God on the Move
God on the Move
Main Idea: Based on God’s attributes and works, he deserves our praise and the obedience of our lives.
I. The Portrait of God
A. He is awesome (68:35).
B. He is active (68:1,4-18).
C. He subdues all who rebel against him (68:2,6,12,14,21-23).
D. He satisfies all who trust in him (68:3).
E. He is the one true God (68:4,8-9,33-34).
F. He is the covenant-keeping Lord (68:4).
G. He is Father of the fatherless (68:5).
H. He is protector of the widow (68:5).
I. He loves the lonely (68:6).
J. He rescues the captive (68:6).
K. He provides for the needy (68:7-10).
L. He is sovereign over nature (68:8-9).
M. He is sovereign over nations (68:12,29).
N. He is powerful above us (68:14).
O. He is present with us (68:15-16).
P. He commands a heavenly army (68:17).
Q. He conquers in earthly victory (68:18).
R. He bears our burdens (68:19).
S. He saves our souls (68:19-20).
T. He is my God and King (68:24).
U. He is our God and King (68:26-27).
V. He draws peoples to himself (68:29-31).
W. He deserves praise throughout the earth (68:32-35).
X. He is the divine warrior (68:1-2,33).
Y. He speaks a dependable word (68:11).
II. The Implications for Us
A. Give glory to this God.
B. Give your life to his mission.
Many commentators say this is one of the most difficult psalms to understand, particularly because of a few verses whose meaning seems somewhat obscure. My goal, however, is not to get down into the weeds but to step back from the landscape and see the beauty and wonder of what lies before us.
Maybe more than any other psalm, Psalm 68 contains all kinds of different names and titles for God. At least six different Hebrew names for God are used: Yah, Yahweh, Adonai, Shaddai, El, and Elohim (Boice, Psalms 42–106, 554). In addition, there are various titles for God interspersed throughout the psalm. All these names and titles come together to paint a majestic portrait of who God is and what God has done, and is doing, in history. Below we’ll look at twenty-five different attributes and activities of God in Psalm 68. Based on this portrait God has revealed, I want to draw two simple (yet massive) implications for our lives and for the church.
The Portrait of God
Before looking at verse 1, it’s worth noting how the final verse of this psalm sums up everything: “God, you are awe-inspiring in your sanctuaries.” This points to the earth-shaking power, mind-boggling majesty, and awe-inducing splendor of the God who saves. This psalm offers a full-orbed picture of God throughout history, marching across the heavens and the earth, riding on clouds, scattering enemies, causing the earth to quake and showers to fall. We step back in awe. We can’t read this psalm casually. We can’t consider this God without being overwhelmed by his greatness, which, as we’ll see in the next attribute, is revealed in what he does.
This psalm begins by saying, “God arises.” This is a deliberate allusion to what happened when God’s people were wandering in the wilderness. At Mount Sinai, God gave his people his law, including instructions for how he would dwell in their midst through the ark of the covenant, which would be a physical symbol of God’s presence with and protection of his people. Numbers 10:33-34 says,
They set out from the mountain of the Lord on a three-day journey with the ark of the Lord’s covenant traveling ahead of them for those three days to seek a resting place for them. Meanwhile, the cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.
God led his people during the day with a pillar of cloud that centered on the ark of the covenant. “Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say: Arise, Lord! Let your enemies be scattered, and those who hate you flee from your presence. When it came to rest, he would say: Return Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel” (Num 10:35-36).
Notice the similarities between Numbers 10:35 and Psalm 68:1. The psalm begins with Israel’s enemies scattering before the presence of God as he is on the move, and the rest of the psalm shows God on the move. He rides on the clouds (vv. 4-6), going out before his people, and he marches through the desert (vv. 7-10), leading them to conquer the land of Canaan (vv. 11-14). Ultimately, God leads his people from Mount Sinai in verse 1 to Mount Zion in verses 15-18, where his presence settles among his people in Jerusalem. Some commentators believe this psalm was sung when the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem (Boice, Psalms 42–106, 554). Regardless, the main point is clear: God is active. He acts in history among and for his people, and his actions affect all peoples.
When God arises, his enemies scatter. Those who hate him flee like “smoke” driven by the wind and wither like “wax” in front of a fire (v. 2). While prisoners are led out to “prosperity,” “the rebellious” experience scarcity (v. 6). This theme of God’s subduing his enemies continues in the rest of the psalm (vv. 12,14,21-23).
While we don’t know for sure what some of these images mean, we cannot help but think about the fall of “Babylon” mentioned in Revelation 18–19, a symbol of the world system arrayed against God. Mark it down: God eventually, completely, and ultimately subdues all who rebel against him.
After talking of the destruction of the wicked, the psalmist assures the righteous that they have nothing to fear before this God, for his favor is on them. God satisfies to the uttermost all who trust in him.
This psalm makes several references to God’s work in the clouds. Many commentators believe this is a deliberate provocation of the followers of Baal. The Canaanites worshiped Baal, calling him the “the Rider on the clouds” and attributing the rain to his doing (Kidner, Psalms 1–72, 239n1). This is likely the background for the story of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 17–18. David is making a similar point in this psalm: Baal doesn’t bring the rain; God does. Baal can’t bring fire from the sky; God does. Baal isn’t god over the heavens; Israel’s God is the only God over the heavens.
David uses the name Yahweh (translated “Lord”), the covenant name God revealed to his people as an expression of his commitment to love and to care for them. So this awesome, active God, this one true God who subdues rebels and satisfies the righteous, is committed to his people. We see evidence of this commitment in the characteristics of God mentioned below.
The majestic God over all creation cares for the orphan.
This is who God is “in his holy dwelling.” Wilson notes, “God’s compassionate concern emanates from his divine residence” (Psalms, 937).
God is a pursuing God who goes after those who are abandoned and alone.
This God also goes after the imprisoned. He pursues the oppressed and the enslaved, bringing them from their imprisonment to his prosperity.
In God’s care for the fatherless, the widow, the lonely, and the captive, he provides for the needy. When you read verses 7-10, you can’t help but picture God’s provision for his people in the wilderness. When they were thirsty, he would give them water from rocks. When they were hungry, he would rain down bread from heaven. God is near to the needy. He delights in providing for the destitute. He finds pleasure in harnessing all of his power on behalf of the fatherless and the widow and the lonely and the captive and the needy. And, as James Boice notes, this makes God unique:
The kings and other rulers of this world do not act like this. They surround themselves with the noblest and richest of their lands, those who can enhance their glory and strengthen their power. The highest glory of God is that he cares for the miserable and surrounds himself with them. (Boice, Psalms 42–106, 555)
Yet, as you see God surrounded by the weak, don’t think for a second that he is weak.
God owns the rain. He determines when it falls and when it is withheld. We’re reminded of God’s questioning of Job:
Have you entered the place where the snow is stored? Or have you seen the storehouses of hail, which I hold in reserve for times of trouble, for the day of warfare and battle? . . .
Who cuts a channel for the flooding rain or clears the way for lightning, to bring rain on an uninhabited land, on a desert with no human life, to satisfy the parched wasteland and cause the grass to sprout? Does the rain have a father? Who fathered the drops of dew? . . .
Can you command the clouds so that a flood of water covers you? Can you send out lightning bolts, and they go? Do they report to you: “Here we are”?
Who put wisdom in the heart or gave the mind understanding? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the dust hardens like cast metal and the clods of dirt stick together? (Job 38:22-23,25-28,34-38)
The answer to each of the questions is clear: only God does these things. The author of creation has all authority over creation.
God is not only sovereign over nature but also over nations. It’s not only the rain that responds to his bidding, but he causes nations to run from him (v. 12), and he causes them to revere him (v. 29). He holds the kings of the earth in the palm of his hand.
In all his awe-evoking might, God is not just powerful above us; he is also present with us. God has chosen to dwell among his people. David does a bit of “trash talk” with the mountains, saying to Mount Bashan, which is a towering, many-peaked mountain, “You think you’re great, but you look with envy on Mount Zion, where God has chosen to dwell.” Zion is virtually a hill in comparison to a mountain like Bashan, but this hill in Jerusalem is the place where God chose to establish his people and where Solomon built his temple. Psalm 132:13-14 says, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his home: ‘This is my resting place forever; I will make my home here because I have desired it.’”
Mount Bashan may be marked by height, but Mount Zion is marked by holiness. Zion essentially becomes the focal point for the rest of the psalm. It’s the place where the people of God and the enemies of God, and eventually the kingdoms of the earth, will come. It is symbolic, a picture of all the earth ultimately worshiping God, who has revealed himself to us.
God is coming to dwell among his people surrounded by “tens of thousands” of chariots. This psalm may have been sung when the people of God brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. We can only imagine the thrill of that scene, as this journey that began at Mount Sinai centuries before culminated in the entrance of the ark into Jerusalem.
God is likened to an earthly king returning victoriously from battle, now encompassed by all the spoils of that victory. God’s people were brought out of slavery in Egypt and then, after wandering through the wilderness, they entered Canaan where they claimed the land God had promised to them. Entering the promised land required conquering pagan nations; and when Israel finally settled, they celebrated the God who had protected his people and conquered their enemies. God commands a heavenly army, and he conquers in earthly victory.
David has recounted centuries of history, but here he transitions to the present. God carries us even now, and he will continue to carry us in the future.
David attributes “salvation” to God. God doesn’t just daily bear our burdens; he ultimately saves our souls! Not only has he led us in the past, and not only will he carry us in the present, but he will deliver us in the future—ultimately from death. What confidence we can have in this God!
When David says that God’s procession is “seen,” he is referring to the grand, majestic God whom he has described in the previous twenty-three verses. This is not just the God and the King over all; this is the procession of my God and my King into the sanctuary. There’s a sense of pride here but not the sinful kind. This is boasting in God.
The psalmist’s personal praise is not disconnected from the people of God, for he says, “Bless God in the assemblies.” He then describes Israel’s tribes, north and south. David clearly sees himself worshiping as part of the community of God’s people.
You may wonder why David wants God to “show [his] strength” (v. 28). The answer is in verses 29-31. This picture of kings being drawn to worship God is prophesied throughout Scripture. The psalmist is describing the ingathering of all the nations to give praise and honor and glory to God—even the “beast in the reeds,” which was likely a reference to Egypt, the nation that had for centuries oppressed the people of Israel (Kidner, Psalms 1–72, 244). The “bulls” and “calves” symbolize hostile peoples, both large and small, and the psalmist wants God to summon his power and draw them to himself (Kidner, Psalms 1–72, 244).
God draws peoples to himself because he deserves their praise. The rest of the psalm is addressed to kingdoms all across the earth. David tells them all to “sing praise” and “ascribe power” to God because he is “awe-inspiring” and he “gives power and strength to his people.”
Notice the connection with the previous psalm. God dwells among his people, protects his people, provides for his people, and shows his power among his people all for a purpose: so that all the peoples might come and give him praise (67:3,5). God doesn’t just deserve praise from one nation but from all peoples. And he will get it. That’s the whole point of Psalm 68.
God is the divine warrior who is on the move in the world, blessing, leading, guiding, and empowering his people for the sake of his praise among all the peoples. He is caring for orphans and widows and the enslaved and the impoverished. He is conquering all of his enemies so that all the kingdoms of the earth might know that he is God.
This psalm is reveling in the reality that God will be praised among all the peoples. That was the point in verse 11, which harks back to Exodus 15, the response of God’s people after he delivered them from Egypt, bringing them out of slavery and across the Red Sea. Miriam, the prophetess, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing, shouting, “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted; he has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea” (Exod 15:21).
God gives the word. He conquers, he delivers, he leads, and he guides all things according to his purpose—and so his people sing. You might wonder how we know all these things about God. We know because Psalm 68 is not the end of this story of God on the move. Centuries later this awesome God actively came to us in the person of Jesus, the Christ. He subdued demons. He satisfied sinners. The one true God came to his people, announcing,
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
The one who is all-powerful above us came to be bodily present with us, and he came to conquer. He lived a perfect life, he died a sinner’s death, and then he rose from the grave, conquering sin, Satan, and death itself, canceling the debt that stood against sinful men and women. Colossians 2:14 says God took our certificate of debt away by “nailing it to the cross.” Through Christ, “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him” (Col 2:15).
Christ has conquered, and he has said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). He will bear our burdens today, and he will save us forever. The one who is sovereign over nature is sovereign over the nations, and one day “every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).
The Implications for Us
At least two mammoth implications follow from the twenty-five attributes and activities of God in Psalm 68. First, we should give glory to this God (vv. 4,34). Stand in awe of him. Do not be casual or complacent with this God. And do not rebel against this God. Instead, confess your sin to him. Receive mercy from his throne, find salvation from your sin, and experience satisfaction for your soul.
Second, as you give glory to this God, give your life to his mission. God is still on the move. He did not stop moving with an ark entering into Jerusalem or with the building of a temple in Mount Zion. When Jesus died, the curtain of that temple was torn in two. God’s presence now dwells in every person on the planet who turns from his or her sin and trusts in his Son.
Christian, the Spirit of this God dwells in you. And his Spirit is on the move. He has not saved you from your sin and filled you with his power so that you can sit on the sidelines as a spectator in the church. He has saved you for the salvation of and spread of God’s glory to the nations. Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth, and he, our heavenly commander, has charged us: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Give your life to this mission, confident that God is on the move through you and all around you, bringing all the kingdoms, nations, and peoples of the earth to praise his name.
Reflect and Discuss
- If you were to ask your non-Christian friends, “What is God like?” how do you think they would answer? What about your Christian friends?
- Why is it so critical that we have a high, or right, view of God?
- Why should Christians be comforted by the fact that God is a covenant-keeping God?
- How would you describe God’s relationship to those who are the most weak and vulnerable?
- Psalm 68 teaches that God is sovereign over nations. How should that affect our response to the weekly news headlines?
- The picture of God in this psalm is majestic and lofty. What attributes of God assure us that this same God also cares for his people?
- How might Psalm 68 give hope to Christians who are persecuted?
- How might the picture of God in Psalm 68 affect a church’s corporate worship?
- List some ways Psalm 68 gives you confidence as you seek to obey Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations.
- How does Psalm 68 speak to the idea that all religions are essentially the same?