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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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PSALM 47

GOD THE KING OF THE EARTH

THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST

There are three different interpretations for this chapter, listed by Baigent as, (1) "The celebration song of a recent historical victory, (2) a hymn anticipating the future establishment of the kingdom of God, and (3) a cultic enthronement hymn."F1

The third so-called "interpretation" we reject altogether as being merely a recent device artificially contrived by critics as a means of excluding any reference here to the Messiah. We do not believe there ever was any such "cultic practice" among the Hebrew people, the whole conception of such a thing being founded merely in men's imagination. Kyle Yates, one of the translators of the RSV, is as knowledgeable as anyone in this generation; and he flatly declared that, "There is no direct evidence that such a festival took place in pre-Exilic days."F2 The same scholar added that, "In its prophetic aspect, this Psalm finds its fulfilment in the future reign of Christ on earth."F3

We accept Yates' statement here as correct, being wrong only in his identifying the reign of Christ as synonymous with the so-called Millennial reign of Christ following the present dispensation.

The current dispensation of the Grace of God is the Millennium. For those interested in a full discussion of this question, we refer to Vol. 12 (Revelation) of our New Testament Series, pp. 449-454.

The so-called "cultic" interpretation is based upon the pagan notion that human nations could "enthrone God" by some ritualistic performance, involving all kinds of pretensions regarding the `magical' power of such ceremonies. As Rhodes said, "In no sense (in this Psalm) is God thought to be enthroned by man through magic ritual."F4 Despite this, Interpreters Bible actually entitled this psalm as, "A Psalm of Yahweh's Enthronement."F5 There never was, even in Babylon, a more pagan notion than this.

For centuries, this Psalm has been sung by the Jews, "In the synagogues on the Feast of Trumpets, the Jewish New Year."F6

The only organization of the psalm which we find is indicated by the word "Selah," which divides the first four verses from the last five. These two divisions, (1) extol the deliverance of Israel from Sennacherib, and (2) prophecy (a) the ascension of Christ, (b) the kingdom of God, (c) and the inclusion of the Gentiles, along with the Jews, in the kingdom of Christ.

Yes, we accept the theory that this psalm was written to commemorate the special delivery of God's people from Sennacherib in 701 B.C. See introduction to the previous chapter. No other deliverance in Jewish history has a better claim of providing the occasion.

PRAISE OF GOD FOR HIS DELIVERANCE

Ps. 47:1-4

Oh clap your hands, all ye peoples;

Shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For Jehovah Most High is terrible;

He is a great king over all the earth.

He subdueth peoples under us,

And nations under our feet.

He chooseth our inheritance for us,

The glory of Jacob whom he loved.

(Selah)"


 
Verses 1-4
Oh clap your hands, all ye peoples; Shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For Jehovah Most High is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth. He subdueth peoples under us, And nations under our feet. He chooseth our inheritance for us, The glory of Jacob whom he loved. [Selah
(Psalms 47:2). It is true that some ancient pagan god is said to have claimed this title; but in the Holy Scriptures, it never refers to a pagan deity, but always to Jehovah Most High, as here.

Is terrible
(Psalms 47:2). This word has a misleading connotation in our day. It does not mean anything repulsive, but something most marvelous and attractive, calling forth our richest praises. `Awe-inspiring' is what is meant.F7

He is a great king over all the earth
(Psalms 47:2). No event in the history of Israel any more demonstrated this truth than the unqualified destruction of the army of Sennacherib. This truth is one that gets overlooked today; but the hand of God continually moves in human history. He rules in the kingdom of men, exalting whom he will (Daniel 4:25). God has even determined the appointed seasons of nations and the boundaries of their dwelling places (Acts 17:26). Men may not like this, or accept it as a fact; but it is true anyway. It was the Providence of God alone, for example, that gave Babylon the victory over Assyria. An unexpected flood made the difference, just as an untimely rain ruined Napoleon at Waterloo.

He subdueth peoples under us... under our feet
(Psalms 47:3). The Jewish attitude toward the Gentiles surfaces in this, namely, their desire to control and rule over them; but the Holy Spirit overruled this error on their part to prophesy the conversion of the Gentiles and their reception into God's kingdom upon full parity with the Jews, in the very next paragraph.

He chooseth our inheritance for us
(Psalms 47:4). This, of course, was the land of Canaan which God gave to the posterity of Abraham as their inheritance. Although this psalm makes no mention of any conditions, there were nevertheless stern and binding conditions laid down by God Himself, indicating that their inheritance would be taken away from them, that they would be removed from it, and scattered all over the world, unless they remained faithful to God. Anyone doubting that should read the last two or three chapters of Deuteronomy.

The glory of Jacob whom he loved
(Psalms 47:4). Another rendition of `glory' here is `pride'; but either way it is a reference to Canaan the possession of Israel.

PROPHETIC PORTION OF THE PSALM

God is gone up with a shout,

Jehovah with the sound of a trumpet.

Sing praises to God, sing praises:

Sing praises unto our King, sing praises.

For God is the King of all the earth:

Sing ye praises with understanding.

God reigneth over the nations:

God sitteth upon his holy throne.

The princes of the peoples are gathered together

To be the people of the God of Abraham;

For the shields of the earth belong unto God:

He is greatly exalted."


 
Verses 5-9
God is gone up with a shout, Jehovah with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praise to God, sing praises: Sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: Sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the nations: God sitteth upon his holy throne. The princes of the peoples are gathered together [To be] the people of the God of Abraham: For the shields of the earth belong unto God; He is greatly exalted.
(Psalms 47:5). This positively does not mean that, An earthly king `goes up' to the high place where his palace is located.F8 This is merely a deduction based upon the nonsense of a `cultic' interpretation. What earthly king was ever entitled to be called, God?

Then, there is the view that God had, in a sense, "come down" to rescue his people; and after he had done so, of course, he went up to heaven; but this is the utmost abuse of the anthropomorphism inherent in certain Biblical statements that God "came down," as in Gen. 11:5. Never for one moment did God actually leave heaven and come down to earth either to inspect men's works, or to thwart them. It seems to us that even simple, uneducated people should certainly know a basic truth like that.

Note that the text says nothing of God's "coming down" to destroy Sennacherib; it is only the `interpreters' who come up with statements like that; and we wish to affirm that God did not come down from heaven in order to deliver the Jews from Assyria. He did not need to come down, nor did he do so. Therefore God's "going up" is no reference whatever to his going back to heaven after coming down to help the Jews.

In the history of mankind, God literally came down from heaven to this earth, only once, and that was in the person of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. He, alone, was the Day Spring who visited us from "On High."

God went up
(Psalms 47:5). Our text states that God went up, and as Delitzsch stated it, The ascent of God presupposes a previous descent.F9 No doubt Delitzsch followed the wisdom of the apostle Paul in this, for that apostle made exactly the same argument, speaking of the ascension of Christ, he wrote: Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended (Ephesians 4:9)?

Note that in the apostolic usage of this terminology that it was a literal "coming down to earth" and "going up to heaven" that was meant. There was no anthropomorphism whatever. For these reasons, we hold that God's "going up" in this passage is a prophetic reference to the Ascension to heaven of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the reason that Christian scholars for centuries have called this "One of the Ascension Psalms." Moreover, "The traditional use of this Psalm in the historical Church is for `The Festival of the Ascension.'"F10

Sing praises
(Psalms 47:6-7). This command occurs no less than five times in these two verses, indicating that something far more important, even, than the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib, is indicated in the words just spoken, that God is gone up, implying, as it does, that he had also come down. What could that super-important event be? Only the visitation of Christ in the Incarnation and his exaltation at the right hand of God could be meant.

Kidner tells us that in the Hebrew, there is only a single word which is here repeatedly rendered, "Sing praises."F11

God reigneth over the nations; God sitteth upon his holy throne
(Psalms 47:8). This verse enables us to know the identity of God who went up (Psalms 47:5). He is the God who rules over the Gentiles (the `nations') in his kingdom, and who during that time is `sitting upon his holy throne.' The special application of this terminology to Jesus Christ is well known to every Christian, the same being a strong indication that Ps. 47:5 is indeed a prophecy of Christ's ascension.

We noted that one reason, perhaps, for the Spirit of God's inclusion of this prophecy in proximity to the Jewish boast of trampling the Gentiles under their feet in the first section, was for the purpose of rebuking that selfish and egoistic principle that apparently dominated the Jewish mind.

The princes of the peoples are gathered together to be the people of the God of Abraham
(Psalms 47:9). The `peoples' here are the `nations,' i.e., `the Gentiles,' who are said to be gathered together for the purpose of becoming the people of the God of Abraham. In all the Bible there is not a clearer prophecy of God's converting the Gentiles and of bringing them into the kingdom of God, alongside the Jews, than we have here. Paul stated that:

There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be no male and female; for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus; and if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. -- Gal. 3:28-29.

Thus, as several writers have pointed out, we have the fulfilment here of what God promised Abraham, that through him "all the families of the earth would be blessed" (Gen. 12:3, and Gen. 17:4).

The shields of the earth
(Psalms 47:9). Dummelow gave the meaning of this as the princes of the earth.F12 Apparently the meaning here relates to the rulers of all the Gentile nations. God's ownership and his kingship over all things and all men are effectively stated here,

The very fact of God, in some meaningful sense, ruling over all nations and all men is a truth that identifies the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus there are three tremendous prophecies in these five verses: (1) the Incarnation of Christ, certified by his ascension, (2) the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, and (3) the union of both Gentiles and Jews in the Messianic phase of God's kingdom.

In these last verses, "All peoples and nations are called upon to desist from opposing God, and to accept him as their exalted Sovereign."F13

When all nations shall submit to Christ, and all the peoples of mankind bow down before him, and when rebellion and resistance to his will have ceased, then shall come to pass what is written:

"THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD IS BECOME THE

KINGDOM OF OUR LORD AND OF HIS CHRIST; AND

HE SHALL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER."

-- Rev. 11:15


Footnotes for Psalms 47
1: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 631.
2: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Old Testament, p. 512.
3: Ibid.
4: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 81.
5: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. IV, p. 245.
6: W. E. Addis, p. 380.
7: H. C. Leupold, p. 370.
8: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. IV, p. 246.
9: F. Delitzsch, Vol. V-B, p. 99.
10: H. C. Leupold, p. 369. <11> Derek Kidner, Vol. I, p. 178.
12: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 348.
13: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 80.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 47". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=047>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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