“You who ride on white donkeys and who sit in robes and who walk along the road, speak of it! To the sound of the divisions between the watering places, there repeat the righteousness of Yahweh — the righteousness of the leaders in Israel. Then to the gates went the people of Yahweh.”
On a certain level this is meant to be reminiscent of the language of the Shema — “speak of these things when you sit in your house or when you walk along the way; when you lie down and when you rise up…” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Whether you ride along in peace (white donkeys are beasts of peace, not war) or you sit in your robes in comfort or travel along the way…speak of this.
There is debate over how the phrase, MyI;bAaVvAm NyE;b MyIxVxAjVm (mechatstsiym beyn mash’abiym) is to be rendered. The word MyIxVxAjVm (mechatstsiym) is derived from the Hebrew word, XAxDj (chatsats), which means to be divided into groups. Given the earlier reference to sound (or voices), some of our English translations have suggested this is a reference to the divisions of Levitical singers who would lead the worship of God. Though it is true the it would not be until the time of David that clear and formal divisions would be made for singing, David’s act seems not to be integrating something new, but simply institutionalizing what was already understood. Also, the notion of singers is consistent with the tone of this song as well as of these verses — calling people to recount the victory of God.
What makes this somewhat awkward is the connection with the word MyI;bAaVvAm (mash’abiym), which refers to places where water is drawn — wells and other springs of conduits of water. Sources of water, of course, were an essential part of life in ancient Israel and that seems to give us a clue as to what is in sight. The language of the song is not limited to the praises of the Levitical singers, but all are called to join into the song and give God praise for his deliverance. Further, when the boundaries of Israel are set by God, we find Him using water to mark the boundaries that he is setting — from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). Even Eden was bounded by water (Genesis 2:10-14). With this in mind, particularly in light of the language of divisions (dividing land from water…something God does in creation, though the word choice is different). Thus, the totality of the land — divided by the waters — is called to sing God’s praise.
But to which gates do the people go? They go back to the gates of their home cities because they have been liberated from their oppressors and may go home in peace.