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The Noblemen Gather the People to God

“The noblemen of the people gather the people of the God of Abraham for to God are the shields of the earth. He is to be greatly exalted!”

(Psalm 47:10 {verse 9 in English translations})

 

The close of this psalm begins with an interesting visual picture. First of all, the term that we render as “noblemen” is the word byIdÎn (nadib) speaks of one who distributes or provides for those in his care. Thus, the idea conveyed by the term is not so much one of rank, but of activity. Similarly, the language of gathering is a farming analogy — the psalmist speaks one of gathering together the people like one would harvest grain or corn. Essentially what is being conveyed is that those who are leaders of men — responsible for providing for those under them — have a spiritual obligation to gather their people together — not just with a common vision or for work, but to exalt the God of creation.

How the nobles of our world have fallen short in their tasks. How often even those who are tasked with leadership in the church fall short of their task. So much time gets spent on managing money and wealth that often the point behind the wealth is missed entirely. For even the wealth with which we have been entrusted is to be used to the glory of God. If, once everything has been said and done, people are not gathered to worship our risen King, then leadership has missed its greatest aim and purpose. Paul writes to Timothy telling him that the people are to be in prayer for their civil leaders…why? So that they may live peaceful and godly lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2) — a life that can only be had when worship is your first and highest goal.

What follows the phrase about the people being gathered to God is the language of shields. What does it mean that the shields of the earth are to God? There are several ways in which this phrase could be understood. The word N´gDm (magen), or “shield,” can be understood literally as a piece of armor that would be used in warfare. Indeed, the armies of the earth — even the pagan armies — belong to God and will be used and disposed of to bring about his good and sovereign will. Yet, this term can also be used figuratively, which seems a better interpretation in the context of this psalm. Princes over the people provide protection for their charges — in fact, on an earthly level, that is one of the most significant tasks a prince must do. Thus, in a couplet, we find the Prince’s duties joined together in one — in terms of eternal priorities, he must bring his people to God and in terms of earthly priorities, he must protect them — something that can only be done effectively when the people find their refuge in the God of Israel.

And thus people from, all across the earth — Jew and Gentile — are brought before the throne of God — brought together as one flock. Indeed, that is something that is promised to take place fully and completely at one time — some to glory and some to eternal judgment. And God is to be greatly exalted for his work. May we all be found as wheat in the great mill press of God.

Therefore, God has exalted him and has graciously given him the name that is above all names, in order that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heavenly places, earthly places, and places under the earth, and that every tongue would admit that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:9-11)

God Reigns from His Holy Throne

“God reigns over the peoples; God sits upon his holy throne.”

(Psalm 47:9 {verse 8 in English translations})

 

The plain theme of God’s lordship and rulership over his creation continues through this verse as we move through the psalm — God is worthy of our praise — he alone is King and Ruler and Sovereign over those who serve him and over his enemies as well. Yet, how is it that God is King over all of the peoples? All of the peoples certainly do not serve him nor do all of the peoples acknowledge his kingship. So how are we to understand this clause.

Though God does not take away our liberty to go here or there or to do this or that, he has created us in such a fashion that we fulfill his design for us individually and in the world. Thus, by God’s providential governance, he orders the events of our lives so to bring about his designs. That means that even the most hardened atheist who rails against God with fist clenched and shaking in the air is still under the Lordship of God’s plan and design. They might not acknowledge Him or recognize Him in their life, but nevertheless he is there. Indeed, there will come a time and a day when they will confess that great truth (Philippians 2:9-11), but the reality is in place even now and has always been in place.

There is another principle that needs to be turned back towards home, and that is our obedience to and submission before the rule of God. God calls us to submit to Him; we tend to do what we want even though at times what we want does not honor Him. And we do it anyway. We, like the atheist, are often guilty of raising our clenched fists against God even if we do so only by our choice of actions. We too are worthy of His judgment. Forgive us, Lord, for we indeed have willfully sinned against you!

And in Christ, there is mercy, there is peace, and there is hope. We need to remind ourselves of these things because in our sin we tend to draw ourselves away from the mercies of God and from his forgiveness. We are not given license to sin in Christ, but when we do sin, we are given forgiveness and praise be to God for that! Our debt has been paid by Jesus Christ, loved ones, let us live like it and live in a way that seeks consistently to honor the one who sacrificed so much for us and now who sits exalted on his throne on high. Our God does indeed reign from his Holy throne; let us live like it.

Sing with Understanding

“God is King over all of the earth; sing a maskil!”

(Psalm 47:8 {verse 7 in English Translations})

 

Once more, to drive the great Truth home, the psalmist proclaims that God is indeed the sovereign king over all of his creation — and he indeed is not done doing so! Surely it is true that we need to be reminded of this great truth regularly for though our words don’t betray or disbelief; our actions regularly betray that we do not believe this to be true. We act as if we are our own masters and kings, yet God is king and sovereign over all he has made.

There is something curious about the way some translations handle the final word of the psalm. The last term is the Hebrew word lyI…kVcAm (maskiyl). The term itself appears 13 times in the superscripts of the psalms identifying the type of song that a given psalm happens to be. In each of these cases, the term is usually left untranslated. This verse contains the 14th use of the term in the Hebrew Bible, yet here, most of our English Bibles seem to translate it in some way, whether it be rendered “a song of praise” or “sing with understanding,” it is being rendered in a way that it is never rendered any of the other times it is found in the Bible, which seems odd to me — hence here, as in the superscripts, I have left the term untranslated.

Leaving it untranslated, though, does not mean that the term does not communicate any valuable information. It is believed that lyI…kVcAm (maskiyl) is derived from the term lAkDc (sakal), which refers to having insight or understanding in a particular area. Arguably, one could state that these psalms labeled as Maskils are psalms of understanding or Truth (of course, that term can apply to all of the psalms) — and note, that this particular psalm is not listed as a maskil, it is only commanding us to sing a maskil.

I am afraid that one of the things that we have lost in our culture is a deep understanding for theology and for the theology of our hymns. While I do enjoy praise music and we incorporate it into our worship services, there is no question that the lyrics, while not necessarily bad, don’t teach a great deal of theology. Granted, it is true that many of our traditional hymns don’t teach us much either, but that statement cannot be consistently made across the spectrum of our hymnody — much of which is deep in the meaning it contains. In any case, many western believers have fallen into the trap of singing words without reflecting what it is that they are saying — often singing things that are entirely contrary to the way they live:

“I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love…”

“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold…”

“Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee…”

“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take him at his word…”

“Righteousness, Righteousness, is what I long for…”

And the list goes on…

My point is not to condemn singing or the songs we sing…not for a moment! My point is that we fail to pay close attention to what it is that we are singing and we fail even more to attend our lives to living out the words of the songs we sing. If we sing words without understanding, is that of any value to us or interest to God? Loved ones, may we take the command of the psalmist to heart and indeed sing songs with our understanding as well as with our voices.

Sing! Sing! Sing!

“You must sing to God; you must sing! You must sing to our King; you must sing!”

(Psalm 47:7 {verse 6 in English translations})

 

Some of our translations insert the word “praises” into the text to read: “sing praises.” Though this is not a wrong inference, it is an inference nonetheless. What is most significant to understand about the command to “sing” to honor God is that the form of the verb is in what is called the “Piel” stem, implying repeated action. We are not only to sing praises to God, but we are to do so repeatedly. Notice too, the word “King” is understood properly here to be referencing God as the King, not the king that has his throne in Jerusalem. This is indicated both by the context of the psalm as a whole that speaks of God as the great king over the earth but also by the verse itself that sets up two parallel statements to add intensification. The command is given for us to sing twice and the “to whom” is the same as indicated by the parallel structure of this verse.

And oh, how many of our churches must stand convicted by the words of this psalm. How often people hardly sing as hymns are lifted up to God. While I am not advocating that people stand and bawl over all others, I am advocating that people sing with heart with the same passion as they sing along with the radio in their automobile as they drive from place to place. Sing the words with passion and zeal and with attention to the words that are printed on the page. Do you really mean the words that you are singing? Then again, perhaps that is why people don’t sing with zeal in our culture anymore — they don’t mean the words anyhow! Yikes! Isn’t that convicting!

Loved ones, song is one of the gifts that God has given to us — no other creature shares that capacity. True, some birds and other animals have what we refer to as a “song,” but here I am talking about the expression of ideas to music in a way that is melodious and edifying to all involved. We have been made to sing (amongst other things). So, let us do it! Though the organ might fill the sanctuary with sound, surely several hundred voices — even fifty or one hundred voices — should be able to dwarf the sound of the instrument’s tones. Let us commit to sing, an to sing repeatedly, continually through our lives to the praise and honor of our God and King. Let Christ’s wonderful salvation be your story and your song as you praise your savior all the day long…

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long.

-Fanny Crosby

Rejoice the Lord is King!

“God has gone up with a shout of jubilation; Yahweh with the voice of a shofar.”

(Psalm 47:6 {verse 5 in English Translations})

 

God has indeed ascended to his throne for he is the true King over Israel and Ruler over all creation. And, just as we find such language here we should not be surprised when we see similar language in the New Testament that speaks of Christ’s exaltation and his enthronement at the right hand of God the Father almighty (see Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). He indeed has “gone up.” The term itself that is employed by the psalmist, hDlDo (alah) reflects the context of worship. With humans it reflects the idea of going up to Jerusalem or to the high places to make a sacrifice — for God it means to his holy Temple and to his throne in Heaven. It is language that must be accompanied by jubilation — and that is exactly what takes place. Not only are there shout of jubilant worship, but there is also the playing of the shofar — the trumpet made from a ram’s horn — which again implies a context of worship in the temple of God.

The verses that follow will be verses of praise and adoration that flow naturally from the lips of the psalmist. Sadly, I wonder how naturally they fall from our own lips. I wonder how naturally they flow out of our own lives. May our words and actions be consistent with this psalm. May our heart rejoice in the knowledge that God is our king and that he will rule our lives (whether we like it or not!). And may we rejoice in the rule of our king, ordering our days through good times and through trials to his glory and praise (it is not about us anyway!).

Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;

Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

-Charles Wesley

The Inheritance of God

“He chose our inheritance for us — the splendor of Jacob, whom he loves! Selah!”

(Psalm 47:4 {verse 5 in English Translations})

 

In the immediate sense, the psalmist is clearly thinking about how God is the one who not only brought the people into Canaan, casting out the Canaanites, but also that it is God who set aside the promised land in the first place and that it is God who gave to each tribe of Jacob a portion and an inheritance in the land. The only exception being the Levites, who were scattered as ministers of grace throughout the land and whose inheritance was God himself.

That statement in itself is enough to dig deeply into, but there is more to what is in sight. You see, an inheritance is something that is secured by the Father and then given to the children. Indeed, such is the way that God brought Israel into the land, scattering armies and nations ahead of them by divine might, but that also takes us back to another inheritance that was given — that of the world to Adam and Eve and repeated in a slightly different form in the Great Commission. No longer is Christ’s church bounded by physical and geographic borders, but wherever the Spirit will lead we must go. As the old hymn goes, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north!”

What is very sad, as you look at ancient Israel, is how far shy of the original boundaries that God set that they came. The original promise given to Abraham included everything bounded by the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River to the East (Genesis 15:18) — yet Israel never realized those borders because of their unfaithfulness to the inheritance they were given. Yet, are we as Christians any less culpable? Truly, in 2000 years of the church age, should we not have been able to spread the Gospel to every corner of the earth? Yet we have not. There are numerous people groups that have neither heard the Gospel nor have access to the scriptures in their native tongue. How sad it is that we too have failed to take the inheritance that our heavenly Father has secured in his Son and given to us.

May the “selah” — the triumphal lifting of ones voices — be a call to us today, here and now, to refocus our hearts and our lives. Let us not remain complacent, but with missionary zeal, may we fill the earth with the Gospel — for this is the inheritance that God has given to us — to we who are true Israel through faith in Jesus Christ — we for whom God has demonstrated his great love by giving us his son Jesus for our salvation.

 

Driving out the Nations; Crushing the Strongholds

“He drove out peoples under us;

Nations under our feet.”

(Psalm 47:4 {verse 3 in English Translations})

 

“The God of Peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet — the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

(Romans 16:20)

 

The Biblical testimony is consistently that if you remember the things that God has done for you in the past, that ought to help you remain faithful in the present. In other words, it is coming to terms with the principle that God has always shown himself faithful, why do you think that this particular crisis will prove to be any different. Historically, when the people remember their roots, God blesses them as they seek to pursue Him; when they forget, they fall into sin and disobedience — often in extreme ways.

In this case, the psalmist is looking back to the conquest of Canaan. A time when none of the opposing nations could stand before the people of Israel as they entered. Even that event, though, was marked by the disobedience of the people and ultimately some Canaanites remained in the land. God allowed them to remain to be a thorn and a snare (Judges 2:3) and to teach them war (Judges 3:2). Even so, it is God that established them in the land; it is God who is the warrior of Israel; and it is God that will cast out the nations before them. Had they been faithful to God in that task, things would have been quite different than they ended up.

Yet need we simply see this as an ancient mandate? By all means, no! The God we worship today is the same God that led Israel through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. He is quite capable of leading us through whatever situation and trials we face in our lives today. Granted, we are not facing wild tribes of Canaanites that want to kill us and whose cities we are to commit to destruction, but we are facing the devil who wants to kill us spiritually and whose strongholds in this world (including those in our lives) we are called to tear down (2 Corinthians 10:4; Matthew 16:18). Will you be faithful is putting these sins to death and tearing down the strongholds that they have created in your life? Will you engage the strongholds of sin in your community as well, seeking to marginalize their influence over your life, your family, your church, your school, your nation? Praise be to the God who crushes those strongholds underneath our feet.

The Great King is to be Feared

“For Yahweh Elyon is to be feared — Great King over all the earth.”

(Psalm 47:3 {verse 2 in English Translations})

 

As kids we were always told that it wasn’t nice to call people names — at least bad names… Yet, there is a practice of scripture of attributing names of honor to God. These names are names that reflect the attributes and character of our God, not the progressive development of a religion like some of the liberal “scholars” would suggest. And what we find in this verse is a grouping of three names that are bound together.

Yahweh is a name we are used to seeing. This is the “I am that I am” name that God gives to himself and provides to Moses, recorded in Exodus 3:14. It is a name that reflects God’s covenantal character of God as well as the eternal nature of his being. God always was, God is, and God always will be. While our existence is measured and bounded by time; time is a creation of God and has no bearing on his being — time has a beginning…God does not. Thus he tells us that we are to know him by Yahweh and by that name he is to be remembered throughout the generations (Exodus 3:15).

The name that is attached to Yahweh is Elyon (pronounced with a long “o”). Usually we render this “Most High,” and that is an accurate rendering of the title. I chose to leave the word untranslated, rather, to help set it apart as part of God’s glorious title of honor here. Elyon was a term reserved for God himself and was not to be given to men. It reflects that God is not the greatest in a set of like beings, but he is a being par-excellence — one of kind and incomparable to others. God stands alone as God. He is mighty and true and if you are going to fear any, this is the one you should fear. Jesus echoes this when he states: “do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28) — Yahweh Elyon is the one of whom Jesus is speaking.

The final title is that of “Great King.” Many translations render this as, “a great king,” and that would be a legitimate translation were the subject being spoken of God himself. God is not just one of many great kings, but he is the great king — he is King over all the earth. While the definite article “the” is not present in the text, the context of the text sets this phrase apart as being a title attributed to God, thus neither article (“the” or “a”) is necessary and we see this again as a title of glory and honor.

You know what is interesting, though… As Christians, we are usually very quick to proclaim that Jesus is indeed the King of all Kings and the King over all the earth, but we rarely act as if he is the King over our lives. Kings make rules and Kings demand the obedience of their subjects. Yet how often we go about our lives acting as if we are our own and making decisions based on our preferences rather than on the basis of obedience to God’s command? I think that there is an explanation for our behavior, though — we do not obey our king because we do not fear him… A double-whammy — a double sin.

Loved ones, our lives are not our own. If we call ourselves Christians, then our lives belong to the one whose name we have taken and into whose name we have been adopted. The house rules demand that we obey if we love Christ (John 14:15). Will we? Will you? Do you fear your heavenly Father in a holy and reverent way that motivates you to a lifestyle that will honor him? In the end, such is the mark of a believer. May we indeed be able to sing the words of the psalmist from the bottom of our hearts in the deepest sincerity in our life here and eternally.

Sons of Korah — Psalm 47

“For the Overseer: A Psalm of the Sons of Korah”

(Psalm 47:1 {superscript in English translations})

 

Once again we find a superscript in the psalm that directs us as to who wrote the work itself. As we have discussed when looking at these other psalms of the sons of Korah, their legacy is one of grace and mercy as well as one of God’s sovereign election. Korah rebelled against God (Numbers 16) and was judged for that rebellion. He and his family were killed by God’s mighty hand. Yet, though God would have been righteous in doing so, God chose to preserve the sons of Korah, and they did not die in that time of judgment (Numbers 26:11) and permitted them the honorable position of being keepers of the entrance to the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19). Though they might have been worthy of judgment, God spared them and reinstated their family in a place of honor — and it is from this setting of having received grace, the Sons of Korah add to the worship of God’s people words of praise and adoration.

Thus, the psalm is written and is presented to the Levite in charge of the worship in the temple. It is found to be good, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and has been kept by the Spirit throughout the generations as a reminder that the right response to grace is worship. How often we, more like spoiled children, fail to appreciate grace for more than just a few moments. How often worship is something that comes only after our situation has turned out in our favor. How rarely we often proclaim to others the good things that our God has done and call them to worship as well. How often we have failed to learn the lesson of the Sons of Korah that even in the midst of judgment there is a place for praise of an infinite and glorious God and it is right and proper to reflect that in our lives and in our words. May we model the wisdom of these Sons of Korah as we apply this psalm to our lives — day in and day out.