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:
- "God reigns over the nations"
- "The princes of the peoples"
- "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:
- God has authority over everyone, and
- even non-Israelite rulers assemble before His throne as do His own people
- 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.