Theme: When the Nations Gather
In this week’s lessons from the second part of Psalm 68, we learn that this psalm looks beyond David’s time to a day of future blessing concerning the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 68:19-35
The eighth stanza of Psalm 68 (vv. 24-27) describes a procession that is making its way up the steep rising pathways to Jerusalem and its sanctuary. If the psalm was written on the occasion of David’s bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, then it is a fuller description of what is recorded less poetically in 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8 and 15:16-28. The first passage says, “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.” The second text is like it but has “trumpets” instead of “sistrums” (whatever that is; the meaning is unclear). The third text mentions the instruments the others do, but in addition it tells of the appointment of singers from among the Levites, and records their names.
No one is sure why the specific four tribes mentioned in verse 27 are singled out: Benjamin, Judah, Zebulun and Naphtali. They are probably chosen representatively, two from the south (Benjamin and Judah) and two from the north (Zebulun and Naphtali). Benjamin is called the “ruler” (the one “leading them.”) because Saul, the first king, was a Benjamite.
The final stanza of this middle portion of the psalm, stanza nine (vv. 28-31, before the epilogue, which is stanza ten), is another climax, much as stanza five was a climax to part one. It describes the gathering of the people and nations of the world to God’s city. There are two things to note about these verses.
All the nations will come. The psalmist was unable to list all the nations of the world by name. Of course, not even the limited number of nations would have been known to him. But he mentions a few by name and suggests others by poetic language. The specific nations mentioned are Egypt, Israel’s great neighbor to the southwest, and Cush (or Ethiopia), which was probably the most remote nation known to Israel. It lay to the far south at the uppermost reaches of the Nile. The “beast among the reeds” must be either a crocodile or hippopotamus, and in that case it is probably a way of referring to Egypt, especially since Egypt is mentioned specifically in verse 31. The “herd of bulls with the calves of the nations” (v. 30) would then probably refer to lesser nations. But this is another verse whose meaning has divided commentators.
This is the point at which Psalm 68 develops what I have called a right kind of biblical universalism, thus falling in line with what we have seen in Psalms 65-67 immediately before this. There is no discrimination among the nations. All may come to Zion. In fact, all or representatives of all will come, according to this prophecy. But it is nevertheless to the God of Israel, the true God, and not to some other god (their own gods, for example) that they must come.
The gathering of the pagan nations to worship God in Jerusalem is an important theme in the prophets, particularly the later prophets. Derek Kidner notes rightly that this theme is developed with great beauty, power and fullness in Isaiah 60, saying, “Its initial fulfillment is by now a matter of history, as a spiritual rather than political conquest, in the Gentile influx into the Kingdom.”1 Isaiah describes nations coming to Israel’s light and kings to the brightness of her dawn, obvious references to the day when the glory of God will shine out fully from Zion. He mentions many far-flung nations by name. According to some interpretations of prophecy—I think this way myself—Isaiah’s chapter as well as stanza nine of Psalm 68 probably refer to a time still in the future when Jesus will actually reign on earth, the millennium, though there is certainly a kind of fulfillment now through Christians’ obedience to the Great Commission and the resulting advance of world-wide Christianity.
It is the power of God that will draw them. However we take this reference—either to the gathering of the nations through the proclamation of the Christian message today or to a future day when Jesus will reign on the earth—it is the power of God alone that will draw the people: “Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God, as you have done before” (v. 28).
This is sound Bible theology. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” said Jesus (John 6:44). And “you did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Do we believe that? Do we believe that salvation is by the power and grace of God alone? If we really did believe it, we would pray for God’s power to be seen in our evangelism much more than we do. In fact, we would pray exactly as the psalmist does here, saying something like, “Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God, as you have done before.” God has worked powerfully before—in the very early church, at the time of the Reformation and in some phases of the modern missionary movement. May he do so again! May he do so now!
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. 244.
What do verses 28-31 describe?
What nations will God gather to himself? Is this a future, past or present promise?
Reflection: Why do some Christians struggle with the idea that salvation is by God’s grace and power alone, that he is sovereign in salvation? How would you seek to answer their questions or objections?
Prayer: Following the psalmist’s prayer in verse 28, pray for God’s power in your own evangelistic efforts.
For Further Study: God is the one who draws sinners to salvation, and he is pleased to use His people as the means to that end. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Christ, the Soul Winner.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)