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The end of Psalm 47 reads:

God reigns over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
    as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
    he is highly exalted!

—Psalm 47:8-9 (ESV)

The phrase "shields of the earth" caught my ear. Among other things, Jupiter, the magnetosphere, and atmosphere have been called shields of the earth. Did the Psalmist anticipate astronomical phenomena that were not discovered until very recently?

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I'm trying out a new feature and asking about astronomy. –  Jon Ericson May 22 '12 at 19:17
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3 Answers

As evocative as the phrase is, the context excludes an astronomical interpretation. The poetry of the Psalms comes largely from use of repetition and parallelism. A psalmist often repeats the same idea in two or more phrasings in order to solidify what they are speaking of. In this psalm, we see:

  1. "God reigns over the nations"
  2. "The princes of the peoples"
  3. "the shields of the earth"

So this strongly implies that the "shields" are rulers of some sort. To further reinforce the interpretation, the final stanza begins with the word "For" that implies a logical relationship between it and the previous statements. The logic can be summarized:

  1. God has authority over everyone, and
  2. even non-Israelite rulers assemble before His throne as do His own people
  3. because all authorities belong to God and he has authority over them.

Other translations support this reading:

The great of the peoples are gathered together,
the retinue of Abraham’s God;
for the guardians of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.—Psalm 47:10 (NJPS)

The NET Bible also included a note on the phrase:

The nobles of the nations assemble,
along with the people of the God of Abraham,
for God has authority over the rulers of the earth1.
He is highly exalted!—Psalm 47:9 (NET)

1Heb “for to God [belong] the shields of the earth.” Perhaps the rulers are called “shields” because they are responsible for protecting their people. See Ps 84:9, where the Davidic king is called “our shield,” and perhaps also Hos 4:18.

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My translation would be: "The nobles of the nations assemble, along with the people of the God of Abraham, for the rulers of the earth have submitted to God, and He is greatly praised". –  Eli Rosencruft May 23 '12 at 11:27
    
Same term magen or shield used in Psalms 84:10, and 89:19. In 47:9 the term is used instead of "kings" because at this point in time they are defeated and so are no longer worthy of the title which in this psalm refers only to God. This psalm seems to commemorate an actual military victory, for which God is credited. –  Eli Rosencruft May 23 '12 at 11:45
    
Credits: lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=13982 (Heb.) –  Eli Rosencruft May 23 '12 at 12:00
    
@Eli: When you have a chance, I'd really appreciate if you turned those comment into an answer. The second comment, in particular, would get an upvote from me. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 16:32
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I'm no scholar, I just love the Word, but wondering if you have considered...

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.—Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)

There seems to be many "snapshots" in the Word that are also seen in creation that speak of our Creator and reveal what He may be speaking of. It seems He is not going to spoon feed us... we need to seek Him wholeheartedly to know Him...and He gives wisdom not willy nilly it seems...

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics--Stack Exchange! I'm not a scholar either, so we are on equal footing. There's no need to apologize. Figuring out how to answer can be tricky--especially for newcomers. When I first noticed this verse, I was in the exact same boat as you. It seemed like a crazy prediction of scientific discoveries. But after looking at the context, I think that's not the primary meaning. Even so, it could be a little Easter Egg (so to speak) for people who are paying close attention. Who knows? –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 0:21
    
It seems one would have to speculate to know exactly what the "shields" are, but as "food" is provided and man does not live on bread alone ;-), could the "shields" possibly denote some sort of protection...possibly angels, possibly those who guard and protect and teach the word properly? I really just stumbled on this site doing some personal study/research on the Queen of the South (Matt.12:42). I do enjoy discussing the Word. Thank you... –  Katerina May 23 '12 at 0:39
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I am no scholar of the Hebrew language, but it would appear to me that the covenantal name of God YHVH is used specifically of Israel, whereas the more "generic" name of God Elohim is used whenever referring to the non-Jewish peoples of the earth. Hence, the reference "the shields of the earth belong to Elohim" refers to the glory and power of the non-Jewish peoples who have gathered to worship Him.
Also the reference to "the people of the Elohim of Abraham" speaks prophetically of the Church.

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Hi Robert and welcome to the site. As I mentioned to another user, I'm not a professional scholar either. But on this site we all do our best to be as expert on the topic as possible. One way we do that is to peer review answers. In this case, I'd like to see a little more support for the idea that Elohim is always (or at least often) used in relation to non-Jews and some sort of argument to back up the idea that the phrase is about the Church. Please see What are we looking for in answers? –  Jon Ericson Jun 20 '13 at 6:29
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