# 218 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 68 A rushing cataract!

Did you know that the word “cataract” has two very different meanings? The most common use these days is for “a medical condition of the eye”. But there is another meaning, which it will be helpful to know for reading the rest of this Post on Psalm 68. It also means “a large rapidly flowing waterfall”. Hence my photo!

Derek Kidner says of Psalm 68 that it “is a rushing cataract of a psalm – one of the most boisterous and exhilarating in the Psalter…[with] a tumble of swift images and excited snatches of description…[with a cheerful and energetic] prologue and epilogue…where it reasserts the cosmic power of God…[but at the same time] with uncontainable enthusiasm  [bearing witness to the] union of [his] immense power and [his] intense care [of his people].”  (# 29)

Here are just a few snippets to show what he means:

When you, God, went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel.
You gave abundant showers, O God;
    you refreshed your weary inheritance.
10 Your people settled in it,
    and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor…

17 The chariots of God are tens of thousands
    and thousands of thousands;
    the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary…

 24 Your procession, God, has come into view,
    the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
25 In front are the singers, after them the musicians;
    with them are the young women playing the timbrels.
26 Praise God in the great congregation;
    praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel…

28 Summon your power, God;
    show us your strength, our God, as you have done before…

32 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth,
    sing praise to the Lord,
33 to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens,
    who thunders with mighty voice.
34 Proclaim the power of God,
    whose majesty is over Israel,
    whose power is in the heavens.
35 You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary;
    the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.

Praise be to God!

The NIV Study Bible calls it a “processional liturgy celebrating the glorious and triumphant rule of Israel’s God” and Wilcock suggests that it “has been used traditionally in Jewish synagogue worship at the feast of Weeks, or Pentecost.” He adds, “For Christians too it is a Pentecost psalm” (# 5) and NIV says, “The early church, taking its cue from Ephesians 4:8-13, understood this psalm to foreshadow the resurrection, ascension and present rule of Christ and the final triumph of his church over the hostile world.” (# 45)

Before we read this passage in Ephesians let me quote from Chris Wright who says that “for [Jesus] followers, what began as a shaft of recognition and understanding of Jesus in the light of their Scriptures [e.g. Psalms], ended up as a deepening and surprising new understanding of their Scriptures in the light of Jesus.” (# 45)

(Chris Wright Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament. Marshal Pickering 1992)

And so, with this new understanding of the O.T. Scriptures, what is the relevance of this psalm to Ephesians 4:8-13?

The Psalm says:

18 When you ascended on high,
    you took many captives;
    you received gifts from people.

Paul writes:

…to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why itsays:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”    

Again, the NIV notes are helpful:

“Psalm 68:18 speaks of God’s triumphant ascension to his throne in the temple of Jerusalem (symbol of his heavenly throne). Paul applies this to Christ’s triumphal ascension into heaven”. Having come to this world, Jesus taught the truth about God, healed the sick, then “died for our sins, according to the scriptures…he was buried…[then] he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)  before he ascended into heaven.

Luke described this event as follows:

50 When [Jesus] had led [the disciples] out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him…”    (Luke 24:50-52)

And the writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

After [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  (Hebrews 1:3b)

And then those amazing words by Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

    {Jesus] humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
                                            (Philippians 2:6-11)

This is the reason the author of Hebrews encourages us, as followers of Jesus, as follows:

 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:16)

As we consider these truths today, may God give us that confidence, not in ourselves or anything we have to offer, but a confidence in “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34) Amen.

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