As I was reading the 76th Psalm, this verse captured my attention: “At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep” (v.6). This statement may seem a little odd at first, but it actually has strong support from other places of scripture. Before we examine the other places, what does this verse mean? It is confirmation from God that no person should trust the most powerful forces of men when those forces are against God. No enemy is to be feared when God is on our side.
In ancient times, the weapons of mass destruction feared by Israel were those countries that developed weaponry made of iron. When Israel first approached the Promised Land, one of their greatest fears was the many horses and chariots of the Canaanites (Joshua 17:16). When standing on the plains of Moab before entering the land, Moses gave instructions concerning these same weapons of war. Moses repeated God’s words, “When you go to battle against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and an army much larger than yours, don’t be afraid. I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Deut. 20:1). The obvious reference is to the defeat of Pharaoh with his many chariots and a vast army which God drowned in the Red Sea.
This type of implicit trust was very difficult for Israel. Even the great king David had trouble with it as he foolishly numbered Israel in order to gauge the strength of his armies and thus evaluate his ability to dominate his enemies. David paid dearly for his mistrust as God in one day reduced his troops by 70,000 men (2 Sam. 24:14). God’s people are to live in faith and never trust their own strength. David later wrote: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God” (Psalms 20:7). This lesson did not stick with Israel as later they put trust in heathen armies rather than calling on God. “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!” (Isaiah 31:1)
What is the occasion of Psalm 76? It is helpful to read the psalm in connection with Isaiah 37. The occasion is the siege of the Assyrians against Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king of Judah. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, made a siege against the Holy City in which he boasted that no king or god had ever successfully resisted him. While Sennacherib’s agents made the claim, there was an army of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers ready to attack the city upon the issuance of the command. Hezekiah was woefully distraught. Judah’s army was no match for Assyria. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen some years before, and it was true the might of Assyria was so great they had become a world empire. There was no recourse for Hezekiah. His options were three—fight and be slaughtered, surrender and be captured, or pray. He chose option three.
On the night before the assault, the angel of the Lord visited the camp of the Assyrians and devastated the entire camp. Every Assyrian soldier lay dead in fulfillment of God’s promise that not one arrow would be shot in the direction of Jerusalem. Not a bow, arrow, horse, chariot or the vast army of Assyria was a match for the power of God. The psalmist reflects this by saying, “both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.”
We do well to remember this when faced with the impossible. When it seems there is no way out, there always will be for God’s people. Prayer is an amazing tool that unleashes the power of God in our lives. James said, “Ye have not because ye ask not.” Perhaps the weakness of our families, our church, and each of us individually is because we rely too much on what we can do by ourselves. When will we learn not to trust in horses and chariots? Only when we are tired of constant defeat.
Pastor V. Mark Smith