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David’s Praise Among the Heathen

We reprint this exposition of scripture in connection with the May 21 devotional. 

 

In grateful awareness that in warfare with the heathen his victories were the Lord’s, David vowed that he would give thanks unto the Lord among the heathen. The lines read:

Therefore I will give thanks unto thee,

Lord, among the heathen,

And I will sing praises unto thy name.

 

An identical sentiment receives expression in Ps. 96. Here it meets us in the form of an exhortation:

Sing unto the Lord, bless his name, shew

forth his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the heathen, his

wonders among all people.

 

The wonders of the Lord were all His works through which He in His mercy effected the salvation of His people through the ages. Included are the plagues of the Lord upon Egypt, the signs of the period of the wanderings, the victories of Joshua, of the judges, of Saul and of David in all their warfare with the heathen. Being works of God, they were revelatory of His strength and of the beauty of His holiness, in a word, of all His goodness. And to set them forth as His works was to declare His glory; it was equivalent to singing praises unto His name.

That David would do among the heathen. That the prophets in Israel had been doing through the ages— singing praises unto the Lord among the heathen. Not that in the Old Testament dispensation the church through a called and ordained ministry was engaged in spreading the Gospel among the heathen. David did not live with the heathen of his empire as active in their midst as a missionary minister. David was a man of war in the physical sense, and he dwelt in his house in Jerusalem. The people of Israel through the ages had their prophets, men of God directly called and sent of Him to speak His Word. But with few exceptions their sphere of labor was limited to the house of Israel. Singing praises unto the Lord was not done by missionary ministers laboring as official organs of the church among the heathen.

The idea of different. It is this. That people of Israel, definitely their prophets, as dwelling in the midst of the nations and in contradistinction of the nations, sang praises unto the Lord, that is, set forth their victories in their warfare with the heathen as given them of God. That was Israel’s calling in the midst of the nations, namely, to set forth its history in its right light in order that God’s name might be declared throughout all the earth. Accordingly, the substance of all of Moses’ communications to Pharaoh is that the plagues spoiling his land and people were strokes laid on him by Israel’s God. “The lord is a man of war,” sang Moses and the children of Israel. “The Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea…. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sendest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the flood stood upright as an heap, and the depths were concealed in the heart of the sea.” In voicing this praise, Moses and the people of Israel were giving thanks unto the Lord among the heathen and singing praises unto His name. The one proposition on which all the prophecy of the Scriptures turns is precisely that God is it. And the one proposition on which all false prophecy turns it precisely that man is it. Thus in penning and publishing his Psalms David, too, was giving thanks unto the Lord among the nations. That God is it is the heart and core of all his songs.

The Scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s day were zealous missionaries. They compassed sea and land to make on proselyte. But the trouble is that they were not telling the heathen that God is it. The result was that they made their converts “twofold more the child of hell than themselves” (Matt. 23:15)

The true prophets of the Old Dispensation set forth the works of God as His works, as wonders of His grace. And the report of these works, as rightly construed and extolled by God’s people, as set forth by them in their right light, spread far and wide. They spake, of course, by the infallible guidance of Christ’s Spirit. Their constructions originated not in them but in God. They spake His word among the heathen, so that Israel’s history, the works of God, the wonders of the Lord, the revelation of God in Christ, was known more or less also to the heathen of Israel’s world. It could not well be otherwise. The salvation of Zion is always effected through the destruction of the adversary. And the heathen were that adversary. Over and over they had seen God’s wrath and power as operative in their own destruction. They, too, knew of the Lord’s works. And the memory of what God had wrought was perpetuated also among them. Said Rahab the harlot, to the spies, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what he did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we did hear these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 11:8-11). And the counsel of the Philistine priests and diviners to their Philistine lords contains also this remarkable word, “Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods…. and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go and they departed?” (I Samuel 6:5, 6).

Truly, God was known to the heathen of Israel’s world. They had knowledge of the revelation of His mercy to His people. It raises the question of the reaction of the heathen. The great bulk of them, following in the footsteps of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, hardened their hearts. The author of the book of Joshua makes mention of the perverse attitude of the Canaanites, “Joshua made war a long time with all those kings,” he writes. “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hevites the inhabitants of Gibeon.” He adds the reason, “For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

But the Scriptures reveal that there were also others. Heathen they were, drawn by the light that penetrated the darkness also of their night into God’s kingdom. First to be mentioned is the mixed multitude that followed the children of Israel out of Egypt. Doubtless the Ethiopian, whom Moses married after the death of Zipporah belonged to them. It shows that God had His people among that motley crowd. The Kenites were friendly toward Israel. The kindness that they had shown the children of Israel at the time of their departure from Egypt was still being held in grateful remembrance at the time of Saul (I Samuel 15:6). Jethro, Moses father-in-law as a Kenite. His reaction to Moses’ report on the glad happenings in Egypt is revealing. He rejoiced. He blessed the Lord. He extolled the Lord above all gods. He sacrificed burnt-offering for God. And Aaron and the elders drew nigh and ate bread with him (Exodus 18). The Gibeonites made peace with Joshua be it by the employment of a subterfuge. They did not harden their hearts by cast themselves on the mercy of Joshua and of the Lord. They said, “And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.” And they said, too, that it had been told them, “how that the Lord thy God commended his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you” (Joshua 11). Under the constraints of the living faith in Jehovah, Rahab, the harlot, hid the spies; and Ruth forsook Moab and joined herself to the commonwealth of Israel.

King David was fervently loved and much befriended by heathen men. During the Sauline persecution he brought his father and mother under the protecting wing of Moab’s king; and there they remained until he received the kingdom (I Samuel 22). While he was in hiding in the cave of Adullum, many warriors attached themselves to him, from whom he recruited his “mighty men” and later his bodyguard. Their names—Keethi and Pelethi—suggest that they were foreigners (II Samuel 8:19). He dwelt a long time in the city of Gath; and there, too, a band of brave Philistine men collected about him, and they were for him in his last great distress brought on by Absalom, “And the king went forth, and all the people after…. and all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites (men of Gath), six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king” (II Samuel 15:18). Uriah was a Hittite, that is, a descendant of Heth (II Samuel 11:3). The warriors of David included still other foreigners. There was an Ammorite names Zelek (II Samuel 23:37). It was in the house of a Gittite (man from Gath) that David placed the ark. In the hour of Absalom’s revolt, it was foreigners who show him kindness. In his flight an Ammonite provided him with provision (II Samuel 17:27). Hushai, the Archite (from Arke, a city of Phoenicia) did him well by destroying the counsel of the traitor Ahithofel (II Samuel 15:32). Remarkable and touching was the faithfulness of Ittai, the man from Gath. “Wherefore goest thou also with me,” said David to him, “return to thy place, and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger, and also an exile. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? Seeing I go whither I may; return thou, and take back thy brethren; mercy and truth be with thee.” But Ittai replied, “As Jehovah liveth, and as the Lord my king liveth, surely in what place the lord my king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.”

“All the earth sought the face of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his heart” (I Kings 10:24). Having seen Solomon’s wisdom, the queen of Sheba blessed the Lord his God, “which delighteth in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice” (I Kings 10).

The Ninevites repented—and they truly repented— at the preaching of Jonah. Several centuries before the birth of Christ, the Jews were scattered throughout the whole civilized world. And they took with him their Scriptures. This is the solution of the visit of the Magi at the cradle of the Christ-child. They knew the Scriptures.

King Solomon’s dedicatory prayer contains lines that should be quoted in this connection, “Moreover,” so he prayed, “concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake; (For thy shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm; when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear thou in heaven from thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.”

The law of Moses is much occupied with these “strangers that would come out of a far country for the sake of the Lord’s name.” If a stranger, sojourning with the people of Israel, desired to keep the passover, his males (including himself) were circumcised, and then he was permitted to come near and keep it; and he was to be as one born in the land (Exodus 12:48; Numbers 9:14). He was allowed to “offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord” (Numbers 15:14). He had to be loved; food and raiment had to given him, were he in need; and his cause had to judged righteously (Leviticus 19:34; Dueteronomy 10:18, 19; Deuteronomy 1:16).

In the light of this date the position that during the centuries enclosed by the calling of Abraham and the ascension of Christ, God was limiting salvation to the Jews so absolutely that not a heathen was saved or that the number of heathen saved was too few to have any meaning or to deserve mention even is seen to be untenable. Moreover, the position is not to be harmonized with the prophetic range of the Psalms and of the discourses of the later prophets. They foretell that the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth His glory (Psalm 102:15); that the Gentiles shall seek to the root of Jesse, that shall stand for an ensign of the people (Isaiah 11:10); that the Gentiles shall bring Zion’s sons in their arms, and that her daughters shall be carried on their shoulders (Isaiah 49:50); that her sons shall come from far, and that her daughters shall be nursed at her side; that the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto her, and that to her shall come the forces of the Gentiles (Isaiah 60:50); that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains and that many nations shall come and say, Come, let us go up to the top of the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths (Micah 4:1,2).

Here we listen to the prophets of the 8th century before Christ. What we behold in their words is a marvelous thing, namely, the eternal God folding in His arms and taking to His bosom all nations, the whole of our fallen race.

It raises the question whether these prophets were in any way prepared in their minds for the reception of the revelation of this mighty and glorious thing. Must we not conclude that such was indeed the case—conclude that they were speaking of a thing that through the centuries had been going on right along in their own limited world, to wit: the coming of “the strangers” out of a far country for the sake of the Lord’s name—the coming of these strangers to pray toward God’s house, in the earthly Canaan, the heaven of the Old Testament church. Besides, let us consider that the proclamations of these 8th century prophets of God’s purpose to draw all men to Himself through Christ’s cross was but an expansion of the gospel as first set forth by God Himself in paradise. “I will set enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed….” is the germ of all prophecy. And through the centuries God had continued to speak with always greater clarity as when he said to Abraham that in him were all the families of the earth destined to be blessed.

In the Old Dispensation the house of God was established in the top of a mountain—Mt. Zion—that is on earth. Accordingly only a few nations came and said, “Come, let us go up to the house of Jacob”—the few nations of Israel’s small world, of David’s empire. But Christ has come; and He died for our sins. He is exalted. His Spirit is now. And the house of God is exalted above the mountains in the highest heavens. Many nations now come and say, “come, let us go up to the house of the God of Jacob.”

As to David, he was priest and prophet as well as king in Israel’s throne. For he vowed to give thanks unto the Lord among the nations of his domain. Therein, too, he typified Christ.

Be Thou, O God, exalted high,

Yea, far above the starry sky,

And let Thy glory be displayed

O ’er all the earth Thy hands have made. 

 

*Reprinted from the Standard Bearer, Volume XXVII October 1, 1950, Pages 13-15,