Psalm 68- the Lonely (leaders?)

Politician giving speech


May God arise, may his enemies be scattered;
may his foes flee before him.
May you blow them away like smoke—
as wax melts before the fire,
may the wicked perish before God.
But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds[b];
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,[c]
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

When you, God, went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,[d]
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.

11 The Lord announces the word,
and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:
12 “Kings and armies flee in haste;
the women at home divide the plunder.
13 Even while you sleep among the sheep pens,[e]
the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
its feathers with shining gold.”
14 When the Almighty[f] scattered the kings in the land,
it was like snow fallen on Mount Zalmon.

15 Mount Bashan, majestic mountain,
Mount Bashan, rugged mountain,
16 why gaze in envy, you rugged mountain,
at the mountain where God chooses to reign,
where the Lord himself will dwell forever?
17 The chariots of God are tens of thousands
and thousands of thousands;
the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.[g]
18 When you ascended on high,
you took many captives;
you received gifts from people,
even from[h] the rebellious—
that you,[i] Lord God, might dwell there.

19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.
20 Our God is a God who saves;
from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
21 Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins.
22 The Lord says, “I will bring them from Bashan;
I will bring them from the depths of the sea,

23 that your feet may wade in the blood of your foes,
while the tongues of your dogs have their share.”

(this is the creepiest verse I’ve ever read.)


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.
27 There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them,
there the great throng of Judah’s princes,
and there the princes of Zebulun and of Naphtali.

28 Summon your power, God[j];
show us your strength, our God, as you have donebefore.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings will bring you gifts.
30 Rebuke the beast among the reeds,
the herd of bulls among the calves of the nations.
Humbled, may the beast bring bars of silver.
Scatter the nations who delight in war.
31 Envoys will come from Egypt;
Cush[k] will submit herself to God.

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!

Psalm 68 (NIV)


This isn’t really a reflection of Psalm 68… it’s a tangent of a fraction of a verse.

I read through this psalm and was taken aback, once again, by the loud imagery and all the violence. I closed it feeling a little queasy and unsure. In my head I was wondering, if I were to be placed in this scene, would God be cracking my skull against a rock? Or would I be cheering him on as he pounced around, ripping off heads like some psycho or rabid beast? Which would I rather be?


Obviously, the Old Testament Freaky God is still not settled for me. I can’t really stomach him nor do I want to.


To me, I still like to think of God as thirsty for justice. That he’s desperately calling us to figure out better, and quicker, ways to alleviate poverty and ensure equality. I don’t particularly care for this bloodthirsty, vengeful God. Slaughtering people, even bad people, doesn’t feel like justice to me. Justice feels like redeeming and restoring, giving hope and saturating hearts with Love. And- oh, now I see you’ve got your hands at your side, rolling your eyes, laughing at me about how God’s justice is different and how I’m just human and too limited and ya, sure, true. But I still think God likes my awkward efforts and struggles. I certainly hope he is pleased that I am horrified at this kind of violence instead of, you know, clapping and jumping in glee as he crushes on in his blood spraying warpath?


If you need me, I’ll be crawling my way over to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s corner for some heart massaging and Jesus healing, because the picture of the Angry Bloodthirsty Bone-Breaking Walter White God scares the living daylights out of me. I just can’t handle it.


I did come across something fascinating, though. It was in a commentary about this psalm. The commenter, James Burton Coffman, appears to believe that he has stumbled on something novel, and who knows, maybe he has! He takes a very short fragment of a verse and makes a stretch, or, draws a perfectly reasonable line of logic, I don’t know, I’m not a Bible Scholar!


He points to Psalm 68:6


God sets the lonely in families,


Coffman says:


When a great diamond is found, it is always surrounded by a number of other large diamonds somewhat smaller; and this phenomenal fact in nature also recurs in God’s creation of great men. Shakespeare was surrounded by men like John Milton, Christopher Marlow and others; George Washington was surrounded by Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and others. Jesus Christ was surrounded by Peter, James and John, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul. It is one of the most remarkable facts that, “God setteth the solitary in families”!

Other examples of this same principle is seen in Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks, and in the mighty family of the giant Redwoods of northern California.


(Trigger Warning: God takes a different pronoun.)


If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know I get a little weak at the knees thinking about God the artist. She has her own imagination, her own passion at building and breaking and renewing. I like to think that she’s very earthy. That she’s gathering big scoops of dirt before her and molding out a mountain, spitting out a lake, blowing out the summer breeze. I like to think that she’s taking sticks, jabbing them into clumps of mud and, for her final trick, breathing them to life.


And you have to wonder if, at some point in the middle of it all, she saw her patterns and called them Good. Enjoyed the way everything tangled into one another and grew out like a garden. Loved how the body danced with a thousand small helping hands, making ripples of change across the world.


I also wonder if her heart broke a little, too, as she poured the oil of anointing on the ones she set aside for Greatness. The leaders, presidents and civil rights champions, the CEOs and the Union heads. To be great, after all, can be a terribly lonely place to be. Also, it can be a cramped and crowded room with too many toxic voices, people that will whisper yes to every half-baked stupid idea you have. Little drones, trying to please you by agreeing with everything you say.


We’ve all seen the scandals of our public and cultural leaders. We saw it with Bill Clinton and the cover up of his affair, Alex Rodriguez and his steroid shooting doctors, Martha Stewart and her insider trading… People with power who keep throwing it all away.


And you have to wonder who was there? Did any of A-Rod’s friends step up? Tell him he was risking everything, including the integrity of the game? What about David Petraeus’? Where were his people warning him about the repercussions, about the inevitable resignation as head of the CIA? Where were the encouragers, the challengers, those with a spine and the gall to say NO? 


Where was there home?


This might not be that relevant to the psalm, but maybe it’s important for us to think about. Even personally:

Where is your home?

Who’s keeping you in check?




PS: The whole “anointing” part is more or less me playing along with the argument. Not sure if God actually is still doing that sort of thing, kingmaking and all. But it’s interesting to think about.


Do you have any thoughts about this verse? This psalm? Also, how do you deal with the Angry God? Also, got any opinions on pronouns?




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  • WoW! I don’t think God minds our tangents at all – our wrestling with the whole of Him. I sometimes struggle with the violent justice too, but like you say, there is a pocket of grace slap in the middle of this Psalm that catches the heart. Community. Being set in family. We’re not made to be alone. Community can hold us up or tear us down. Community keeps us accountable, but if we don’t listen or if our community does “check” us, then come consequences no one once. I am grateful for my community who has spoken truth – even the unpleasant ones. May we have the “no” more than the “yes-men.”

  • I like the kind of thinking-out-loudness of this post. My comment will be that way too. 🙂 (And it took me five or so days, but I finally logged in on another browser so my stupid toolbar wouldn’t eat my comment.) Your mention of the family who would say “no” when you needed it reminded me of something I read about Elvis. I think it was an interview with Priscilla Presley, wherein she said that he had this team of people around him who would say yes to everything. Like, “Yes! You look great and not fat at all in that white jumpsuit!” Kind of makes me think of the itching ears hearing what they want to hear from the NT. It is SO GOOD for the lonely (and the kings and ALL of us) to be in real family. Not a yes family. An honest family. As far as the pronoun, I find it distracting. I totally think there are many feminine attributes and passages and imagery for God, but I like the male pronouns because that’s what the Bible uses. Unless we have translated those incorrectly from the original text…but like you, I’m no Bible scholar. So for that reason, they keep pulling me out when I’m reading them here or anywhere else and kind of make less meaning than more–but that’s just me.

    Enjoyed your thoughts this week!

  • Kathy Arnold

    “How do you deal with an Angry God?” I think we have to put into perspective what makes God angry first. Who is he angry at and why? These kind of questions usually lead back to leaving the judging and righteous indignation up to God and not ourselves. As well, King David lived in different times when God’s grace through Jesus Christ was not available. Many of the Psalms, those which describe horrible acts of vengeance, are not reflective of what God wishes us to experience in our hearts or minds as Christians. This is so evident in Matthew 5. When Jesus says you have heard it said ‘hate your enemies’ but I say ‘love your enemies‘. Is there anything more powerful and freeing than those words?