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



"1. In Judah is God known,
his name is great in Israel.
2. His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.
3. There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah

4. Glorious are you, more majestic
than the everlasting mountains.
5. The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
none of the troops was able to lift a hand.
6. At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.

7. But you indeed are awesome!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
8. From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still
9. when God rose up to establish judgment,
to save all the oppressed of the earth. Selah

10. Human wrath serves only to praise you,
when you bind the last bit of your wrath around you.
11. Make vows to the Lord your God, and perform them;
let all who are around him bring gifts
to the one who is awesome,
12. who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who inspires fear in the kings of the earth.

The Bible - Old and New Testaments alike - is full of witness to the love of God and the offer of forgiveness and new life to all who turn to him. But the Bible is also realistic about evil in the world, and the fact that people rebel against God and seek to use power to oppress and crush others. This psalm makes clear that God will not allow such evil to continue to triumph in the world. As some of the psalms that we have already studied have emphasised, the triumph of evil is short-lived. This is a constant theme in the Scriptures, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the strongest witness to this truth. But Jesus also taught his disciples to live fearlessly, knowing that God alone is almighty and the power of evil is limited (see Matthew 10:28-31 and 28:18-20).

The psalm begins by saying how in Israel God has made himself known. His presence has been specially known in the temple in Jerusalem and in the life of the people of Judah, but also in the world generally his power is known, and that in three ways.

With his might he conquers the powerful

Powerful rulers and nations use the weapons of war - in those days swords and arrows, now bombs and mines and missiles - to terrify, intimidate and crush others, and to kill. But God is able to overthrow the most powerful of human rulers and to frustrate their weapons. Psalm 46:9-10 is like verse 3 here when it speaks of the way "he makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire." "Be still," he says, "and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."

It is thought that this Psalm 76 may have been written at the time when Hezekiah was king and Isaiah prophet, and the Assyrian forces retreated from Jerusalem with great loss. Thus verse 5 may refer to what 2 Kings 19:35-37 describes. Verse 6 may refer to what happened at the beginning of Israel's history as a nation when they escaped from Egypt, and Pharoah's chariots and horses were overwhelmed. Verse 4, in speaking of God as "glorious", is like Exodus 15:11 which celebrates that victory over Pharoah with the words, "Who is like unto thee, O LORD, --- glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?' (Revised Version).

With his justice he delivers the oppressed

It is not just a matter of God being able to conquer the powerful who boast in their weapons of war. He is Judge, and his righteous anger is directed against all oppressors. He acts to establish justice , and "to save all the oppressed of the earth" (verse 9). As we saw in the study of Psalm 75, judgment and salvation belong together. God judges proud persecutors so as to save those who suffer at their hands. Those who see God's work in this way can only confess, "You indeed are awesome! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?" (verse 7).

With his authority he overrules human plans and plotting

Verse 10 says, "Human wrath serves only to praise you". The history of God's people in the Bible, and indeed all human history, is full of examples of the way that powerful men and women in "wrath" and anger have planned to do harm to others, but God has overruled their purposes. Often when evil people have had a plan to bring evil on others, God has changed it in its outworking to make it bring good. Genesis 50:20 gives an example. Joseph's brothers sold him to go into Egypt as a slave, because in their jealousy they wanted to get rid of him, but through what happened by God's overruling, he could say to them, "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good", and so he preserved many people alive in time of famine. This illustrates the great statement of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, that God works out for good all the circumstances that come the way of those who love him. Through all those circumstances his great purpose is fulfilled. The greatest example of this was in the crucifixion of Jesus. Judas betrayed him, the Jewish leaders rejected him, the Romans put him to death, but God raised him from the dead. Thus God's wonderful redeeming purposes were fulfilled. We can believe that God still works, in the world and in our own lives, to bring good out of evil.

Because God is all-powerful and Judge of all, able to frustrate human plans and bring his own plans to pass, all people everywhere should reverence him. "The kings of the earth" should realise the limits of their power, and "princes" know that their lives are in his hands. And those of us who confess him as our Lord and Saviour should "make vows" to serve him and gladly carry out our vows (verse 11).

Meditation "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28, New International Version).

For further thought and study

a. What does it mean for us to be "still" before God, as verse 8 expresses this, and Psalm 46 (quoted above), and Zechariah 2:13. b. What examples can you think of, from the Bible or in life otherwise, where God has overruled people's plans to do evil and has brought about his good purpose? Notes

1. The heading of this psalm, as well as having the name "Asaph" as previous psalms, also speaks, like Psalm 4, of the accompaniment of "stringed instruments".

2. In verse 4 our translation follows the old Greek version speaking of "the everlasting mountains". The Hebrew spoke of "the mountains of prey", which may have meant what the Good News Bible has, "the mountains where you defeated your foes".

3. It is difficult to be sure of the meaning of the second part of verse 10. It may mean that God restrains the part of human anger and evil purposes that he does not turn to good. The New International Version takes it a little differently as, "the survivors of your wrath are restrained".