A look at Psalm 60
Any Christian who says they’ve never had their doubts about God lies about other things, too. We all have our doubts about the Lord from time to time; usually they’re just fleeting, momentary lapses of faith. We may wonder about His love for us. We may question His plan for our lives, or we may even wonder if He has a plan for our lives. Any believer who says they’ve never had these thoughts is either lying or they have no “skin the game.” People who have no investment in the kingdom of heaven or no dependence on God don’t need to trust Him, and therefore never have doubts and never have any questions. Please understand; doubt is the beginning of faith; it can lead to faith and trust. Conquering our doubts and mastering our thoughts can lead to a strong, unwavering faith in God. Sometimes, doubt is actually a good thing, for it can keep us humble and keep us on our knees.
Psalm 60 is what we call a “lament,” in fact, it’s a national lament occasioned by the defeat of Israel’s army in battle. The people, frustrated by the defeat and seemingly abandoned by God, cry out to Him for help and success. This psalm is related to David’s Syrian wars, the record of which may be found in 2 Samuel 8:3—5; 10:16—19; and 1 Chronicles 18:3—12. Though not found in the highly summarized historical record, a devastating defeat must have taken place early in the battle.
1. Purpose of the psalm
Most Bible readers tend to skip over the superscription found preceding many of the psalms. But the unusually long superscription that introduces Psalm 60 should be noted because it contains the purpose for which the it was written. Psalm 60 was composed by David to teach something:
A miktam of David. For teaching.
We are not sure what a “miktam” is, although many scholars are of the opinion the word is a musical term. This musical psalm, set to the tune of a song that has long since vanished, is supposed to teach the reader something helpful. To teach the people of Israel was a task David took seriously, and reading the psalms we can see what he wanted his people to know. Time and again throughout David’s meditations, he stressed the mighty acts of God on behalf of Israel. These lessons were intended to be taught, memorized, and rehearsed over and over again by those who heard them. In this way, the people’s faith in Jehovah would grow and during difficult times they could recall the glories of the past and find both comfort and encouragement in those memories.
Given the circumstances that occasioned the writing of Psalm 60, it seems that what David wanted the people to understand is that defeat isn’t the end. Failure should never lead to capitulation. All too often, when we experience a defeat or when we fail at something, we want to give up. We learn the exact opposite lesson David wants to teach. That is, it is in failure and defeat that we learn more about ourselves and about God than we could ever learn in success. In fact, success more often than not lies just the other side of failure, and it is God who leads us in to that success if we would but trust in Him.
2. Feelings of rejection, verses 1—3
Notice what God’s people accuse God of in the first three verses; their words reveal what is deep in their collective hearts—
You have rejected us, God…you have been angry(verse 1)
You have shaken the land and torn it open. (verse 2)
You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger. (verse 3)
This is how the people felt: rejected by God because He was angry with them. They blame their defeat on God. Was God to blame, though? Had God abandoned His people? Often throughout the Old Testament, when Israel fell into sin God withdrew His help, not as punishment, but to teach the people to trust in Him, not in their own resources. However, David gives no reason here for God’s seeming abandonment of His people. There is no confession of sin or any indication as to why God may have been angry with them.
The fact is, David and the nation felt rejected by God, and those feelings of rejection were serious. Notice the last phrase of verse 3—
You have given us wine that makes us stagger.
What a marvelously descriptive phrase of a life without the presence of God! Now, consider this: life is absolutely without meaning or direction without the literal presence of God or when we feel as though God has left us. This is what David is trying to get across; rejection by God or feelings of rejection are enough to strain the covenant relationship that exists between God and His people.
Verse 2 poetically indicates that the people felt as though they had no security. Of course the land was not “torn open,” but that was how they felt. To the Hebrews, land was security, and the “desperate times” they were in led them to feel as though they were abandoned by God and therefore they had no security. But this is how all believers feel when they trust in something or someone other than God for their security. For you, perhaps your “security” is in money, and when you get down to your last $20.00, you “feel” as though your security is gone. Maybe your security is in your spouse or your health and when they fail you, you blame God when the fault is really in you.
God never fails, and for the Christian, He never abandons you. But that promise of God’s abiding presence doesn’t mean we may never experience failure or defeat or that will never feel abandoned or rejected. The key for believers is to get a grip on their thoughts and feelings and learn from their experiences, as David wanted the nation of Israel to.
2. Confidence of victory, verse 4
But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow.
In spite of how the people felt, God had raised a “banner.” What does that mean? The Hebrew word designates a specific place where God’s people could find refuge and protection. Those who “fear” or trust in the Lord will find protection from any and all enemies, symbolized by “the bow.”
The lesson of verse 4 is clear, yet so quickly forgotten. When we struggle with feelings of abandonment and rejection by God, instead of wallowing in those feelings and moving away from God, we need to run to God; we need to seek refuge in Him, and the closer we get to God, the further away those negative feelings get.
3. Prayer, verse 5
Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered.
“Save us” is the familiar cry from people in trouble! And it is especially so in the psalms of lament. Asking God for help in rough times is always a good idea, but the secret of having that prayer answered is in how you ask. The “right hand” of God denotes His awesome power; when asking God for help, you are asking for nothing less than for God to step into the flow of your history and change things in your favor.
How could God not help those He loves? God’s deliverance is promised, so when we ask God to intervene on our behalf, we are simply asking Him to initiate what He has already promised!
4. God’s response, verses 6—8
These three verses are God’s answer to His people’s prayer. They are also an oracle, declaring God’s intention with regard to the nations involved in the present conflict. The answer thunders forth from His “sanctuary.” Literally, God speaks, not so much from a place (His sanctuary) but from His holiness or by His holiness.
For us today, while nations aren’t the problem, circumstances most certainly are. Does it ever seem as though circumstances are conspiring against you? Does it ever feel like no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get ahead? Those are the very forces God has promised to deal with. In Psalm 60, God details with the nations He promised to deal with; nations that were doing His people harm: Shechem, the Valley of Sukkoth, Moab, Edom, and Philistian; all those nations are today history. God has dealt with them completely, yet His people, Israel, remain. So it will be with you. Whatever circumstances you feel are closing in on you, robbing you for the joy of life and living, can be dealt with once and forever by God if you would but trust Him and call on Him. He has promised as much and because He is utterly holy, He will bring to pass what He has promised.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
5. Victory assured, verses 9—12
With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies. (verse 12)
David resumes his prayer, asking who will be the leader of Heaven’s forces. Notice how dependent he is on God—
Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?
David well understood the secret of victory was in relying on the resources of Heaven. God would lead him; God would get David to where he needed to be. The Lord alone would lead the armies into both battle and victory. Notice; there can be no victory without battle. God expected His people expend some effort, but in the end they would be victorious, not because of their efforts, but because they trusted God. In the case of Israel, there was no military solution to the problem. A spiritual problem needed a spiritual solution.
So, what is the problem in your life? What is it that has worn you out and frustrated you? Whatever the problem may appear to be, it most certainly has its roots in the spirit world. Trust in God’s solution! Be obedient, do what He asks of you, but when your victory comes—and it must if you are trusting in God and walking in obedience—make sure you give full credit to God.
This remarkable psalm began with God’s seeming mistreatment of His people—treating them like they were His enemies, but it ends on a note of faith and victory. The feelings of God’s rejection brought about a renewed faith and confidence in the Lord. The Lord, as it turned out, had not left them nor had He rejected them. As David and Israel found out, the Lord was still with them.
What was true of Israel in its military struggles with its neighbors is abundantly true in the believer’s warfare against the powers of this world:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3—5)
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:11—18)
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