You may have noticed that Psalms 54 to 60 are similar in that each of them are lamentations in which David called on the Lord for help because of his enemies. In Psalm 54, he complained that strangers were attacking him, ruthless men who sought his life. In Psalm 55, he cried to the Lord because of the wicked who were bringing down suffering upon him. But there was also a close companion, a former friend, who had turned on him. In Psalm 56 he wrote about men who were pursuing him and who pressed their attack all day long; and all day long they twisted his words and plotted to harm him. In Psalm 57 he compared his enemies to lions and other ravenous beasts, who attacked him, not with sharp teeth, but with sharp spears and arrows. In Psalm 58 he complained about rulers who devise injustice and who dispense violence on the earth, while in Psalm 59 he referred to evildoers and bloodthirsty men who rose up against him and who conspired against him. And in today’s psalm he refers to enemy nations. In each of these psalms, David cries to the Lord for help because of his enemies.
And each of these psalms ends with a note of triumph. My eyes have looked in triumph on my enemies. But you, O God, will bring down the wicked. You have delivered me from death. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Surely the righteous are still rewarded. O my Strength, I sing praise to you. With God we shall gain the victory and he will trample down our enemies.
So, David cried to the Lord for help; and the Lord heard him and helped him. And the lesson which David wants to teach us in these psalms of deliverance is that the Lord is able to overcome all of our enemies. And so, we needn’t ever be afraid or worried, because we can trust in the Lord our God who is our Strength and our Shield, our Rock and Refuge, our Fortress and our Friend.
The title of today’s psalm is quite long and it refers to events recorded for us in 2 Samuel 8. In 2 Samuel 7, God revealed to David through the prophet Nathan that he would make David’s name great and would give him rest from his enemies and that he would establish a house for David. In other words, he would give him a dynasty so that a line of rulers would come from him and his kingdom will endure forever. God’s promise was fulfilled in the kings of Judah who followed David, but it’s fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ the King who rules forever. However, having made these promises to David in 2 Samuel 7, we have in chapter 8 a list of David’s victories, including his victory over the Edomites in the Valley of Salt. And that victory is the inspiration for Psalm 60 which can be divided into three main parts: verses 1 to 5; verses 6 to 8; and verses 9 to 12.
Verses 1 to 5
In verses 1 to 5 he complains to the Lord because it seems to him that the Lord has rejected them. And he uses seven different verbs to describe what God has done to them. You have rejected us. You have burst forth upon us (or you have broken us). You have been angry. You have shaken the land. You have torn the land open. You have shown your people desperate times. You have given us wine that makes us stagger.
He doesn’t spell out exactly what the Lord did to them, or why he might be angry with them, but since he refers later to foreign nations, then presumably they suffered some kind of military defeat. And the defeat was so shocking, and so devastating that he can compare it to an earthquake. And so, the Lord has caused them to see and to experience desperate times; and he has made them drink to their fill a cup of bitterness which has made them stagger and fall.
This is what God has done to them. And now the psalmist cries to the Lord for help. So, you have been angry, but restore us now. You have torn the nation apart, but mend its fractures now.
And then in verse 4, he adds that God has raised a banner for those who fear him to be unfurled against the bow. Other English translations render this verse differently, because it’s not entirely clear how it should be translated. The ESV, for instance, says:
You have set up a banner for those who fear you
that they may flee to it from the bow.
The NIV translation is a more positive interpretation: the banner is unfurled in defiance of their enemies who are firing arrows from their bows. The ESV translation is more negative: the banner is a signal to retreat because of their enemies who are firing arrows at them from their bows. Given the previous three verses, I’m inclined to favour the more negative interpretation. Because of the hardships they’ve suffered, God is calling his people to retreat — at least for the time being. But the psalm becomes more positive after this; and in verse 5 David appeals to the Lord to save them and to help them with his powerful right hand so that those you love may be delivered.
Isn’t that interesting? He refers to those ‘you love’. That is, he’s referring to God’s beloved people. Though he said at the beginning that God rejected them and was angry with them, he nevertheless believes that they are still God’s beloved people. And they are still God’s beloved people, because of the covenant which God has established with them, to be their God and to love them with an everlasting love. So, though for a time it seemed he had rejected them and was angry with them and he let their enemies triumph over them, he was still their God who loved them. And if he sent disaster upon them, he must have had a good and loving reason for it, because God has promised that nothing will separate his people from his love. And since that is true, David appeals to the Lord his God to save them and to help them and to deliver them.
Verses 6 to 8
In verses 1 to 5 he brings his complaint to the Lord and prays for God’s help. And then in verses 6 to 8 he refers to the word of the Lord. ‘God has spoken from this sanctuary’, he says. Some of the Bible commentators suggest that what follows is a new message from the Lord, proclaimed by the Lord for that exact time in David’s life. It’s also possible that these verses refer to the promises God made to David through the prophet Nathan which are recorded for us in 2 Samuel 7, where he promised to give his people peace and rest. However, other commentators think that David is referring to an older message, because it matches God’s promises to his people in the days of Moses and Joshua to drive out their enemies from the land of Canaan and to give his people the Promised Land to live in; and he promised to assign portions of the land to the different tribes of Israel. Whichever it is, now that Israel has suffered some kind of defeat, it was fitting for David to remind himself and to remind the people of God’s promises to them to give them victory over their enemies and to give them rest in the Promised Land.
And so, in verse 6, he remembers God’s promise to parcel out Shechem and the Valley of Succoth. Shechem represents the land of Canaan and Succoth represents the land on the east side of the Jordan which was given to some of the tribes. ‘Gilead and Manasseh are mine’, says the Lord. Those two tribes were given that land on the east side of the Jordan, whereas Ephraim which is mentioned next represents the tribes which were given land in the north; and Judah, which is also mentioned, represents the tribes which which give land in the south. And by referring to his helmet and his sceptre, he’s adding the point that the Lord is a warrior-king. And so, in the past, the Lord led his people in victory over the Canaanites and he drove them from the land and gave it to his people.
And then he refers to Moab and Edom and Philistia. These were some of the enemy nations. But they are as nothing to the Lord. Therefore he describes Moab as his wash-basin and Edom as the place where he tosses his shoes. In other words, he regards them as unimportant and insignificant. And he will triumph over Philistia. Though the Philistines harassed the Israelites for many years, the Lord promised his people that they will triumph over all their enemies.
And so, here’s David reminding himself and reminding his people of God’s gracious promises to them to drive out their enemies and to give them peace and rest in the Promised Land. Though they have suffered temporary defeat, they can trust in the Lord to save them and to help them and to deliver them.
Verses 9 to 12
And so, in verse 9 he refers to the fortified city and to Edom. And we know from the psalm’s title that a war with Edom was the background and inspiration for this psalm. So, perhaps their first attack had failed. But will God help them now? Because of the previous defeat, it seemed that God had rejected them and would no longer lead them out into battle. Nevertheless, now he prays to God in verse 11 to give them aid against their enemy, because human help is useless. There’s no point looking to a neighbouring nation to help them, because what they really need is God’s help. And the psalm ends with this wonderful note of confidence:
With God we shall gain the victory,
and he will trample down our enemies.
And God has given us victory over our enemies, because by his Son, Jesus Christ, he has triumphed over sin and death and Satan. He has triumphed over sin, because Christ has paid for our sins with his life. He has triumphed over death, because Christ was raised from the dead to live forever. And he has triumphed over Satan, because Christ has been exalted to the highest place, far above every power and authority, visible and invisible, including Satan himself.
And from his throne in heaven, Christ the King gives us his Spirit to enable his people here on earth to repent and to believe the good news of the gospel so that they are set free from Satan’s tyranny and brought into Christ’s kingdom of grace. And his Spirit, living inside us, is the deposit of the good things to come, to guarantee to us that though we die, yet we shall live forever with Christ in glory. And his Spirit, living inside us, gives us the help we need to resist sin and temptation more and more and to do God’s will here on earth.
And if ever we’re overwhelmed by sin, and our conscience accuses us, then we must do as David did, and remember and believe God’s promises to us, because hasn’t God promised not to treat us as our sins deserve? And if ever we’re overwhelmed by the fear of death, then we must do as David did, and remember and believe God’s promises to us, because hasn’t God promised to give eternal life to all who believe? And when Satan comes at us with his wicked schemes to try to crush our faith with trials or to trip us up with error or to lead us astray with temptations, then we must do as David did, and remember and believe God’s promises to us, because hasn’t he promised to keep us and to prevent anyone from snatching us from his hand?
And, of course, just as God promised David peace and rest in the land of Canaan, so he has promised us, and all his believing people, everlasting peace and rest in the Promised Land to come. And so, though we must fight hard in this life against Satan’s wicked schemes and against all our fears and worries and against every sin and temptation, we believe that in the end, Christ will come and he will bring us into that perfect peace and rest which he has prepared for us in the life to come.