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



"1. Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered,
let those who hate him flee before him.
2. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire,
let the wicked perish before God.
3. But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.

4. Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds -
his name is the LORD -
be exultant before him.

5. Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
6. God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.

7. O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
8. the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9. Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
10. your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

11. The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12. 'The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!'
The women at home divide the spoil,
13. though they stay among the sheepfolds -
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14. When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.

15. O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16. Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the LORD will reside forever?

17. With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18. You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even those who rebel against the LORD God's abiding there.
19. Blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. Selah
20. Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

21. But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22. The Lord said,
'I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23. so that you may bathe your feet in blood;
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from
the foe.'

24. Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary -
25. the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26. 'Bless God in the great congregation,
the LORD, O you who are of Israel's fountain!'
27. There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.

28. Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29. Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30. Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31. Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.

32. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
sing praises to the Lord, Selah
33. O Rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34. Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel;
and whose power is in the skies.
35. Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.

Blessed be God!" This psalm is so rich and inspiring that it is worth reading over and over again, Yet in some ways it is hard to understand. It reads like a lot of little pieces of other psalms brought together. In fact there are parts of it that are very similar to other passages in the Old Testament, as we will see as we study it. There are a few places where it is difficult to know what the original Hebrew language of the Psalm meant. There are words that are used nowhere else in the Old Testament. There is, however, one great theme that runs through it all. It is that the Lord God rules over the nations. When he comes to his people, he comes in power. Those who oppose him cannot win in the end. So all peoples of the earth should realise his power and majesty, and worship him. We will think of the psalm in eight main sections, as they recall what God has done in the past and look forward to what he will do in the future.

" Let God rise up " (verses 1-4)

The first verse comes from the words of Numbers 10:35. The people of Israel had the ark of the covenant that was the special symbol of God's presence with them. It was like a large box, and it contained the stone tablets on which the ten commandments were written (see Exodus 25:10-16 and Deuteronomy 10:1-5). It was taken out ahead of the people as they travelled in the wilderness or went into battle. And this was the prayer as they took it out, "Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered". Israel made that prayer with the assurance that those who reject God cannot have true and lasting power, but be like smoke driven away by the wind, or wax melting near a fire (verse 2). Because of the use of this prayer associated with the ark, some people think that this psalm may have been composed to be sung as David brought the ark to Jerusalem to make that city the centre of Israel's worship (see 2 Samuel 6). We have no such ark today, but if we seek to serve God, we can always be encouraged by his presence, and so can sing and rejoice.

God frees and provides (verses 5-10)

Powerful people in the world often oppress the weak, but God cares for the weak, protects widows and orphans who have no human help, and comes to the help of the lonely and desolate. Verse 5 is particularly relevant and comforting for people who live in situations where widows and orphans are subjected to oppression and deprivation. In some cases their oppression comes from close relatives such as brothers-in-law and uncles. The psalm encourages those who suffer to take heart because God is the "father of orphans and protector of widows". The psalm also speaks of the way the Lord came to the people of Israel when they were "prisoners" in Egypt and set them free. He led them as they went through the wilderness, and made himself known to them at Mt. Sinai. (Verses 7-8 are like Judges 5:4-5, and the story that is told in Exodus 19). Then he brought them into the land of Canaan and provided for them there. So those who feel abandoned by everyone, or lonely and oppressed, may rely on the goodness of our great unchanging God.

Battles won (verses 11-14)

When Israel came into Canaan there were battles to be fought. The Book of Judges tells how when the people relied on God, enemy kings were scattered and took flight, and spoil was divided amongst the women at home. Different translations take verses 13 and 14 in different ways. The Good News Bible says that among things captured were "figures of doves covered with silver, whose wings glittered with fine gold". Moffatt's translation takes the dove as a symbol of Israel.

The temple mountain (verses 15-20)

In the area of Bashan in N. Palestine there were majestic mountains. But to Israel Mt. Zion in Jerusalem was greater, because there the ark of the covenant had been taken, and there the temple was built where they met with God and worshipped him. As God had made his presence known on Mt. Sinai before, so he made his presence known in the temple on Mt. Zion. It was right that people should bring their gifts there, and know the living God as the One who gives salvation, saves from death and bears his people up.

Victory over evil enemies (verses 21-23)

The expressions used in these verses are bloodthirsty, but they were an Old Testament way of telling how the living God brought down those who wanted evil to triumph. Such people would not be allowed to escape either in the highest mountains or the deepest seas. Their fate would be like that described of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel (see 1 Kings 22:29-38 and 2 Kings 9:30-37).

Processions in temple worship (verses 24-27)

Some think that this psalm was written for special celebrations at a festival in the temple in Jerusalem when the worshippers remembered the great acts of God in the past history of their people. At least we can say that in such ways the people praised God in the temple with singers and musicians and the different tribes involved. In their worship they thought of God as "Israel's fountain", as he was to them like a never-failing supply of thirst-quenching water (compare Jeremiah 2:13).

Enemies that threatened (verses 28-31)

The power of God had been shown in the help he gave to Israel in the past. Kings of other nations had brought tribute to them. Still there were enemies who threatened. "The wild animals that live among the reeds" were probably the Egyptians, and the "bulls" and "calves" their soldiers, or perhaps those of other nations. By God's help again those who delighted in war would be scattered. The Egyptians would bring tribute, and even distant Ethiopia would "stretch out its hands to God".

All nations to worship (verses 32-35)

The true God, the living God, is the God of all the earth, and so all nations should sing praise to him. We can be thankful that God has spoken and made his ways known. He is "awesome" in power and majesty, but those who submit to him find strength for their lives. "Blessed be God!" the psalmist concluded. Those who know God in Jesus have a much deeper reason for blessing God and can give a much deep meaning to the words (see Ephesians 1:3). For them the closing words of this psalm can indeed come from the heart.

Meditation "Thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumph." Take these words of 2 Corinthians 2:14 (Revised Standard Version) as a Christian meditation on the theme of this psalm.

For further thought and study

a. Linked with what is said in verse 5 of God's care for widows and orphans study Exodus 22:22-24, Deuteronomy 24:17-22, Isaiah 1:16-17 and James 1:27 for the way that they speak of the duty of his people to do likewise.

b. Study how verse 18 is used in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:7-12. By the victory of his resurrection and ascension, what has Christ received and given to us? See also Acts 2:32-33.


  1. "Rider upon the clouds" (verse 4) or "rider in the heavens" (verse 33) is a vivid way in which the Old Testament quite often describes how God comes to the help of his people. See Exodus 19:9, Deuteronomy 33:26, Psalms 18:9-10 and 104:1-4.
  2. Verse 4 literally says "his name is Yah", the name that we have in Hallelu-yah (= "praise Yah") and in many Hebrew names that end in -iah. It is the shortened form of the personal name of God, Yahweh.
  3. The first part of verse 6 probably refers to the people of Israel being set free from being prisoners in Egypt. Then "the rebellious" having to "live in a parched land" may refer to the way that the people of Moses' generation had to live for 40 years in the wilderness and were not allowed to enter the promised land.
  4. It is not known exactly where Zalmon was (verse 14). It was probably the place of a battle in the days of the Judges, and it may be that the flight of the army is likened to snow driven by the wind.