Theme: Our God Reigns
In this week’s lessons we look at the theme of God’s universal kingship, and see that all owe their allegiance to him.
Scripture: Psalm 47:1-9
It will help to make a few observations about Psalm 47 and its place in the Psalter. First, Psalm 47 follows quite naturally after Psalm 46. Psalm 46 is focused on the security of God’s people, noting how God had delivered them from one of their great enemies.2 It challenged the nations to observe that deliverance and stand in awe before God: “Be still and know that I am God: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v. 10). God himself is speaking.
Now, in Psalm 47, the writer addresses the same people, saying, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great king over all the earth” (vv. 1, 2). In other words, he is following up on what God had himself said earlier. Some commentators also see another connection between these psalms. They think that Psalm 47:5 may be referring to the same deliverance of Jerusalem from foreign armies that lies behind the writing of Psalm 46.
A second useful observation is that Psalms 46, 47 and 48 are what are often called “songs of Zion,” because they focus on the city of Jerusalem and God’s protection of it. Psalms 46 and 48 speak of Jerusalem explicitly, calling it “the city of God” (Ps. 46:4), “the city of our God” and “the city of the Great King” (Ps. 48:1, 2, 8). Psalm 47 refers to the city indirectly by speaking of God’s “ascending amid shouts of joy,” perhaps to Jerusalem, and of his being seated there “on his holy throne” (vv. 5, 8).
The psalm begins, then, with praise of God as “the great King over all the earth,” and it invites people of the nations to join the psalmist in this praise (vv. 1, 2). Of course, at the present time the world’s peoples may not all acknowledge God’s rule, but he is ruler nonetheless. He sets up kings and he dethrones them. This is one thing that is meant whenever the Bible talks about God’s kingdom.
In 1934 the great British historian Arnold Toynbee began a study of world history that occupied him until 1961 and eventually filled twelve large volumes.3 In this massive work Toynbee isolated thirty-four distinct civilizations, including thirteen “independent” civilizations, fifteen “satellite” civilizations, and six “abortive” civilizations. Each of these came upon the pages of history for a time and then passed away. Egypt was once a great world power, but it is weak today. Babylon was mighty, but its territory has been divided, and even the discovery of great stores of oil in that area of the world has not restored it or the surrounding nations to a dominant position on the world stage. Greece and Rome, once wonders of mankind, have fallen. The Soviet Union has failed. Even the United States of America, though now at the very pinnacle of world power, will not escape the inexorable law of history, namely: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
When they are strong and victorious, nations fondly suppose that they control their own destinies. But it is not they but God who is “King over all the earth.” He requires righteousness. Therefore, when nations depart from his ways and arrogantly exalt themselves, God brings them down.
How do Psalms 46 and 47 fit together?
What is a “song of Zion,” and how do Psalms 46-48 deal with this theme?
Reflection: In what ways are you encouraged in how you reflect the righteous living that God requires? What areas do you still need to work on in light of God’s holiness and reign over you?
Key Point: When they are strong and victorious, nations fondly suppose that they control their own destinies. But it is not they but God who is “King over all the earth.” He requires righteousness. Therefore, when nations depart from his ways and arrogantly exalt themselves, God brings them down.
2Either from the armies of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir in the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20) or from the forces of Sennacherib in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18, 19). See discussion of these options in this chapter as part of the study of Psalm 46.3Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1934-1961).