildings totter and fall (comp. Isaiah 30:13), the convulsion described is political, not physical.

Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.
(3) Hard thingsi.e., a hard fate.

Wine of astonishment.—Literally, either wine of reelingi.e., an intoxicating draught—or wine as reelingi.e., bewilderment like wine, or wine, which is not wine, but bewilderment, according as we take the construction.

In any case the figure is the same which meets us often in Hebrew poetry (comp. Psalm 75:8-9; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15, &c) expressing that infatuation which the heathen proverb so well describes:—

“Quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat.”

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.
(4) Thou hast given.—Amid the uncertainty attaching to this verse, one thing is certain, that the Authorised Version rendering of its second clause must be abandoned. Instead of koshet (truth), we must read with the LXX. and Symmachus kesheth (a bow). It is more than doubtful if the preposition rendered because of can have that meaning. Nor can the rendering of the verb, that it may be displayed, be defended. Render, Thou hast given Thy fearers a banner, that they may rally to it from before the bow, and comp. Isaiah 13:2.

That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.
(5) From this verse onward the psalm appears again, with some variations noticed there, in Psalm 108:6-13.

(6, 7, 8) These three verses, forming the centre of the poem, are, plainly by their style, of different age and authorship from the beginning. Possibly, indeed, they formed an original poem by themselves, an ancient oracular saying descriptive of the relations of Israel to the tribes bordering on her territory, and were then employed by the compilers of this psalm and Psalms 108, to rouse the drooping spirits of the race in some less fortunate time. (See Introduction.) The speaker is God Himself, who, according to a familiar prophetic figure, appears in the character of a warrior, the captain of Israel, proclaiming the triumphs won through His might by their arms. (Comp. Isaiah 63:1-6.) Here, however, the picture is rather playful than terrible—rather ironic than majestic. The conqueror is returning, as in the passage of Isaiah referred to above, from the battle, but he is not painted “glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength.” The fury of the fight, the carnage, the bloodstained garments are all implied, not described. Instead of answering a challenge, as in Isaiah, by a description of the fight, here the champion simply proclaims the result of his victory as he proceeds to disarm and prepare for the bath—figures expressing the utmost contempt for the foe so easily subdued.

God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.
(6) In his holiness . . .—The LXX. and Vulg. have “in his sanctuary” which suits the utterance of an oracle.

I will rejoice . . .—Rather, I will raise a shout of triumph.

I will divide Shechem . . .—Rather, I may divide, &c, implying unquestioned right of ownership. Shechem and Succoth appear to be named as a rude indication of the whole breadth of the country, from west to east. The fact that Dr. Robinson and Vandervelde have identified one Succoth on the right bank of Jordan, does not at all weaken the evidence for the existence of another on the east of that river. See Genesis 33:17; Judges 8:5 seq.; Joshua 13:17 (where ēmek is used for valley, as here).

Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim also is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver;
(7) Gilead and Manasseh on the east of Jordan, and Ephraim and Judah on the west, are employed to denote the whole dominion.

Strength of mine head . . .i.e., the helmet, or possibly with reminiscence of the patriarchal blessing on Joseph, Deuteronomy 33:17.

Lawgiver.—In Hebrew a participle of verb meaning to cut or engrave, and is applied as here to the lawmaker (comp. Deuteronomy 33:21), or to the staff or sceptre which was the emblem of law, Genesis 49:10, Numbers 21:18. The LXX. and Vulg. have “my king.”

Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.
(8) Moab is my washpoti.e., probably the footbath, a figure expressing great contempt, which receives illustration from the story told of Amasis (Herod. ii. 172) and the golden footpan, which he had broken to pieces and made into an image of one of the gods—from base use made divine—as allegorical of his own transformation from a private person to a king. Others explain, from analogy of Arabic proverbs, that the conqueror would as it were wash his face white, i.e., acquire renown in Moab.

Possibly the comparison of Moab to a bath was suggested by its proximity to the Dead Sea, which might be said to be at the foot of Israel.

Over Edom . . .—The most natural explanation of this figure is that Edom is disgraced to the character of the slave to whom the conqueror tosses his sandals (na’al is collective), that they may be cleaned. (Comp. Matthew 3:11). The symbolic action of Ruth 4:7 had a different meaning, the transfer of a right of ownership, and so cannot be employed in illustration.

Of the “shoe,” as a figure of what is vilest and most common, Dr. J. G. Wetzstein quotes many Arabic proverbs. A covering for the feet would naturally draw to it such associations. (Comp. the use of footstool repeatedly in the Psalms, and Shakespeare’s use of foot,

“What my foot my tutor!”—Tempest.)

But the custom which Israel brought from Egypt (Exodus 3:3), of dropping the sandals outside the door of a temple, and even of an ordinary house, must have served still more to fasten on that article of dress, ideas of vileness and profanation.

Philistia, triumph thou because of me . . .—This cannot be the meaning intended by the clause, since it is quite out of keeping with the context, and in Psalms 108 we have the very opposite, “over Philistia will I triumph.” We must therefore change this reading so as to get, over Philistia is my triumph, or render the text as it stands, from analogy with Isaiah 15:4 : Upon (i.e., because of) me, Philistia, raise a mournful wail.

The LXX. and Vulg. indicate this meaning while translating the proper name, “the foreigners have been subdued to me.”

Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?
(9) Who will . . .i.e., how can this ancient Divine oracle be fulfilled now in present circumstances? This is the poet’s question. He may be a king himself eager for triumph, or more probably Israel personified. (See the plural in Psalm 60:10-12.) Edom is the particular foe in view, and as the difficulties of the undertaking present themselves, misgivings arise and the assurance gained from the triumphs of olden time turns into prayer, half plaintive, half confident, that the Divine favour and power may be once more on the side of the chosen people.

The strong city.—As in the Hebrew the article is wanting, any strongly fortified city might be intended, were it not for the parallelism. Here it must stand for Selah or Petra, the capital of Edom. For its impregnable position (see Note Obadiah 1:3). The question, “Who will lead me into Petra?” is explained by the fact that there are only two possible approaches to the city, each a long narrow tortuous defile, and that the place itself is so buried in its ravines that it cannot be seen from any spot in its neighbourhood far or near.

Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?
Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.
Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.
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