Psalms Bible Study (Worshiping God)

Psalm 47, God Reigns Today


Psalm 47 is another psalm written by the sons of Korah. This is all the information we are given in the superscription concerning this psalm. Psalm 47 can be divided into two sections. The first five verses describe God subjugating the peoples while the last four verses describe God as king over the earth.

I. Praising God In Subjugating the People (47:1-5)

A. Clap your hands

  1. At first reading it would seem the psalmist is asking the worshippers to clap their hands for joy. If we in the twenty-first century were called to clap our hands, we would think of it as a joyful cheer. But that is not exactly what the word means in the Hebrew. The Hebrew idiom “to clap the hands” normally means to strike hands with another individual confirming an agreement between parties (NIV Application Commentary).
  2. If this is the case, then the psalmist is not asking for the applause of the people. Rather, the psalmist is calling on the people to come to a contractual agreement with God. This call to be in agreement with God is the thesis for the psalm. The reason for coming into this contract with God is because God reigns. Verse 2 makes this point, describing God as “a great king over all the earth.” The psalmist does not declare the Lord to be merely the God over Israel. The Lord is the real king over all other kings on the earth.
  3. Jesus taught this very concept to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor over Judea. Pilate, desiring for Jesus to make a defense, asked Jesus if he knew that he had the power to crucify him or to kill him. Jesus responded that this power was only exercised because God had given that power to Pilate (John 19:10-11). God is the real king who has given power and authority to the rulers of the earth.
  4. In the context of this psalm, it is fitting for God to be called the Lord, the Most High. The language clearly states that there is no one or no thing higher than God. To acknowledge the Lord as Most High is to submit to God’s authority. Overall, this is a call for all people to have a humble awareness of their absolute dependence on God. God is awesome. God is king. Therefore, be in agreement with God.

B. Subdue peoples under us

  1. Those who do not come into agreement with God will be subdued. This is illustrated through the conquering of the nation of Israel. Nations were not destroyed simply to give a place for Israel to live nor to expand its borders. God was bringing judgment on these nations because of their wickedness. The peoples who lived in the land of Canaan required judgment. Therefore God used Israel to bring that judgment, destroying the peoples, and giving the land as an inheritance to Israel.
  2. To bring about this nation, God subdued the people of Egypt. God then subdued the Canaanites and other peoples in the land. God subdued the Amalekites, Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, and any other peoples that came up against Israel while they were in agreement with Him. God continued this conquering of people while the people remained in the covenant relationship with him. When the people broke the covenant with God, however, is when we see Assyria and Babylon destroying Israel. God subdues the nations and chooses his people when his people remain in agreement with him.

C. God’s ascension

  1. In verse 5 we read that God has ascended with a shout. This likely is a reference to the glory of God rising up (same Hebrew word), to which to ark of the covenant would be lifted up and the people would shout and follow the cloud of God till it stopped. “Meanwhile, the cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp. Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say: Arise, Lord! Let Your enemies be scattered, and those who hate You flee from Your presence. When it came to rest, he would say: Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:34-36).
  2. When God rose up, it would be to defend his people and conquer their enemies. This is why so many psalms are prayers calling for God to rise up and defend. This imagery began with the ark of the covenant and the glory of the Lord rising up against the nations as they progressed to the promised land.

II. Praising God As King Over Earth (47:6-9)

A. God reigns

  1. In verses 6-7 the psalmist calls upon the people five times to sing to the Lord. “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. Sing praises with a skillful psalm.” Let the praises never cease to the Lord. The reason for the call of this fivefold command to sing is because God is king of all the earth.
  2. “God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” This statement pictures God as actively ruling over the earth. God is not described as asleep, but sitting on the holy throne reigning over the peoples. This was the great hope of Israel as they believed God was with them, conquering for them, and protecting them from all harm.

B. The peoples of the earth have become the people of God

  1. Verse 9 concludes the psalm speaking about how the pagan peoples have become the people of God. The princes, as representatives of the people of the earth, now are the people of God.
  2. There is debate as to exactly what this means. Some commentators think that this is a prophetic statement that has not been fulfilled yet. But I believe we can see what the people of Israel were looking toward as they sang these words and offered God this praise.

III. Application

A. Ultimate reality in Christ

  1. As we examine this psalm we must remember that the Jews understood the psalms not only in an historical context but also in a current context and Messianic context. After this psalm was written, the Jews throughout time would apply these words to their current situation, while recognizing that its meaning was originally in the past. But the Jews believed that the ultimate fulfillment of these words would be found in the Messiah. I believe this is certainly true for psalm 47.
  2. Taking the view of the Messiah, we see that the Messiah would be the king over all the earth, subduing nations under their feet. This helps give us a perspective and understanding as to why the Jews in expected the Messiah to free them from the Roman Empire. The Jews expected the Messiah to rule over the kings of the earth by overthrowing Rome.
  3. Christ the King. Jesus declared himself to be king. ” Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). But he was not the king the Jews were expecting. When Jews read that the Messiah would be king of the earth, they assumed he would be king by physical means. But Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here” (John 18:36).
  4. Furthermore, the apostles recognized Jesus as king, even after his death. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17). In speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul said: “He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom none of mankind has seen or can see, to whom be honor and eternal might. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Jesus is the kingly Messiah, but not a kingdom of this world. However, the Messiah does rule over the kings of the earth from a heavenly throne.
  5. Christ’s kingdom. He demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens—far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and ever title given, no only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put everything under His feet…” (Ephesians 1:20-21). This kingdom was prophesied by Daniel concerning the Messiah. “I continued watching in the night visions, and I saw One like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
  6. It is fascinating to me that in the midst of all this description of God ruling is the imagery of God ascending (Psalm 47:5). The reason this is fascinating is because it is at the ascension of the Messiah that he would receive an everlasting kingdom and have everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:13-14). Daniel, in a vision, is seeing the Son of Man (the Messiah) coming in the clouds to the Ancient of Days (the Father).
  7. Commentators think that verse 9 has not been fulfilled. But when we view this psalm in a Messianic context, we can see the peoples of the earth have assembled themselves as the people of the God of Abraham. This psalm is not picturing every person who is alive being a servant of God. Rather, it is picturing what people are able to do that did not exist before. Under the reign of the Messiah, the peoples of the earth (the Gentiles) can now assemble themselves as the people of the God of Abraham. To be the people of the God of Abraham is to be Israel. Now all people, including Gentiles, would have the opportunity to be called Israel, the people of God.
  8. Paul made this point a couple of times. “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, in Isaac your seed will be called. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered seed” (Romans 9:6-8). Paul says that not all of physical Israel was the true Israel because being God’s people was not about physical descent but about being a child of promise through obedience to God.
  9. Paul explains further in Ephesians 2:11-20: “ 11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” done by hand in the flesh. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He did away with the law of the commandments in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. 17 When Christ came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.” We see that Christ has fulfilled Psalm 47:9 by reconciling all people to him, making them all the people of the God of Abraham.

B. Christ rules now

  1. The overwhelming message and hope in psalm 47 is that God is currently ruling. God did not set up Israel and leave them to deal with the powers of the world. When verse 8 says “God sits on His holy throne” it means that God is currently in charge over the affairs of the earth.
  2. In the same way, what does it mean for Christ to reign on the throne? It must mean the same as in the context we are reading in this psalm. Christ is reigning over the nations now. Christ is not like the monarchy in England, simply a figurehead with no real power. The real meaning is the Christ has power and control over the nations of the earth. This was the very point being made in Daniel 7 after describing the Son of Man ascending and receiving the kingdom: “The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:27).
  3. Christ is in charge of the nations now. This is the subtle point Paul made in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” Just as God made the nations rise and fall in the Old Testament (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece) so also God has made nations rise and fall in the New Testament (Rome, Jerusalem). God still institutes governments and destroys governments.
  4. This is a message of hope to the holy ones of God. We are part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken and will never end (Hebrews 12:28). We need to think more about the rule that we are truly under. While we live in the United States of America, we are under the rule of Christ. We are fellow heirs and fellow partakers in the true kingdom of this earth that cannot be seen but truly exists. God’s power will never fail even if all the world powers were to come against.
  5. Therefore, we need to clap our hands. We are not to clap our hands in applause, though we ought to appreciate what God has done for us in giving us such a kingdom. Rather we are to clap our hands with God. We need to be in agreement with his covenant. We must uphold our end of the covenant or we will be removed from God’s kingdom. Are we living like citizens of God’s kingdom or like citizens of prince of the power of air? It is our choice as to which kingdom we will be citizens.
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