Summary: May 9, 2002 -- THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD Psalm 47 Color: White Title: “Being “in charge” When we ignore God as our king and replace ourselves on his throne, we might get away with it for a while, but not for long.
May 9, 2002 -- THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD
Title: “Being “in charge” When we ignore God as our king and replace ourselves on his throne, we might get away with it for a while, but not for long.
This is a hymn in praise of Yahweh as universal king over all the peoples of the earth. It’s sentiments and its setting fits quite well the time of King David. It was David who brought the ark of the covenant, the primary sign of God’s presence in the midst of the Israelites, into Jerusalem. This was the very ark carried into many battles to protect the Israelites and bring victory over otherwise insurmountable odds. Yahweh was imagined and believed to be present between the two flanking cherubim on the sides of the ark. It was Israel’s holiest symbol and when Solomon, David’s son, subsequently built the Temple, the ark was solemnly placed in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room of the Temple, entered only once a year by the high priest to offer sacrifice.
Naturally, hymns would be written to celebrate and remember specific victories the Israelites won throughout their long history and Psalm 47 would be one of those hymns. However, the specific victory it celebrates has been lost in history, thanks to its repeated use on other occasions less specific. As it comes down to us, Psalm 47 is a more generalized hymn of a more general condition, namely, the universal rule and sovereignty of God. True, God, called then Yahweh, showed his power by some military success over enemies on some battlefield in the past and true, that victory inspired this hymn to celebrate it. However, the hymn like most hymns and anthems, e.g., the U.S. National Anthem, has been pressed into service for other occasions. Yet, it does not lose its fundamental message, namely, that God is king, the only real king, of the entire world. And, if God is universal king, then all peoples, no matter how diverse, are fundamentally one: one king, one people, one earth, one land.
This hymn shares much in common with other hymns Psalms 93, 96, 97, 98, and 99. Scholars call them “enthronement hymns,” because they believe, without any real proof, though, that the Israelites had a ceremony every New Year’s Day celebrating the enthronement of Yahweh as king, modeling it after a king’s coronation. We need not get into the discussion about whether or not that is true. However, there is an important point about enthronement psalms. They start out as victory psalms, a specific historical victory celebrated in song, and after a significant passage of time, after the original enthusiasm of the victory has waned, the emphasis becomes not winning but peacefully sitting and basking in the aftermath or long term results of the victory. Thus, former enemies once conquered in battle, after the passage of time, become co-worshippers united under the same Lord. Then, there is a desire to go back periodically, yearly, and remember the original experience in order to re-capture the original enthusiasm and joy, now in danger of being lost, as well as to bring to conscious awareness that the new state of affairs is also beneficial to those who seemed at the time to have lost the battle.
The structure of the psalm is both simple and typical of hymns: Verse two, is a call to praise; verses three to six, praise God’s victories; verse seven, repeats the call to praise; and verses eight to ten, praise God’s sovereignty.
Verses one, For the leader. A psalm of the Korahites: Some psalms have these superscriptions connected to them. For the most part scholars cannot agree of what they mean. They seem to be either directions on how to sing the psalm or categories of what type the psalm is. The Korahites mentioned here area good example of the confusion. They are mentioned in Gen36: 5ff as belonging to the Horite-Edomite clan and according to 1Chron2: 43 they are supposed to have joined the Judeans. However, in post-exilic times they show up as a separate group in the records of the, now defunct, temple personnel, where they seem to have been a guild of singers, possibly having composed or edited their own songbook.
In verse two, All you peoples: Despite the battles between and among neighboring groups, nations, there was a fundamental belief that at root all peoples were one under the kingship of Yahweh.
Clap your hands, shout to God: Liturgies then were livelier than most liturgies today and people saw no disrespect in handclapping or exuberantly shouting. Clapping one’s hands was a physical way of expressing “Amen,” agreement, solidarity, and joy. Shouting was louder as the reason for praising was stronger.
In verse three, For the Lord, the Most High: “For” Hebrew ki is an important word in hymns of praise. It introduces the reasons for praising or acknowledging. “Most High” was a title referring to the chief god of the gods, the king even of the gods. This god was rather aloof and removed from humans, leaving communication with earthlings to lesser gods. However, the Hebrews, while respecting Yahweh’s transcendence, also felt comfortable communicating directly with the Most High God, something other religions did not dare do.