Theme: God’s Rule
In this week’s lessons we see what it means for God to reign over all.
Scripture: Psalm 93:1-5
Psalm 93 is the first of a group of eight psalms dealing with the kingly reign of God, that is, with a theocracy. So let me begin our study with two questions about the word “theocracy.” First, where does the word come from, and who was the first person in history to use the term? Second, what does “theocracy” mean?
It might interest some people to know that “theocracy” was coined by Josephus, the Jewish historian, not long after the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Against Apion, 2, 17). As far as its meaning is concerned, Josephus used “theocracy” to describe the distinct quality of Israel’s government, as opposed to that of the nations round about. They were either monarchies, oligarchies or democracies, but Israel was a theocracy, said Josephus. Monarchy is a form of government in which rule is in the hands of a single individual, a king. Oligarchy is government by an elite few, which is what the Greek word oligoi (“few”) means. Democracy is government by the demos or people. Theos means “god.” So, by contrast, a theocracy is the direct rule of a people by God as king.
Franz Delitzsch gave theocracy a formal biblical definition when he wrote: “Theocracy…is a reciprocal relationship between God and men, exalted above these intermediary forms [monarchies, oligarchies or democracies), which had its first manifest beginning when Jahve became Israel’s King (Deut. 33:5; cf. Exod. 15:18), and which will be finally perfected by its breaking through this national self-limitation when the King of Israel becomes King of the whole world.”1
The ultimate fulfillment of the promise inherent in the word “theocracy” is the present and coming reign of our great Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
The point I am making is that Psalm 93 describes a theocracy, as do the seven psalms that follow it.2 The words Yahweh melek (“Jehovah reigns” or “Jehovah is king”) are the watchwords of these theocratic psalms. But the theocracy they describe is more than Josephus had in mind when he invented the word. He meant the direct rule of Israel by Israel’s God. The psalms describe God’s rule of the entire earth and indeed the universe.
H. C. Leupold wrote, “This brief psalm is mighty in utterance, colorful in language, and a strong incentive to faith.”3 In one sense, Psalm 93 is an unfolding of the truth in just one verse of Psalm 92, that is, verse 8: “But you, O LORD, are exalted forever.” Yet what does that mean? How is God exalted? The answer is in the psalms we are to study.
Psalm 93 has three parts, well-marked by the stanzas of the New International Version: 1) the reign of the sovereign God (vv. 1, 2); 2) the turmoil of the world over which God reigns (vv. 3, 4); and 3) two important characteristics of God’s kingdom (v. 5).
1Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 73.
2Psalm 94 is sometimes said to be an exception, a break in the pattern. However, although it does not specifically refer to Jehovah as a king, it does refer to his being the judge of the whole earth, which is an aspect of God’s kingly rule. It is the psalm’s theme. In a theocracy the roles of king and judge are one.
3H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 663.
Define “theocracy.” What is the promise inherent in it?
How does Josephus’ definition of theocracy differ from the psalmist’s description?
What are the three parts of the psalm?
Application: How often do you think about the fact that God is king? How can your prayers reflect that truth?
For Further Study: For more on the idea of God as King, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “King of All the Earth.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)