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Psalm 68:15-23 -
The Ascension of the Ark
15The mountains of Bashan are majestic mountains;
rugged are the mountains of Bashan.
16Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains,
at the mountain where God chooses to reign,
where the Lord Himself will dwell forever?
17The chariots of God are tens of thousands
and thousands of thousands;
the Lord has come from Sinai into His sanctuary.
18When You ascended on high,
You led captives in Your train;
You received gifts for men,
even for the rebellious—
that You, O Lord God, might dwell there.
19Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens. Selah
20Our God is a God who saves;
from the Sovereign Lord
comes escape from death.
21Surely God will crush the heads of His enemies,
the hairy crowns of those
who go on in their sins.
22The Lord says, “I will bring them from Bashan;
I will bring them from the depths of the sea,
23that you may plunge your feet
in the blood of your foes,
while the tongues of your dogs
have their share.”
Here, we continue our study of this psalm, which David (we believe) wrote to commemorate the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Zion. In this section, David begins by comparing Mount Zion with other majestic mountains: “The mountains of Bashan are majestic mountains; rugged are the mountains of Bashan. Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the Lord Himself will dwell forever?” (vss. 15–16). The mountains of Bashan (including Mount Hermon) stood at the northern boundary between Judea and the heathen world. So here, David is using the mountains of Bashan as a symbol of the world’s majesty, and comparing those mountains to “the mountain where God chooses to reign”, that is, Mount Zion. From the world’s viewpoint, the mountains of Bashan were more beautiful and majestic than Mount Zion. Nevertheless, the mountains of Bashan “gaze in envy” at Mount Zion, because God dwelled on Zion. The majesty of the mountains of Bashan came from their God-given, rugged features. The majesty of Mount Zion came from God’s choice to dwell there. It was a spiritual grandeur, as opposed to the physical grandeur of Bashan. “The kingdoms of this world, especially some of more eminent sort, seem very rich and glorious in comparison of the outward appearance of the kingdom of Christ in His church, as the great, high, and fruitful hill of Bashan seemed to be more glorious, than the hill of Zion; yet, all things being compared, in special the spiritual privileges of the one, with the temporal privileges of the other, the church of God will outreach the most glorious kingdom on the earth” [Dickson, 401].
Note well, God did not choose the grandest, most rugged, nor the highest mountain in which to dwell; just as God does not always choose the strongest, or wisest, or most powerful men of the world in which to dwell by His Spirit. As Paul teaches: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him… Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’” (I Cor. 1:27–30).
David next describes the ascension of the Ark of the Covenant onto the Mount: “The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into His sanctuary. When You ascended on high, You led captives in Your train; You received gifts for men, even for the rebellious—that You, O Lord God, might dwell there” (vss. 17–18). David describes the ascension of the Ark as a prophetic symbol of the ascension of the Messiah to His throne. David moves in the artistry of the psalm (and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) from describing the event before him, to prophesying about an event long in the future. Jesus is shown here, ascending to the throne, leading the “captives in His train”, freeing them from their captivity to sin, and giving the gift of the Holy Spirit to them. (Note: we are using an alternate translation of this verse. The original translation in the NIV says: “received gifts from men, even from the rebellious.” However, the AV reads as we have written it). Paul comments on this prophecy in his letter to the Ephesians: “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men’… It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Eph, 4:7–8, 11).
At the sight of the ascension of the Ark, David breaks into praise: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death” (vss. 19–20). Our God is a God who cares intimately about each and every one of us. Some see God as only caring about the “large” and “important” matters in the world. However, (praise be to God) He cares about things that are small (from the viewpoint of the world), but that are important personally to us. He is a God “who daily bears our burdens.” And what a blessing that He does not just “bear our burdens”, but He “daily bears our burdens.” This demonstrates His love for us, and for this we should praise Him. “Our praises and thanksgivings should keep pace with the mercies we receive. If God loads us with daily benefits, why should we not daily shout and sing of His love?” [Plumer, 671].
He is also a “God who saves” and from Him “comes escape from death.” This of course speaks primarily of the work of Christ, who died for us, so that we may have eternal life.
But God is a God of justice, too, and in the end, His enemies will be punished, as David points out: “Surely God will crush the heads of His enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins. The Lord says, ‘I will bring them from Bashan; I will bring them from the depths of the sea, that you may plunge your feet in the blood of your foes, while the tongues of your dogs have their share’” (vss. 21–23). Yes, God is a God of love, and He is a patient God, but His patience will not last forever. For those who reject Him, and the gift of eternal life that He gave us through His Son, there will be dire consequences. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). Surely the Lord would not use such terrific language as he does respecting the doom of sinners, if it were not inconceivably dreadful. Nothing can protect persistent and obstinate offenders from the sword of Divine Justice (see Amos 9:3,4; Obad. 4)” [Plumer, 672].