However, He has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When He ascended to the heights, He led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to His people.” Notice that it says “He ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same One who descended is the One who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that He might fill the entire universe with Himself. Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.Ephesians 4:7-11
There is much debate and conjecture over what Paul is doing here. Bottom line it is perplexing as to why 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 Sam 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.” Barnes
There is lots of guess work that has been put forward by the commentators. I don’t intend to go into all the suggestions given as to what it means or what it connects to. Most of it is wild conjecture.
You need to read the whole of Psalm 68. But notice these following verses:
- Psa 68:6 God causes the lonely to live at home; He brings out those who are bound with chains, while the rebellious dwell in a dry land.
- Psa 68:9 O God, You sent down a shower of plenty, by which You upheld Your inheritance when it was weary.
- Psa 68:10 Your flock lived in it. You, O God, have prepared for the poor in Your goodness.
- Psa 68:12 Kings of armies fled, they ran away; yea, she who stayed home has divided the plunder.
- Psa 68:18 You have gone up on high; You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men; yea, to dwell among the rebellious, O Jehovah God.
- Psa 68:21 Yea, God will crush the head of His enemies, the hairy crown of him who walks on in his guilt.
- Psa 68:23 so that your foot may be dashed in the blood of your enemies, the tongue of your dogs in it.
- Psa 68:29 Because of Your temple over Jerusalem, kings shall bring a present to You.
To understand it properly you need to consider the context of the whole Psalm and what it is about. Note that Paul changes something in his “quote”.
The Psalmist wrote “received gifts for (literally: among) men” but Paul changed it to “gave gifts to men.”
There are some cultural things you need to understand in order to understand what Paul is doing. In the end you need to ask Paul when you seem him and he may well tell you what he meant was nothing like Ian thought he meant. Ha ha. But here is the background to the Psalm and the Roman culture behind the concept of what Paul seems to be talking about.
Paul has chosen a war psalm. A quick reading of it, as indicated by what I clipped above, will tell you that. It is appears to be set in the context of the Roman practice of a victory march.
He led captivity captive – It is language derived from a conqueror, who not only makes captives, but who makes captives of those who are then prisoners, and who includes 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 and to the custom in such triumphs of distributing presents among the soldiers. Compare that with Judges 5:30 where it appears that this was also an early custom in other nations. 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. At such times the conqueror threw money among the crowd. Even to the rebellious: those who had fought against him now submit unto him. He shared his spoils with all. It is the character of a hero to be generous.
Most of the discussion centres on whether the Psalmist meant this as a reference to the Messiah or not and why Paul would mention the resurrection and ascension. That would not be in the minds of those who read the Psalm, so what is Paul doing here. And why would Paul change the thrust of the gift giving like he has?
I have told you the background and points of debate or relevance. Now it is time for you to figure out why Paul did this. Too hard? Wait for tomorrow and I will offer you my humble opinion then at a later date, much later, you can ask Paul himself what he meant.
A wise man can learn more from a foolish QUESTION than a fool can from a wise ANSWER!!Bruce Lee
God’s story turns your final chapter into a preface.Max Lucado
The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose.Rick Warren