What Happened on Pentecost? Psalm 68:1-18

Just before Jesus was taken up into Heaven on the day of the Ascension, He promised to send a comforter, guide, and teacher to help His followers. He could see the challenges they would face, and He knew what they would need.  

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8-9 ESV)

Ten days later 120 people, including the disciples, gathered to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Acts chapter 2 says there was a sound like the wind filling the whole building. The people responded by speaking different languages as the Holy Spirit prompted them. A spontaneous party of praise broke out and many were amazed by the mighty works of God.

On this day, the Spirit reversed the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). At the tower, God confused the language of the people so they could not fulfill their selfish ambition. However, on Pentecost, he gave language to his people so that their mission of redemption might be fulfilled. 

Fr. Thomas McKenzie – The Anglican Way: A Guide Book 

On Sunday (June 5, 2022), churches worldwide will celebrate this unique visit of the Holy Spirit on the day known as Pentecost. Every believer now has access to the Holy Spirit at all times and in all places. This day marks a significant celebration, and some people even call it the church’s birthday.  

Had the Holy Spirit existed before this time?  

In the Old Testament, the Spirit appears and works in mysterious ways to fulfill God’s purposes on many occasions. However, the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament comes and goes. It was not available in the same way as it is to us today. Pentecost marks the time when the Spirit came in a new and powerful way.

Psalm 68 commemorates the moving of the ark into the tabernacle. When God’s people had the ark, they saw the working of the Spirit because God’s presence occupied the ark and dwelt among the people. King David, who penned these verses, rejoices in God’s homecoming to Zion in every line of this celebratory psalm. A careful reading of each verse reveals many ways this psalm points to the Ascension and then Pentecost. Some churches may even use this in the service liturgy this Sunday.  

1 God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered, and those who hate him shall flee before him! 
2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! 
3 But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! 
4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! 
5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 
6 God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. 
7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness,  
8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. 
9 Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad; you restored your inheritance as it languished; 
10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. 
(Psalm 68: 1-10 ESV)

David gives thanks and praise to God in verses 3 and 4. Then verse 5 shows God leading the people into rest and safety. That theme continues in verses 7-10. In verse 9, the psalmist remarks on how the restoration has come to this land with abundant rain. In verse 6, the psalmist thanks God, who gives us victory over sin & sets the captives free.  

Reading these first ten verses reminds me of God’s care for my family and me. It reminds me to follow God’s lead into the rest of the safety of His presence. What an amazing provision God makes for me to experience refreshment if only I will take it.

11 The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host: 
12 "The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!" The women at home divide the spoil— 
13 though you men lie among the sheepfolds—the wings of a dove covered with silver, 
    its pinions with shimmering gold. 
14 When the Almighty scatters kings there, let snow fall on Zalmon. 
15 O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan! 
16 Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the Lord will dwell forever? 
17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary. 
18 You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there. 
(Psalm 68:11-18 ESV)

In verse 11, God highlights women who trumpet good news of God’s victories with His people. Again, in verses 14 and 17, God is like a shepherd who guides His people into safety and rest. God repeats this theme of leading His people into rest because He knows so many of us will struggle with that. His firm hand might be the only way some of us will lie down. Finally, verse 18 speaks about Jesus’s Ascension and the day of Pentecost, pointing to how God will equip His people with unique giftings to serve the body of Christ. Each is given what is needed to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.  

This section of verses reminds me of how God has uniquely gifted me and everyone with gifts to build His kingdom. Just as God gave special language skills to expand His kingdom, what other gifts has He given me for kingdom assignments? How about you?

Celebrating Pentecost provides an amazing opportunity to be reminded of the essential work of the Holy Spirit. How have I seen the Spirit working lately? I believe He is always at work all around me, but far too often I miss His movement if I don’t pay attention.

As we prepare our hearts and minds to remember Pentecost, join me in praying this prayer from The Book of Common Prayer 2019.

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of the faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

The Book of Common Prayer 2019, page 614

Join me next week for the second half of Psalm 68 and to learn more about the work of the Holy Spirit amongst God’s people.