Psalm 47 is a hymn of praise to the Lord, who is the great King over all. It’s not entirely clear how the psalm should be divided; and the commentators make various suggestions. Perhaps the most straightforward way to divide the psalm is to divide it into two parts: verses 1 to 5 and verses 6 to 9. The first part begins in verse 1 with a call to worship the Lord; and in the verses which follow we’re given reasons to praise him. And the second part begins in verse 6 with a call to worship; and in the verses which follow we’re given reasons to praise him. In the first part, we’re called to worship him because he’s the great conquering King. In the second part, we’re called to worship him because he’s reigns over all. So, let’s study it together.
Verses 1 to 5
And look how it begins: not just Israel, but all the nations are summoned to praise the Lord. ‘Clap your hands’, the psalmist says. And ‘shout to God with cries of joy’. This is the call to worship and it’s addressed to the nations of the world. So, everyone is being summoned to join in and to praise the Lord loudly and exuberantly by clapping and shouting.
And then, in verses 2 to 5, we’re given reasons to praise him. Everyone is to praise him because he’e the Lord Most High who is awesome. He’s the Most High God because he is exalted over all things and he rules over all. There’s no-one higher than him; there’s no one with more authority or power. And he’s awesome because the things he does produce a sense of awe and reverence and even fear in our hearts. Think of the people of Jericho in the days of Joshua whose hearts were filled with fear, because they had heard that the Lord dried up the Red Sea and had destroyed the kings of the Amorites. They heard what an awesome God he is; and they were afraid.
And the psalmist confesses in verse 2 that the Lord Most High is the great King over all the earth. His authority extended beyond the borders of Israel and stretched over the whole of the earth so that he ruled over every nation. And look what he did for his chosen people: according to verse 3 he subdued nations under them, putting them under their feet; and according to verse 4, he chose their inheritance for them. When he refers to their inheritance, he’s referring to the Promised Land which God gave to the Israelites. And he enabled them to subdue the Canaanites and all the other nations who were living in the land so that they could take possession of the land and live in it. When the psalmist refers in verse 4 to the pride of Jacob, he’s referring again to the land. The people were able to take pride in the land and boast in it, because it was a land like the Garden of Eden, flowing with milk and honey. And God gave it to them, the people descended from Jacob, because he loved them. Of all the nations of the world, he set his love upon the children of Jacob and chose them to be his own special people.
And this part of the psalm ends in verse 5 with the psalmist describing how God has ascended amid shouts of joy and the sounding of trumpets. Having conquered his enemies on behalf of his people, he has ascended to take his throne as the great King. Many of the commentators refer to 2 Samuel 6, which tells us of the time when David brought the ark of God into Jerusalem amid great jubilation. The ark was — in a sense — God’s throne. And so, bringing the ark into Jerusalem signified how God was installed as King in Jerusalem. But, of course, the real throne room of God is in heaven, where he’s surrounded by the angels and the saints in heaven, who are worshipping him day and night. And from his throne in heaven, he rules over all.
Verses 6 to 9
So, God is the great conquering King, who conquered the other nations on behalf of his people, the children of Jacob. The second part of the psalm begins with another call to worship in verse 6. Four times we’re summoned to sing praises to the Lord: Sing praises to God. Sing praises. Sing praises to our King. Sing praises. Why should we sing praise to God? Well, look at verse 7: because God is the King of all the earth. Therefore sing to him with a psalm of praise. You’ll see the little footnote in the NIV saying that the word translated psalm is maskil, which appears in the title of a number of psalms. No one is too sure what the word maskil means, but it’s clearly associated with the psalms. And the psalmist is summoning us to sing praise to the Lord, because he’s the King of the earth. Once again, he’s making the point that God doesn’t rule Israel only, but the whole world. He’s not the God of one nation, but he’s the God of every nation. As the psalmist says in verse 8, he reigns over the nations. And then the psalmist says that he’s seated on his holy throne. Once again, the ark was his throne on earth and it was regarded as holy, so that no one could approach it and live, apart from the High Priest. But his true throne is in heaven, which is the true holy place.
So, we’re to praise the Lord, because he is the King over all the nations. And then we come to the final verse, which is surprising perhaps, because the psalmist anticipates a time in the future when the nobles of the nations will assemble before the Lord ‘as the people of the God of Abraham’. Do you see what he’s saying? The nobles of the nations represent the nations; and the psalmist is saying they will come before the Lord and will be regarded as the people of God. In Old Testament times, the Lord chose one nation and one nation alone to be his people. The people of Israel were God’s chosen people and he revealed himself to them, and to no other nation; and he entered into a covenant with them and with no other nation; and he promised to be their God and they, and they alone, were his treasured possession. But the psalmist looked forward to a time when people from every nation will come before the Lord and they will be added to his people.
It’s interesting that the psalmist should refer to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham’, because didn’t the Lord say to Abraham that all peoples on earth will be blessed through him? And so, perhaps this verse in the psalm is not so surprising, because it was always God’s intention to gather men and women and children from every nation into his kingdom and to bless them.
And finally, the psalmist anticipates a time when the kings of the earth will belong to God. That is, they will be under his authority. Right now, the kings of the earth, and the people of the earth, are in rebellion. But the time will come when they will be under his authority and the Lord will be highly exalted in all the earth.
So, the psalmist calls on people everywhere to praise the Lord, who was conquered nations on behalf of his people; and has given them life in the Promised Land; where he rules over his people who have come from every nation. And everything is under his authority.
It’s easy enough to see how this psalm foreshadows the gospel and how the Most High God sent his Son into the world to be the King of God’s people on his behalf. And as our great King, the Lord Jesus has conquered sin and Satan by giving up his life to pay for our sins and to set us free from Satan’s grip. And then, after he died, he conquered death by being raised from the grave to live forever. And after his great victory on our behalf over sin and Satan and death, our conquering King ascended to heaven to sit on his throne at his Father’s side, where he is worshipped and adored day and night by the angels and the saints who have gone before us into glory.
And just as God promised the Israelites a land to live in, so the Lord Jesus has promised us a new heaven and earth where his people will live with him forever. And his people will come from every nation, because it was always God’s intention to save Jews and Gentiles, men and women and boys and girls from every nation. He announced it to Abraham, when he promised that all nations will be blessed through him. He referred to it in Psalm 47 and in other places in the Old Testament which spoke of a time when the nations will gather before the Lord. John the Baptist revealed it when he referred to the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lord Jesus confirmed it when he sent his apostles to make disciples of all nations. Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Romans where he wrote of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed that God will save Jews and Gentiles by faith. And John tells us how he saw in heaven a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before God’s throne, worshipping God and his Son. And right at the end of the Bible, we read of the time when all of God’s people will live before him in perfect peace and rest; and everyone who has rebelled against God and who refused to repent will be subdued under him forever.
And so, this psalm anticipates the good news of the gospel and the great hope which God gives to whoever believes in his Son of everlasting life in his presence. And as we turn to God in prayer, we should pray for the fulfilment of this psalm, asking God to draw men and women and boys and girls around the world into his kingdom, so that all over the world people will join together before the Lord to sing praises to him in anticipation of the time when we will praise him together in the new creation to come.