As we continue to examine Bible prophecies that may be addressing the upcoming war in the Middle East, two related Psalms merit our examination. Psalm 60 and Psalm 108 contain several identical verses that describe a Middle East armed conflict, and a victory by Israel, with the help of God. As in other places in the Scriptures, the identical portions signify a substantial emphasis. When reading the Bible and attempting to discern the significance of specific Bible prophecies, there are a few cues that may indicate that we are to pay special attention. While every part the Word of God is vitally important, certain passages seem to be given special emphasis. When an extended portion is repeated nearly verbatim in another place, that is an indicator that it has special importance. (For example, Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-4, also Jeremiah 23:19-20 and Jeremiah 30:23-24) That is the case in these two Psalms. The introductory verses are quite different in tone and content between the two, and are then followed by the verses in common.
If you've read this far, it's likely that you have a keen interest in Bible prophecy and current events in Israel. So, be patient as we attempt to unfold these Psalms -- hopefully the results will be worth your in reading this. To me, these are an exhilarating and forceful expression of God's emphatic intentions for areas of disputed land.
Both of these Psalms consist of three sections: first, a prayer to the Lord, then the Lord's response, and finally, another petition. It is the first of the three sections that differs between the two Psalms. Both of the Psalms are speaking of military conflict. Let's begin with Psalm 60.
"You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us; you have been angry--now restore us! You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger." (Psalm 60:1-3 NIV)
Israel finds itself in a crisis situation. Not only that, but the people who make the plea have begun to realize that their troubles are due in part to the Lord's long-term disfavor with them. But even the admission of this is a major step in the right direction. The "rejection" which the people mention in their prayer is not a recent development; on the contrary, it was a process that has endured for centuries, but now is about to end. The prophet Isaiah gives us more details about this in language very similar to the "you have given us wine that makes us stagger" of verse 3. "Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger." (Isaiah 51:17 NIV) But Isaiah doesn't stop there; no, he informs Israel of the good news that God's attitude towards them has changed, that their time drinking from that dreadful "cup" has come to an end. (Isaiah 51:22-23 NIV) "This is what your Sovereign LORD says, your God, who defends his people: "See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again. I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who said to you, 'Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.' And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked over."
So time has come for the Lord to hear their calls for help, to take the cup of His wrath out of their hands and put it into the hands of their oppressors. It is on this basis that they call to Him in Psalm 60. They appeal to the Lord to "restore" them and "mend" the land. This accurately describes the developing situation now in Israel. Though relatively few in Israel have truly acknowledged the need for the Lord's help since the state was founding in 1948, this is changing. Psalm 60 describes this change, and even more importantly, it describes the eventual shift to an attitude of accountability towards God. The people move towards an acknowledgment that the "desperate times" they have experienced have been because of the Lord's anger. But despite the seemingly despondent tone of this first verses, they do express an expectation of hope - a belief that God, in his great mercy and compassion, will hear and heed Israel's plea. All of the negative aspects of God's dealing with Israel in these first three verses is expressed in past tense.
However, in verses 4 and 5, the tone of the prayer changes drastically. The tone shifts from the confession that their past rebellious actions were the grounds for God's displeasure with them, to a confident expectation that God would respond to their present plight.
"But you have raised a banner for those who honor you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Use your strong right arm to save us, and rescue your beloved people." (v 4-5 NLT)
Israel is still God's "beloved people," even after such an extended period where they have not listened to His voice or acknowledged His Messiah. And whether He hears their cry for help is based solely on that love. He had promised them, "My lovingkindness will not be removed from you," (Isaiah 54:10) and on the basis of that promise He will take action.
What follows is the description of that action, the response by the Lord to their cries for help. While the plea was general in nature, the response is very specific. In the most emphatic terms and direct manner, God declares His disposition towards specific lands and peoples. The regions that God specifies in his forceful response give us an indication that this prophecy may be directed at the situation today in Israel.
His response begins with this: "God has spoken from his sanctuary: (v 6 NIV)" This is so that we make no mistake about the authority of who is speaking, and the gravity of the pronouncement forthcoming. All of the Bible is God's Word, but there are special instances when He declares "the Lord has spoken" to put special emphasis on a pronouncement.
"God has spoken from his sanctuary: "In triumph I will parcel out Shechem and measure off the Valley of Succoth. Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter. Moab is my washbasin, upon Edom I toss my sandal; over Philistia I shout in triumph."" (Psalm 60:6-8 NIV)
In a series of staccato, pounding declarations, God from His holy throne issues His response to Israel's plea for help. The significance of "I will parcel out Shechem" can only be understood by those who have followed the recent developments in that area. First, however, a little background is needed, for Shechem is a very important place in Biblical history. It was the first place that Abraham stayed after arriving in Canaan from Haran. It was the first place that Jacob stayed after arriving in Canaan from Paddan Aram. Jacob purchased a plot of land there, and promptly built an altar to the Lord, calling it "God, the God of Israel." Even more significantly, Joseph and his brothers are buried in Shechem. It is today called "Joseph's tomb," but Stephen provides us with the additional detail, from Acts 7:15-16, that the other sons of Israel are also interred there.
When Joseph was nearing the end of His life in Egypt, he made a decision of great symbolic importance. "And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place." (Genesis 50:25 NIV) Joseph understood the importance of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding the land of Canaan. It is difficult to overstate the significance of Joseph's action regarding his bones. It alone is singled out by the Holy Spirit as the most meritorious act of faith in Joseph's life. This in incredible when one considers the other great acts of faith performed by Joseph! His bones are still there today, a perpetual testimony to the faithfulness of God's promises to Israel.
Today, the area is Shechem is home to the largest Palestinian city of Nablus, a cauldron of anti-Israel hatred. In October 2000, when the violent Palestinian uprising began, Nablus became one of the flash points of Arab rioting and mayhem. The site of Joseph's tomb in Shechem, which had long been protected by the IDF, was targeted by the Palestinians. In an attempt to placate Arafat and his legions, the IDF naively came to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority that they, the IDF, would withdraw from Joseph's tomb in exchange for an agreement that the Palestinian police would ensure its safekeeping. The very next day, mobs of crazed Palestinians attacked the structure housing Joseph's tomb, wreaking great destruction. Since then, it's been in Muslim hands, and they are said to be building a mosque there.
I was in Israel at that same time, and it was my great desire to visit Shechem. But if I had tried to set foot in this area where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had sojourned, I would have been killed by the Palestinian sniper fire. Is it any wonder, then, that the first place mentioned in God's response in Psalm 60 is Shechem? God has been watching all of these dreadful developments, and in response has vociferously cried out "In triumphant exultation I will parcel out Shechem!" Some may ask, "How do we know this Psalm is talking about future events?" Simple: we know because God has not yet parceled out Shechem and given it back to its rightful owners.
Next, God says, "I will portion out the Valley of Succoth." Succoth is a place on the east bank of the Jordan river. A large portion of land in what is now the country of Jordan has been designated by God as belonging to Israel. The next declaration by God, "Gilead is mine! Manasseh is mine!", emphatically reinforces that.
These areas are on the east bank of the Jordan. Though the conflict today between the Israelis and the Palestinians is centered on the "West Bank," very soon Israel will take possession of the "East Bank" and annex it as part of Israel! If you recall from Biblical history, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh received their allocation of land on the east bank of the Jordan. Moses recaps for us, "Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh." (Deuteronomy 3:12-13 NIV) The region of Bashan today goes by the name of the Golan Heights. It is the area that Israel captured from Syria, and over which Syria regularly threatens Israel with war.
Next, God says, "Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my scepter." These are the two historic houses of Israel, but much more is implied here. As you can see from the animated map, the territories of these two tribes comprise much of the "West Bank," territories that have been given to Israel. That Biblical heartland, where the patriarchs roamed and the kings ruled, will once again be in full possession of Israel.
The next three places mentioned are much different. Unlike the high regard and respect which God attributes to the places mentioned previously, these next three are regarded with disdain. "Moab is my washbasin, upon Edom I toss my sandal; over Philistia I shout in triumph." These were historical enemies of Israel, and in the war about to break out, their successors will once again find themselves fighting Israel. Yet God has already decided the outcome for these places.
Moab, east of the Dead Sea in present-day Jordan, is regarded by God as a basin in which He washes His feet. Edom, also in Jordan, east of the Negev, is described as a place where at which God metaphorically throws his shoe. This may also allude to the ancient custom of removing one's sandal and tossing it to seal a contractual agreement of transfer of possession.
Transfer of possession of this land to Israel is imminent. We know from other Bible prophecies that Moab, Edom, and Philistia are major players in the next war. When God leads Israel to victory, they will begin to realize that it is He who is trampling down their enemies.
In the third major section, after the Lord outlines what He is going to do, the people respond. "Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? Is it not you, O God, you who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies? Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies." (Psalms 60:9-12 NIV)
He will indeed give them aid, and the victory. They have seen that He for a time had rejected them, but all that is about to change. "Together they (the Jews) will be like warriors trampling the muddy streets in battle. When they fight, because the LORD is with them, they will rout the mounted men. 'I will make the house of Judah mighty and the house of Joseph victorious. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them.'" (Zechariah 10:5-6) The reason is solely because of God's compassion for Israel.