Procession to the Sanctuary (Psalm 68:24-28)

Psalm 68 is a long psalm, and it is one of my favourites. When I read it, I am reminded of my mighty and victorious God. His love is strong, and He does not hesitate to defend the widows, set the lonely in families and set the prisoners free. He pours out His justice and He pours out His blessings. He is powerful, and He is worthy to be praised. This is God my hero, the hero of Israel, and the hero of humanity. Throughout history, every hero has been remembered in song, verse and art; their victories depicted on pottery, coins, tablets and walls. For all these tributes, the memory of a mortal hero is etched only in the temporary. It may last months, decades, hundreds years even, but God’s praise lasts for eternity. His power, His majesty, His beauty and His victory are written on the soil of the earth, in the heat of the sun, in the beauty of nature, and in the longing of our hearts. He cannot be hidden, and He will receive worship and praise from every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea [Colossians 1:16-17, Revelation 5:13].

I am just going to focus on one small section of Psalm 68: verses 24-28 which speak about the procession of worshippers coming into the sanctuary, the holy place of God’s presence.

[Psalm 68:24-28]
“They have seen Your procession, O God,
The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.
The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after;
Among them were the maidens playing timbrels.
Bless God in the congregations,
The Lord from the fountain of Israel.
There is little Benjamin, their leader,
The princes of Judah and their company,
The princes of Zebulun and the princes of Naphtali.
Your God has commanded your strength;
Strengthen, O God, what you have done for us”

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A Procession in View

(v.24) “They have seen Your procession, O God,
The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary.

This verse comes in the context of praise to God who conquers His enemies. God’s enemies are the enemies of His people, and He gives power to His people to conquer them also. “But God will wound the head of His enemies, the hairy scalp of the one who still goes on in his trespasses.” [Psalm 68:21] “They” are those who are the enemies of God, and the enemies of God are those who do not know Him. If we do not know Him, we cannot love Him, and we cannot follow in His way. If we do not know Christ, we stand in opposition to Him, because sin is in opposition to Him and without Christ, we stand in sin.

IMG_0759The procession that is being seen here is a procession – ie. It is not just a single person entering God’s presence. It is a congregation, a people united in purpose to seek the Lord and worship Him.  I’ve written a lot about spending time in the secret place, alone with God, and I’ve written a lot from this place of intimacy. This secret place worship is so very important, and it is foundational in building an intimate relationship with our personal God. This is evidenced in the walking out of our lives in a manner that praises God, and is visible to the world because we stand apart – marked by the Holy Spirit, and living according to God’s ways. In other words, we live in the world but not of it [John 15:19, Romans 12:2]. As followers of Christ, we also share in His body. We are His family, and we are His people, His beloved. Procession, as used in this passage, is the Hebrew word הֲלִיכַת  (halikah). It means “a travelling company”, “ways” or “goings”. The old King James Version translates this phrase as “They have seen they goings, O God”. What is this procession? I believe it is the goings, or way of God, seen visibly in the lives of His people as a whole as they travel ever towards His sanctuary in worship. What does this require? The following aspects are crucial:

1. An individual intimacy with God that bears fruit – a life following in God’s way, and this requires the word of God.

[Psalm 119:9-10] – “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!”

2. Love for others – this is the witness to all that we are God’s disciples, the witness of His way.

[John 13:35] – “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

3. A heart racing towards one thing, God, alone – this will produce constant worship as we draw closer to God, and He draws closer to us.

[Philippians 3:13-14] – “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the goal for the prize of the upwards call of God in Jesus Christ.”

Each one of these aspects promises a deeper understanding of Christ if we would apply them in our hearts. I encourage you to meditate further on these verses, and to ask the Lord more about these things. I will be!

Singers and Musicians

(v.25-26) “The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after;
Among them were the maidens playing timbrels.
Bless God in the congregations,
The Lord from the fountain of Israel.”

 2 Chronicles 20 details the defeat of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir by the Israelites. Of particular interest is the Israelite battle strategy.

[2 Chronicles 20:21-22] – “And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.’ Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.”

IMG_0692Here’s a little summary of the events leading up to this day of victory from 2 Chronicles 20. Faced with their enemies, Judah fasts and gathers together to seek the Lord (v.2-4). The Lord hears them and reminds them that the battle is not theirs, but God’s. In fact, God tells them that in this particular battle, they would not even need to fight but could just position themselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord who is with them (v.15-17). So, Judah trusts the word of the Lord, and sings praise to Him. The next morning, the people rise early and Jehoshaphet, the king of Judah at that time, gives them a final word – “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” (v.20) And so, Judah sets out to battle with their singers before them, declaring the praises of God. They went against their enemies declaring the battle to be God’s not theirs, trusting in God’s power, not their own, and believing in Him.

Before the battle, the singers lead the way in declaring the authority of God. After the victory, the celebration continues as Judah sees the goodness of God and worships Him.

[2 Chronicles 20:27-28] – “Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the Lord.”

In verse 29, we see the result of this procession of worship into the house of God – the fear of God falls on all the kingdoms of these countries and they know that God has fought the battle for Judah.

(v.29)“ And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.”

Another passage I think of as I meditate on Psalm 68, is the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15:20-21, after the Israelites cross the red sea and the Egyptian army is defeated by God’s strength. Here, once again, the singers and musicians lead the people into the house of God, into worship of God as they proclaim the glory of His Name.

[Exodus 15:20-21] – “The Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances, and Miriam answered them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!’”

The singers and musicians proclaim, “Bless God in the congregations!” They call the people to worship. Perhaps you do not see yourself as particularly musically talented, perhaps you don’t sing. That doesn’t mean you can’t praise God, and it doesn’t mean your worship can’t lead others into the presence of God. We lead others into worship when we worship God. Singers and musicians have a specific ministry in musically declaring God’s praises, but they can only proclaim God’s power if they know Him first. Remember what is said in 2 Chronicles 20: 17, which I underlined earlier – “…Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you…”

  1. Position yourselves – know the authority of God, the battle is His, not ours, and all things are under His rule, all powers, rulers and dominions.
  2. Stand still – don’t be afraid to quiet your heart, soul and mind before God, to be attentive to what His is saying, what He is doing, to hear His heartbeat.
  3. See the salvation of the Lord, who is with you – keep watch and the Holy Spirit will bring us into deeper understanding of God’s salvation and love.

As we grow in intimacy with God, our hearts are instinctively stirred to worship. Worship is the gateway into the Holy of Holies, into the sanctuary of God, and into His presence.

Qualities of the Tribesmen

(v.27)  “There is little Benjamin, their leader,
The princes of Judah and their company,
The princes of Zebulun and the princes of Naphtali.”

“What is your spiritual gifting?” People often talk about their spiritual strengths and weaknesses. We are affirmed in these by others, we examine ourselves, and people have even found little online tests that estimate their strengths and weaknesses, similar to those well-known personality tests.

[1 Corinthians 12:8-11] – “…for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

IMG_1432Whatever our strengths and weaknesses, we are encouraged to “earnestly desire the best gifts” [1 Corinthians 12:31], and the greatest gift, Paul calls love, because it the central component of every other spiritual gift. Whatever our strengths and weaknesses, we are called for one purpose – to grow into a holy temple in the Lord, and to be built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit [Ephesians 2:19-22]. When we look at the 12 sons of Israel, we see such a diversity in their character and in their ways. Yet, these become the 12 tribes of Israel and God does not forget the promises spoken over each one. Benjamin, Judah, Zebulun and Naphtali are specifically mentioned in this passage and I have written some brief thoughts on the character of each, looking also at their blessings in Genesis 49:

BENJAMIN’S leadership

  • Blessing in Scripture: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.” Benjamin was the youngest of Israel’s sons.
  • Reminder of Identity: Those who are weak/last raised up as strong/first in eternity with Christ.
  • Spiritual Gifting: Leaders with the hunger, zeal and humility of the tribe of Benjamin.

JUDAH’S great throng of princes

  • Blessing in Scripture: So many references to Christ – things He did on earth, descriptions of Him as written also by other prophets (Isaiah, Daniel, Revelation), and in the Songs of Solomon.
    • “Judah is a lions whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His teeth are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”   
  • Reminder of Identity: Those who are the children of God, who fear and trust in in the Lord, those who share in His resurrection and glory – these are a great throng and a multitude.
  • Spiritual Gifting: Evangelists whose strength is the joy of the Lord, who know Him and who boldly proclaim His Name.

ZEBULUN’S princes

  • Blessing in Scripture: “Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall adjoin Sidon.” (Sidon is the third largest city in modern-day Lebanon, well-known as a fishery, which is the meaning of its name in modern Arabic)
  • Reminder of Identity: Those who are blessed with the abundance of every spiritual blessing in Christ.
  • Spiritual Gifting: Encouragers who are a port for those who are burdened and lost to be lead to Christ.

NAPHTALI’s princes

  • Blessing in Scripture: “Naphtali is a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words.”
  • Reminder of Identity: Those who live in the freedom of God’s grace and love and who walk in step with the Spirit.
  • Spiritual Gifting: Teachers who bring others into the beautiful freedom of Christ, and disciple others to walk in the way of the Lord.

The Impact of Worship

(v.28) “Your God has commanded your strength;
Strengthen, O God, what you have done for us”

IMG_1373The NIV translates this verse as “Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.”  This is the cry of the people proclaiming the strength of God which endures forever. It is an acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and a declaration of dependence on Him. Worship like this is powerful – it impacts our hearts, it moves the heart of God, and it impacts our world.

1.  Worship impacts our hearts.

As we proclaim the character of God back to Him, he reveals more of Himself to us. We worship, we receive more revelation of God, and our hearts are stirred to worship yet more. It is a continuous, ever growing cycle which will continue even into eternity. We see this constant cycle of worship and revelation in Revelation 4 – four living creatures worship God’s holiness day and night, and every time they make this proclamation, the 24 elders surrounding God’s throne fall before Him, cast down their crowns and worship. Worship consolidates the word of God in our hearts. We read His word, declare His beauty and as we worship Him, His ways and our identity in Him become engraved upon our hearts.


2.  
Worship impacts God’s heart.

Our relationship with God involves  two-way communication. He constantly tells us how much He loves us, and when we worship, we tell Him how much we love Him. Song of Songs 6:5 says, “Turn your eyes from me, for they have overcome me…” This is the response of our Lover, Jesus, when we but just glance at Him. God is a relational God. When we love Him, He is filled with joy and gladness. 2 Chronicles 7:15-16 describes God’s reaction to the building of His house of worship, a place where His people, called by His name, humble themselves, pray and seek His face (worship). God says, “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.” Worship moves God’s heart and catches His attention. As we are captivated by His love, so He is captivated by our love. His eyes and ears are attentive, and His heart is moved.

3. Worship impacts the world.

Just as the Israelite singers went before the army and declared the power of God, we too declare God’s power and His glory as we worship. As we do, we partner with Him in His work. The beginning of Psalm 68 describes the goings of God. It is a proclamation of who He is, and of what He is doing. As we proclaim God’s nature, we know He is at work. [Psalm 68:5-6] – “A father of the fatherless, a defender of the widows, is God in His holy habitation. God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity; But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”  I’m only including snippets here, because there would be too much to include otherwise, but look at verse 11-12: “The Lord gave the word; Great was the company of those who proclaimed it: ‘Kings of armies flee, they flee, and she who remains at home divides the spoil.’” Here we see God leading the way and giving the word. The next part reminds me of the great throng of Judah’s princes proclaiming this word. God speaks what He is going to do, we proclaim it, and He does it just as He has said.

In Revelation, there are descriptions of golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints [Revelation 5:8, 8:3-5] Revelation 8:3-5 describes what happens when these prayers and incense are offered up in worship to God:

“Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

After this occurs, the angels with the seven trumpets prepare themselves to sound, and the trumpet judgements begin. From this passage, we can see the impact of worship on the saints, on God’s heart, and on the earth. The saints worship, are given revelation, and pray according to God’s will. Their worship and prayers rise before God and glorify Him. Together, and in agreement with God, His justice is fulfilled on earth.

Summary of the Procession

This has been quite a long exposition of Psalm 68:24-28, so I thought a summary would be useful.

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1. God’s procession into the sanctuary is composed of His people – those who love Him, love each other, and live lives that demonstrate a running in God’s way and a continual falling towards Him.

2. Singers and musicians lead the way in worship; they draw the people to know and declare the goodness and character of God, to position themselves and stand still before Him so that they see His salvation and His glory.

3. Different spiritual gifts are given to different people, but all by the same Spirit who works in us for God’s glory. We recognise our giftings, and the giftings of our brothers and sisters, working together to glorify God’s Name.

4. Worship impacts our hearts in the knowledge of God, moves God’s heart as He is glorified, and changes the world according to His good and sovereign will.


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