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Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

I have something of a love/hate relationship with David, but generally speaking the Psalms resonate deeply, even when I wish they wouldn’t. I write about them frequently, so when the opportunity arose, I was excited to write a commentary for a Psalm. However, research indicates that, “Both as to text and meaning, this psalm [68] is the most difficult of all psalms to understand and interpret.” [1] Note to self: Perhaps it makes sense to do the research before agreeing to write the piece! Well played, David… we’re back to that love/hate dynamic.

Not ironically, however, this idiosyncrasy seems to fit well with the passage in question. As is often David’s approach, this particular song, written for the director of music, begins with a request that God eradicate the wicked, and although I find it unlikely that such verses would be sung as a part of public worship, today; it doesn’t take much examination to notice where this has, indeed, become a life song for many who still petition the same God.

Scatter them.

Blow them away.

Melt them.

Let them perish.

But may we… may the righteous… be glad.

The question becomes, what makes the righteous, righteous? And here I think David brings insight that should not be overlooked.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

If you’re following along with the RCL, you know that God’s dwelling was intricately important to the texts of last week, as well. God, “does not live in temples built by human hands.” No, instead, God lives in creation—in humanity.

David continues to write about, to sing about what God does. “God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing;”

God goes ahead.

God refreshes.

God provides.

And there doesn’t appear to be any discrimination or favoritism involved. Well, that’s good, because Scripture indicates time and time again that this is the case with our just God. Yet buried away, in the midst of these words, is a line we might miss if we only skim the passage:

“But the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”

I wonder why. Clearly, abundant showers are available.

I hate to be cliché, but there’s an interesting word picture taking shape here. There are the people of God, singing and dancing in the rain, juxtaposed against the wicked who are miserably scorched but apparently unwilling to get wet! God hasn’t sentenced them to such a fate (although I’m not certain David would agree). Both groups are part of the same storm! Some of the people have settled in and become the very sanctuary of God, the dwelling place where God, in relationship, reciprocates by giving “power and strength to his people.” Others have taken a step back, just far enough away that the ground is sufficiently dry to feel the blistering heat of lightning, and maybe even hear the terrifyingly deafening sound of thunder, without the relief of cleansing, refreshing water.

I was recently listening to a song from the early 1990s, and even though I might not recommend that on a regular basis, these lyrics struck a chord:

The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay And the mighty wind that knocks us down If we lean into it will drive our fears away [2]

So as I have come to the end of this humble attempt to make sense of the most difficult Psalm, I wonder if the dilemma might be that we need so much perspective to understand how these words affect the lives of people with varying viewpoints. And I also wonder if that might be the age old quandary of everything in life!

May we have the courage to be counted among the righteous—to step out into the storm, dancing in the rain as the sanctuary of God. Because as one commentator noted about this passage, “the prayer of the past become[s] an affirmation for the future.” [3]

[1] Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 577. [2] Grant, Amy. How Can We See that Far, Heart in Motion. A & M B000002GJB, 1991, compact disc. [3] J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 527–528.