To the Chief Musician. Set to “Lily of the Testimony.” A Michtam of David. For teaching. When he fought against Mesopotamia and Syria of Zobah, and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
1 O God, You have cast us off;
You have broken us down;
You have been displeased;
Oh, restore us again!
2 You have made the earth tremble;
You have broken it;
Heal its breaches, for it is shaking.
3 You have shown Your people hard things;
You have made us drink the wine of confusion.
4 You have given a banner to those who fear You,
That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah
5 That Your beloved may be delivered,
Save with Your right hand, and hear me.
6 God has spoken in His holiness:
“I will rejoice;
I will divide Shechem
And measure out the Valley of Succoth.
7 Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine;
Ephraim also is the helmet for My head;
Judah is My lawgiver.
8 Moab is My washpot;
Over Edom I will cast My shoe;
Philistia, shout in triumph because of Me.”
9 Who will bring me to the strong city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
10 Is it not You, O God, who cast us off?
And You, O God, who did not go out with our armies?
11 Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.
12 Through God we will do valiantly,
For it is He who shall tread down our enemies.
The heading associates this psalm with David’s war with Aram-naharaim (i.e. Mesopotamia) and Aram-Zobah (between Damascus and the Upper Euphrates). Cf. 2 Samuel 8:3-6. Apparently, while the war was being waged in the northeast, Edom and Moab invaded from the south. in this sudden crisis David recalled Joab to bring his forces to bear on the new threat. This psalm conveys the sense of national humiliation resulting from a wholly unforeseen military reverse. — Guthrie, page 488
For teaching (heading) — (used only here in the headings of the Psalms) which, rather that indicating what is generally true of all Scripture (that it is to be taught), most likely indicates, in light of how the same expression is used in the preface to David’s psalmic elegy on Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:18), that this psalm was meant to be taught to the sons of Judah in commemoration of the many Israelites who fell in the difficult battle (referring in all likelihood to the events of 2 Samuel 8). — Wechsler, page 162
O God, You have cast us off (v.1) — This unexpected military reverse had struck a tremendous blow at the people’s morale. It was like an earthquake which rends strong buildings (v.2). Divine action had led to defeat; both led to demoralization; the nation reeled as a man who has just drunk drugged wine (v.3). Their defeat was all the more demoralizing in that they believed themselves to be the people of the Lord, under whose banner (v.4) they would experience security. The heart of their problem and distress was thus that God’s promises seemed to go unfulfilled. — Guthrie, page 488
Since this psalm, according to a natural reading of the heading, was composed in the course of Israel’s ongoing battle with the Arameans at a point when the former was “struggling” against the latter, David begins with a gut-wrenching cry of despair, likening his people’s situation to those whom God has rejected (v.1). That this is, as in Psalm 44:9, exaggerated wording intended to emphasize the depth of David’s despair over the situation, and not an actual assertion of fact (viz., that God has truly “rejected” His people), is indicated by (in addition to clear Scriptural statements to the contrary—e.g., Jeremiah 31:37; 33:25-26; Romans 11:2; Romans 11:29) David’s following description of what amounts to God’s chastisement of Israel. The difference is a crucial one: the notion of “rejection” (or “abandonment”), which is in the Bible synonymous with “condemnation,” takes place only in the absence of relationship, whereas “chastisement” takes place only within the existence of relationship (even if its “presence” isn’t felt by the chastisee). That a relationship indeed exists between Israel and God is indicated by David’s use of the clearly relational expressions “Thy people” (v.3) and, even more intimately, “Thy beloved” (in Hebrew plural yedidim, from the same root as David’s own name; v.5) — Wechsler, pages 162-163
Shechem (v.6) — one of the oldest cities in Palestine, located about 30 miles north of Jerusalem.
Verses 6-12 are repeated in Psalm 108:7-13.
David here affirms God’s promises regarding the land—i.e., that He has given it to Israel and that they will dwell in it in peace and flourish therein—by focusing on those places and peoples within it that have served as historical focal points of opposition to the fulfillment of these promises. Hence he mentions ( in v.8) Israel’s most prominent tribal-ethnic enemies in the land: Moab (to the east), Edom (to the southeast), and Philistia (to the south and southwest)—all of which have since been judged and removed by God from the face of history. (The “Palestinians” of today, despite the oft-touted claims of their religious and political authorities, bear no connection whatsoever—except that of a similar ethos of opposition to Israel—to the “Philistines” of the Old Testament.) In vs 7-8 he mentions those places epitomizing opposition to Israel’s presence in the land not before David’s time, but also in the time after David—specifically, after Israel’s return from Babylonian exile and especially in the present day. i.e., Shechem (on Mount Ephraim; the political center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:1, 25) and, today, the area around Nablus in the West Bank), the valley of Succoth (a city east of the Jordan River alloted to the tribe of Gad (Joshua 13:27) and in present-day Jordan), Gilead, Manasseh, and Ephraim (all three of which collectively encompass those areas of the Promised Land currently part of the West Bank and western Jordan). These references culminate with the mention of Judah, whose capital (i.e., Jerusalem) has always served as a political nexus of opposition to Israel (as it still does in the ongoing controversy over “East Jerusalem,” and as it will until the end (cf. Zechariah 12:3)—the resolution of which opposition is concisely affirmed by the qualification of Judah as God’s “scepter,” referring to His promise in Genesis 49:10 to raise up a Jewish king from the tribe of Judah who will bring peace to His people and receive the obedience of all other nations on earth.
David concludes—in characteristic fashion—by affirming his and (what should be) his people’s utter dependence on God for military victory, for whereas deliverance by man is in vain, through God they shall do valiantly. — Wechsler, pages 258-259
The doctrine of this, and similar psalms, is the perfection of the faith of Messiah, as man, under every form of hatred, affliction, and adversity. The sharper these became the more He trusted. His moral glory as the Servant of Jehovah shines through all. — Williams, page 347
I think this is one of Williams’ less convincing interpretations. The psalm, as I read it, really doesn’t seem to support his view. But if he’s right that all the psalms are prophetic, as many of them obviously are, then it’s a possibility.
Once again I’m struck by how the Holy Spirit included in Scripture a passage so filled with despair. It’s only in the final verse that David expresses his faith in God’s sovereignty.