v1 We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. How important it is to be acquainted with the great deeds of God. Israel was sustained by the testimony of its forebears. It enabled them to call on the Lord in desperate times. “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love” (v26). The power and affection of God were their sure resort. Scripture is a recollection of the saving acts of God on behalf of his people that are the ground of the appeals his loved ones make to him. What he did may recur in the experience of those who trust him subsequently. A precedent may become a prospect. God is faithful. Apart from establishing hope through Scripture senior Christians need to relate the acts of God of which they are aware “in olden times” to their younger generation. What is heard confirms the Word. The Bible is our foundation for confidence. Believers can verify that God remains loyal to his folk through his word and their witness.
v2 With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. Israel’s possession of the promised land was not a solo performance on their part. They fought, but God was the effective warrior in the fray. Sword and bow may have been wielded by men but God provided the initiative, skill, strength, and accuracy of Israel’s army. His invisible hand was the enabler of victory. When God’s people work in collaboration with him it is his energy and expertise that is working through us, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). The Lord is the principal and principle in the process - agent (prime mover) and author (of intent).
v3 It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring the victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. God moves his servants to be the means of his righteous action. They acquiesce and act at his prompting, under his guidance, through divinely donated disposition and ability. He takes pleasure in them and prospers their efforts for his glory. Again, believers are working out willingly what God has wrought in them.
v4 You are my King and my God, who decrees victory for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies: through your name we trample our foes. The people of God know times of setback and divine silence. The psalmist exercises his faith and dedication on behalf of his nation by asserting his recognition of the Lord’s sovereignty which has wrought favour in earlier generations. The negative factors that impede the wellbeing of God’s chosen ones, both internal and external, can be driven back by him and even destroyed. They are bothersome to us but easily quashed down by our Saviour. He has undertaken “to finally beat down Satan under our feet” (The Litany).
v5 Through you we push back our enemies; through you we trample our foes. Evil assails us through many manifestations - Satan, fellow humans, circumstances, and our own sin. We face an array of adversaries that could so easily overwhelm us and which certainly do test us. They can be repulsed by the Lord so that we may tread over them to freedom in Christ and maturity in holiness. Always and exclusively the pushback is the result of the power of God alone surging within us, and serving us without in the ordering of favourable providence.
vv6 – 7 I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. The psalmist not only has a perspective on the past. He is concerned with Israel’s present fortunes and they are low. He is a participant in the constant conflict of believers one way or the other. We may have instruments and weapons apt for adversity, affliction, and battle, spiritually and situationally, but they have no potency without the presence and blessing of God. God is the Overcomer who works through and in everything for the sake of the elect. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Again, we have the assurance that whatever is going on in creation, the lives of the converted and the contrary, God is in it in mercy or judgment. He performs through processes, unseen by his people (the saved), hidden from the perverse (the shamed).
v8 In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name for ever. In difficult and doubtful times (see the remainder of the psalm) the hymn writer does not fail in his confidence and exultation in God. Matters are dire and dreadful for Israel but his faith and fortitude in the Lord does not die and his praise is not dimmed. On the basis of the divine reputation and the repetition of saving history he exerts himself to extoll the nation’s Redeemer. The people provoke him to chastisement but God has a greater allegiance to himself than even to his people, and that is to his honour and his glory. That increases the security of our salvation. He will not be shamed by breaking his promises because his people fail in their obligations. He will rescue and deliver them for his Name’s sake (v5 also). God’s saved ones have no grounds for boasting in themselves. They are weak and wandering by nature. The evidence if too obvious. It is the unchangeableness of God’s covenant lovingkindness that guarantees final salvation and to this we can look with the psalmist.
Problems may pester us and worries may weary us to the depths of woe, but our disciplined preoccupation ought to be with boasting in the Lord. He can bless us when we are bereft of hope and lift us up when we are down. He can reverse our misfortunes and misery. Where we are helpless his help is effectual. Nothing can frustrate or overthrow the saving plan of God. He will rise up!
v9 But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. The psalmist’s optimism has to deal with current divine displeasure. It is deserved by his disobedient people. They may not complain as to his justice. His wrath against them is warranted. The people are scattered because of their gross infidelity. We are scattered in our thoughts when God abandons us to our rebellious selves for a season. We become aware of our tendency to stray and rebel more keenly than ever before and we acknowledge our powerlessness to return unless he draws us. Humbling is always necessary for us and we forget that when God is upholding us. We mistake his strength for ours and his abilities extended to us through grace we count as our own. We trust our bow and rely on our sword. It is salutary for the soul to rediscover our total dependence on the Lord even in things we sense to be within our capability. Physical, spiritual, and mental ability are supplied by him. But even more important, so is the right intent and correct action. The sinner abuses the gift of energy he receives. The godly go with God.