Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. O God, you have rejected us, broken our defences;
you have been angry; now restore us!
2. You have caused the land to quake;
you have torn it open;
repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering.
3. You have made your people suffer hard things;
you have given us wine to drink that made us reel.

4. You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
to rally to it out of bowshot. Selah
5. Give victory with your right hand, and answer us,
so that those whom you love may be rescued.

6. God has promised in his sanctuary:
'With exultation I will divide up Shechem,
and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
7. Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet;
Judah is my sceptre.
8. Moab is my washbasin;
on Edom I hurl my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.'

9. Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
10. Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
11. O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
12. With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes."

Like Christian people today, the people of Israel in Old Testament days knew times of failure and defeat, as well as times of success and victory. They had to learn, as we must learn, what may be the causes of failure and defeat.

The experience of defeat (verses 1-4)

In this time of failure the people realised that God had allowed things to happen as they did. Instead of helping them, he let them be defeated by their enemies. They had had to "suffer hard things", and their land had suffered a great upheaval like an earthquake. They had turned aside from trusting and serving God, and so his righteous anger was against them. The experiences of the people at Ai in the days of Joshua (Joshua 7), of Ahab in his battle against the Syrians (1 Kings 22), and of Judah before the Babylonians (2 Kings 24-25) all illustrate this. Verse 3 speaks in a way that prophets sometimes spoke, of God's chastening judgment being like their being given wine to drink (perhaps drugged wine) that made them reel. Isaiah 51:17 and 22 speaks of the way that Jerusalem had "drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath", but then when they turned back to him, that cup was taken away and God supported and helped them once more.

Hope in time of defeat (verses 5-8)

Israel had to learn the causes of their failure, but then they could learn also the way of renewed victory by turning back to God. The psalmist here pleaded God's love for his people, and asked for their prayer to be answered, and that they would know rescue and victory by the power of God's mighty "right hand". They had (in verses 6-8) a prophecy or promise that may have come from long before and that expressed God's purpose for his people. The land of Israel was his. He had given them Shechem in the west and Succoth in the east; so also he had given the good land of Gilead east of Jordan and the territory of the tribe of Manasseh. The tribe of Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south were his, like the "helmet" of their Warrior Lord and the "sceptre" which was the sign of his rule as King. In addition it could be said that the nations around that threatened Israel were actually just his servants. People could look out on Moab with its hills surrounding the Dead Sea and think of that nation as the Lord's "washbasin", and Edom as the slave to whom he threw out his shoes. (Or perhaps this means his possession of Edom in the way of the ceremony of casting a shoe that is mentioned in Ruth 4:7.) Over the Philistines who had so often tried to invade and conquer Israel the Lord would triumph.

Confidence for the future (verses 9-12)

The particular situation in which the people were experiencing defeat seems to have been at the hands of the Edomites in the south. They were Israel's enemies in the time of David, and they often tried to take advantage of Israel and especially of Judah in the south. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in later times the Edomites rejoiced. They seemed all-powerful in their mountain kingdom. So the question was, "Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?" There was only one answer to that question. There was only one way to gain victory: to pray to God, and to acknowledge that "human help is worthless" (verse 11). When people in all the circumstances of their lives truly realise that fact, and sincerely and wholeheartedly rely on God, then they can say with confidence, "With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes". That is just like what the apostle Paul in the New Testament said to tempted and tested Christians: "The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20).

Meditation: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

For further thought and study

a. In what ways is it right for us to seek human help and support, and what are the situations in which it may be a temptation to us to rely on other people rather than on God? See Isaiah 30:1-7, 31:1-5, Jeremiah 17:5-8.

b. In times when we "suffer hard things", how can we tell whether it is a testing of our faith to strengthen us, or whether it is because of our own wrong attitudes or words or actions, and so our own fault?


  1. The heading given to this Psalm is like many other headings, but it not only refers to the collection, the type of psalm, the tune it should be sung to, but it adds that it was intended "for instruction". Then it refers to the time when David fought against the Syrian kingdoms (2 Samuel 8:9-12). Perhaps at that time the Edomites took advantage of his being involved in campaigns in the north. After that, however, the Edomites were decisively beaten (2 Samuel 8:13).
  2. The Hebrew of verse 4 is difficult to translate, and the various English translations take it in different ways. It may mean that those who fear the Lord find him as their defence even in the time of defeat and failure.
  3. Instead of "in his sanctuary" the words of verse 6 might be translated as saying that God has spoken "in his holiness" - in other words it is his holy word that is given.
  4. Psalm 108:6-13 is the same as verses 5-12 of this Psalm, as we have seen that Psalm 108:1-5 is the same as Psalm 57:7-11. See note 2 on Psalm 57.