Saturday, April 20, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 47

Psalm 47 presents an invitation to actively, vehemently praise God. The psalm is structured as follows: invitation to praise (verse 1); reasons for praise (verses 2-5); second invitation to praise (verse 6); and more reasons to praise (verses 7-9). Let’s spend some time digging into the language of this psalm to better understand how and why we are to praise our Lord. 

The first invitation to praise occurs in verse 1. “Clap your hands, all you peoples;” the psalmist encourages, “shout to God with loud songs of joy.” Who is to praise God? All the people. The Hebrew word here is ‘am. It refers not only to the Israelites but also to the Gentiles, all the nations of the world. The invitation to praise is extended to the whole human family. Led by the Israelites, who know the one true God, the Gentile nations must enter into worship, recognizing God for Who He is. 

How should all the people of the world praise God? By clapping their hands and shouting with loud songs of joy. This is noisy worship! Clapping hands, ringing cries of gladness and triumph, proclamation and rejoicing, loud voices lifted up in exclamations of adoration! This praise isn’t something hidden away or pronounced quietly or shyly or half-heartedly. It is confident praise, public praise, praise that no one can ignore, praise that stands before the whole world, praise that tells everyone who will listen about the amazing things God has done for His people. 

What are these amazing things? Why must all the peoples of the world praise God? First and foremost, God is the Most High, and He is awesome. He is above all else on earth and in Heaven. He is God, and He deserves our praise for that reason alone. He is awesome, or in Heberw yârê', to be feared, to be revered, to be honored. He is great...all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-beautiful. He is above our highest images, beyond our deepest thoughts, better than our wildest dreams. He is the great king over the whole earth, over all the people of the world. He rules. He reigns. He is majesty in person, so we praise Him. 

We also praise God for what He has done for His people. Verses 3 and 4 describe God’s actions on behalf of Israel. With a word, He has placed Israel over the other nations of the world. This doesn’t sound like a very praiseworthy thing for the other nations, but in reality it is. Israel knows God and knows how to worship Him, and part of Israel’s job is to lead the whole world to Him. Israel is God’s firstborn son, responsible for guiding and disciplining the younger brothers of the world. Israel stands as a representative of God before the Gentiles, who can be stubborn in their pagan worship and therefore must be subdued and trained that they may be prepared to accept the true praise they are invited to give to the true God. This role is part of Israel’s God-given heritage, in Hebrew nachălâh

This inheritance is Israel’s greatest source of pride (in Hebrew, gâ'ôn), its true wealth and power, its means of redemption. Israel is certain of God’s love, for God has done great things for His chosen people. He has brought them out of slavery and taught them His law. He has settled them in their land and instructed them in true worship. Further, God dwells among them, He has “gone up with a shout” and the sound of the trumpet, first to the Tabernacle and then to the Temple, where He is always present to the Israelites. God Himself, His presence, His self-giving love, is Israel’s share, Israel’s inheritance, Israel’s pride, Israel’s salvation. 

Indeed, there are many reasons to praise God, and the psalmist again breaks out in exaltation in verse 6: “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.” The psalmist cannot be still. He wants to sing out, to make music, in praise of God, and he longs for everyone else to join him. Notice the repetition here. The Hebrew word zâmar (to sing praise) is repeated four times in verse 6 and once more in verse 7. The psalmist is caught up with a strong desire, an urgency, to worship his God and King. 

For God is the King, the psalmist says again. He is the “king of all the earth” and the “king over the nations.” He is seated on His holy throne, and the princes of the people are gathering around Him. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for prince is nâdı̂yb, and it means one who is noble, who is generous, and who is willing. In the psalmist’s view, these princes are indeed noble and generous because they are willing to assemble together as God’s people. They are willing to join the Israelites as subjects of the great King, the God of Abraham. Notice here that God is called the God of Abraham. Abraham was the ancestor of Israel but also the father of many nations of the earth. Again, we are seeing God’s people expand to include not just the Israelites but the nations, the other descendants of Abraham, who are returning to the fold and learning to worship the God of their father. 

The last line of the psalm explains why the princes of the people are gathering around God: “For the shields of the earth belong to God...” In other words, God is the protector of all the nations. He defends them according to His will. He shields them, or if necessary, He allows them to fall if it will draw them to Him. Those who turn to Him will find a refuge and a guardian. They will be secure, safe, perhaps not from every disaster or trial, but ultimately in the most important way, from the loss of God, which would be the greatest catastrophe of all. 

The psalm ends with a reminder. God is “highly exalted.” He is the Most High over all the earth. He deserves the highest praise from all His people no matter where they may be.

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