This psalm celebrates the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem. The ark symbolised the presence of God and David, in this psalm, highlights the joy (v. 3) and security (v. 5) his people have from knowing God was with them in a special way. Not only had the ark found a home, but God had provided a prosperous dwelling-place (Canaan) for his people (v. 6).
In verses 7-10, David refers to the journey made by the Israelites from Egypt and he highlights God’s miraculous provision of rain for the weary travellers. As Spurgeon put it, ’Such rain has never fell before dropped on the desert sand…. As at the end of each stage, when they halted, weary with the march, they found such showers of good things awaiting them that they were speedily refreshed.’ Then, in verses 11-15 David refers to a great victory God had given to the armies of Israel in the territory of Bashan, perhaps a reference to the battles fought by Barak and Deborah. David, as he describes the parade that accompanied the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem, reminds God’s people of what his presence had meant to previous generations.
His description of the parade continues in verses 16-19. Their enemies (represented by the mountains of Bashan) could not prevent God’s arrival at his chosen dwelling-place. The psalmist pictures God arriving as a conqueror, surrounded by the heavenly host (the thousands of chariots), with all the enemies he has defeated on his journey from Egypt, which began at the Exodus, now chained to the chariots. Perhaps there was a danger of the Israelites looking back to Sinai and wishing they could enjoy a similar experience of God. David reminds them that such a presence is now in the place where the ark is located (v. 17).
Paul quotes some of these verses in Ephesians 4 and applies them to the ascension of Jesus when he journeyed to heaven in triumph after his victory on the battlefield of Calvary. By extension, we can say that the presence of God that was known at Sinai and in the dwelling-place of the ark is a very safe place for us to enter because Jesus has gone there on behalf of us – from there he daily gives spiritual gifts to us through his chosen representatives. Rebels are urged to become part of his victory parade and join the numberless ranks who are marching behind Jesus to his dwelling-place
David continues describing the parade in the rest of the psalm. His people can celebrate future triumphs over ancient enemies, even death itself; such divinely-given victories will be overwhelming in scale (vv. 20-23). In verses 24-27, David lists the order of certain groups and tribes in the procession, probably to stress the bond of unity that God’s people enjoyed on that occasion. Of course, unity should mark God’s people still.
As he observes the march, David is led to pray that God would continue to reveal his great power (v. 28), so that in the future kings and nations from all over the world would come and worship at Jerusalem (vv. 29-31). Although at that moment, they were enemies of Israel, David looked ahead to when Egyptians and Ethiopians would become fellow-worshippers of God. This desire of David is being fulfilled as the gospel is spread and persons from all nations join the parade.
David concludes the psalm with words of worship (vv. 32-35). He rejoices in anticipating the future success of the kingdom of God and ascribes its development solely to the power of God. As we look into the sanctuary where Jesus now is, we can see evidences of divine power that not even David could fully anticipate. One of the most abused words today is ‘awesome’ – but it is one that describes the court of King Jesus. From there, he ‘gives power and strength to his people’ so that they can serve him wholeheartedly as they celebrate the march to Zion. Blessed be God!