Praising Our Conqueror
Last month our very own Wally Hurd was honored at the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. He made the trip with several other WWII veterans who participated in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi-occupied France that proved to be the turning point in the war against Germany. (Mom and Dad are pretty sure they saw Wally on some of the TV coverage, sitting behind President Trump!)
The Punxsy Spirit published a number of articles documenting Wally’s trip, one of them describing his reception at a parade in the town of St. Mere Eglise. Bob Lott, who acted as Wally’s escort on the trip, said,
This passion that the people of Normandy have for our World War II veterans is something that we Americans do not and cannot understand. The French have been free for 75 years and they truly understand how they became free and who to thank. And they are sure to teach that history to their children. (Punxsutawney Spirit, 6/11/2019)
Wally is loved and praised by the people of France because he represents their liberation from the Nazis. But to this day, Wally has never gone to a D-Day celebration in Germany, has he? It wouldn’t be a good idea, would it? Because just as 75 years is not too long for France to forget that Wally was their liberator, so 75 years is not too long for Germany to forget that he was their conqueror. Even though the United States and Germany are allies today, they can never celebrate June 6th the way the French can. Because liberators are praised; conquerors are only tolerated.
I think what we can draw from that illustration is that
Our acts of praise can never be separated from our reasons for praise.
And I believe this truth is at the heart of Psalm 47. If you’re looking for repeated words, phrases or ideas to help you understand the point of a passage of Scripture, then it’s pretty clear that this psalm is a “praise psalm”:
5 God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. 6 Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! 7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
Verses 5-7 are the high point of the song—a crescendo of praise, like a tent pole that holds the rest of the psalm up. On either side are statements of why we should praise Him; on what basis do we offer God praise?
On the surface, these verses almost sound like one of the modern praise and worship songs that you hear nowadays—songs that repeat a word or phrase over and over again to create some kind of emotional high” Sing praise, sing praise, sing praise, sing praise!!”
It’s like the old farmer who visited his granchildren’s megachurch in the big city, and came the next day to tell his wife about it. “They don’t sing hymns there, they sing these things called ‘praise songs’”. When his wife asked him to describe the difference, he said, “Well, if I were to say to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn!’, that would be a hymn. But if I said to you, “Martha / Dear Martha / The cows / The brown cows / The black cows / the red cows / the white cows / the cows are in the corn / the high corn / the sweet corn / oooooooo / the tall corn / don’t you know / the corn / Oh yes they are / in the corn / yeah / the cows are in the corn” —that would be a “praise song”!
But the message of Psalm 47 is not just “Praise God”! The psalmist here goes to great lengths to explain why God is worthy of our praise. I say that because of the end of verse 7 -
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
The word “psalm” there at the end of verse 7 is the Hebrew word maskill, which, you’ll remember from a couple weeks ago, means “skillful” or “with wisdom”—a maskill is a psalm that is skillfully and wisely written—written to instruct through worship. So the end of the verse can be translated, “Sing praises with understanding!”
Mere repetitions of “praise God, praise God, praise God” without understanding—separating the act of praising God from the reason for praising Him—is (in one writer’s words) like “trying to eat a bread sandwich”! (John Stott). The psalmist wants us to understand that
When we praise God, we must always include a “because”.
We must always include the reasons He is worthy to be praised. And here in Psalm 47, the psalmist gives us three reasons for praising God—We praise Him because He reigns over the world, we praise Him because He has conquered His enemies, and we praise Him because He has shielded His people.
Let’s look at each of them for a moment:
I. We Praise God Because He Reigns over the World
I. We Praise God Because He Reigns over the World
This psalm makes it clear that God is not just the God of the Israelites alone—He is “a great king over all the earth” (v. 2). He is to be praised with the understanding that He is “King of all the earth” (v. 7), and that “He reigns over the nations”, and sits on “His holy throne” (v. 8). There is no way to get out from under His authority, there is no jurisdiction where His law does not hold sway, there is nowhere you can apply for asylum from His reign. It is not possible to demur, to say, “Oh, no thank you, I don’t have to participate—the authority of Yahweh doesn’t apply to me; I’m not one of His subjects!” God is King over all the earth—and you are called to praise Him for that reason.
You cannot praise God rightly without acknowledging His authority over you.
And this leads us into the next reason God is worthy of our praise:
II. We Praise God Because He Has Conquered His Enemies
II. We Praise God Because He Has Conquered His Enemies
Look at verses 3-4:
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
We saw this last time in Psalm 46, how God “utters His voice” and the raging, tottering nations that rebel against Him crumble:
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
The psalmist picks up that same thread here in Psalm 47, calling God’s people to rejoice over how He “subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet” (v. 3). The psalmist probably has in mind here the way that God defeated the nations of Canaan for the Israelites:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you,
The reason the psalmist praises God in verses 1-4 is because He did what they could not do for themselves: If it hadn’t been for Yahweh Most High, His people would never have been able to enter the Promised Land, and would never have received their inheritance there. So we see that
You cannot praise God rightly without acknowledging His deliverance for you.
But if you look at these verses carefully, you will see something extraordinary: Not only is God to be praised by the people He delivered, but He is also to be praised by the people he conquered! Verse 3 says
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
But in verse 1 we read:
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
Do you see this? When the psalmist calls all the peoples to praise God for His victory, he is calling both the delivered and the conquered to praise Him! To use our opening illustration, this would be like requiring German Normandy vets to travel to St. Mare Eglise to join the French in praising Wally Hurd for the D-Day victory!
Let that sink in for a moment—what this psalm requires is almost beyond comprehension: “You peoples that have been conquered by the might of the LORD—you nations that have been laid desolate by His mighty works—you peoples who have been thrown to the mat and toppled like a Jenga tower at His word—you peoples who railed against Him and rebelled against His reign, who have been trampled under the feet of His victorious people—join with His people now in glad and joyful praise for His victory over you!
It boggles our minds to hear this command from the psalmist, but it is written here as plain as day:
You cannot praise God rightly without acknowledging His victory over your rebellion.
And here we come to the absolute frozen outer limit of our own hearts’ ability to praise God—we can understand that we must praise Him for his reign, and it is easy to praise Him for delivering us from His enemies, for laying waste their rebellious plans and threats against us. But there is simply no way imaginable for us to respond with genuine praise, joy, love and gladness to someone who has conquered us!
Think of it this way: Have you ever been on a sports team that has played in a big playoff game, or big tournament? You made it all the way up to the championship game—and lost? Ever been there? (Or watched your favorite pro sports team lose the big game?) Your opponents are going absolutely crazy in celebration, aren’t they? Whooping and cheering, jumping up and down, hugging and high-fiving, crying tears of joy, breaking out the championship hats and shirts. And at that moment where do you want to be? Anywhere but there, right?
You might mumble “Good game” to a few of them, give a couple desultory hugs and handshakes, but you just want to get off the field (or the court) as quickly as possible and try to forget the past couple of hours of your life. Now picture your coach coming over to you and saying, “Go over there to the other team and celebrate with them! Go enter into their joy, laugh and shout and sing with them! Grab a t-shirt and hat and put them on, pose for pictures, run around the arena high-fiving all of the fans—celebrate their victory over you! That is what the psalmist is telling the conquered peoples to do—to praise God for His victory over them!
How can this even be possible? If we look carefully at the end of this psalm, I believe we find a clue. In verses 8-9, we see the psalmist tell us that
III. We Praise God Because He Shields His People
III. We Praise God Because He Shields His People
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!
In the first four verses God is praised for conquering His enemies. In verses 5-7 He is praised as He ascends His holy throne. And in verses 8-9 He is praised for His reign—specifically, He is “highly exalted” because “the shields of the earth belong to” Him. The idea here is that God is a King who shields His people—He protects them and delivers them from all harm. So in some ways it is an echo of verses 1-4, where God is a King who subdues His enemies (and the enemies of His people.)
But there is an interesting twist in the beginning of verse 9—something that the psalmist says about “the princes of the peoples”—he writes that “the princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham”! Throughout the Old Testament, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are called “the people of God”, the people that He personally chose out of all of the nations of the earth. We see it, for instance, in Deuteronomy 32:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
As His chosen people, the descendants of Abraham through Jacob enjoyed a unique covenant with YHWH, where He promised to be their God, and promised that they would be His people. As His covenant people, they were protected and shielded and governed by His steadfast love.
But here in Psalm 47, the psalmist hints that there would come a day when it would not just be Jacob’s descendants that would enjoy that unique covenant-love and protection, but all the princes of the people would “gather as the people of the God of Abraham”! That they would all enter into that covenant, that they would all become His people!
Centuries later one of the descendants of Jacob, the Apostle Paul, would write to the Gentile believers in Ephesus:
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
“The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham” because Jesus has gathered them! He shed His blood on the Cross so that He could bring them near! Jesus spoke of His being lifted up on the Cross as the means by which He would bring the nations near:
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
And here is the answer to our question earlier: How can the conquered praise God as their deliverer? Because in Jesus Christ, God turns His enemies into His children!
You cannot praise God rightly without acknowledging Him as your Father.
Beloved, every single one of us began our lives as enemies of God— “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” as Ephesians 2:3 puts it— dead in our trespasses and sins, following the course of this world, carrying out whatever lust or appetite or passion our bodily urges and rebellious spirit dictated.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
When we came in faith to cry out to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, he conquered our rebellion, and delivered us from the penalty and power of sin! And so the praise of the peoples in Psalm 47 is not sullen, grudging respect coming from a conquered people—it is glad and joyful praise coming from a liberated people! They praise Him for conquering their rebellion, they praise Him in glad submission to His power and authority, they praise Him for shielding them with His own body from the consequences of their sin, they highly exalt Him as their King!
Christian, let this psalm instruct you in your praise—don’t make a “bread sandwich” of “Praise God, praise God, praise God”—always include the reasons for your praise! As the psalmist praises God for conquering His rebellious enemies, you praise God for conquering your rebellion against Him! As the psalmist praises God for His utter and absolute authority as King, you praise Him with your utter and absolute submission to His Word! As the psalmist praises God for shielding His people from destruction, you praise Him for Jesus Christ, who shielded you from eternal destruction in Hell by placing His own body between you and the holy wrath of God!
Do you see, beloved, why it is so important to sing songs in worship that are rooted and grounded in the work of Jesus Christ? We do our best not to serve you “bread sandwiches” in our worship services—we don’t want just empty, shallow, “ooooh God you make me feel so good” songs. We want to sing the Gospel to each other—to use our songs to rejoice in our King who conquered our rebellion against Him, who demands our total obedience, who shielded us from God’s wrath by substituting His own life for ours, who makes us His children and gives us a New Birth of holiness whereby we can please Him!
Do you know the difference between a well-done worship song and a well-done steak? A well-done worship song has blood in it! You may like your steaks to run clear, but you want your hymns to run through with the blood of Jesus Christ! So get into the habit of singing with wisdom when we gather for worship on Sunday mornings—read through the hymns listed in the bulletin beforehand, meditate on the words and consider what they say about the way your sovereign King has delivered you from your rebellion against Him and shielded you with His own body on the Cross! Sing intelligently in worship!
And as you sing, consider that you are praising your conqueror in worship! Marvel at the fact that you were once His enemy, and the way that He defeated you was by making you into His child! You are a German WWII veteran standing on the side of the parade route in St. Mere Eglise in Normandy, cheering wildly and celebrating Wally Hurd—your conqueror—as he rides past you in the parade! Let yourself be astounded at the grace of God that has brought you, a desperately wicked and rebellious child of wrath—into His family, to be His beloved child, and the object of His love that He will spend eternity “showing you the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward you in Christ Jesus!” (Eph. 2:7).
And as you sing praise to God for His immeasurable riches of grace toward you in Jesus, let the praise you sing instruct you in the way you show that grace to others. Because Jesus Christ is still in the business of conquering His enemies by turning them into His children. And that means that there will come a time when you will be standing by the parade route, praising your Deliverer, and you will turn and see one of your former enemies praising Him right along with you!
We live among a people who absolutely refuse to offer forgiveness or accept apologies. We live in a time whe someone’s career can be instantly destroyed because of a stupid comment they made or a dumb prank they pulled twenty years ago. We live in a time of “micro-aggressions”, where anything can be made into a racist or sexist or homophobic insult, and there can be no forgiveness under any circumstances. Enemies are made, lines are drawn, crimes are committed, and there is never a way to ever make it right.
And it’s easy for us as Christians to stick our noses in the air and say we’re so much better than they are because we preach a Gospel of forgiveness. But take care that you are not like the wicked servant in Matthew 18 who was forgiven millions of dollars in debt but then beat up his fellow servant for owing him five bucks. You who come here to praise your King for delivering you from your billion-dollar debt of your sin against Him—are you planning to run out the door as quickly as possible after the benediction to avoid running into that person you’re mad at because they said or did something to hurt your feelings? Are you sitting here with your Bible in your lap, filling out the outline, serenely nodding your head in agreement with everything, and there are people in this room you won’t even look in the eye?
If so, then the praise you need to offer this morning is not praise with your lips, but praise with your deeds. Jesus tells you as clearly as possible what you need to do:
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
The praise that you must render this morning is the praise of offering and receiving forgiveness. Demonstrate that you have received forgiveness by asking for it from those you’ve offended, and accepting it when it is offered. But if holding onto that grudge is more attractive to you than glorifying God by asking for (and offering) forgiveness, if you would rather stew in your own bitter juices, if you treasure your wounded pride more than the wounds of Christ, then you need to carefully consider what you think it means to be a Christian.
The praise that you must render this morning is the praise of he parade route praising the Allied victors—every last one of us—used to be Nazis. If it had not been for the infinite love of Jesus Christ, you and I and the whole world would long ago have perished under the righteous wrath of an offended God. The forgiveness you refuse to offer your fellow Christian testifies against your claim to even be a Christian.
But the grace of God is being extended to you even now—now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Cry out to your Deliverer to conquer that bitterness, confess to Him your sin and receive the infinitely valuable forgiveness that He purchased at the price of His own lifeblood. And in the power of that forgiveness, with the strength and love of His Holy Spirit dwelling in you, go and seek the forgiveness you need from your brother; offer the forgiveness your sister needs. Praise your Conqueror with your deeds—demonstrate real forgiveness in a world that hates to forgive, be reconciled to one another the way God reconciled you to Himself. Come and praise your King who shields you from destruction with His own body so that you may live eternally with Him—come, and welcome—to Jesus Christ!
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
What are some of your favorite hymns and praise songs? Read through the lyrics of one of your favorite praise and worship songs: What is it about that song that engages your joyful praise? Does it focus on the work of Jesus Christ in conquering your sin, shielding you from God’s wrath, justifying you with His righteousness? Is there any “blood” in it? Or is it a song that can just as easily be sung about another relationship (e.g., a boyfriend or girlfriend)? What does Psalm 47 teach us about singing praise “with understanding?”
If you are a believer, then God has turned you from His enemy into His child. How does the grace that He showed you in your salvation change the way you relate to others? Is there someone in your life that you need to offer forgiveness to? Someone that you need to forgive?
How does the psalmist’s call for “all peoples” to praise God encourage you as you share the Gospel with the lost? If God “reigns over the nations”, then what responsibility do you have as a believer to call those nations to repentance and faith (Acts 17:30-31)? How can you carry out that responsibility in your own life? In Sykesville? Around the world?