(The following comprises Part Thirteen of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture. Deborah asked that readers consult the the NASB rather than the ESV for this one; it seems the ESV is favoring the LXX over the MT for this Psalm)
I’ve talked much about negative examples of secondary illuminations without providing substantive ostensibly positive examples. I can’t let myself off the hook quite that easily.
Psalm 68 is an important psalm containing loud echoes of its past and future. Most notable of these are (A) the Christological quotation of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8-12 wherein the battle loot of old is now seen as the gifting of the church with leaders who equip the people to operate in God’s graces and (B) Psalm 68’s close inspirational link (Psalm 68:7-8) to the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5:4-5. See also Psalm 68:12 and Judges 5:19, 30; Psalm 68:13 and Judges 5:16; Psalm 68:18 and Judges 5:12; Psalm 68:21 and Judges 5:26; Psalm 68:27 and Judges 5:14, 18 and the presence of the chariots so important to Deborah’s story in Psalm 68:17.
Note as well that Deborah’s story calls forth, raises up, and equips many of God’s people much like the Ephesians 4 passage that hearkens to Psalm 68. Deborah and Barak’s song is largely a celebration of the unnamed people who step up to bat. So arguably we see a connection between the psalm’s earliest referents right through to its own use as a referent in a NT passage about leadership and mobilization.
With a Psalm so lengthy and important and so rich in allusions it is hard to deliver a blog-sized piece of secondary illumination commentary, even on five mere verses of it (11-13 and, next week, 15-16). But let’s give it a shot anyway:
11 The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: 12 “Kings of armies flee, they flee, And she who remains at home will divide the spoil!” 13 When you lie down among the sheepfolds [or cooking stones or saddlebags], You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver, And its pinions with glistening gold. (NASB)
Not every translation acknowledges the gender of the “great host” of v. 11, and among the commentators who work with the translations that do, there are different ways of handling their presence. To some, like Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, the women are best explained as a victory choir of females (think Miriam). Others like Matthew Henry suggest that this is a host resplendent with “prophetesses” whom God will send to get His message out.
In light of vv. 11 and 12, I can’t help but rejoice in the intimate relationship between this Psalm and Judges 5 as well as its reiteration in the Ephesians 4 passage on church leadership. How fitting that this Psalm would celebrate both the women like Deborah (v. 11) who have clarion voices and the women of the tents (today, home fronts) who are tucked away like Jael (v. 12; Judges 5:24)! The home front women may or may not find surprise moments that call for unusual courage, commitment, and public distinction. But all can terrorize the spiritual enemy, and all will share regardless in the rich spoils attained by the leadership of both genders on the “field.” Women in all their variety are valued and celebrated equally in their portions. One “call” is not pitted against another’s, and neither call is denied.
Verse 13 is particularly indeterminate in its primary interpretive meaning. But allow me to read it as related to the prior two verses. The word that could be translated variously as sheep pens, cooking implements, or saddlebags could cover any number of female (or male) personal employments that do not represent our full calling and among which God finds us lying down in laziness or despair, hiding in fear, or weighed by “personal baggage.” But even there, perhaps obscured by the cooking fire’s soot, he sees His dove. Dove’s eyes tend to suggest innocence, love, and lovers in Scripture. And we are sheathed in royal armor—our redemption (silver) and our purity and glory (gold). We are beautiful and ready for battle in His eyes. And even if we do languish in laziness or fear, He is determined to grant us His riches and to yet call us forth.
No doubt some would seek to overlook the many details in this psalm for which references or poetic intents are at all uncertain, preferring to deal with sureties. Thus they might diminish the presence of the women of v. 11 and default upon the readily understood homestead support of the women of v. 12 who have been kept safe and enriched.
For others, the significances that I find for these verses might fit well enough with the text, with the Psalm’s exegetical connections throughout the canon (particularly Judges and Ephesians), and with the Scripture’s emphasis on patterns as to fall mostly under historical-grammatical exegesis with some typology or canonical theology thrown in. In other words, whether or not the reader is open to “secondary illuminations,” the conclusions I’ve come to in this example might hold weight. In this secondary illumination example, therefore, the line between where primary interpretations (Israel has seen great victories and is now at rest; as they celebrate God’s goodness, there is some emphasis upon the women) end and secondary illuminations (God is affirming women in their multiplicity of callings, be they Deborahs or Jaels or some of the leaders of Ephesians 4:11) begin is up for debate.
A point such as God’s affirmation of women’s vocal or leading roles would require further evaluation to determine its applications in light of the occasional scriptures that seem to contradict the same. (I believe that the scriptures resolve in a thoroughly egalitarian manner; not all who see God affirming female leadership in this psalm would agree with that conclusion. One of the simpler exegetical studies from my p.o.v. is Why not Women?). But I would argue that this general affirmation is both a primary interpretation of this passage and can be taken further in secondary illuminations as we tie the psalm to Judges 5 and Ephesians 4 and ponder the imagery of v. 13.
Next week’s evaluation of vv. 15-16 will be more wholly in the camp of secondary illuminations and, therefore, possibly more frustrating to those who limit their hermeneutics to the most immediate and assured historical-grammatical context.
 While we can surely note that this is a psalm of victory and rest with a particular emphasis on the ark of the covenant, Psalm 68 is uniquely notorious among the psalms for its many indeterminate phrases and references. Perhaps this is to be expected from its inspiration by the most archaic document in the Bible, Judges 5. I will not attempt to draw out every possibility for either/or references. For instance, I favor the dove being God’s people in both primary and secondary interpretive significances, but some commentators present an argument that the doves represent fleeing nations who are despoiled. Furthermore, as one who favors the (Hebrew) Masoretic Text as our best chance at continuity with the original Scripture, I’ve chosen a translation that relies heavily on it, but those who look to the Septaugint (an early Greek translation) for help in deciphering this psalm will find that it is so far from the Hebrew on these particular verses as to settle nothing.