Theme: God in His Sanctuary
From this week’s lessons we see how in the Old Testament God showed his power on behalf of his people, and that this is the same God who goes before us and triumphs through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 68:1-18
The picture of snow falling gently on Mount Zalmon in verse 14, whatever it may mean literally, leads naturally to a description of the high, rugged mountains of Bashan at the start of stanza five. The peaks of Mount Hermon on the northern fringe of the Bashan range are 9,000 feet above sea level and can be thought of as a worthy counterpart to Zalmon, which is also high. But what about Mount Zion, which David chose as the capital of his kingdom and where the ark of God was finally to rest? Compared with the majestic, rugged mountains of Bashan, Zion is unimpressive, rising only a few hundred feet above the surrounding valley floors. Judging by appearances, Zion should stand in awe of Bashan. But inverting the picture, the psalmist pictures the higher mountains envying small Zion since Zion is “the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever” (v. 16).
This fifth stanza is the longest in the psalm, which is a way of showing that these verses are the high point of the composition and the climax of the poem’s first half. Several points are particularly worth noting.
God’s choice of small things. There is an important biblical principle here, which is that God is not impressed by greatness, as we think of it, but rather chooses the weak and lowly things of this world as vehicles for his great acts in order that the glory for what is accomplished might go to himself. We have already had a taste of this principle in the prologue where God was introduced as the champion of the weak. We noted it in Mary’s Magnificat, which speaks of God lifting up the humble and filling the hungry with good things. It is not alien to the spirit of these verses to remember also that David, the author, was of a lowly family and was additionally the youngest and therefore least prominent of his father Jesse’s eight sons. Yet God chose him to be king of Israel. Indeed, he became the greatest of all Israel’s kings.
Here is how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
If you think of yourself as being poor, weak or unimportant, do not consider that as a handicap or disadvantage but instead as an opportunity for God to show his power in you. God has said, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another” (Isa. 42:8). If you try to take that glory to yourself, you will become merely a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. However, if you are content to be nothing, which you truly are, then God will show himself to be everything in you.
The entrance of God into his sanctuary. If stanza five is the high point of the psalm and the climax of the psalm’s first half, as suggested above, then verse 17 is certainly the climax of the climax. It describes the entrance of God into his sanctuary: “The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.”
This is pretty exalted language, suggesting more than a mere human event or procession. The “thousands of thousands” of God’s chariots sound more like legions of angels than mere human armies (see 2 Kings 6:17). But if this is a psalm written on the occasion of the bringing of the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem in the time of David, then it is right to think of it as the culmination of the journey that began at Sinai hundreds of years before. It is because this was so important, so eternally significant, that it is lifted to such cosmic standards. David had been told that God would not abandon either him or his descendants and that he would indeed dwell in Zion forever (v. 16). If this was to be accomplished, it would have to be by superhuman power, by the force of the heavenly hosts which were the true defenders of the precarious Jewish kingdom.
Why is Zion such an important mountain?
Which stanza is the longest in the psalm? What does this show us?
Why does God choose the weak and lowly as vehicles for his great acts?
Why is the language of verse 17 so exalted?
What was the probable occasion for the writing of this psalm?
How is this psalm the culmination of the journey that began at Sinai?
Application: In what areas of your life do you feel weak and unimportant? Think about how these things are an opportunity for God to show his power in and through you.