International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Psalm 47:1-9Lesson Title: God’s Rule over the Nations
History is filled with numerous individuals who declared their own glory and splendor. For example, Caesar Augustus issued decrees to proclaim himself the savior of the world. Herod, in Acts 12:20-24 was sitting in his royal apparel as the people publicly declared him to be a god. He accepted their praise and immediately “the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.” The Bible teaches that only the Lord God Almighty is to be worshiped, and His name alone is to be proclaimed throughout the world (2 Kings 17:36; 2 Chronicles 7:19-20; John 4:22-24; Acts 17:23-28; Revelation 22:8-9).
Psalm 47 is a messianic psalm which means it points to the rule and reign of Jesus Christ in His coming kingdom. The author is anonymous and may be attributed to either David or the sons of Korah. Some interpreters suppose it was written on the occasion of the removal of the ark of God to Mount Zion in 2 Samuel 6. However, it seems to fit better with God’s defeat of the armies of Sennacherib in the previous psalm. God promised in Psalm 46:10 that He would “be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” If Psalm 47 was written to celebrate the defeat of Sennacherib and his armies, it not only records the rejoicing of God’s people because of that singular victory, but it also reminded God’s people of His rule over all the nations of the earth (Isaiah 37:18-20).
A Call to Worship (Psalm 47:1-4)
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still…” and Psalm 47:1 says, “O clap your hands…” There is a time for both in worship (Lamentations 2:10; Habakkuk 2:4; Zephaniah 1:7). In Psalm 47 we move from being “still” to clapping hands, shouting, and blowing of the trumpets (Psalm 47:5). Since the emphasis in Psalm 47 is on the kingship of the Lord, the people worshipped Him in the same manner as they welcomed a new king (1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Kings 11:12-13, 20).
“O clap your hands…” is part of the many responses to God recorded in this psalm. Much of the clapping of hands and shouting in worship today is rooted in response to entertainment rather than responding to God’s greatness. When the Jewish people clapped their hands and shouted, it was to the Lord in response to His marvelous works. They did not “clap” to praise the people who participated in the worship service. And neither should we! In Romans 15:11, Paul quotes from Psalm 117:1 when he says, “And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.” Paul’s emphasis in Romans 15:11 “laud him” was to keep the focus on the One we are worshipping and not turn the focus toward people.
Note: The “applause syndrome” of today is largely due to the created show business atmosphere by gospel singers and felt needs preachers. Though there may be times when applause would be fitting, the fundamental question we need to be asking ourselves is not whether we should applaud in church, but how best to respond to God. Singers, preachers, teachers, Christians, need to be reminded that we are not performing. We are ministering!
“Shout unto God” means “raise a sound, cry out.” We do not “shout” to make God hear. God is not hard of hearing (Isaiah 59:1). We “shout” to make all those around us hear, and take notice how much we are affected and filled with the marvelous and victorious works of God as indicated in the psalmist use of the words “voice of triumph.” It is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to God! Thus, “unto God” is where our worship responses should be directed.
“All ye people” means it is not just Israel who is called to worship during times of divine triumph, but the world at large. The call to worship is universal.
“For the LORD most high is terrible” describes the awesomeness of our God. “Terrible” means “to be feared, revered, honored, and respected.” This means that God is awesome to contemplate and think about (Deuteronomy 7:21; Psalm 65:5; 68:35; 76:7-9). “He is a great King over all the earth” means God is “large in magnitude and extent.” God is not just King over Israel, but unto the uttermost parts of the earth, over every nation, the aisles of the sea and all the continents of the world (Psalm 95:3-4; 96:10; 97:1). He is a King that reigns alone and He must be distinguished from among men.
“He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet” speaks of the Lord’s mighty power. “Subdue” means “to lead away, put to flight.” The word refers to God’s power to “subdue” in the “past, present, and future.” All nations that stood in Israel’s way or attempted to stand in their way was brought low and overcome. History verifies that God has done this for His people and Scripture promises He will do it again in His coming kingdom.
Not only is the LORD terrible and powerful, but He is the keeper of promises as indicated in the words “he shall choose our inheritance for us…” God originally chose Canaan as the “inheritance” or “habitation” of His people (Genesis 12:1-7). Later, under David and Solomon, he enlarged the boundaries (Genesis 15:18). He gave them victory over the nations in Canaan and gave them the land for their inheritance (Exodus 15:17; Psalm 135:4). Ultimately, He will rule the world with a rod of iron, through the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The LORD is the lover of His people as stated in “…the excellency of Jacob whom he loved.” Since God chose the Jews in his love and gave them their land in His grace, what right did any nation have in trying to take it from them (2 Chronicles 20:10-12)? The land of Israel is very special to the Lord, and He watches over it (Deuteronomy 8:7-20; 11:10-12). Jerusalem’s deliverance from Sennacherib (Psalm 46) proved once more that the God of Israel was greater than all the gods and deserved all the praise His people could bring to Him.
A Cause to Worship (Psalm 47:5-9)
We can see in our mind's eye a procession through the streets of Jerusalem up to the temple. Verse 5 signals the arrival and approaching the Holy of Holies. It's probably a special occasion, perhaps even a feast day. The entire community has gathered to commemorate and celebrate who God is and what He does. Christians traditionally link this psalm with Christ's ascension or going up into heaven, giving us another upward-moving picture of the Kingship of God.
“God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet” speaks of the ascending of the Lord. The ascending and descending of God is frequently associated in Scripture with a shout and a trumpet signifying victory (1 Thessalonians 4:16). God fills heaven and earth, but when He acts on earth on behalf of His people, the Scriptures sometimes describes Him as “coming down.” He “came down” at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and He also “came down” to deal with the wicked city of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). Therefore, “gone up” is associated with triumph and victory.
Commenting on verse 5, Doctor Warren Wiersbe writes, “David gave a similar description of victory in Psalm 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; Colossians 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 (Ephesians 1:19-22), where He sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).”
As a result of God being “gone up with a shout,” His subjects are advised to, “sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.” Five times in this psalm the people are commanded to “sing praises” to the Lord, who “is the King of all the earth.”
During the reign of Belshazzar the king in Babylon, the Bible says, “They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, or iron, of wood, and of stone” (Daniel 5:4). Should not subjects praise their king? God is our God, our King, and therefore we must praise him; we must sing his praises, as those that are pleased with them and that are not ashamed of them. Our God is “King of all the earth,” not just the King of the Jews and Israel. We must “sing praises with understanding.” That means we should sing praises intelligently, knowing why and for what reasons we sing. Much so-called praise and worship is little more than excited flesh and emotions stirred by musical instruments and flashy preachers who know how to motivate the flesh. “Understanding” means “consider, comprehend.” God through the nation of Israel brought us the knowledge of the one true and living God. The nation of Israel also brought us the Scriptures and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, both Jew and Gentile together through saving grace in Jesus Christ have reason to “sing praises with understanding.”
The words “God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness” are words of confident expectation as the psalmist looks forward to the day when God will reign over all. There is nothing mentioned in this verse about the “heathen” knowing God or recognizing God, yet God will dispose of them as He pleases. It is from His “throne of holiness” that God serves His own purposes upon those who are against Him. Everything God does now and in the future is done in “holiness” without any impure motives or purpose.
“The princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham…” looks forward to the day of the millennial reign of Christ when God will unite all people. Israel is not the only nations to be blessed and redeemed by God. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” This depicts the mass of humanity, crossing all barriers and dividing lines. People from every culture, descent, race, and language. Remember, He “is a great King over all the earth.”
The words “princes of the people” and “shields” in verse nine are the representatives of the nations who are the protectors of the people (Psalm 89:18). This imagery stands as a loose analogy to God’s sovereignly appointed human governors (Romans 13:1–7) as protectors for the masses. The legitimate king of any nation has an obligation to protect his people like a shield from foreign invasion and being overcome by the heathen. However, all these “princes” and “shields” are less than the powerful almighty God (Psalm 119:114). It is God that is to be “greatly exalted.”
Sometimes it is difficult for believers to comprehend the rule of God over the nations. However, our inability to understand it all does not lessen God’s power and should not hinder our praise and worship of Him. Paul said in Romans 11:33, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Like a mountain climber who has reached the peak of Mt. Everest, Paul could only stand in awe and amazement at God and His ways with men and nations.
It is highly unlikely that we will ever see presidents, kings, queens, ambassadors, prime ministers, governors and senators join with the citizens in clapping their hands, shouting to the Lord, and blowing trumpets of victory. But that shouldn’t stop those of us who know our God from lifting our voices in praise and singing songs to the glory of His name. He is the only true God and may His named be praised forever and forever! And may that praise start right now from the lips of the redeemed!
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