Sunday, October 21, 2012

Psalm 68:18

You have ascended on high.
You have taken captivity captive.
You have received gifts among men,
even the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there.
- Psalm 68:18

God of War and God of Fertility

The overall context of this Psalm is that God is both the god of war and the god of fertility. This is a major theme throughout the Old Testament as the O.T. writers try to persuade the Israelites not to chase after other fertility gods and the God that gave them military victories was God over everything. The Israelites thought that God was a powerful god of war but not a god of fertility. However, any lack of crops was to be blamed on the Israelites lack of obedience and not on God's lack of power.
Deuteronomy 28:1-6
It shall happen, if you shall listen diligently to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command you this day, that Yahweh your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on you, and overtake you, if you shall listen to the voice of Yahweh your God.

You shall be blessed in the city, and you shall be blessed in the field.

You shall be blessed in the fruit of your body, the fruit of your ground, the fruit of your animals, the increase of your livestock, and the young of your flock.

Your basket and your kneading trough shall be blessed.

You shall be blessed when you come in, and you shall be blessed when you go out.
The Psalmist is dealing with the same issue and shows throughout Psalm 68 that God is the god of war and the god of fertility:

God of Fertility Verses

Verse 4 - Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds--his name is the LORD--and rejoice before him.

Verse 8 - the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.

Verse 9 - You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance.

Verse 33 - to him who rides the ancient skies above, who thunders with mighty voice.

Verse 34- Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the skies.

God of War Verses

Verse 12 - Kings and armies flee in haste; in the camps men divide the plunder.

Verse 14 - When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land, it was like snow fallen on Zalmon.

Verse 21 - Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.

Verses 18-20 form the center of the chiasmus in Psalm 68 and verse 19 is the center point where the author climaxes the literary structure by bringing war and fertility together in God:

J (18) – God takes captives
X (19) – "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah." (KJV)
J' (20) – God gives escape

"Loadeth with benefits" refers to the bounty that the land produces and "salvation" refers to military salvation when God delivers Israel from her enemies. Although "with benefits" is not in the Hebrew, the Septuagint Greek shows the same idea.
The lord God blessed. Blessed be the lord day by day, for you greatly prospered us, O God of our deliverances. (ABT)

Assembling the Troops

When a king in the ancient near east, went to attack another city, he would gather his army and "ascend" to that city. If he successfully conquered the city, he would take some of it's people as captives. With this in mind, we turn to preceding verse 18. Just like a king would do, God gathered his army (of angels) before attacking:
Psalm 68:17
The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands. The Lord is among them, in Sinai, in the holy place.

You have ascended on high.

God then "ascends". The word "ascend" is used numerous times in the Old Testament to refer to kings going to war against another city. Instead of ascending to a specific city, God conquers the entire land of Canaan and so "ascended on high" is used metaphorically to describe how God conquered the greatest in the land. We see that "ascended on high" is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a king conquering the greatest in the land:
2 Kings 19:23
By your messengers you have defied the Lord, and have said, 'With the multitude of my chariots, I have ascended to the height of the mountains, to the innermost parts of Lebanon; and I will cut down its tall cedars, and its choice fir trees; and I will enter into his farthest lodging place, the forest of his fruitful field.
God is also described as "ascending" to Jericho specifically as well. In Psalm 47, the war theme is set in verse 3
Psalm 47:3
He subdues nations under us, and peoples under our feet.
Then God ascends in verse 5
Psalm 47:5
God has gone up with a shout, Yahweh with the sound of a trumpet.
In order to tie this verse to Jericho, we have to look at where in the Bible there are "shouts" and "trumpets"
Joshua 6:16
It happened at the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout, for Yahweh has given you the city!

You have taken captivity captive.

God continues to be described as a victorious king. Again, this is referring to the conquest of Canaan. The phrase "captivity captive" is used to describe God taking captives during his conquest of Canaan. This was predicted by God in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 21:10
When you go forth to battle against your enemies, and Yahweh your God delivers them into your hands, and you carry them away captive,
We see this in Judges as well:
Judges 5:12
…arise, Barak, and lead your captivity captive
See also 2 Chronicles 28:17
Both Judges 5 and Psalm 68 uses the word "arise" as part of the war theme as well:
Psalm 68:1
Let God arise! Let his enemies be scattered! Let them who hate him also flee before him.

You have received gifts among men,

In the latter part of verse 18, we switch from the "war" theme, to the "fertility" theme. The word "gift(s)" is predominately used in the Old Testament to refer to offerings brought to the Temple. The Israelites were required to bring part of their crops to the Lord:
Deuteronomy 16:16-17
…No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you. (NIV)
The size of their harvest would be tied to how much rain they received and that, in turn, would reflect on how effective God was in terms of fertility.

even the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there.

What does "the rebellious" have to do with the fertility theme? We have to look earlier in Psalm 68 to find the answer.
Psalm 68:6
...the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
So, even though the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land, verse 18 tells us that they are still required to bring a gift "in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you".

Related Verses in Ephesians:

Eph. 4:8