Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.
God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.
– Psalm 47
We often read the Psalms individually, on a case by case basis, without paying too much attention to their sequence and order. However, for some of the Psalms at least there does appear to be a connection, some sort of flow between them. Psalm 46 and 47 are good examples of this.
Psalm 46 is a confident assertion, in uncertain times, that Israel’s God can be relied upon, that in an insecure world he is our ultimate security. Psalm 47 very much builds upon that. The Psalmist’s conviction that Jerusalem will not fall (46:5) turned out to be well placed (at least in the short term) and Psalm 47 seems to be a joyous, almost riotous celebration that Israel has indeed been delivered from her enemies.
Verses 2–9 look like a fairly typical example of the theology of the victor, the depressing ‘our God is the true God because our armies have duffed up your armies’ sort of thinking. From verse 2 onwards it all looks a bit triumphalist, a paean of praise to a national deity, no different to that you might expect from any pagan nation that had proved victorious in battle.
Normally the twist in the tale comes at the tail but here it’s at the beginning. The rest of the Psalm talks of nations being subdued (v3), of people being trampled underfoot (v. 3), of the rulers of the nations belonging to God as if they were humiliated defeated captives (v. 9). The great shouts of joy (v. 5) might be taken as being those of the victors who have triumphed over their enemies and are sharing out the spoils.
The opening verse of the Psalm though gives a very different way, a quite surprising way, of reading those verses. There’s much more going on here than first meets the eye. Instead of being lorded over and silenced, the subdued nations are invited to join in with the shouts of joy and to join in with the applause.
Here we see the truth that Israel was prone to forget. Going back as far as Abraham she was called not for her sake alone but was called on behalf of others. God was blessing Abraham in order to bless the nations through him.
Of course, it’s not just Israel who had a tendency to forgetfulness, we do too. Yes, let us revel in the victory that God has won. Let us rejoice and be glad that by Christ’s death he has broken the power of the devil who holds the power of death and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15), let us celebrate that in Christ he has disarmed the powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2.15), let us delight that his Spirit dwells within us and we are no longer slaves to sin. Let us never forget the victories that God has won but let us also remember that the blessings God has given us, spiritual or material, are not for our sake alone but are to be shared as generously as he has shared with us.