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Psalm 60 - Young King David’s Struggles
For the director of music.
To [the tune of] “The Lily of the Covenant.”
A miktam of David. For teaching.
When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah,
and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand
Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
1You have rejected us, O God,
and burst forth upon us;
You have been angry—
now restore us!
2You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
3You have shown Your people desperate times;
You have given us wine that makes us stagger.
4But for those who fear You,
You have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow. Selah
5Save us and help us with Your right hand,
that those You love may be delivered.
6God has spoken from His sanctuary:
“In triumph I will parcel out Shechem
and measure off the Valley of Succoth.
7Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter.
8Moab is my washbasin,
upon Edom I toss my sandal;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
9Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
10Is it not You, O God, You who have rejected us
and no longer go out with our armies?
11Give us aid against the enemy,
for the help of man is worthless.
12With God we will gain the victory,
and He will trample down our enemies.
The inscription tells us that the occasion of the psalm is “when David fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” The history of these battles is given in II Sam. 8 and I Chron. 18. They took place fairly shortly after David assumed power as king.
Years before David assumed power as king of Israel, God (through Samuel) had anointed him as king (see I Sam. 16). And yet, David went through many trials on his way to becoming king. So, “the children of God must not think it strange to be put to wrestling, striving, and fighting for a promised kingdom, before they be settled in possession” [Dickson]. Like David, we children of God are promised entrance into a wonderful kingdom. But before we enter it, we will face many struggles, testings and trials.
As we see from the description of these battles in Samuel and Chronicles, and from this psalm, all was not well in Israel when David assumed power. The corruption of Saul had left Israel weak to its enemies, and divided within, so David had much to overcome as he took power. “The latter part of Saul’s administration was full of disaster to the nation, nor did David’s accession at once bring relief. The people were not all of a sudden united on him, and the heathen were very daring and troublesome” [Dickson, 613].
Disobedience to God is a dreadful thing, which can have consequences even over those who are not disobedient. Saul’s disobedience caused the whole nation to suffer. David saw the problems that Israel was experiencing as God’s judgment: “You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us; You have been angry—now restore us! You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown Your people desperate times; You have given us wine that makes us stagger” (vss. 1–3). Much as David’s assumption as king was a glorious and happy time for him, yet through it, he also assumed responsibility for a nation that was full of trouble. David was victorious in his struggle to become king, yet there were many battles ahead. “We have our cares at the same time that we have our joys, and they may serve for a balance to each other, that neither may exceed. They may likewise furnish us with matter both for prayer and praise, for both must be laid before God with suitable affections and emotions. If one point be gained, yet in another we are still striving: the Edomites are vanquished, but the Syrians are not” [Henry].
In the midst of God’s judgment on the land, David prophetically saw relief for the faithful of God: “But for those who fear You, You have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow” (vs. 4). A very important word here, “But”: marking a contrast between those under the judgment of God, and those under the banner of God. Those who fear God are unified, as if under a banner. God is their rallying point and their banner of triumph in victory.
David prays for those under God’s banner: “Save us and help us with Your right hand, that those You love may be delivered” (vs. 5). Note the order of his petitions: “Save us”, then “help us.” Salvation from God, salvation out of our deserved judgment, is foremost in importance. Oh Lord, save us first from eternal judgment, then take care of the relatively trivial troubles on this earth.
Next, David recalls God’s promises about the land he rules: “God has spoken from His sanctuary: ‘In triumph I will parcel out Shechem and measure off the Valley of Succoth. Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter. Moab is My washbasin, upon Edom I toss My sandal; over Philistia I shout in triumph’” (vss. 6–8). These first three words summarize the history of the world: “God has spoken.” All that happens, happens according to God’s will. These first three words are beloved to God’s people. “Faith is never happier than when it can fall back upon the promise of God” [Spurgeon]. David is gaining hope in the midst of his battles by recalling the promise of God about the land of Israel.
This hope gives David faith, even in the midst of trials that God Himself has sent: “Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? Is it not You, O God, You who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies?” (vss. 9–10). Despite His momentary anger, we must lean on God, for He is our only hope. We should plead mercy before Him, for even in the midst of His anger, He loves us.
David well knows that he can depend only on God for deliverance: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless” (vs. 11). Such true words are these: “The help of man is worthless.” “Whatever our trouble may be, let us look to God for help. When we think we can carry our own burden, it is always too heavy for us” [Plumer, 618].
In faith, David foresees the end: “With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies” (vs. 12). Indeed, “the help of man is worthless”, but “divine working is not an argument for human inaction” [Spurgeon]. God chooses primarily to work through us. This is a great blessing: to share in the work of God; to share in His victories.