Psalm 144 – The True Fountain of Strength & Warfare in the Ancient World

A Psalm of David.

The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron.

Its construction began in 447 B.C. when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power.

It was completed in 438 B.C., although decoration of the building continued until 432 B.C.

1 Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:

2 My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.

3 LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!

4 Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.

5 Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.

6 Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them.

7 Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children;

Athens is one of the oldest named cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for at least 7000 years.

Situated in southern Europe, Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium B.C. and its cultural achievements during the 5th century B.C. laid the foundations of western civilization.

During the early Middle Ages, the city experienced a decline, then recovered under the later Byzantine Empire and was relatively prosperous during the period of the Crusades (12th and 13th centuries), benefiting from Italian trade.

Following a period of sharp decline under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Athens re-emerged in the 19th century as the capital of the independent Greek state.

8 Whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.

9 I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee.

10 It is he that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword.

11 Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood:

12 That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace:

13 That our garners may be full, affording all manner of store: that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets:

History of the Peloponnesian War
Written four hundred years before the birth of Christ, this detailed contemporary account of the struggle between Athens and Sparta stands an excellent chance of fulfilling the author’s ambitious claim that the work “was done to last forever.”

The conflicts between the two empires over shipping, trade, and colonial expansion came to a head in 431 b.c. in Northern Greece, and the entire Greek world was plunged into 27 years of war.

Thucydides applied a passion for accuracy and a contempt for myth and romance in compiling this exhaustively factual record of the disastrous conflict that eventually ended the Athenian empire.

14 That our oxen may be strong to labor; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets.

15 Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD.

A Psalm of praise to the infinite majesty of God.  Fighting the good fight of faith for the sake of being in the state of a happy church life.

Warfare in the Ancient World 

Modern readers may be shocked at the opening verse of Ps 144, but warfare is a prominent theme in Psalms.

The first intact chariot was discovered in 1829 in a tomb whose owner remains unknown and is now on display at the Museo Archeologico in Florence, Italy.
The Florence Chariot has wheels of four spokes and is considered to be of earlier construction and design than other chariots found, which have six spokes.

The earliest wars were conducted with crude weapons of wood and stone.  Horses were of limited value during heavy combat because the stirrup had not yet been invented and a rider could easily fall. 

Chariots were not used extensively until the Bronze Age.  An Egyptian chariot conveyed two men, a driver and an archer (chariots from the Levant [Syria] also accommodated a shield-bearer).  Massed chariots used shock value and speed to demoralize and scatter an enemy.  Chariots were prominent in New Kingdom Egypt.

A revolution in military technology occurred at the beginning of the Iron Age.  Massed armies of heavy infantry with the discipline to hold their ranks appeared on the scene.  They could withstand and rout a chariot charge, making the chariot obsolete except as a prestigious vehicle for commanders.

Battles were often short, lasting only as long as one side or the other had the stamina to maintain face-to-face combat.  Frequently one side would break ranks and flee.  Panic was common, exacerbated by the commanders’ poor control, having to rely as they did on shouted voice commands or signals.

The State Chariot of King Tutankhamun
The discovery of six chariots in the Tomb of King Tutankhamun was a significant find, as only two others have been found, as well as fragments of chariots discovered in the various tombs of the Valley of the Kings.

The State Chariot is made of wood, which was then gessoed and gilded to give it its fine golden finish.

The engravings were then impressed on top to complete the decor of the chariot.

In keeping with the hilly terrain they inhabited, the Israelites relied primarily on infantry.  Light infantry soldiers wore little or no armor and typically used projectile weapons, like stones and arrows.  They moved in loose formations, relying on speed (see Jud 20:15-16; 2 Cho 14:8).

Heavy infantrymen wore full armor and often carried heavy swords and long spears.  They moved in large, close formation, with spears lowered to form a wall of pikes, in effect creating an ancient version of a The Greek hoplite (heavily armored infantry soldier) marching in his phalanx was a classic example of heavy infantry in action.

Normally a heavy infantry unit would rout a light infantry corps, but out in the open a single heavy infantryman could be at a disadvantage when pitted against a light infantryman, due to the latter’s mobility and ability to strike at a distance.

The greatest armies combined heavy and light infantry with cavalry.  Alexander the Great and Hannibal were masters at using their heavy infantry as a solid center for their armies, employing cavalry to flank an opponent.

The Roman legions rejected the long pike in favor of a short sword.  These legions had the weight and impact of heavy infantry but were much more mobile.

Ancient Egyptian Battle of Axes
The mace was the common weapon used for primary close combat with the opponent.

However, ancient Egypt battle axes was a practical weapon that replaced the mace as Egyptian’s military close combat weapon. Ancient Egypt cutting axes is a blade that was fastened to a sizable handle.

In addition to fighting pitched battles in the open field, armies sometimes laid siege to walled cities that were often situated atop hills.  How long a city could hold out depended on how much food it had in storage and upon whether it had direct access to underground springs.

Plague could strike a besieged city, as happened to Athens during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C.  Often the besieging army would seek to bring down a city by building a siege ramp and attacking the walls with siege towers.

Reproduction of Spartan Armour.
Reproduction of an ancient Greek Spartan Heavy Infantry Armour from 490 B.C.

Includes Crested Helmet, Long Spear, Shield and Cuirass.

Ancient armies were often made up of citizen soldiers called up in times of emergency.  These citizens could fight with dedication but were poorly trained and armed and often needed to return home on short order to tend their crops.  Citizen-soldier armies served Israel during the judges period.

Ancient societies tried to give their armies a core of professional soldiers with long-term enlistments.  Kings would also hire mercenaries.

The Spartans had a novel solution to the recruitment problem: Every man served in the army full-time and lived in the barracks through most of his adult life (farming was handled by slaves called helots).

Ancient city-states often fought each other in “wars” that lasted a single day.  Casualties could be light, and frequently nothing more was at stake than setting a property claim. 

Other wars could be catastrophic.  The Peloponnesian War lasted 27 years, destroyed the Athenian Empire and devastated the Greek world.  Victorious armies might slaughter cities and take survivors as slaves, effectively destroying peoples and cultures with deliberate genocide.

Armed conflict was indeed a fact of life for the peoples of ancient times.  Against this reality David had ample reason to thank God, who trained his hands for war.

The Recall of Absalom & Warfare In the Ancient World

A lot of killing and rape going on, life hasn’t changed.  History and life today proves that the scripture is true: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). 

View of Tekoa from Herodion.
Tekoa (Hebrew: תְּקוֹעַ‬) is an Israeli settlement organized as a community settlement in the West Bank, located 20 km northeast of Hebron, 16 km south of Jerusalem and in the immediate vicinity of the Palestinian village of Tuqu’. It falls under the jurisdiction of Gush Etzion Regional Council. In 2017 it had a population of 3,750. The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law, but the Israeli government disputes this. Founding Tekoa was established in 1975 as a Nahal outpost in the vicinity of the Arab village of Tuqu’. In 1977 it was handed over to civilian residents. It is named after the hometown of the Biblical prophet Amos, whereupon the neighbouring settlement of Nokdim indicates his profession (shepherd)) (Amos 1:1). Tekoa is build on land confiscated from the Palestinian citizens of Tuqu’. The town is located 5 miles south of Bethlehem at the foot of Herodion (“Herod’s Palace”).

“Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was toward Absalom.

And Joab sent to Tekoah, and fetched thence a wise woman, and said unto her, I pray thee, feign thyself to be a mourner, and put on now mourning apparel, and anoint not thyself with oil, but be as a woman that had a long time mourned for the dead:

And come to the king, and speak on this manner unto him. So Joab put the words in her mouth”  (2 Sam 14:1-3).

The woman told David that her husband was dead and she only had two sons, but one of them killed the other.  The rest of the family wanted to kill the brother that killed the other one. 

So David told her to bring the son to him and he would make sure that no one would hurt him.  And she rambled on about how great David was.

“And the king said, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said, As thy soul liveth, my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken: for thy servant Joab, he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid:

Herodium or Herodion is a truncated cone-shaped hill, located 12 km (7.5 mi) south of Jerusalem and 5 km (3.1 mi) southeast of Bethlehem, in the Judean desert (the West Bank).

Herod the Great built a fortress, a palace, and a small town in Herodium, between 23 and 15 B.C., and is believed to have been buried there.

Herodium is 758 meters (2,487 ft) above sea level,

the highest peak in the Judean desert.

To fetch about this form of speech hath thy servant Joab done this thing: and my lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to know all things that are in the earth.

And the king said unto Joab, Behold now, I have done this thing: go therefore, bring the young man Absalom again (2 Sam 14:19-21).

So Joab arose and went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.

And the king said, Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face. So Absalom returned to his own house, and saw not the king’s face.

But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him” (2 Sam 14:23-25).

Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years and he had three sons and one daughter, who he named after his sister that he had raped.  Absalom had his servants get Joab, but two different times he refused to come.

“Therefore he said unto his servants, See, Joab’s field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire. And Absalom’s servants set the field on fire.

Then Joab arose, and came to Absalom unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?

A standing stone and portion of the remains of the ancient city gate of the capital city of Geshur at Bethsaida.
For nearly two thousand years, the ancient biblical city of Bethsaida on the shores of the Sea of Galilee had been lost to humanity and was assumed by many to be a myth.

Here, according to the New Testament of the Bible, the Apostles of Jesus, Peter, Andrew, and Phillip, were born.

Here too, Jesus performed some of his miracles, including healing of a blind man, the feeding of the multitudes, and walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee.

And here too, Phillip, the son of Herod the Great, upgraded the city to the status of a Greek city, where he was subsequently buried after his death.

And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.

So Joab came to the king, and told him: and when he had called for Absalom, he came to the king, and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king: and the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam 14:30-33).

1 Only our God, Jesus, has the right to Judge. 

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Hebron is a Palestinian city located in the southern West Bank, 30 km (19 mi) south of Jerusalem.

Nestled in the Judaean Mountains, it lies 930 meters (3,050 ft) above sea level.

It is the largest city in the West Bank and the second largest in the Palestinian territories after Gaza, and home to approximately 250,000 Palestinians, and between 500 and 850 Jewish settlers concentrated in Otniel settlement and around the old quarter.

Hebron is a busy hub of West Bank trade, responsible for roughly a third of the area’s gross domestic product, largely due to the sale of marble from quarries.

It is locally well known for its grapes, figs, limestone, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories, and is the location of the major dairy product manufacturer, al-Junaidi.

The old city of Hebron is characterized by narrow, winding streets, flat-roofed stone houses, and old bazaars.

The city is home to Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University and notably has no cinemas or places of entertainment.

Hebron is detached to cities of ad-Dhahiriya, Dura, Yatta, the surrounding villages with no borders.

Hebron is also the largest Palestinian governorate with its population of 600,364.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this”  (Is 9:6-7).

“Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.

Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil” (Is 56:1).

The sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill, means that it is a sin to commit murder.  Capital punishment is not a sin, IF  it is justified. 

Absolom should have been punished for raping his sister according to the law of the land, not by another person.

“At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deut 17:6).

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19).

“To me [God] belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste” (Deut 32:35).

Warfare in the Ancient World

Modern readers may be shocked at the opening verse of Ps 144, but warfare is a prominent theme in Psalms.

The first intact chariot was discovered in 1829 in a tomb whose owner remains unknown and is now on display at the Museo Archeologico in Florence, Italy.

The Florence Chariot has wheels of four spokes and is considered to be of earlier construction and design than other chariots found, which have six spokes.

The earliest wars were conducted with crude weapons of wood and stone.  Horses were of limited value during heavy combat because the stirrup had not yet been invented and a rider could easily fall. 

Chariots were not used extensively until the Bronze Age.  An Egyptian chariot conveyed two men, a driver and an archer (chariots from the Levant [Syria] also accommodated a shield-bearer).

Massed chariots used shock value and speed to demoralize and scatter an enemy.  Chariots were prominent in New Kingdom Egypt

A revolution in military technology occurred at the beginning of the Iron Age.  Massed armies of heavy infantry with the discipline to hold their ranks appeared on the scene. 

They could withstand and rout a chariot charge, making the chariot obsolete except as a prestigious vehicle for commanders. 

Battles were often short, lasting only as long as one side or the other had the stamina to maintain face-to-face combat.  Frequently one side would break ranks and flee.  Panic was common, exacerbated by the commanders’ poor control, having to rely as they did on shouted voice commands or signals.

In keeping with the hilly terrain they inhabited, the Israelites relied primarily on infantry.  Light infantry soldiers wore little or no armor and typically used projectile weapons, like stones and arrows.  They moved in loose formations, relying on speed.

Ruins of Pathenon in Athens Greece
The Parthenon (/ˈpɑːrθəˌnɒn, -nən/; Ancient Greek: Παρθενών; Greek: Παρθενώνας, Parthenónas) is a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron.

Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC.

It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.

The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and Western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. To the Athenians who built it, the Parthenon and other Periclean monuments of the Acropolis were seen fundamentally as a celebration of Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders and as a thanksgiving to the gods for that victory.

As of 2007 the Greek Ministry of Culture was carrying out a programme of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

Heavy infantrymen wore full armor and often carried heavy swords and long spears.  They moved in large, close formation, with spears lowered to form a wall of pikes, in effect creating an ancient version of a tank.

The Greek hoplite (heavily armored infantry soldier) marching in his phalanx was a classic example of heavy infantry in action. 

Normally a heavy infantry unit would rout a light infantry corps, but out in the open a single heavy infantryman could be at a disadvantage when pitted against a light infantryman, due to the latter’s mobility and ability to strike at a distance. 

Egyptian Battle Axes

The greatest armies combined heavy and light infantry with cavalry.  Alexander the Great and Hannibal were masters at using their heavy infantry as a solid center for their armies, employing cavalry to flank an opponent. 

The Roman legions rejected the long pike in favor of a short sword.  These legions had the weight and impact of heavy infantry but were much more mobile. 

In addition to fighting pitched battles in the open field, armies sometimes laid siege to walled cities that were often situated atop hills.  How long a city could hold out depended on how much food it had in storage and upon whether it had direct access to underground springs. 

Plague could strike a besieged city, as happened to Athens during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C.  Often the besieging army would seek to bring down a city by building a siege ramp and attacking the walls with siege towers. 

Ancient armies were often made up of citizen soldiers called up in times of emergency.  These citizens could fight with dedication but were poorly trained and armed and often needed to return home on short order to tend their crops.  Citizen-soldier armies served Israel during the judges period.

Ancient societies tried to give their armies a core of professional soldiers with long-term enlistments.  Kings would also hire mercenaries. 

The Spartans had a novel solution to the recruitment problem: Every man served in the army full-time and lived in the barracks through most of his adult life (farming was handled by slaves called helots).

Ancient city-states often fought each other in “wars” that lasted a single day.  Casualties could be light, and frequently nothing more was at stake than setting a property claim.  

Other wars could be catastrophic.  The Peloponnesian War lasted 27 years, destroyed the Athenian Empire and devastated the Greek world. 

Victorious armies might slaughter cities and take survivors as slaves, effectively destroying peoples and cultures with deliberate genocide.  Armed conflict was indeed a fact of life for the peoples of ancient times. 

Against this reality David had ample reason to thank God, who trained his hands for war.