Courage for Christ's Coming Kingdom! (Ps. 47)
This psalm is a song about the Lord, the great King (cf. vv. 2, 6–7). It has been classified as an enthronement psalm, celebrating His universal reign. Other enthronement psalms are 93, 95–99. It should be understood as prophetically portraying the coming kingdom of God, manifestations of which were enjoyed by Israel. In Psalm 47 the psalmist called on all peoples of the earth to pay homage to Israel’s holy Monarch—the Lord—as He assumes His kingship over them all.
A Few Observations
It will help to make a few observations about Psalm 47 and its place in the Psalter. First, Psalm 47 follows quite naturally after Psalm 46. Psalm 46 is focused on the security of God’s people, noting how God had delivered them from one of their great enemies.2 It challenged the nations to observe that deliverance and stand in awe before God.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth (v. 10).
God himself is speaking. Now, in Psalm 47, the writer addresses the same people, saying, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!” p 396 (vv. 1–2). In other words, he is following up on what God had himself said earlier. Some commentators also see another connection between these psalms. They think that Psalm 47:5 may be referring to the same deliverance of Jerusalem from foreign armies that lies behind the writing of Psalm 46.
A second useful observation is that Psalms 46, 47, and 48 are what are often called Songs of Zion, because they focus on the city of Jerusalem and God’s protection of it. Psalms 46 and 48 speak of Jerusalem explicitly, calling it “the city of God” (Ps. 46:4), “the city of our God” (Ps. 48:1, 8), and “the city of the Great King” (Ps. 48:2). Psalm 47 refers to the city indirectly by speaking of God’s “ascending amid shouts of joy,” perhaps to Jerusalem, and of his being seated there “on his holy throne” (vv. 5, 8).
There is no general agreement regarding the overall outline of this psalm. Since the word selah comes at the end of verse 4 and seems to indicate a break there, some writers see two stanzas of four verses each, followed by a final prophetic note in verse 9.
I. The People Respond (Ps. 47:1, 9).
A. The People Clap (v. 1).
He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet.
He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved. Selah [Ps. 47:3–4].
This is the appropriate time to sing, “Joy to the World!”
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men—their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
As you can see, this is not really a hymn that speaks of the birth of Christ; but it speaks of His second coming. There is going to be joy on the earth when He comes.
“Clap your hands; … shout unto God with the voice of triumph!” What a wonderful day that will be!
Not long ago I preached in a church where the people clapped their hands and were rather vociferous. Later someone asked me if all the noise did not disturb me. I replied, “No, it helped a great deal because they were right with me.” I think that what many people call reverence today is really deadness. There is a lot of reverence in the cemetery—no one disturbs anybody or anything. I believe we need a little life in our services.
B. The People Gather (v. 9).
Your Kingdom Come
In verse 7 we come to the part of the psalm that caused Derek Kidner to call it a prophecy. It starts mildly enough, seeming only to reiterate what has been stated forcefully earlier: “God is King of all the earth” (v. 7) and “God reigns over the nations” (v. 8). But it ends with the nations actually assembling before God as his people:
This has not happened yet. That is why we call it prophecy. But it will happen, and we look forward to it. It is why we are so active in evangelism, bringing the gospel to the nations, and why we so often pray in the words taught us by Jesus, saying, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2).
This is a good place to remember the very different picture of the nations drawn for us in Psalm 2. In that psalm the kings of the earth are opposing the Lord and his Christ. They are saying, “Let us break their chains … and throw off their fetters” (v. 3). In that psalm God is laughing at such impotent folly. He scoffs at it and rebukes the people, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill” (v. 6). He admonishes, “Be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. … Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way” (vv. 10, 12). Psalm 2 reminds us that there are two kinds of compliance with the just reign of God and Jesus Christ. There is a willing, joyful compliance on the one hand, but there is also an unwilling, forced compliance on the other.
Our task is to bring the gospel to the nations now so that, by God’s grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, many might willingly bow before Jesus Christ and thus come under the banner of his blessed rule.
That is where history is going. It is what life is all about.
I take you back to the early chapters of Genesis, in which God calls Abraham to be his follower, promising,
From the very beginning God had said that he purposed to bless all nations and all peoples through Abraham and his descendants, particularly through his one great descendant, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And that is what he has done and is doing. He is building Christ’s spiritual kingdom with people from all nations and races.
II. Jehovah Reigns (Ps. 47:2-4, 7-8).
A. His Terribleness toward the Unrighteous (vv. 2-4).
As stated generally in verse 2, He is the great King over the earth. Specifically, this was demonstrated by His subduing the nations when He chose Israel as His inheritance.
1. His Character ~ Terrible Greatness (v. 2).
Our God Reigns
The psalm begins, then, with praise of God as “the great King over all the earth,” and it invites people of the nations to join the psalmist in this praise (v. 2). Of course, at the present time the world’s peoples may not all acknowledge God’s rule, but he is their ruler nonetheless. He sets up kings and he dethrones them. This is one thing that is meant whenever the Bible talks about God’s kingdom.
In 1934 the great British historian Arnold Toynbee began a study of world history that occupied him until 1961 and eventually filled twelve large volumes.3 In this massive work Toynbee isolated thirty-four distinct civilizations, including thirteen “independent” civilizations, fifteen “satellite” civilizations, and six “abortive” civilizations. Each of these came upon the pages of history for a time and then passed away. Egypt was once a great world power, but it is weak today. Babylon was mighty, but its territory has been divided, and even the discovery of great stores of oil in that area of the world has not restored it or the surrounding nations to a dominant position on the world stage. Greece and Rome, once wonders of mankind, have fallen. The Soviet Union fell apart. Even the United States of America, though now at the very pinnacle of world power, is in decline and will not escape the inexorable law of history, namely, that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
p 397 When they are strong and victorious, nations fondly suppose that they control their own destinies. Yet it is not they but God who is “King over all the earth.” Moreover, the God who is King requires righteousness. So when the nations depart from his ways and arrogantly exalt themselves, God brings them down.
The Bible book that makes this point most emphatically is Daniel. The story of King Nebuchadnezzar teaches it forcefully, as God humbled Nebuchadnezzar by judging him with insanity. But I pass over Nebuchadnezzar’s story to that of his son Belshazzar, which is built on it. Belshazzar had given a party in which he had defiled the vessels that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar sacked the city. In the midst of this party, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the palace wall. Belshazzar and his guests became frightened.
The writing said, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN”4 (Dan. 5:25). It meant “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” That is, God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s reign and brought it to an end; Belshazzar had been weighed and found wanting, and now his kingdom was to be divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
When Daniel was summoned to the banquet and asked to explain what this meant, he told Belshazzar,
That night the city was overthrown, Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede reigned in his place.
Daniel spoke to Belshazzar in the name of the “Most High God.” It is significant, therefore, that this is the name the author of Psalm 47 uses in verse 2 when he exclaims, “How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!” Awesome indeed! The kingdoms of this world rise and fall, but over them all, determining their course and end, stands the “Most High God,” the God of all history.
2. His Conquering ~ Total Submission (v. 3).
3. His Choosing ~ Blessed Inheritance (v. 4).
Our God Is an Awesome King (vv. 1–4)
We have moved from “Be still” (46:10) to shouting, clapping, and the blowing of trumpets. Jewish worship was enthusiastic, but they also knew how to be quiet before the Lord and wait upon Him (Lam. 2:10; Hab. 2:4; Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:13). Since the theme of the psalm is the kingship of the Lord, they worshiped Him the way they welcomed a new king (1 Sam. 10:24; 2 Kings 11:12–13, 20). “The shout of a king is among them” (Num. 23:21). The early church patterned its worship after the synagogue and emphasized prayer, the reading and expounding of Scripture, and the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When the Jewish people clapped their hands and shouted, it was to the Lord in response to His marvelous works. They did not do it to praise the people who participated in the worship service.
To know God is to know One who is awesome in all that He is, says, and does (65:8; 76:7, 12). Jerusalem’s deliverance from Sennacherib proved once more that the God of Israel was greater than all gods and deserved all the praise His people could bring to Him. He gave them victory over the nations in Canaan and gave them the land for their inheritance (135:4; Ex. 15:17; 19:5; Deut. 4:21, 37–38; 32:8). Since God chose the Jews in His love and gave them their land in His grace, what right did the Assyrians have to try to take it from them? (See 2 Chron. 20:10–12.) The land of Israel is very special to the Lord and He watches over it (Deut. 8:7–20; 11:10–12).
B. His Throne of Holiness (vv. 7-8).
1. What that Means for His People (v. 7).
Paul alludes to verse 7 in 1 Cor. 14:15 when he admonishes us to “sing with the understanding.” The word “shields” can refer to kings since they are the protectors of the people (89:18). The kings of the earth belong to the Lord because He is the King of Kings (Rev. 19:16). The image of God sitting upon His holy throne is used often in the book of Revelation (4:2, 9–10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5).
Praise is a duty in which we ought to be frequent and abundant. But here is a needful rule; Sing ye praises with understanding. As those that understand why and for what reasons they praise God, and what is the meaning of the service. It is not an acceptable service, if it is not a reasonable service.
2. What that Means to the Nations (v. 8).
The Roman Catholics assign this title to their sovereign pontiff, the pope of Rome. When a person addresses the pope he is supposed to refer to him as “Your Holiness.” As a title for a pope it is a title of blasphemy. God has never given this title to any man except His Son.
III. The World Rejoices (Ps. 47:5-6).
A. At God's Ascension (v. 5).
God fills heaven and earth, but when He acts on earth on behalf of His people, the Scriptures sometimes describe Him as “coming down.” He came down to visit the tower of Babel and judged the people building it (Gen. 11:5), and He also came down to investigate the wicked city of Sodom and destroyed it (Gen. 18:21). The night 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were slain by the angel, God came down and brought judgment (Isa. 37:28–29, 36) and then “went up” in great glory to His holy throne (v. 8). David gave a similar description of victory in 68:18, a verse Paul quoted in Ephesians 4:8–10, applying it to the ascension of Jesus Christ. From the human viewpoint, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a great defeat and tragedy, but not from God’s viewpoint. In His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus won the victory over the world and the devil (John 12:31–32; Col. 2:15) and satisfied the claims of God’s holy law so that sinners could believe and be saved. What a victory! He then ascended to heaven, far above every enemy (Eph. 1:19–22), where He sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3).
Ver. 5. God is gone up with a shout, &c.] That is, the Son of God, who is truly and properly God, equal to the Father, having the same perfections; God manifest in the flesh, the Word that was made flesh, and dwelt among men on earth; who in the next clause is called Lord or Jehovah, being the everlasting I AM, which is, and was, and is to come; he having done his work on earth he came about, went up from earth to heaven in human nature, really, locally, and visibly, in the sight of his apostles, attended by angels, and with their shouts and acclamations, which are here meant. The Lord with the sound of the trumpet; which circumstance, though not related in the account of Christ’s ascension in the New Testament, yet inasmuch as the angels say he shall descend in like manner as he ascended, and that it is certain he will descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; so that if his ascent was as his descent will be, it must be then with a shout, and the sound of a trumpet, Acts 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:16. This text is applied to the Messiah by the ancient Jewish writersd.
B. With Songs of Acclamation (v. 6).
“Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.” The Lord is now seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, a King-Priest, a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
What a reception He must have received in glory! With wonder, love, and enthusiasm the angelic hosts would have welcomed Him home. With what astonishment they must have gazed upon His human form, at the spear wound in His side, the nail prints in His hands and feet, the thorn-pierced brow, and the scourge marks on His back. “And one shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thine hands? Then He shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends” (Zechariah 13:6).
Now He is seated yonder, receiving the praises of the redeemed. The songs of the angels are music in His ears, but the songs of the saved are sweeter far.
Glory! Glory! is what the angels sing,
And I expect to help them make the courts of Heaven ring:
But when I sing redemption’s story they must fold their wings,
For angels never knew the joy that our salvation brings.