Theme: An Army of Preachers
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 words that begin the third stanza (vv. 7-10), the first of the main body of the psalm, pick up directly from the prologue, for the cry “Arise, O God” was raised when the people finally set out from Sinai on the march to Canaan, which is what these verses describe. There is a jumble of images here, poetically compacted: the shaking of the earth, which was associated with the theophany at Sinai (Exod. 19:18, 19; see Heb. 12:26); rain, perhaps that which defeated Sisera (see the Song of Deborah, Judges 5:4); and showers of blessing, which were part of God’s provision for the poor (vv. 9, 10). This image reminds us of Psalm 65:9-13 and ties stanza three to stanza two.
The fourth stanza (vv. 11-14) relates to the conquest of Canaan. Once again we have a fast-moving mixture of images: kings and armies fleeing (vv. 12, 14); Jewish armies dividing the plunder (v. 12); and the ease of the conquest, like snow falling gently on the land (v. 14).
Verse 13 is the first of several verses which are extremely puzzling. Whatever does “the wings of God’s dove…sheathed with silver” mean? And what is the context of “while you sleep among the campfires”? Derek Kidner lists a number of possibilities: Israel basking in prosperity, the enemy in flight, the glory of the Lord revealed in battle, a particular trophy seized from the enemy, even, as he suggests himself, “the women of 12b preening themselves in their new finery.”1 It is probably best to confess simply that we do not know what this means. Some day we may, but in the meantime, we can be sure that its meaning was known to those for whom the psalm was first written.
Verse 11 has taken on importance in the church far beyond its original context in the psalm. In the original setting the verse probably referred to God’s promise to Israel of victory on some specific occasion, followed by the spreading of reports of that victory by the Jewish women. “The deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh’s host, the overthrow of Sisera, and David’s victory over Goliath were all thus celebrated.”2 However, the verse has been picked up by the church as the announcement of the Christian gospel and referred to the commission Jesus gave his disciples to spread the gospel to every corner of the globe.
As we might expect, Charles Haddon Spurgeon has some helpful notes on this verse. For example, he quotes William Bridge, who observes that in the Hebrew text the word which our versions translate “company” is actually “army” (“host”); so it reads, “great was the army of preachers.” This leads him to say, “An army of preachers is a great matter; nay, it is a great matter to have seven or eight good preachers in a great army; but to have a whole army of preachers, that is glorious.”3 Spurgeon also quotes William Strong, who said, “The Lord did give his word at his ascension, and there were a multitude of them that published it, and by this means kings of armies were put to flight: they conquered by the word.”4 Spurgeon himself wrote, “O for the like zeal in the church today that, when the gospel is published, both men and women might eagerly spread the glad tidings of great joy.”5
The problem today is that such zeal does not seem to exist, except in a very few persons, and they are not always well equipped to teach the gospel. And where is the army of preachers? There are many popular pulpiteers, but those who proclaim the word of the Lord are few indeed. May God raise them up and thus begin a new work of reforming grace in our time!
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), p. 240, 241.
2J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 523. Original edition 1878-1879.
3C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 155.
4Ibid., p. 156.
5Ibid., p. 140.
Why is verse 13 so puzzling? How do we resolve this?
Why is verse 11 so important in the church?
What does Dr. Boice identify as the problem in the church today?
Prayer: Pray that God will raise up men and women who are full of zeal, and well equipped to teach the gospel.