Throughout the Old Testament, we are frequently given glorious visions of God’s glorious plan for our fallen world. It is tempting to say that we are given glimpses of this, but when we finally understand what God has promised us, we start to see His promises everywhere. This psalm is one of many examples.
“O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph . . .” (Psalm 47:1-9).
Structure and Summary of the Text
The psalm is fairly short, and so we may content ourselves with just one division at the conclusion of the fourth verse. The psalm may be a celebration of the occasion when the ark of the covenant was brought up from the household of Obed-edom, or it may be commemorating some other great occasion, perhaps a military victory.
All the people are to clap and shout in joy over the victories of God (v. 1). The Lord is a great king over all the earth, and He, as the Lord most high, is terrible (v. 2). He is the one who will subdue the nations under the Israel of God (v. 3). And God is the one who will choose out our inheritance (v. 4). Meditate on these things.
God has gone up with a shout–as Jesus did in the Ascension (v. 5). We shout (v. 1) because God shouts (v. 5). He goes up to the sound of the trumpet (v. 5). The joy cannot be contained—the imperative to sing praises is given five times in two verses (vv. 6-7). But this is no mindless mantra; we are to sing praises with understanding (v. 7). God is on His holy throne, and from that position of holiness He reigns over the heathen (v. 8). The princes of the people have assembled, including the Jews (v. 9). The shields of earth belong to God, and He is exalted beyond all praise (v. 9).
Clap Your Hands
Let us begin here with an obvious question here. Why do Reformed people like to sing psalms, but they don’t like to do what those psalms talk about—like clapping our hands? And the answer needs to be a little more thoughtful than “I can’t clap my hands because that would make me drop my psalter” or “I left the charismatic church fifteen years ago.”
As we learn to clap our hands in exaltation and triumph, as Adam Clarke pointed out, it should be done: 1. Cheerfully (v. 1)—shout with triumph; 2. Universally (v. 1)—all ye people; 3. Vocally (v. 1)—shout; 4. Frequently (vv. 6-7)—sing praises, sing praises, sing praises; 5. And with wisdom (v. 7)—praise Him with understanding.
The Lord Most High Is Terrible
That which is terrible when God is opposed to us is an unspeakable comfort when He is not. And since God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, we know what demeanor we are to assume. But note the cheerful exultation in this psalm—God most high is terrible, but this does not terrify us, but rather makes us glad.
He Shall Choose Our Inheritance
The Lord most high is the one who chooses our inheritance. He chooses our lot. He has apportioned the land before us. The people are subdued beneath us, and the nations are brought under our feet. These are the same people who are invited to join us in our exultation (v. 1). They are conquered and converted. God reigns over the heathen (v. 8). He gathers all the princes of the earth, and is exalted over them (v. 9).
But if God chooses the inheritance of Israel, and He has, then He also chooses the apportionment of the smallest tribe of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin. And, that being the case, He also chooses the inheritance of the least member in the tribe of Benjamin. That means that He chooses your inheritance. And if you are a child of God, the lines have fallen for you in pleasant places (Ps. 16: 6).
Praise, Praise, Praise . . . With Understanding
We are not called to “praise, praise, praise” until our brain goes to the screen saver. The reasons we have for praising God are substantive reasons. To use an image of John Stott’s, to offer nothing but “praise Him, praise Him, praise Him” is like trying to eat a bread sandwich. Instead, take one piece of bread (praise Him!) and then another (praise Him!), and in between put all the contents of the sandwich. And take care, like the psalmist frequently does, to build yourself a regular Dagwood. That is what it means to praise with understanding. What does this mean? The defeat of Og and Sihon is the salami, the triumph at the Red Sea is the onion, and so on. And to keep us from becoming abandoning the God of history, we should not forget to include the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
The Shields of Earth
The shield is the noblest of weapons. God elsewhere says that the civil ruler bears the sword (Rom. 13:4), and he does not do it for nothing. So there is a place for that. But here the princes are identified with shields; they don’t bear shields, they are shields. Guardianship and protection are more basic to their identity and office than are punishment and retribution.
The princes gather, and the shields of earth are arrayed along the wall of the City of God—and they are the gold shields of Solomon, not the bronze shields of Rehoboam (1 Kings 10:17; 14:27 ). They are arrayed on the walls of the Church; the Church is not given to decorate the nations, but rather to baptize and disciple the nations. They do not invite the City of God to come into their cities of men as just another sect or mystery religion. Rather the cities of men are invited gather in the City of God, and the kings of the earth bring their honor and glory into the presence of Christ Himself (Rev. 21:24).
God most high is greatly exalted, but note that He is not exalted here in any invisible “spiritual sense.” We ought not to exalt Jesus in the kind of invisible and non-falsifiable ways that a devotee of the Cosmic Muffin could also do and with equal aplomb. We do not serve a Lord who reigns over “everything” but who changes nothing. Our faith in the supremacy of Jesus Christ is not the kind of twilight in which all cats are gray.
The leaves of the tree of life—in our midst—are for the healing of the nations. From the river to the ends of the earth, the Lord will be praised. The Church is the life of the world.