The title gives us an account, 1. Of the general design of the psalm. It is Michtam—David’s jewel, and it is to teach. The Levites must teach it to the people, and by it teach them both to trust in God and to triumph in him; we must, in it, teach ourselves and one another. In a day of public rejoicing we have need to be taught to direct our joy to God and to terminate it in him, to give none of that praise to the instruments of our deliverance which is due to him only, and to encourage our hopes with our joys. 2. Of the particular occasion of it. It was at a time, (1.) When he was at war with the Syrians, and still had a conflict with them, both those of Mesopotamia and those of Zobah. (2.) When he had gained a great victory over the Edomites, by his forces, under the command of Joab, who had left 12,000 of the enemy dead upon the spot. David has an eye to both these concerns in this psalm: he is in care about his strife with the Assyrians, and in reference to that he prays; he is rejoicing in his success against the Edomites, and in reference to that he triumphs with a holy confidence in God that he would complete the victory. We have our cares at the same time that we have our joys, and they may serve for a balance to each other, that neither may exceed. They may likewise furnish us with matter both for prayer and praise, for both must be laid before God with suitable affections and emotions. If one point be gained, yet in another we are still striving: the Edomites are vanquished, but the Syrians are not; therefore let not him that girds on the harness boast as if he had put it off.
In these verses, which begin the psalm, we have,
I. A melancholy memorial of the many disgraces and disappointments which God had, for some years past, put the people under. During the reign of Saul, especially in the latter end of it, and during David’s struggle with the house of Saul, while he reigned over Judah only, the affairs of the kingdom were much perplexed, and the neighbouring nations were vexatious to them. 1. He complains of hard things which they had seen (that is, which they had suffered), while the Philistines and other ill-disposed neighbours took all advantages against them, Ps. 60:3. God sometimes shows even his own people hard things in this world, that they may not take up their rest in it, but may dwell at ease in him only. 2. He owns God’s displeasure to be the cause of all the hardships they had undergone: “Thou hast been displeased by us, displeased against us (Ps. 60:1), and in thy displeasure hast cast us off and scattered us, hast put us out of thy protection, else our enemies could not have prevailed thus against us. They would never have picked us up and made a prey of us if thou hadst not broken the staff of bands (Zech. 11:14) by which we were united, and so scattered us.” Whatever our trouble is, and whoever are the instruments of it, we must own the hand of God, his righteous hand, in it. 3. He laments the ill effects and consequences of the miscarriages of the late years. The whole nation was in a convulsion: Thou hast made the earth (or the land) to tremble, Ps. 60:2. The generality of the people had dreadful apprehensions of the issue of these things. The good people themselves were in a consternation: “Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment (Ps. 60:3); we were like men intoxicated, and at our wits’ end, not knowing how to reconcile these dispensations with God’s promises and his relation to his people; we are amazed, can do nothing, nor know we what to do.” Now this is mentioned here to teach, that is, for the instruction of the people. When God is turning his hand in our favour, it is good to remember our former calamities, (1.) That we may retain the good impressions they made upon us, and may have them revived. Our souls must still have the affliction and the misery in remembrance, that they may be humbled within us, Lam. 3:19, 20. (2.) That God’s goodness to us, in relieving us and raising us up, may be more magnified; for it is as life from the dead, so strange, so refreshing. Our calamities serve as foils to our joys. (3.) That we may not be secure, but may always rejoice with trembling, as those that know not how soon we may be returned into the furnace again, which we were lately taken out of as the silver is when it is not thoroughly refined.
II. A thankful notice of the encouragement God had given them to hope that, though things had been long bad, they would now begin to mend (Ps. 60:4): “Thou hast given a banner to those that fear thee (for, as bad as the times are, there is a remnant among us that desire to fear thy name, for whom thou hast a tender concern), that it may be displayed by thee, because of the truth of thy promise which thou wilt perform, and to be displayed by them, in defense of truth and equity,” Ps. 45:4. This banner was David’s government, the establishment and enlargement of it over all Israel. The pious Israelites, who feared God and had a regard to the divine designation of David to the throne, took his elevation as a token for good, and like the lifting up of a banner to them, 1. It united them, as soldiers are gathered together to their colours. Those that were scattered (Ps. 60:1), divided among themselves, and so weakened and exposed, coalesced in him when he was fixed upon the throne. 2. It animated them, and put life and courage into them, as the soldiers are animated by the sight of their banner. 3. It struck a terror upon their enemies, to whom they could now hang out a flag of defiance. Christ, the Son of David, is given for an ensign of the people (Isa. 11:10), for a banner to those that fear God; in him, as the centre of their unity, they are gathered together in one; to him they seek, in him they glory and take courage. His love is the banner over them; in his name and strength they wage war with the powers of darkness, and under him the church becomes terrible as an army with banners.
III. A humble petition for seasonable mercy. 1. That God would be reconciled to them, though he had been displeased with them. In his displeasure their calamities began, and therefore in his favour their prosperity must begin: O turn thyself to us again! (Ps. 60:1) smile upon us, and take part with us; be at peace with us, and in that peace we shall have peace. Tranquillus Deus tranquillat omnia—A God at peace with us spreads peace over all the scene. 2. That they might be reconciled to one another, though they had been broken and wretchedly divided among themselves: “Heal the breaches of our land (Ps. 60:2), not only the breaches made upon us by our enemies, but the breaches made among ourselves by our unhappy divisions.” Those are breaches which the folly and corruption of man makes, and which nothing but the wisdom and grace of God can make up and repair, by pouring out a spirit of love and peace, by which only a shaken shattered kingdom is set to rights and saved from ruin. 3. That thus they might be preserved out of the hands of their enemies (Ps. 60:5): “That thy beloved may be delivered, and not made a prey of, save with thy right hand, with thy own power and by such instruments as thou art pleased to make the men of thy right hand, and hear me.” Those that fear God are his beloved; they are dear to him as the apple of his eye. They are often in distress, but they shall be delivered. God’s own right hand shall save them; for those that have his heart have his hand. Save them, and hear me. Note, God’s praying people may take the general deliverances of the church as answers to their prayers in particular. If we improve what interest we have at the throne of grace for blessings for the public, and those blessings be bestowed, besides the share we have with others in the benefit of them we may each of us say, with peculiar satisfaction, “God has therein heard me, and answered me.”