Wherefore he saith - The reference seems to be to Psalm 68:18, which, however it may speak of the removal of the tabernacle, appears to have been intended to point out the glorious ascension of Christ after his resurrection from the dead. The expositions of various commentators have made the place extremely difficult. I shall not trouble my reader with them; they may be seen in Rosenmuller.
When he ascended up on high - The whole of this verse, as it stands in the psalm, seems to refer to a military triumph. Take the following paraphrase: Thou hast ascended on high: the conqueror was placed in a very elevated chariot. Thou hast led captivity captive: the conquered kings and generals were usually bound behind the chariot of the conqueror, to grace the triumph. Thou host received gifts for (Paul, given gifts unto) men: at such times the conqueror was wont to throw money among the crowd. Even to the rebellious: those who had fought against him now submit unto him, and share his munificence; for it is the property of a hero to be generous. That the Lord God might dwell among them: the conqueror being now come to fix his abode in the conquered provinces, and subdue the people to his laws.
All this the apostle applies to the resurrection, ascension, and glory of Christ; though it has been doubted by some learned men whether the psalmist had this in view. I shall not dispute about this; it is enough for me that the apostle, under the inspiration of God, applied the verse in this way; and whatever David might intend, and of whatever event he might have written, we see plainly that the sense in which the apostle uses it was the sense of the Spirit of God; for the Spirit in the Old and New Testaments is the same. I may venture a short criticism on a few words in the original: Thou hast received gifts for men, באדם מתנות לקחת lakachta mattanoth baadam, thou hast taken gifts in man, in Adam. The gifts which Jesus Christ distributes to man he has received in man, in and by virtue of his incarnation; and it is in consequence of his being made man that it may be said, The Lord God dwells among them; for Jesus was called Immanuel, God with us, in consequence of his incarnation. This view of the subject is consistent with the whole economy of grace, and suits well with the apostle's application of the words of the psalmist in this place.
Wherefore he saith - The word “he” is not in the original; and it may mean “the Scripture saith,” or “God saith.” The “point” of the argument here is, that Christ, when he ascended to heaven, obtained certain “gifts” for people, and that those gifts are bestowed upon his people in accordance with this. To “prove” that, he adduces this passage from Psalm 68:18. Much perplexity has been felt in regard to the “principle” on which Paul quotes this Psalm, and applies it to the ascension of the Redeemer. The Psalm seems to have been composed on the occasion of removing the ark of the covenant from Kirjath-jearim to Mount Zion; 2 Samuel 6:1 ff it is a song of triumph, celebrating the victories of Yahweh, and particularly the victories which had been achieved when the ark was at the head of the army. It “appears” to have no relation to the Messiah; nor would it probably occur to anyone upon reading it, that it referred to his ascension, unless it had been so quoted by the apostle.
Great difficulty has been felt, therefore, in determining on what principle Paul applied it to the ascension of the Redeemer. Some have supposed that the Psalm had a primary reference to the Messiah; some that it referred to him in only a secondary sense; some that it is applied to him by way of “accommodation;” and some that he merely uses the words as adapted to express his idea, as a man adopts words which are familiar to him, and which will express his thoughts, though not meaning to say that the words had any such reference originally. Storr supposes that the words were used by the Ephesian Christians in their “hymns,” and that Paul quoted them as containing a sentiment which was admitted among them. This is “possible;” but it is mere conjecture. It has been also supposed that the tabernacle was a type of Christ; and that the whole Psalm, therefore, having original reference to the tabernacle, might be applied to Christ as the antitype.
But this is both conjectural and fanciful. On the various modes adopted to account for the difficulty, the reader may consult Rosenmuller in loc. To me it seems plain that the Psalm had original reference to the bringing up the ark to Mount Zion, and is a triumphal song. In the song or Psalm, the poet shows why God was to be praised - on account of his greatness and his benignity to people; Ephesians 4:1-6. He then recounts the doings of God in former times - particularly his conducting his people through the wilderness, and the fact that his enemies were discomfited before him; Ephesians 4:7-12. All this refers to the God, the symbols of whose presence were on the tabernacle, and accompanying the ark. He then speaks of the various fortunes that had befallen the ark of the covenant. It had lain among the pots, Ephesians 4:13, yet it had formerly been white as snow when God scattered kings by it; Ephesians 4:14.
He then speaks of the hill of God - the Mount Zion to which the ark was about to be removed, and says that it is an “high hill” - “high as the hills of Bashan,” the hill where God desired to dwell forever; Ephesians 4:16. God is then introduced as ascending that hill, encompassed with thousands of angels, as in Mount Sinai; and the poet says that, in doing it, he had triumphed over his enemies, and had led captivity captive; Ephesians 4:18. The fact that the ark of God thus ascended the hill of Zion, the place of rest; that it was to remain there as its permanent abode, no more to be carried about at the head of armies; was the proof of its triumph. It had made everything captive. It had subdued every foe; and its ascent there would be the means of obtaining invaluable gifts for people; Mercy and truth would go forth from that mountain; and the true religion would spread abroad, even to the rebellious, as the results of the triumph of God, whose symbol was over the tabernacle and the ark.
The placing the ark there was the proof of permanent victory, and would he connected with most important benefits to people. The “ascending on high,” therefore, in the Psalm, refers, as it seems to me, to the ascent of the symbol of the Divine Presence accompanying the ark on Mount Zion, or to the placing it “on high” above all its foes. The remainder of the Psalm corresponds with this view. This ascent of the ark on Mount Zion; this evidence of its triumph over all the foes of God; this permanent residence of the ark there; and this fact, that its being established there would be followed with the bestowment of invaluable gifts to people, might be regarded as a beautiful emblem of the ascension of the Redeemer to heaven. There were strong points of resemblance. He also ascended on high. His ascent was the proof of victory over his foes. He went there for a permanent abode. And his ascension was connected with the bestowmerit of important blessings to people.
It is as such emblematic language, I suppose, that the apostle makes the quotation. It did not originally refer to this; but the events were so similar in many points, that the one would suggest the other, and the same language would describe both. It was language familiar to the apostle; language that would aptly express his thoughts, and language that was not improbably applied to the ascension of the Redeemer by Christians at that time. The phrase, therefore, “he saith “ - λέγει legei- or “it saith,” or “the Scripture saith,” means, “it is said;” or, “this language will properly express the fact under consideration, to wit, that there is grace given to each one of us, or that the means are furnished by the Redeemer for us to lead holy lives.”
(For remarks on the subject of accommodation. in connection with quotations from the Old Testament into the New Testament, see the supplementary notes, Hebrews 1:5, and Hebrews 2:6, note. The principle of accommodation, if admitted at all, should be used with great caution. Doubtless it is sanctioned by great names both in Europe and America. Yet it must be allowed, that the apostles understood the mind of the Spirit, in the Old Testament, that their inspiration preserved them from every error. When, therefore, they tell us that certain passages have an ultimate reference to the Messiah and his times, through we should never have discovered such reference without their aid, nothing of the kind, it may be, “appearing” in the original places, yet we ate bound to receive it “on their testimony.” It is alleged, indeed, that the apostles sometimes use the ordinary forms of quotation, without intending to intimate thereby any prophetic reference in the passages titus introduced, nay, when such reference is obviously inadmissible. This, in the opinion of many, is a very hazardous statement, and introduces into the apostolic writings, and especially into the argumentative part of them, where so great use is made of the Old Testament, no small measure of uncertainty. Let the reader examine the passages in question, keeping in view. at the same time, the typical nature of the ancient economy, and he will have little difficulty in admitting the prophetic reference in most, if not in all of them. See Haldane on Romans 1:17, for a very masterly view of this subject, with remarks on Matthew 2:16, and other passages supposed to demand the accommodation theory.
“Nothing can be more dishonorable,” says that prince of English commentators, on the Epistle to the Romans, “to the character of divine revelation, and injurious to the edification of believers, than this method of explaining the quotations in the New Testament from the Old, not as predictions or interpretations, but as mere illustrations, by way of accommodation. In this way, many of the prophecies referred to in the Epistles are set aside from their proper application, and Christians are taught that they do not prove what the apostles adduced them to establish.” In reference to the quotation in this place, there seems little difficulty in connection with the view, that though the primary reference be to the bringing up of the ark to Mount Zion, the ultimate one is to the glorious ascension of Jesus into the highest heavens. The Jews rightly interpret part of this psalm Ephesians 1:22-23.
He led captivity captive - The meaning of this in the Psalm is, that he triumphed over his foes. The margin is, “a multitude of captives.” But this, I think, is not quite the idea. It is language derived from a conqueror, who not only makes captives, but who makes captives of those who were then prisoners, and who conducts them as a part of his triumphal procession. He not only subdues his enemy, but he leads his captives in triumph. The allusion is to the public triumphs of conquerors, especially as celebrated among the Romans, in which captives were led in chains (Tacitus, Ann. xii. 38), and to the custom in such triumphs of distributing presents among the soldiers; compare also Judges 5:30, where it appears that this was also an early custom in other nations. Burder, in Res. Alt u. neu Morgenland, in loc. When Christ ascended to heaven, he triumphed ever all his foes. It was a complete victory over the malice of the great enemy of God, and over those who had sought his life. But he did more. He rescued those who were the captives of Satan, and led them in triumph. Man was held by Satan as a prisoner. His chains were around him. Christ rescued the captive prisoner, and designed to make him a part of his triumphal procession into heaven, that thus the victory might be complete - triumphing not only over the great foe himself, but swelling his procession with the attending hosts of those who “had been” the captives of Satan, now rescued and redeemed.
And gave gifts unto men - Such as he specifies in Ephesians 4:11.
The disciples no longer had any distrust of the future. They knew that Jesus was in heaven, and that His sympathies were with them still. They knew that they had a friend at the throne of God, and they were eager to present their requests to the Father in the name of Jesus. In solemn awe they bowed in prayer, repeating the assurance, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:23, 24. They extended the hand of faith higher and higher, with the mighty argument, “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Romans 8:34. And Pentecost brought them fullness of joy in the presence of the Comforter, even as Christ had promised. DA 833.1
All heaven was waiting to welcome the Saviour to the celestial courts. As He ascended, He led the way, and the multitude of captives set free at His resurrection followed. The heavenly host, with shouts and acclamations of praise and celestial song, attended the joyous train. DA 833.2
As they drew near to the city of God, the challenge is given by the escorting angels,— DA 833.3Read in context »
The talents that Christ entrusts to His church represent especially the gifts and blessings imparted by the Holy Spirit. “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. All men do not receive the same gifts, but to every servant of the Master some gift of the Spirit is promised. COL 327.1
Before He left His disciples, Christ “breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” John 20:22. Again He said, “Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you.” Luke 24:49. But not until after the ascension was the gift received in its fullness. Not until through faith and prayer the disciples had surrendered themselves fully for His working was the outpouring of the Spirit received. Then in a special sense the goods of heaven were committed to the followers of Christ. “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Ephesians 4:8. “Unto every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” the Spirit “dividing to every man severally as He will.” Ephesians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 12:11. The gifts are already ours in Christ, but their actual possession depends upon our reception of the Spirit of God. COL 327.2Read in context »
Christ declared that, after His ascension, He would send to His church, as His crowning gift, the Comforter, who was to take His place. This Comforter is the Holy Spirit—the soul of His life, the efficacy of His church, the light and life of the world. With His Spirit, Christ sends a reconciling influence and a power to take away sin. TDG 257.2Read in context »
Moses beheld the disciples of Jesus as they went forth to carry His gospel to the world. He saw that though the people of Israel “according to the flesh” had failed of the high destiny to which God had called them, in their unbelief had failed to become the light of the world, though they had despised God's mercy and forfeited their blessings as His chosen people—yet God had not cast off the seed of Abraham; the glorious purposes which He had undertaken to accomplish through Israel were to be fulfilled. All who through Christ should become the children of faith were to be counted as Abraham's seed; they were inheritors of the covenant promises; like Abraham, they were called to guard and to make known to the world the law of God and the gospel of His Son. Moses saw the light of the gospel shining out through the disciples of Jesus to them “which sat in darkness” (Matthew 4:16), and thousands from the lands of the Gentiles flocking to the brightness of its rising. And beholding, he rejoiced in the increase and prosperity of Israel. PP 476.1
And now another scene passed before him. He had been shown the work of Satan in leading the Jews to reject Christ, while they professed to honor His Father's law. He now saw the Christian world under a similar deception in professing to accept Christ while they rejected God's law. He had heard from the priests and elders the frenzied cry, “Away with Him!” “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” and now he heard from professedly Christian teachers the cry, “Away with the law!” He saw the Sabbath trodden under foot, and a spurious institution established in its place. Again Moses was filled with astonishment and horror. How could those who believed in Christ reject the law spoken by His own voice upon the sacred mount? How could any that feared God set aside the law which is the foundation of His government in heaven and earth? With joy Moses saw the law of God still honored and exalted by a faithful few. He saw the last great struggle of earthly powers to destroy those who keep God's law. He looked forward to the time when God shall arise to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and those who have feared His name shall be covered and hid in the day of His anger. He heard God's covenant of peace with those who have kept His law, as He utters His voice from His holy habitation and the heavens and the earth do shake. He saw the second coming of Christ in glory, the righteous dead raised to immortal life, and the living saints translated without seeing death, and together ascending with songs of gladness to the City of God. PP 476.2Read in context »