Psalm 60: Doing Valiantly

O God, Thou hast rejected us,
And hast afflicted sore;
Thou hast been angry, but in grace
O once again restore.

Psalm 60 opens with a cry for a renewed outpouring of God’s blessing, as the psalmist brings his complaints before the Lord.  “You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair its breaches, for it totters” (v. 2).  But like many other psalms of lament, this song is penetrated by  unshakable confidence:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow.

–Psalm 60:4 (ESV)

The psalm goes on to repeat God’s declaration that all lands belong to him.  Verses 6-8 (repeated in Psalm 108:6-13) establish God’s ownership of both the territory of Israel (v. 7) and the kingdoms of the Gentiles (vv. 6, 8).  Then the psalmist David asks a piercing question:

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?

–v. 9

Since God has deserted the cause of his people, says David (“You do not go forth, O God, with our armies,” v. 10), their military endeavors are futile.  In response to this truth, the psalmist ends his lament with an echo of his opening plea:

Oh, grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.

–vv. 11, 12

The ascription of Psalm 60 refers to striking down “twelve thousand of Edom in the Valley of Salt,” probably connecting this song to the events recorded in II Samuel 8:1-14.  The ESV Study Bible notes that the campaign referenced here “brought several Gentile kingdoms under David’s rule” and suggests that “this psalm, with its air of lament, would thus represent the prayers of the people before the campaign had been completed.”

Had I not read this psalm’s ascription, however, I would have assumed Psalm 60 was composed sometime after Israel’s exile.  And it’s interesting to note how it fits that model equally well.  Mourning over the desolation of their land, the captive Israelites could still pray this psalm and look with expectation to the renewal of God’s blessings.

Through the work of Jesus Christ, Psalm 60 comes to take on an even deeper meaning.  It’s not hard to see messianic fulfillment in phrases such as “You have rejected us” (v. 1), “You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger” (v. 3).  Christ also fulfills the psalmist’s cry for God to “give salvation by your right hand and answer us” (v. 5).  And the rest of Psalm 60 only makes sense when understood in light of the Great Commission: “With God we shall do valiantly” (v. 12).  Thus, Psalm 60 is completely suited to the life and mission of the Christian church.

108, “O God, Thou Hast Rejected Us”

Number 108 in the Psalter Hymnal is a mixed bag.  In fact, its quality varies from stanza to stanza, and sometimes even from line to line.  The first verse is excellent.  The second is fairly accurate, but the reference to “judgments dread” carries a connotation not present in Psalm 60.  The third stanza sacrifices the psalm’s messianic references to condense the text.  The fourth is an accurate versification, but uses the “old” translation of Psalm 60:4 found in the KJV (see the ESV footnote).  Stanza five is solid.  Stanza six, in a glaring oversight, obliterates the distinction between the regions of Israel (v. 7) and the “heathen lands” mentioned in vv. 6 and 8.  The seventh stanza takes some similar liberties with vv. 9 and 10.  And the final stanza, like the first, is fine.

The tune of “O God, Thou Hast Rejected Us” is notable as the Psalter Hymnal’s only contribution (or possibly one of the only contributions) from the Scottish Psalter of 1615. With a beautifully simple structure, DUNFERMLINE exhibits classic Scottish four-part harmony.  The melody line carries the psalm’s impressions of mourning and petition with an unwavering air of confidence.  It’s a perfect match; the alternate tune CLINTON is probably viable, but certainly unnecessary.

Give Thou Thy help against the foe,
For help of man is vain;
Through God we shall do valiantly,
The victory He shall gain.


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