You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive: you have received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also…
This is the "Carmen seculare" of the old Hebrew Church, answering to the "Te Deum" of the Christian Church, and far surpassing it. In martial fervour, and in impassioned intensity of expression, the Hebrew songs excel all other compositions. This song bursts upon us at once. Every note is a nerve, every sentence is sensitive, every verse is a picture full of life, and strength, and victory. The inspired bard watches with enraptured gaze the onward march of the Most High. Mighty kings are scattered by a storm of hail, and the hill of Salmon, in the tribe of Ephraim, is white with sheets of ice. The Lord brings His own again from Bashan; His people from the depths of the sea. There comes a pause in this grand hymn of triumph, as though the singers, still gazing on God's glory in the clouds, were altogether test in admiration, and too happy to sing any more. And so the hymn dies away with an exclamation of astonished rapture — "O God, wonderful art Thou in Thy holy places, even the God of Israel, who giveth strength and power unto His people; blessed be God." The counterpart of all this is related by St. Luke. The evening sun is shining on the marble palaces of Zion. The disciples are standing on the hill of Olivet. They gaze upon the clouds beyond which their Master has disappeared, until the spirit of the old Hebrew song comes upon them, "Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive." Let us try to catch the spirit of this wondrous hymn. God, the God-Man, has gone up. We are His children. We must go up too. Wherever you are, ascension is your plain duty. Until you get thoroughly, and heartily, and altogether dissatisfied with the dead level of your life, there is no chance of your doing any good, here or hereafter. If you do not care about following Him, you are not His disciple. Nay, less than that, you are not a man at all, if you will not ascend. To get higher, to get more power, more honour, more authority, more wisdom, — to feel more, to enjoy more — all this is the legitimate instinct of your nature as a man. But there is a false ascension, a wrong way of going up. There may be an elevation of a certain part without any ascension whatever. A man may ascend in this world by meanness, selfishness, and fraud. Even in religion there is often a false ascension. The exaltation is purely imaginary. The man goes up too quickly, and with too much noise. The sham saint goes up, but the Saviour goes not with him. All this is very sad, and makes sad work altogether. The sham saint does so much harm. When you ascend, go carefully, and remember that before you can really go up you must go down. You will enjoy heaven when you get there, not before. You have to carry the cross to the crown. You cannot ascend unless you are humble, and the cross will make you humble. Are we so ascending?
(Henry J. Swallow.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.