Theme: The Historical Setting
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
Just as the opening stanzas of this psalm have a long history extending onward to the time of the wars of religion in France and beyond, so also do they have a history moving backward in time. For the opening line at least has its origin in the ancient cry of the setting out of God’s people, found in Numbers 10:25.
The setting is the end of the encampment of the Jews at Mount Sinai, where they had received the law and constructed the wilderness tabernacle and its furnishings. The most important item of these furnishings was the ark of the covenant, which was kept out of sight within the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. It was thought of as the earthly abode of God, and God favored this understanding by descending upon the tabernacle and its ark visibly in the form of the massive shekinah glory or cloud when the structure was first set up. The cloud rose up and moved out ahead of the people when they were being instructed to march forward, and it settled down over the tabernacle when they were to stop and encamp. Therefore, as Numbers relates, “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.’ Whenever it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel’” (vv. 35, 36).
That is a dramatic historical memory, and it is to this that the opening of Psalm 68 refers. Only in Psalm 68 the prayer (“Arise, O LORD”) is turned into an historical remembrance or declaration (literally, “God arises”). Yet because this is a declaration of faith that is looking to the future on the basis of the past, the New International Version is on the right track when it translates, “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered.”
Two things are said of God in this prologue. First, he scatters his enemies, who are the wicked (vv. 1, 2). Second, he cares for the weak and the abandoned (vv. 5, 6). Specifically, he is “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,” one who “sets the lonely in families,” and who “leads forth the prisoners with singing.” This is a revelation of God’s character, which is always to uplift the downtrodden and comfort the lonely.
The virgin Mary understood this about God and may even have deliberately echoed Psalm 68 in her Magnificat (Luke 1). She said of God, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things…” (vv. 51-53).
The kings and other rulers of this world do not act like this. They surround themselves with the noblest and richest of their lands, those who can enhance their glory and strengthen their power. The highest glory of God is that he cares for the miserable and surrounds himself with them. Therefore, the righteous must be glad and praise him. They do at the end of stanza one (v. 3) and at the start of stanza two (v. 4).
What is the origin of the opening line of our psalm?
Describe the probable setting for the psalm?
What was the most important thing in the tabernacle? Why was it so important?
Why does the opening of Psalm 68 read “May God arise”?
What two things are said of God in the psalm’s prologue?
How is God’s character demonstrated in verses 1-6?
Reflection: Verses 5, 6 tell us that God’s heart is with the downtrodden and lonely. How can your concern for the downtrodden and lonely more accurately reflect God’s care? What can you do this week to show God’s love to someone who is lonely or forgotten?