Theme: “King of the Jews”
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
Yesterday we said that God brings down arrogant nations that trust in their own strength. In the Bible, the book that makes this point most emphatically is Daniel. The story of King Nebuchadnezzar teaches it. But I pass over Nebuchadnezzar’s story to that of his son Belshazzar. Belshazzar had given a party in which he had defiled the vessels that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar sacked the city. In the midst of this party, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the palace wall. Belshazzar and his guests became frightened.
The writing said: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN”4 (Dan. 5:25). It meant, “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” That is, God had numbered the days of Belshazzar’s reign and brought it to an end; Belshazzar had been weighed and found wanting; and now his kingdom was to be divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
When Daniel was summoned to the banquet and asked to explain what this meant he told Belshazzar, “The Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor…. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this” (Dan. 5:18, 20-22). That night the city was overthrown, Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede reigned in his place.
Daniel spoke to Belshazzar in the name of the “Most High God.” It is significant, therefore, that this is the name the author of Psalm 47 uses in verse 2 when he exclaims, “How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth.” Awesome indeed! The kingdoms of this world rise and fall, but over them all, determining their course and end, stands the “Most High God,” the God of all history.
After this “awesome” beginning, the psalmist seems to drop down a note and reflect on the powerful acts of God on the part of Israel, as if to say that in addition to his being “King over all the earth” Jehovah is Israel’s God specifically. He mentions three things.
The subjection of the land of Canaan under Joshua (v. 3). This is what verse 3 is about. The details of the conquest are in Joshua 6-12.
The gift of the land of Canaan to Jews as their inheritance (v. 4). At first glance, the order between these two items seems backward since we tend to think of God’s first giving the land to the Jewish people and then of their having conquered it. But the psalmist is probably thinking of the division of the land subsequent to the conquest, which is the order found in Joshua. The partitioning of the land, according to the instructions given earlier by Moses, is described in detail in Joshua 13-21. The phrase “pride of Jacob” refers to this land, calling it “our inheritance.”
A more recent deliverance, which is the occasion for Psalm 46 and probably for Psalm 47, too (v. 5). There are two ways God’s ascending “amid shouts of joy” and the “sounding of trumpets” may be taken. Most scholars see this as the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing the presence of God, back into Jerusalem following a battle in which the Jewish armies were victorious. They refer us to 2 Samuel 6, in which David brings the Ark back to the city after the many years it has been in the house of Obed-Edom, particularly to verse 15: “The entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” Scholars like the idea of an ascending and enthroned Ark because it fits with current speculations about a supposed annual enthronement festival in Israel.
What was the meaning and application of the writing on the wall that Belshazzar saw?
What three things does the psalm mention that God did for Israel?
Application: List some ways that the Lord has delivered you.
4Or “UPARSIN,” meaning “AND PARSIN.”