David regularly wrote psalms during the challenging times of his life. His heart provoked him to reflect on his relationship with God when running from Saul. The king cried out in anguish after realizing the depth of his sin with Bathsheba. He expressed a quiet grief throughout the rebellion of Absalom. Therefore, when one of his psalms rejoices in an occasion, it holds the reader’s attention in growing appreciation for the joy expressed in a moment of exultation.
After David’s seven years ruling from Hebron, he finally brought the kingdom together and moved the capital to Jerusalem. However, to a man of God, moving the ark of the covenant, and the tabernacle in which it dwelled, to the capital city was just as important, if not more so. Unfortunately, David originally failed to consult scripture and attempted to transport the ark on a cart, a decision that proved fatal to Uzzah. Nevertheless, once David finally realized and corrected his error, priests carried the ark forward with David and many others leading the way, rejoicing in noting God’s approval. Thus, having reaching the site in Jerusalem where the ark would rest, the tabernacle would be set up, and the temple would ultimately be built, David had an opportunity for joyous spiritual reflection and wrote Psalm 68.
The tenor of the psalm echoes the Song of Deborah, an interesting point of reference considering the timing. However, David envisions the whole of God’s efforts throughout his interaction with Israel culminating in this moment where He sees God’s throne coming home to Jerusalem so that God can then reign over His people. It is therefore a time of victory (Psa. 68:1-2) and a time to praise God (Psa. 68:3-4) for His care for His subjects (Psa. 68:5-6). From the time the ark was constructed before Sinai, throughout Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and even during the time of the Judges, God came to their aid and provided deliverance (Psa. 68:7-10). Israel’s victories were Yahweh’s victories (Psa. 68:11-14). Yet, despite the grandeur and majesty of various peaks throughout the conquered nation, the LORD chose to place the sanctuary and the ark on a small hill in Jerusalem (Psa. 68:15-16) from which He would give His will (Psa. 68:17) and pour out gifts to men (Psa. 68:18), blessing mankind with blessing upon blessing, but especially with salvation (Psa. 68:19). He alone can provide an escape from death (Psa. 68:20), for He alone can provide true victory (Psa. 68:21-23). As David paints the picture of the processional, (Psa. 68:24-27), he reminds the people that God has provided their land, their safety, and their plenty (Psa. 68:28). The LORD provided wealth for His people and brought the nations around them under tribute (Psa. 68:29-31) so that they too recognize the majesty of God (Psa. 68:32-35).
Such a powerful flood of emotion expressed at a high point in Israel’s spiritual history speaks to the heart of the king to which all others would be compared. However, when we realize that this moment was but a foretaste of the victory, the blessings, the gifts, and the privilege available through the Messiah a millennium later, the message of praise sung by David should be but a prelude to the praise Christians offer to what our God has made possible for us every day.