A Question I Was Asked:



Can You Explain Psalm 68:13?






The bottom line is that Psalm 68 was written as a poetic expression, a song to be sung. Inspired by God? Most definitely - but such inspiration does not mean that the expositor is freed from the responsibility to respect the context, occasion and form of writing. Of course, the Psalms - on rare occasions - may even contain prophecy (Psalm 22), but generally their purpose is different; they encourage, inspire and lift us up into a worshipful mood.

The Question:

My questions are about Psalm 68:13. I understand that the Hebrew has caused translation problems and much confusion among commentators. My questions are:
1. Why isn't 'shephattayim' translated as "hooks" as in Ezekiel 40:43?
2. Are the dove's wings related in any way to Leviticus 1:16-17 or Leviticus 14:1-6?
3. Is resurrection related to the wings, redemption to the silver and holiness (or imparted righteousness) to gold?
These are real questions for me and I want to see if I am on the right track here. My guess is that those who died in a battle are being lauded for their sacrifice, but the commentators I have read treat this as just booty. They don't seem to have thought very deeply about it, but they may have a good reason for that. Can you help?


UK Apologetics Reply:

The NIV has it,

"Even while you sleep among the campfires, the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver, its feathers with shining gold." (Psalm 68:13).

The very first thing to point out here is that this Psalm is written as poetry, this was a song to be sung! So there will obviously be some poetic licence here. The NIV Study Bible says of this,

"This poetic hyperbole (a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis) celebrates the fact that God had defeated the kings even before Israel met them in battle. (see Joshua 2:8-11;5:1;6:16, also 2 Samuel 5:24; 2Kings 7:5-7; 19:35; 2 Chronicles 20:22-30)." (footnote, NIV Study Bible).

But you also need to broaden this out, considering the setting of this entire Psalm before you indulge any thoughts of linking this with things from other parts of the Bible. This is a difficult Scripture, we will look at what various interpreters have thought, but I fear that their thoughts do not necessarily clarify it too much.

Matthew Henry gave his own view of Psalm 68:7-14,

"Fresh mercies should put us in mind of former mercies. If God bring his people into a wilderness, he will be sure to go before them in it, and to bring them out of it. He provided for them, both in the wilderness and in Canaan. The daily manna seems here meant. And it looks to the spiritual provision for God's Israel. The Spirit of grace and the gospel of grace are the plentiful rain, with which God confirms his inheritance, and from which their fruit is found. Christ shall come as showers that water the earth. The account of Israel's victories is to be applied to the victories over death and hell, by the exalted Redeemer, for those that are his. Israel in Egypt among the kilns appeared wretched, but possessed of Canaan, during the reigns of David and Solomon, appeared glorious. Thus the slaves of Satan, when converted to Christ, when justified and sanctified by him, look honourable. When they reach heaven, all remains of their sinful state disappear, they shall be as the wings of the dove, covered with silver, and her feathers as gold. Full salvation will render those white as snow, who were vile and loathsome through the guilt and defilement of sin. (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible).

Barnes wrote,

Psa 68:13:
Though ye have lien among the pots ('Even while you sleep among the campfires -NIV) -
There are few passages in the Bible more difficult of interpretation than this verse and the following. Our translators seem to have supposed that the whole refers to the ark, considered as having been neglected, or as having been suffered to remain among the common vessels of the tabernacle, until it became like those vessels in appearance - that is, until its brilliancy had become tarnished by neglect, or by want of being cleaned and furbished - yet that it would be again like the wings of a dove covered with silver, as it had been formerly, and pure like the whitest snow. But it is not certain, if it is probable, that this is the meaning. Prof. Alexander renders it, "When ye lie down between the borders (ye shall be like) the wings of a dove covered with silver;" that is, "when the land had rest," or was restored to a state of tranquility.

DeWette renders it, "When ye rest between the cattle-stalls:" expressing the same idea, that of quiet repose as among the herds of cattle lying calmly down to rest. The Septuagint renders it, "Though you may have slept in kitchens." The words rendered "Though ye have lien" mean literally, "If you have lain," alluding to some act or state of lying down quietly or calmly. The verb is in the plural number, but it is not quite clear what it refers to. There is apparently much confusion of number in the passage. The word rendered 'pots' - shephathayim - in the dual form, occurs only in this place and in Eze._40:43, where it is translated hooks (margin, end-irons, or the two hearth-stones). Gesenius renders it here "stalls," that is, folds for cattle, and supposes that in Ezekiel it denotes places in the temple-court, where the victims for sacrifice were fastened. Tholuck renders it, "When you shall again rest within your stone-borders (that is, within the limits of your own country, or within your own borders), ye shall be like the wings of a dove."..................... I confess that none of these explanations of the passage seem to me to be entirely satisfactory, and that I cannot understand it. The wonder is not, however, that, in a book so large as the Bible, and written in a remote age, and in a language which has long ceased to be a spoken language, there should be here and there a passage which cannot now be made clear, but that there should be so few of that description. ...

Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver ... The phrase "yet shall ye be" is not in the original. The image here is simply one of beauty. The allusion is to the changeable colors of the plumage of a dove, now seeming to be bright silver, and then, as the rays of light fall on it in another direction, to be yellow as gold. If the allusion is to the ark, considered as having been laid aside among the ordinary vessels of the tabernacle, and having become dark and dingy by neglect, then the meaning would be, that, when restored to its proper place, and with the proper degree of attention and care bestowed upon it, it would become a most beautiful object. If the allusion is to the people of the land considered either as lying down in dishonor, as if among filth, or as lying down calmly and quietly as the beasts do in their stalls, or as peacefully reposing within their natural limits or borders, then the meaning would be, that the spectacle would be most beautiful. The varied tints of loveliness in the land - the gardens, the farms, the flowers, the fruits, the vineyards, the orchards, the villages, the towns, the cheerful homes - would be like the dove - the emblem of calmness - so beautiful in the variety and the changeableness of its plumage. The comparison of a beautiful and variegated country with a dove is not a very obvious one, and yet, in this view, it would not be wholly unnatural. It is not easy always to vindicate philosophically the images used in poetry; nor is it always easy for a Western mind to see the reasons of the images employed by an Oriental poet. It seems probable that the comparison of the land (considered as thus variegated in its beauty) with the changing beauties of the plumage of the dove is the idea intended to be conveyed by this verse; but it is not easy to make it out on strictly exegetical or philological principles.

The above refers to Psalm 68, principally verse 13. I cannot see a connection between this Psalm and the Leviticus texts and - remember - these are very different kinds of biblical writing! The experienced and wise Bible expositor must respect that!

Finally, you ask, "Is resurrection related to the wings, redemption to the silver and holiness (or imparted righteousness) to gold?" Could be, but be careful of reading things into the text which just are not there; your suggestion could well be to go too far. It is considered a very bad practice not to carefully note the different types of writing within the Bible; the cults and sects have freely done this of course, you and I must not.

The Bible contains prophecy, poetry, parables, historical accounts, legal descriptives, apocalyptic writing, letters and other elements too. We should all be able to perceive that these are different forms of writing. To refuse to recognise these varying forms of writing within the Bible has been called, 'level playing field exegesis.' That is a bit like reading a main newspaper article about a major world event and, upon realising that a piece of information has been left out, going looking for that extra bit of information in the sports news, the 'gossip' column, or the astrology column! The bottom line is that Psalm 68 was written as a poetic expression, a song to be sung. Inspired by God? Most definitely - but such inspiration does not mean that the expositor is freed from the responsibility to respect the context, occasion and form of writing. Of course, the Psalms - on rare occasions - may even contain prophecy (Psalm 22), but generally their purpose is different; they encourage, inspire and lift us up into a worshipful mood.

Robin A. Brace. April 26th, 2012.


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