The seeds of mercy sown in Psalm 59 as a glimmer of hope break forth as morning light in Psalm 60. Psalm 60 records God’s answer to the intercessory prayer of Psalm 59:11, and then presents further prayer.
Psalm 59:11 Slay them not, lest they forget thy law; scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord, my defender. (LXE)
Psalm 60 opens with three verses which describe in past tense, as though already accomplished, the suffering of God’s people, “apostate Israel” (1), at the hands of God himself. Why did God punish Israel? God displayed his judgmental wrath upon his own nation, because they failed to recognize their Messiah when he came. Or, having recognized him, they rejected him. Forcing the hand of the Romans who occupied their land, they crucified him. Both the crucifixion of the King and the wrath of God against those who did so were foretold in Psalms 56-59, “as a memorial,” as though written on stone (2). Psalm 60, the last of the five psalm packet, is the final memorial stone. It describes the restoration of those who crucified Messiah. It opens, as already mentioned, with a recap of their punishment.
1 O God, thou hast rejected and destroyed us; thou hast been angry, yet hast pitied us.
2 Thou hast shaken the earth, and troubled it; heal its breaches, for it has been shaken.
3 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things: thou has made us drink the wine of astonishment. (LXE)
So many good things open up in Psalms once the reader realizes who is the speaker. Psalms 56-59 establish Messiah Christ as the speaker. By following the thread of his speech, the reader discovers the single plot thread that extends from beginning to end through these five psalms. With his Passion in mind, it breaks as pure blessing upon the tender heart to realize that the Rejected One is now interceding from the resurrection side of the cross for the very people who disowned him, for those who had been among the enemies who pursued him to death. In Psalm 60, the speaker presents himself as one of those who received the judgment of God, which is so poignant in Psalm 59:11. He prays “us,” “us,” “thy people,” and “us,”–four times total in the first three verses. Psalm 60 is where the just judgment of God meets his mercy (Psalm 85:10). The “Father forgive them,” is reconciled with God’s understandable wrath.
Psalm 56:7 For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God! (ESV)
Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (ESV)
Paul in Romans 9-11 tackles the difficult subject of God’s having blessed the Gentiles with salvation in Christ, while so few of his fellow Jewish people believed. Had God rejected his people Israel? Appearances to the contrary, Paul answers no. His argument takes three forms.
1. First, God is sovereign. He gives grace to whom he wishes. No one merits his mercy, but it must be received by faith.
Romans 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (ESV)
Romans 9:30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (ESV)
2. Second, at the outset of the Christian message there was a remnant of Israel who did receive the Good News of salvation in Christ alone by faith. That is to say, Israel was not rejected in whole. Paul counts himself as part of this remnant.
Romans 11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (ESV)
3. God’s plan all along was to make room for the Gentiles. In describing this, Isaiah uses the metaphor of stretching out the boundaries of a tent, and Paul uses the metaphor of branches being cut off from an olive tree, others being grafted in, and finally, the cut-off branches being grafted back in.
Isaiah 54:1 Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that dost not travail: for more are the children of the desolate than of her that has a husband: for the Lord has said, 2 “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and of thy curtains; fix the pins, spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy pins; 3 Spread forth thy tent yet to the right and the left: for thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and thou shalt make the desolate cities to be inhabited.” (LXE)
Romans 11:15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (ESV)
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (ESV)
20…They were broken off because of their unbelief, (ESV)
23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (ESV)
The text of Romans 11:26 reads, “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Paul had been speaking of a remnant of Israel in the first portion of this chapter, as quoted above. Now here, “all Israel” refers to the whole of Israel, not just the remnant. And Gentiles are included in Israel’s olive tree. God’s victory over all nations–Israel and Gentile nations combined–this is the theme of Psalm 60. It is a happy theme.
First, Gentiles are included:
Romans 4:16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring– not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” (ESV)
Next, how will this happen? The answer lies in the “spirit of stupor” that had been placed upon Israel as a consequence of their having rejected their Messiah, God’s anointed. The spirit of stupor will be removed. This phrase binds Isaiah 29, Psalm 60, and Romans 9-11 together as speaking of the same topic and the same people, God’s people, Israel.
Isaiah 29:10 For the LORD has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers). (ESV)
Psalm 60:3 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things: thou has made us drink the wine of astonishment. (LXE)
Romans 11:8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (ESV)
Paul’s New Testament word for “stupor” in Greek is “κατανύξεως (Rom 11:8 BGT).” The word translated “astonishment” in Psalm 60 is “κατανύξεως (Psa 59:5 LXX),” and in Isaiah the Greek Septuagint for “deep sleep” is “κατανύξεως (Isa 29:10 LXT).” Thayer’s Lexicon reports that these three citations are the only place in all of Scripture where this lemma (stem) and even the form occur. Clearly, these verses are tied together.
Unwrapping Psalm 60
A Word about the Superscription
The superscription of Psalm 60 contains much Davidic history into which most commentators delve. The thesis of this blog on the Psalter is that the psalms are first and foremost a prophetic word about Christ. As such, delving into the historic details of David’s life would be a distraction, rather than an aid (3). David’s life was limited, in that David was human and mortal. As such, the details of his history are a distraction to the larger, metanarrative events of the life of Messiah, God’s Son, God and human in one, who both died and was resurrected (Acts 2:25-32).
In an exception to my usual custom, I’ve written extensively (2) about a select phrase in the superscription of each of the psalms in this packet, as found in the Greek Septuagint. The phrase is, “εἰς στηλογραφίαν” or “for a memorial,” as something written on a stone. The phrase, “εἰς στηλογραφίαν,” as found in these five psalms, is unique to all of Scripture. This phrase is one item that binds these psalms together as a packet. The accompanying phrase, , “εἰς τὸ τέλος,” or “for the end,” strengthens the association.
The superscription of Psalm 60 has a further phrase of interest. It is, “τοῖς ἀλλοιωθησομένοις ἔτι.” This is translated as, “for them that shall yet be changed,” by Brenton, “for those that shall yet be changed,” by NETS (Pietersma), and “for things yet to be changed,” by the Orthodox Study Bible (See the Bibliography for all three). The Greek word “change” is most often used literally in Scripture, and it means simply, “to change.” See, for example, Luke 9:29. Many commentators confess not knowing what the Hebrew of the Masoretic might mean, but the phrase is often interpreted as a musical instruction. Clearly, however, the phrase as it stands in Greek follows the plot line of the five psalms remarkably well, when the speaker is seen to be Christ and when Psalm 60 is interpreted as the change of heart and fortune of the people of God, that Paul describes in Romans 11.
Unpacking the Body of Psalm 60
1. Verses 1-3: description of the disaster.
Psalm 60:1 O God, thou hast rejected and destroyed us; thou hast been angry, yet hast pitied us.
2 Thou hast shaken the earth, and troubled it; heal its breaches, for it has been shaken.
3 Thou hast shewn thy people hard things: thou has made us drink the wine of astonishment. (LXE)
Psalm 60 opens with the speaker’s recounting to God his rejection and destruction of “us.” The phrase at the end of verse 1 (LXE), “yet [thou] hast pitied us,” links back to the glimmer of hope found in the prior psalm’s verse 11, “slay them not…scatter them.” As Psalm 60 opens, the destruction has already been accomplished, and the speaker looks back upon the “hard things” and the “wine of astonishment” God had made them drink (vs 3).
2. Verses 4-5: the intercessory prayer.
4 Thou hast given a token to them that fear thee, that they might flee from the bow. Pause.
5 That thy beloved ones may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me. (LXE)
Verse 4 is difficult, “Thou hast given a token to them that fear thee, that they might flee from the bow. Pause.” The Greek word for “token” is σημείωσις, related to the word “sign” found so frequently in John’s writing. One example is John 2:18.
John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (ESV)
In the above passage from John, the “sign” given was the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Seeing this sign, the disciples believed. Going back to Psalm 60:4, the token, or sign, was given to “them that fear thee.” In Scripture, including the Psalter, to “fear” the Lord is good. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Proverbs 1:7 LXE). Those who “fear” the Lord are God’s people and recipients of his blessing. So far then, we have God giving a sign to those who fear him–both of these are positive elements, and the last portion of verse 4 also speaks blessing, “…that they might flee from the bow. Pause.” Most frequently in the Old Testament, the word “bow” refers to the weapon, as in a bow and arrow. An example of this usage is Psalm 46:9, “Putting an end to wars…he will crush the bow, and break in pieces the weapon…” Taken at simple face value, the sense of the Septuagint in Psalm 60:4 seems to be that God is giving a sign of warning to his followers to flee some form of war or violence. That sign could be the resurrection of Christ, and the violence could be that foretold in Psalm 59, God’s wrath upon those who did not fear him, but persecuted his anointed. Jesus himself gave such a warning in Matthew 24:15-21.
Matthew 24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. (ESV)
Moving forward to verse 5, the speaker pleads with God that he would save his “beloved ones,” so that they might be delivered. Whoever verse 4 may refer to, perhaps believers who heeded the sign and thereby fled from the bow of God’s wrath, it seems best to place verse 5 with verses 1-3. That is, the “beloved ones” are the “us” and “thy people” whom God has rejected and destroyed, yet pitied. The “Pause” after verse 4 reinforces the likelihood that a different group is here being spoken of. The “beloved ones” are they that need to be delivered and saved, because having missed the “sign,” they have already experienced God’s wrath. The speaker prays that God’s harsh treatment of them will now end. It is of course the risen Christ, the victor of Psalm 59, who prays (see Romans 8:34).
3. Verses 6-8: God replies.
6 God has spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, and divide Sicima, and measure out the valley of tents.
7 Galaad is mine, and Manasse is mine; and Ephraim is the strength of my head;
8 Judas is my king; Moab is the caldron of my hope; over Idumea will I stretch out my shoe; the Philistines have been subjected to me. (LXE)
The striking thing about the series of place names in verses 6-8 is that the first five stretch from one end of Israel to the other, while the last three are Gentile lands. As Isaiah describes in chapters 11 and 12, all the land will belong to the Lord. All kingdoms will be conquered by him. In God’s kingdom, it is good to be conquered by the love of his Son, for there is salvation under no other name. All portions of Old Testament prophecy point to the same outcome: the unification of God’s original people Israel with Gentile nations under one banner of love, the cross of Jesus Christ. Bonar writes of verse 4, “Here is the voice of Israel owning Jehovah’s gift of Messiah to them,” (Bonar, See note 1). Paul writes in Romans 11:23-25 that when the full number of the Gentiles has come in, then, if Israel does not continue in their unbelief, they, too, will be grafted in again. God answers, “Yes!” to the speaker’s intercessory prayer in Psalm 60.
4. Verses 9-12: Christ and the church respond.
Who is it that will lead me into Gentile lands, as represented by Idumea (in a part-for-the-whole metaphor)? asks the speaker. He answers his own question, Isn’t God the one who will do this? Just so, Jesus in his ministry on earth ever and always submitted to and depended upon God his Father. Here it is the same.
Who speaks this section? In verses 9-11, the speaker appears to be the same first person voice as the speaker of verses 1-5. In verse 12, the last verse, it is easy to hear the voice of a chorus of people, as is the case with the last verse of many psalms (4). Verses 9-12 as a whole speak of the evangelization of the earth by Christ and his church, comprised of believers from all nations, Israel and Gentile combined. Together with their Lord, they go forth in dependence upon God to take the gospel to all remaining nations.
Andrew Bonar (see footnote 1) titles this psalm, “The Righteous One asks, and rejoices in, Israel’s restoration.” A plain, straightforward reading of Psalms 56-60 in the Septuagint English version (I use Brenton’s translation), readily yields this conclusion. I recommend reading these five psalms together, start to finish, in one sitting. Although one’s interpretation of details may vary, when viewed as a sequential packet, the overall plot thrust of these psalms is unmistakable. This packet speaks of Christ, God’s Son the King, in his ministry on earth up to and through his Passion. The packet extends beyond to his resurrection and the the subsequent punishment of God’s people, who had rejected and persecuted him. And, most blessedly, it extends even further to the time when the victorious Son owns them in mediatorial intercession for them, so that they “shall yet be changed” and be restored. At that time, God will lead his Christ and his people as a single unit into all Gentile lands. The prophecy of this packet of psalms runs parallel with the gospel messages of Isaiah and Paul the Apostle.
1 Andrew A. Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978, 182.
2 A substantial explanation of certain key phrases in the Greek superscriptions of Psalms 56-60 is available in the first article of theis series, titled, “Psalms 56-60: A Packet–Part 1, The Superscriptions.” It can be accessed at https://onesmallvoice.net/2019/09/12/psalms-56-60-a-packet-part-1-the-superscriptions/.
3 I have found that commentators who are most concerned about the historical events alluded to in the superscription are less likely to mention Christ in regard to the psalm.
4 See, for example, Psalm 18:50.