“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.”
There is a gospel sense to this verse within the context of Psalm 68. It is quoted powerfully in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The context there is the Holy Spirit’s work in advancing the proclamation of the Gospel through the witness of the Church. This work of proclamation is that of the Risen and Ascended Christ who has entered into His heavenly sanctuary to bring redemption to His people.
In looking carefully at Psalm 68 we are confronted with a Psalm written for the occasion of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit David makes a connection with the events of the Exodus as Israel is led out of Egypt to Mount Sinai and then onward through forty years of wandering in the wilderness until they were brought into the Promised Land. In all of this they were led by the Angel of the LORD in the form of the fiery pillar.
The book of Exodus ends with this reality stated clearly.
“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the Tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all of their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).
What a powerful conclusion to the book of Exodus. They followed the cloud. The LORD was in the cloud. Twice in Psalm 68 we are confronted by “Him who rides in the clouds.”
In verse 4 we read “Sing to God, sing in praise of His Name, extol Him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before Him – His Name is the LORD.” Then in verse thirty two and thirty three we again confront the One who rides in the clouds when we read, “Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, Sing praise to the LORD, to Him who rides across the highest heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.”
In the Gospels we read that the disciples followed Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem, the cross, the resurrection, and His ascension to His Father’s right hand in order to redeem us. Luke even calls this journey His Exodus. It is part of His advent, His manifestation of Himself, and of His Father, to this world.
In Ephesians 4:7ff the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 in the following context. “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says; ‘When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.’ (What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”
The point is that the very One who came among us also went to be with His Father so that the Holy Spirit might be poured out upon us, gifting us as the church so that we might proclaim this Gospel of Salvation, purchased upon the cross, to this dark sin filled world. We are called to the reality of being the community of light because we have met the One who demonstrated such great love for us. This is the advent message! This is the only word of hope for this sin weary world! We must hear it and follow Jesus to His Cross so that we can share with Him in His resurrection.