Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Psalm 29:1-3
Hymn 47:6-7 (after the Law)
Readings: Numbers 33:50-34:15, 2 Samuel 8
Text: Psalm 47
Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,
We live in a messy complicated world. Even or perhaps especially as believers, we face struggles and situations that make us constantly groan for the return of the Lord. We get tired and worn down. Many of the Psalms grow out of the same ground. Faced with the messiness of life, we can tie into these Psalms very easily and make them our own prayers and songs to the Lord.
Some of the Psalms lend themselves to this more naturally. We can think of Psalms like the 23rd. The title tells us that it was written by David, but apart from that, we don’t really have any historical context to go with it. We don’t know what might have led David to write this Psalm. The Holy Spirit intended it this way. People in all times and cultures can take such a Psalm and easily make it their own.
But then there are other Psalms that come with a more concrete historical context. We can appreciate these Psalms because they bring us real life situations. But sometimes we can’t really hook into them, because our real life situations seem to be so different. Think of Psalm 59, a Psalm written by David when Saul had set out to kill him again. When was the last time you were on somebody’s hit list?
Well, Psalm 47 is in that category of Psalms that give us a concrete historical context. It may not seem like that at first glance, but take a closer look. The title tells us that it was composed by the Sons of Korah. We know from 1 Chronicles 6 and other passages that the Sons of Korah were especially active during the reign of David. We know that they were around in later times as well, but the rest of the Psalm also seems to point to the time of David. For instance, the Psalm speaks of the fact that the nations have been subdued. The peoples were under the feet of the people of God – incredible military victories! This makes you think of what we read from 2 Samuel 8: “The LORD gave David victory wherever he went.” It was during the time of David that the promised borders of the land of Israel -- those promises made in Numbers 34 – they finally came into being. The Promised Land was now entirely in Israel’s possession.
This historical context is helpful as we try to understand this Psalm. But it also adds a challenge. How does a Psalm celebrating the conquest of Canaan some 3000 years ago still speak to us in a meaningful way? How does the conquest of Canaan relate to the struggles that you may be having in your family? How does it tie into your daily struggles with the devil, the world, and your old nature? Let’s try and answer those questions. We’ll do it by taking as our theme the central command of Psalm 47:
Sing exuberant praises to the King!
We will consider this command’s
1. The recipients of this command
Remember what happened a few years back when the United States went into Iraq? The American government and military maintained that the troops would be welcomed as liberators. There would be parties in the street and everyone would rejoice that Uncle Sam had finally come to save the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Sure, there was some rejoicing. Some people were happy to be rid of the tyrant. But generally, the Americans didn’t get the welcome that they were expecting. And the consequences continue till the present day.
Now imagine if things had happened differently. Imagine if President Bush had given orders to his troops to kill all the Iraqis. Whether or not they were active combatants, it didn’t matter. Whether they were men, women or children – it didn’t matter. All of them were to be killed. Now imagine further if the American troops didn’t quite have the stomach to go all the way with that kind of slaughter. Instead of killing them all, the troops decided to only kill maybe two out of every three. And the rest would be made servants or slaves for the American people. Given that fictional scenario, how do you think the Iraqi people would regard the American troops? How would they look at the American president? If there’s an ongoing insurgency and resistance now, imagine the negative feelings if things had taken place in the way I just described!
Thinking about these things helps us to understand who Psalm 47 is addressed to. Like I mentioned a moment ago, we have to see this Psalm against the concrete historical background of the conquest of Canaan by David. War and conquest are never pretty, and holy war by God’s rules was especially ugly. The divine rules of engagement clearly stated that there was to be no mercy for any of the native inhabitants in the land. Men, women and children were all to be killed. If they were not, there would be dire consequences for the people of Israel. They would leave themselves open for being ensnared by idolatry and other forms of disobedience. When it came down to the crunch, however, the people of Israel could never quite bring themselves to consistently obey God’s command. Even David showed restraint in his dealings with the peoples he conquered.
You can be sure that these conquered peoples would not have regarded their conquest as being a positive step. Their husbands and fathers had been slaughtered. Mothers and children had been struck down by swords and spears. Blood stained the ground. Families had been decimated. Nothing but slavery was left for those who survived.
I wanted to develop this point because traditional Christian interpretation has seen the first verse of the Psalm as being addressed to these conquered peoples. Almost all commentators and study Bibles will tell you that the Psalm is coming from Israel and it’s being addressed to the nations, commanding them to rejoice and praise God. Some even say that this is a type of missionary Psalm. Our translations and rhymed versions make us think of it this way too.
However, it is interesting that Jewish commentators have taken a different approach. Jewish translations and commentaries on Psalm 47 see it as being addressed to the people of God. In Jewish translations, the first verse reads: “Clap your hands, you people, shout to God with cries of joy.” And, given the Hebrew, this is a completely legitimate translation. In fact, I think this is the best way to translate and understand this verse.
Do you see the problem? If we understand the first verse as being addressed to the conquered peoples, then there’s a big disconnect between their situation and what’s being commanded of them. They’ve been decimated. They’ve been humiliated and enslaved. And now they’re expected to clap their hands for joy?! They’re expected to sing to God with delight?! These are exuberant and heart-felt things to do. These kinds of actions don’t come from people who are forced to do them by their conquerors. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Jewish people celebrating, but when they get going with the hand clapping and singing for joy, it’s really a sight. People don’t do that sort of thing when they’ve just had their family slaughtered. They don’t praise the God who gave the execution orders.
However, the exuberance and joy commanded in this Psalm would be natural for the people of Israel. After many years of struggle, they had finally received the full measure of their inheritance. They had witnessed God’s faithfulness and power. They’re the ones who you could expect to get worked up into a joyful Jewish frenzy over the conquest! God had brought them peace and prosperity in the Promised Land. Verses 3 and 4 witness to God’s work for them: he put the nations under them. The peoples of Canaan were like a man lying on the ground and Israel was the victor with his foot on the head. Through all of this, God had given what he had promised to Israel: land. Land meant inheritance, something that Jacob or Israel could value very highly. All this put God’s love for his people into sharp focus.
So, this Psalm is addressed to God’s people. And we, too, are God’s people. As we read and work with this Psalm today, we have to remember our roots. There is one people of God running through the ages. The victory that the Israelites experienced in the time of David – that was our victory. The peace they received – that was our peace. The God they celebrated – he is our God. Now let’s turn and look at the reasons for the command to exuberantly praise this God.
2. The reasons for this command
The command is given with two reasons. The first reason is directly connected with what we were just looking at. It’s the fact that God is a king who conquers. God is a king who is victorious. Verse 2 tells us that the LORD Most High (Yahweh Elyon in Hebrew) is awesome. Literally, the original says that he is to be feared. This God is mighty and powerful – you don’t deal with him casually or flippantly – surely a truth that we need to remember today, as well. God’s awesomeness is accentuated in the next line when we read that he is the great King over all the earth. There are kings and then there is the King. Verse 3 tells us in very concrete terms what makes this King so great: it’s his power to subdue nations and to have victory. It’s his power to fulfill the promises he made to the patriarchs upon whom he set his love. And verse 5 emphasizes that God has the victory – the image here is of a conquering king climbing the steps to address his people. The people are shouting for joy, the trumpets are sounding. The air is electric with enthusiasm and energy! The King has come back from the battle and with his power he won the day!
The connection is made in Psalm 47 between God’s kingly power and his willingness to use that power for the good of his people. God’s power is almost always exercised in relationship. And in our covenant relationship with him, for the sake of Christ his Son, God uses his power to make everything work together for good in our lives. We know that, but we often need to be reminded. In the messiness of life, it’s easy to forget that circumstances and situations that develop are not out of control. God is in the driver’s seat. Sometimes the road is rough, sometimes your bones get jarred, but he’s driving us to a destination where the sun shines and the skies are blue. He knows what he’s doing. And when we reflect on that, that ought to lead our thoughts upward in exuberant praise!
So, the first reason is that God is a king of power and love. The second reason is that God is King over all the earth. We find this thought expressed in verse 2 and then later again in verses 7, 8 and 9. Earthly kings, whether David or anybody else, simply don’t compare to God. Earthly kings rule over a small patch of real estate, but God the King rules over the entire world, indeed over the whole universe!
When we read these words, we have to forget about our contemporary ideas about royalty. Canada, for instance, is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen’s power is more symbolic than real. She does not actively govern our country. She has no real hand in the affairs of our provinces and cities. When all is said and done, she’s actually quite limited in what she can say and do for those over whom she reigns. This is where God is completely different. The kingdom of God is not a constitutional monarchy. When God reigns, he is actively governing. His rule is real. He makes decrees and they are executed. He gives moral commands and he expects them to be obeyed and there are consequences when they are not, both presently and eternally. God is a real King with a real reign. And the point of Psalm 47 is that his reign extends wherever the sun shines. His kingdom stretches from shore to shore, not just in one country, but in every corner of creation. God is the universal king!
And why should we rejoice over that fact? Why should such a fact compel us to “sing praises to God,” as we’re told in verse 6? There are many reasons. I’ll just mention a couple. First off, he has revealed himself to be a good King. He reigns everywhere in righteousness and holiness. So, we can rejoice in the fact that the decrees of our King will always be consistent with his character. Sometimes we’re tempted to second-guess God. Does he really know what he’s doing in this or that situation? But God is not capricious. His actions are always consistent with his character and his character is good. So: “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises!”
Second, we can praise him that he is the King who saves. He has a special relationship with some of his subjects – those who have submitted to his reign in faith and obedience. With these subjects, he has made a promise to save them from whatever might separate them from him. In this Psalm, we see that with the fact that God gave victory over the land of Canaan. The Canaanites were a threat to the relationship between God and his people. God removed that threat and in this way brought a measure of salvation. For us as New Testament believers, we can see this most clearly in the work of Christ. Christ came as the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s promises to remove whatever might separate his people from him. Our people in the time of David had plenty of reason to praise our King – but we, living in the light of Christ’s coming, have even more reasons! Let’s look at that aspect of our text more closely in our last point…
3. The realization of this command.
When we talk about the realization of this command, there are at least a couple of levels in view. The first level is when this Psalm was first written and sung. Imagine the first time that this Psalm was unveiled and the people would have sung it. It was an incredible victory celebration! The people would have been clapping their hands for joy and singing with great gusto!
As time went on, the generation that saw the total conquest of the land would have passed away. David went to sleep with his fathers. The awareness of the deep meaning of the conquest would still have been there for a few generations. But as time went on, some of the historical consciousness would be lost and this Psalm would lose some of its pointedness. Today, Jewish people still sing this Psalm at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is because Rosh Hashanah is considered to be the anniversary of the creation of the World and this is when God began to rule as King.
That being what it may, there is another level at which we consider the realization of this command and that’s what took place about 1000 years after it was written. Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of all the Old Testament references to God being our King. Just think of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And think of the way Paul takes the words of David in Psalm 68 and applies them to the ascended Christ in Ephesians 4:8. Just like Psalm 47, Psalm 68 gives us a picture of God as the victorious King who has ascended on high. His fist is raised in triumph, his voice lets out a cry of victory! And the New Testament leads us to see Christ in this picture.
Christ is the one who is the victorious Divine King. When he ascended into heaven, his victory over sin, death and Satan was made clear. But there is still something more to it. After all, sin, death and Satan are still active realities. The Scriptures are clear that even though the war has been won, battles are still being fought. They will be fought until the final consummation of all things, when the Lord Jesus returns and plants his foot on Satan’s bloody head for one last deathblow. In this way, there’s an “already…but not yet” aspect to this Psalm in its realization. Yes, God conquered the Promised Land. But this conquest did not remain an accomplished fact. Eventually, the Babylonian exile took place and then later the Greeks and Romans conquered Palestine. There were obviously deeper realities being pointed to in this Psalm. And so, yes, Christ came to fulfill the promises about rest in the true country of God. But there remains a rest to come… the ultimate is still coming. The time is coming when all the nobles of the nations will assemble before the King of kings and Lord of lords. They will acknowledge his sovereign rule, just like we do. But this is a future reality…
Now, when we take these truths and try to work with them in our lives, we have to remember our position with respect to this King. As Spirit-filled Christians, we share in his anointing. This means that his victory over sin, death and Satan is ours! But then we’re also reminded about what a Christian life looks like. We know that there is an “already…but not yet” in our lives, and in our personal struggles. We still live in a time where we have an old nature and a new nature. We live in a world where we live with others who also have the battle raging for their hearts and lives. We still face the temptations of Satan. We struggle and it’s very easy to become discouraged and wonder whether there will ever be an end or whether there will be any progress. In the midst of this, this Psalm gives us an outlook that we desperately need. We need context, the big picture. The big picture is Christ’s victory. It reminds us that there is a heavenly rest, an inheritance waiting for us. There is victory, because there is a victorious God. The victory is here in principle and God’s promise is that someday it will be realized in all its fullness. Today, we fight and look for the rest to come. We fight against remaining sin in our lives with a positive attitude. We know what the outcome will be. We’ve got the guarantee here in Psalm 47. Knowing the outcome gives us the motivation to continue in our walk with the Lord each day. We can do that joyfully, singing praises to our victorious God, celebrating who he is!
Now as we sing Psalm 47 we do that with our eyes fixed on Jesus, our victorious King. As we sing about clapping our hands and shouting aloud to God, we can remember the perfections of Christ our King. As we sing about his triumph and victory, we think about what he has already accomplished for us and in us and what he will yet do! We can truly look forward to the end of time when we’ll hear these words prophesied in Revelation 19:
After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” AMEN.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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