A Contemplation of the sons of Korah.
This is the second of the eleven psalms credited to the sons of Korah. As we said regarding Psalm 42, the first of these psalms, the sons of Korah were one of three companies given charge over the music in the temple. As such, it makes sense that they would have written psalms. Yet at the same time, it could well be that psalms were written particularly for them to sing, and so the question of authorship is not settled. Rotherham suggests David as the author, suggesting it was written during the events described in the title of Psalm 60, one that is definitely identified as a psalm of David.
“A Michtam of David. For teaching. When he fought against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah, and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.”
It is clear from psalm 60 that David had suffered a sudden and shocking defeat at the hands of the Edomites. David, who was used to God giving him victory at every turn, was devastated at this calamity, and the seeming abandonment of Israel by the God Who had always before given him success. All seems now lost, and David is deeply cast down by his own dead on the field, and by the fate of those captured by the Edomite army, now sold into slavery and living in misery. David feels deeply this humiliation, and experiences the agony of his nation at this seeming reversal of fortune. However, soon afterwards, Joab and twelve thousand men return from battle against Mesopotamia and Syria, and with these forces the battle with Edom is renewed, and Israel this time is victorious, crushing the enemy and setting free the captives. This was a tumultuous event indeed, and could well fit the situation we see in this psalm. Indeed, it is hard to find any such event as described here in any of the historical books of the Scriptures.
Bullinger in The Companion Bible suggests Hezekiah for the author. Yet we know of Hezekiah’s reforms, and surely they were in light of the fact that many in Israel had gone along with turning away to other gods. The calamities that came upon Israel in Hezekiah’s day were because of their past unfaithfulness to Him. The indication that Israel had not abandoned their God or worshipped the gods of the nations around them at this time (verse 17) makes it clear that this psalm must have been very early, or else very late, in Israel’s history. From the time of Solomon through the captivity, it could never have been said by Israel that “we have not forgotten You, Nor have we dealt falsely with Your covenant.” This would have been true in the time of the Maccabees, but I personally believe that the book of Psalms was finished at the time of Hezekiah, and so I would not put any of the Psalms at this late date. This leaves either the time of Joshua and the first generation to enter the land, or the time of Samuel and David, as being the time when this would fit. Since there is no fitting event in the historical book of Samuel that fits, Psalm 60 seems our best reference.
Yet just because this was written at the time when David was alive does not have to mean that David is the author, especially when his name is left out. Surely other music writers lived at the time, and God could have inspired one of them to write a song at the time of David’s calamitous defeat, rather than inspiring the king himself. Indeed, David the king wrote Psalm 60 about this event, so certainly another author could have written a similar psalm at the same time. Yet this does not mean it could not have been David writing.
Some wonder if we should ascribe psalms to David when the Holy Spirit has not thus ascribed them in the Divinely-inspired titles. This is a good point, yet we can establish that there are times when David wrote a psalm, even though the title does not ascribe the psalm to him. We can see this from Acts 4:25, wherein Peter quotes Psalm 2:1, ascribing that psalm to David, even though in Hebrew there is no Divine title to the psalm, so it is not ascribed to David in the original.
25. who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
“Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?”
Therefore, just because a psalm is not ascribed to David in the Divine title, does not mean that David was not the author, since David wrote Psalm 2, according to Acts 4:25. Yet we just do not know that it was him when his name is not ascribed to it, either in the title or anywhere else. Since his name so often is ascribed to psalms, we should be very careful before bringing it in when it is not. This psalm could have been written by one of David’s contemporaries, rather than by the King himself.
This second psalm of the sons of Korah is called, in the NKJV, a “Contemplation,” just like the first one was. As we said regarding that Psalm, the Hebrew word Maschil might better be translated “Instruction,” according to the Companion Bible. This is the third instruction psalm we have come upon in the book of Psalms, the first two being Psalms 32 and 42.
1. We have heard with our ears, O God,
Though Israel had its history written down in the Scriptures that had been given at that time, still much of their history was passed down orally. Thus, any good Israelite boy would have heard the history of Israel with his ears from the time of his youth up.
Our fathers have told us,
Their fathers had shared these things with them. This does not mean they only heard them from their own fathers, but that all the older men in Israel who taught the younger boys would have told them the same stories. This was good, as God had commanded Israel to do this very thing, as we read in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.
9. Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, 10. especially concerning the day you stood before the LORD your God in Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’
It was very important to the LORD that fathers teach their children and grandchildren the great things He had done for their ancestors, so they would never forget. This psalmist’s fathers had obeyed this command, and he had heard of the great things that God had done in the past for Israel.
The deeds You did in their days,
Their fathers had told them of the deeds God had done in their days. God was always working in Israel, but it was always a danger that the younger generations that arose, who had not seen His glorious deeds of the past, would forget them, and not think as highly of the LORD as they ought. Therefore, it was the job of the fathers to pass the stories of God’s great deeds of the past down to their children.
In days of old:
It was not just the things God had done in the father’s days, but also before that, in the days of old, that they had shared with their children.
2. You drove out the nations with Your hand,
They were told the story of how God had driven out the nations from the land of Israel with His hand. These were the Canaanite nations whom they dispossessed of the land God had promised them. We have the record of this in the book of Joshua. The LORD God reviews it through Joshua it in Joshua 24:11-12.
11. Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you—also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. 12. I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow.
So the seven nations mentioned here were driven out by God before Israel. He describes it that He sent the hornet before them to drive them out.
But them You planted;
The fathers of Israel, on the other hand, God planted in the land in place of the dispossessed nations.
You afflicted the peoples, and cast them out.
Again he reviews what happened to the peoples who lived in the land before Israel. God afflected them, and cast them out of the land.
3. For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword,
The stories their fathers told revealed that Israel did not gain possession of the land by their own sword. They have tried this multiple times since, and once again in recent years. They do possess a part of the land, yet it is far from secure in their hands, but can only be maintained by constant vigilance. Yet Israel originally did not possess the land by their own military might, but only because God gave it to them. In the same way, when Israel again possesses the land and lives there in peace, it will be because God acted to give them the land He promised them.
Nor did their own arm save them;
It was not their own arm, their own strength, that saved them from the threat of the powerful nations that dwelt in the land before them.
But it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance,
No, it was God’s right hand, God’s arm, and the light of God’s countenance that gave them possession of the land and saved them. The right hand is typically the skillful hand in most people, and so the right hand stands for the skill God displayed in procuring the land for them. The strength of a man is in his arms, and so the arm stands for the might that God showed in driving out the inhabitants of the land before them. The light of God’s countenance stands for God’s presence with them and His favor upon them. It was the fact that He was with them and favoring them that won them the land in the first place.
Because You favored them.
It was the fact that God favored them that gave them the victory over the inhabitants of the land, and got the land for them.
4. You are my King, O God;
The psalmist calls upon God as his King. God was ever the true King of Israel, though others may have sat on the throne under Him. It was as King, ultimate Ruler over His people, that the psalmist calls upon Him now.
Command victories for Jacob.
He calls upon God to command victories for Jacob, for nothing has changed in the years since God gave Israel victory over the Canaanites. God still was the help of His people, and they still needed Him, not military might, to achieve victory over their modern-day enemies.
5. Through You we will push down our enemies;
Just as in the days of their fathers, so now it is through God that Israel will push down their enemies from the heights to which they wish to exalt themselves.
Through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us.
It is through God’s name that they will trample those who rise up to oppose them. God’s name is His true reputation based on His true character. God had associated Himself with the people of Israel, and so His name was with them. Through that Name, then, they would get the victory over their foes.
6. For I will not trust in my bow,
The psalmist, inspired by the stories told him by his fathers, pledges that his trust will not be in his bow, the weapon of war that is in his hands.
Nor shall my sword save me.
Neither will his trust be in his sword to save him. He knows that these instruments of war did not give his fathers the victory, and he pledges that he will not trust in them either.
7. But You have saved us from our enemies,
It is God Who has saved Israel from their enemies in the past, and so the psalmist pledges that it is God Whom he will trust to save them from their enemies in the present.
And have put to shame those who hated us.
It is God Who has put to shame those who hated Israel in the past, and so the psalmist looks to Him to be the One to do the same in his own day.
8. In God we boast all day long,
Therefore it is in God that the psalmist and his contemporaries boast all day long, not in the might of Israel or in their prowess on the field of battle.
And praise Your name forever. Selah
They praise God’s name, His true reputation based on His character, forever. This word in Hebrew is “for the olam,” the word olam meaning the “flow.” To do something for the flow means to do it continually, so the psalmist means that they will praise His name in perpetuity. Yet the Bible always has in mind the great, future time when God will flow out to the world in His kingdom, so praising His name for the olam can also mean praising His reputation in light of the kingdom to come.
The word “Selah” occurs here as a connecting word, bridging the first part of the psalm, the remembrances of the victories God has given in the past and Israel’s determination to trust Him for such victories in the future, with the latter part of the psalm, in which Israel has suffered a distressing defeat, and seems to have lost the favor of God they had every right to expect would be upon them.
9. But You have cast us off and put us to shame,
The psalmist contrasts the wonderful stories he has heard of God’s dealings with Israel in the past, not to mention his own trust and confidence in the God of his fathers, with the sad circumstances he finds himself in at this time. Instead of giving them the victory, God has cast them off and put them to shame.
And You do not go out with our armies.
God has not gone out with their armies, but has instead allowed them to face a crushing defeat.
10. You make us turn back from the enemy,
Instead of sending a hornet before them to help them win, God has caused them to turn back and flee from before the enemy.
And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.
This has resulted in those who hate them plundering and taking spoil from Israel for themselves as much as they wished.
11. You have given us up like sheep intended for food,
God has given them up to their enemies like sheep are given up to the butcher when they are intended for food.
And have scattered us among the nations.
God has scattered them among the nations, as they have been captured to be sold into slavery.
This is perhaps the best argument for Bullinger’s contention that this psalm is about Hezekiah’s day, since at the defeat of David’s army in Psalm 60, it seems highly unlikely that enough time elapsed between Israel’s defeat and their ultimate victory for captured Israelites actually to be sold into slavery and scattered among the nations. Certainly, this had happened to Israel at the time of Hezekiah, and many towns in Judah had already been defeated and sold into slavery before God gave them the ultimate victory before the walls of Jerusalem.
12. You sell Your people for next to nothing,
God has sold out His people, yet He does not seem to get any benefit from it. A man might sell one into slavery if he hopes to profit from it, yet God can get no profit from selling His people to their enemies.
And are not enriched by selling them.
No, God is not enriched by selling His people. So why then, the psalmist wonders, has He done so?
13. You make us a reproach to our neighbors,
Israel was often hated by all their neighbors on every side of them. Now, facing this defeat, they are made a reproach to all these neighbors.
A scorn and a derision to those all around us.
Yes, all the neighboring nations put them to scorn and deride them, seeing them in defeat.
14. You make us a byword among the nations,
Israel is made a byword, a scornful epithet, among all the nations when they are thus brought down to defeat.
A shaking of the head among the peoples.
The peoples shake their heads in mockery when they consider once-mighty Israel, now brought down to stunning defeat by their enemies.
15. My dishonor is continually before me,
The psalmist is continually reminded of his dishonor. He had trusted in God, and now all seems brought to ruin. Like his hand before his face, so his dishonor is constantly in his vision, filling him with shame.
And the shame of my face has covered me,
His face is covered with shame, and he can hardly dare to look another in the face because of the shame he feels that Israel, who trusted in their God, has fallen prey to their enemies.
16. Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles,
He cannot forget his shame because he hears the voice of the enemy, reproaching and reviling Israel, ever reminding him of his dishonor.
Because of the enemy and the avenger.
The enemy and the avenger and their provocative acts keep him ever in mind of the defeat that Israel has suffered.
17. All this has come upon us;
All this calamity has come upon the psalmist and his generation of Israelites.
But we have not forgotten You,
Yet what makes this shame much harder to bear and to understand is the fact that Israel, he and his contemporaries, have not forgotten God. It is not like in the days of Assyria and Babylon, when Israel was sent into captivity because they had turned their backs on their God. No, Israel has not forgotten God at this time. They have remembered His mighty deeds on behalf of their fathers, and they have looked to Him to be their help and to bring them victory in the present. Yet in spite of their faithfulness, still God has given them over to defeat. This makes their shame multiple times harder to understand and deal with in the mind of the psalmist. How could God have sold them out when they had not abandoned Him? How could He have allowed this defeat when they had done nothing to deserve it?
Nor have we dealt falsely with Your covenant.
They have not dealt falsely with God’s covenant with them. If they had, they know that according to Deuteronomy 28:25 they should expect to be defeated by their enemies, even if their enemies are much smaller and weaker than they. Yet according to Deuteronomy 28:7, when Israel obeys the voice of the LORD their God, their enemies should be defeated before them. How is it then that God has not kept His word? How can it be that He has allowed this defeat, when they have met all the conditions He laid down for them to have success and victory?
18. Our heart has not turned back,
The psalmist considers the heart of God’s people, and concludes that they have not turned back in their hearts from following Him. This is indeed an impressive thing to be able to truthfully say! No wonder the psalmist was confused. Why would God not give them the victory when this was the case?
Nor have our steps departed from Your way;
Israel in their steps have not departed from following God’s way. Again this is impressive, and should have guaranteed them victory over their enemies, as Deuteronomy 28 says.
19. But You have severely broken us in the place of jackals,
They have been severely broken in the place of jackals. Yet the translation of “jackals” is very questionable here. The Hebrew word is tanniyn, derived from the word tan. Some have explained tan as referring to a wild dog or jackal, yet the only occurrence of it in the Scriptures is in Ezekiel 32:2, which speaks of the tan in the seas. I think a jackal would have a lot of trouble if it was in the sea, since it cannot breathe water. This seems a bad translation of the word.
God created great tanniyn when He created the living creatures of the sea and air (Genesis 1:21.) When Moses cast down his rod before Pharaoh, it became a tanniyn (Exodus 7:9,10,12.) Tanniyn have poison, Deuteronomy 32:33. Tanniyn are in the waters in Psalm 74:13. Tanniyn are associated with “deeps” in Psalm 148:7. Tanniyn cry, according to Isaiah 13:22. The leviathan is a tanniyn, according to Isaiah 27:1, and a nachash, a shining one (or serpent) like Satan. Tanniyn can also live in the desert, according to Isaiah 35:7. Tanniyn swallow down their food whole, according to Jeremiah 51:34. Tanniyn draw out the breast and give suck to their young ones, according to Lamentations 4:3. Tanniyn wail, according to Micah 1:8. Overall, it seems incredible and ridiculous to suggest that tanniyn are jackals.
It is hard to say exactly what a tanniyn is, and there appear to be different varieties of them, as we can see by the suggestions that some of them live in the wilderness, whereas others dwell in the seas. The common translation in the King James Version of “dragons,” the old name for dinosaurs before evolutionists got ahold of their bones, seems a pretty good one. There were doubtless many varieties of dragons, as even the evolutionists will admit. Some lived in the seas, others in the wilderness or even the deserts. It could be that the word could refer to serpents, as we know serpents are poisonous, and swallow down their food whole (though perhaps Moses’ rod did become a lizard, not a snake, when he threw it down before Pharaoh.) It could be that whales were considered a type of tanniyn as well, for we know that whales nurse their young, whereas lizards do not. Yet leviathan clearly seems to be a dinosaur/dragon, and so this would seem to be the most likely idea here. The word seems to refer to several fearsome or monstrous beings, like serpents, whales, and dinosaurs/dragons.
The variety of tanniyn or dinosaur that the psalmist is referring to seems to be a type that dwells only in uninhabited places, where men do not come. That this variety of dragons dwelt in the wilderness seems clear from Job 30:29, Isaiah 34:13, Isaiah 43:20, Jeremiah 9:11, Jeremiah 10:22, Jeremiah 49:33, and Jeremiah 51:37. It may also have been a scavenger, and therefore have haunted a battlefield to feed on the corpses. This would seem to be what the psalmist is referring to here.
And covered us with the shadow of death.
The shadow of death covers the psalmist and the rest of the Israelites. This is literally true for those who lie dead on the battlefield, but death also hangs over those who remain, who are now helpless before the cruelty of their enemies.
20. If we had forgotten the name of our God,
If they had forgotten the name, that is, the great reputation of their God, so that they no longer feared and worshipped Him, then what had happened to them would have been understandable, for then they would have deserved it.
Or stretched out our hands to a foreign god,
If they had turned from the true God to reach out their hands in supplication to a foreign god, then too their fate would make sense.
21. Would not God search this out?
If they had done these things, then surely God would have searched them out. Then, their defeat and humiliation would have been a punishment, one of those warned of in Deuteronomy 28.
For He knows the secrets of the heart.
The psalmist knows that God knows the secrets of the heart. Nothing can be hidden from Him, and He would have known it if such a crime had been committed by Israel.
22. Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
Yet none of these crimes had actually been committed. They had remained faithful to their God, and it was for His sake that their enemies hated them. It was for His sake, and because of their loyalty to Him, that they were being killed all day long by their enemies!
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
They were counted as sheep for the slaughter by their enemies. This is how heartlessly and carelessly they were being killed. How could God allow this, when they had only been acting and fighting on His behalf, and on behalf of His people?
Paul quotes this verse in Romans 8:36, where he applies it to the followers of Jesus Christ, who were being killed all day long and accounted as sheep for the slaughter by their enemies because of their identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. This was certainly a very appropriate use of this verse. It is still true that some of the Lord’s most faithful followers are killed with a vicious slaughter by their enemies merely because they stand up for Him. Yet, as Paul says in the next verse, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Amen. Let us ever be willing to stand, and even to die, for the Lord Who loved us and gave Himself for us!
23. Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord?
The psalmist calls upon Jehovah to awake! He seems to be asleep, since He has not acted to deliver His people, as they would expect Him to do.
Though the modern Hebrew has the name of God as “Adonai” here, this is one of the times the Sopherim, the self-styled “wise ones” who decided to edit Scripture, changed the name of Jehovah to Adonai. Apparently, they felt He did not honor Himself well enough, so they would step in and help Him do so! Here, they apparently did not like the reference to Jehovah sleeping. Since this did not bother God at all, their solicitude seems foolish.
Arise! Do not cast us off forever.
Again, he calls upon Jehovah to arise. By this, he means that he wants Him to go into action. He calls upon the LORD not to cast them off forever, as He has seemed to do so far. Instead, he wants Him to act!
The word “forever” here is the Hebrew word netsach, and speaks of a thing enduring or lasting perpetually.
24. Why do You hide Your face,
Yahweh has seemed to hide His face from them. The face of the LORD is the symbol of His presence, and that face seems to be turned away from Israel at this time, considering that He has not delivered them and given them the victory. The psalmist cannot understand this, in light of Israel’s faithfulness to Him. Why would the LORD hide His face when they had done nothing to deserve it?
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
Jehovah seems to be forgetting or putting out of His mind the affliction and oppression that His people are suffering. Instead of noticing and coming to their rescue, He is allowing it to continue.
25. For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
Again the psalmist seems to think of the many corpses of faithful Israelite soldiers lying dead on the battlefield, and the fact that their souls are bowed down to the dust. Or perhaps he means the humiliation that has come upon Israel because of this loss, so that they are lying in the dust of defeat.
Our body clings to the ground.
The bodies of many soldiers cling to the ground, from which they will never arise. The rest are in humiliation, clinging to the ground in their hearts, if not in their bodies.
26. Arise for our help,
The psalmist again calls upon the LORD to go into action to help them. He does not understand why He has not yet done this, and calls upon Him to act and do so!
And redeem us for Your mercies’ sake.
If He will not redeem them because they have not turned from Him, then he calls upon God to redeem them for the sake of His Own mercies. Jehovah’s mercies are great, and the psalmist trusts in them, that God will at last arise for his help.
Otis Sellers points out the appropriateness of this psalm for Israel today. They are often in great distress, forgotten and killed, and the Lord does not act to help them. This is indeed true. For no other reason than that God once chose them as His people, they are often killed and slaughtered all day long by their enemies. Yet certainly it cannot be said of Israel as a whole today that they have not forgotten their God! This was true at a time in the past, perhaps at the defeat of David we discussed above. It was true of the faithful Israelites who believed in Jesus Christ and who were slaughtered by their enemies because of this in the days of Paul. It will yet be true of the faithful Israelites in the tribulation period, when the hatred of many rebels will be vented against them. Yet surely the Lord did arise and help His people in the past, and will yet again in His kingdom to come. Praise God that He is indeed faithful to help those who trust in Him!
To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Lilies.”
This psalm was written under special circumstances, but later was dedicated to the Chief Musician for public use. Apparently this was for use at the Passover feast, for the “Lilies” indicates the springtime, which points to the great spring festival of the Passover. This is the first of two “Lilies” psalms thus dedicated for use at the Passover, the other being Psalm 68. It was probably in light of the first eight verses in remembrance of victories past that made this particularly appropriate for that great festival.