In Psalm 68:18, what does 'captives in your train' mean?
Psalm 68 is about God's ultimate victory over His enemies. Psalm 68:18 talks about Him in terms relevant to a king and conqueror. The first part of Psalm 68:18 says, "You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men."
This verse relates to ancient war culture in which the victorious king would lead the way home with a trail of captives—soldiers and civilians alike—following behind him. These captives were considered spoils of war. So, the phrase "captives in your train" refers to the line of captives following behind the conquering leader. Other words that could be used to replace the word "train" are "parade" or "procession."
In the New Testament, we see the concepts in this chapter and verse referred to or paraphrased by Paul in a couple of places. Ephesians 4:8 says, "Therefore it says, 'When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.'" What were the gifts He gave? Spiritual leadership gifts. Ephesians 4 goes on to say: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11–12). These gifts from God enable the captives in His train to be strengthened and grow in spiritual maturity.
Second Corinthians 2:14 describes believers in Jesus as a part of God's victorious train: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere." In these New Testament references, speaking of believers as "captives" indicates that they are no longer slaves to sin but have become slaves to Christ instead. They are the "spoils of war," stolen from the enemy.
While becoming a slave of Christ may not sound appealing at first impression, it is the best-case scenario for all people because it leads to eternal life. Paul explains that all of us are slaves to something—whether it be sin, which leads to death, or obedience to Christ, which leads to righteousness:
"Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. … But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:16–18, 22–23).
The better fruit comes from a life of obedience to God. When we use the gifts God gives us, as mentioned in Ephesians 4, He is able to use us to spread the knowledge of Him everywhere, as 2 Corinthians 2:14 mentions. As captives in His train we can proceed with joy and thanksgiving, knowing that we have been rescued from a life of slavery to sin and are empowered for righteous living through the Holy Spirit.
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