Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm is an expansion of the thought of Psalm 46:10. Zion’s King is the true ‘great King’ (Psalm 48:2), the King of all the earth. All nations are summoned to pay homage to the God who has proclaimed and proved His supremacy by His recent triumph over the heathen. The occasion of the Psalm was probably the same as that of Psalms 46, 48, though the allusions to the circumstances are less definite, and the resemblances to the prophecies of Isaiah are less marked than in those Psalms. But it celebrates a recent victory, after which God, who had ‘come down’ to fight for His people (Isaiah 31:4), had ‘ascended up’ in triumph to heaven (Psalm 47:5). The discomfiture of Sennacherib was precisely such a triumph; a lesson, as Isaiah repeatedly implies, to the nations not less than to Judah, of Jehovah’s supreme sovereignty.
The similarity of the Psalm to Psalms 93, 96-99, has led many commentators to connect it with the Return from Exile. There seems however to be scarcely sufficient reason for separating it from the Psalms between which it stands, and with both of which it has links of connexion.
It is rightly regarded as a Messianic Psalm, inasmuch as it looks forward to the submission of all the nations of the world to Jehovah as their King; and it has naturally, on account of Psalm 47:5, been used from ancient times as a special Psalm for Ascension Day. Not that Psalm 47:5 is a prophecy of the Ascension; the context makes it plain that it cannot be so regarded. But the words originally spoken of Jehovah’s return to His throne in heaven (as we speak) after His triumph over the deadly enemies of His people, may be legitimately applied to the return of Christ to heaven after His triumph over sin and death, to take His seat upon His throne of glory at the right hand of God.
It is the New Year’s Day Psalm of the Synagogue, recited seven times previous to the blowing of the Trumpets, which marked that festival (Numbers 29:1).
The Psalm consists of three stanzas:
i. An universal summons to praise Jehovah, the King of all the earth, who has chosen Israel to be His people (Psalm 47:1-4).
ii. A repeated summons to sing His praises, in view of the recent manifestation of His sovereignty (Psalm 47:5-7).
iii. The ultimate realisation of that sovereignty in the homage of the princes of the nations (Psalm 47:8-9).
To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah. O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.1. all ye people] Render all ye peoples, here and in Psalm 47:3; Psalm 47:9 a. It is the nations of the world who are addressed. They are summoned to salute Jehovah, as a new king was saluted on his accession, with clapping of hands (2 Kings 11:12) and shouting (1 Samuel 10:24). Cp. Numbers 23:21, where “the shout of a king” means the shout with which Israel celebrates the Presence of Jehovah in its midst as a victorious king.
triumph] The cognate verb is used in Psalm 20:5 of the joyous shouting which welcomes the victorious king.
1–4. A summons to all nations to acknowledge Jehovah as their King. He has proved His sovereignty by subjecting the nations to His own people and assigning to it the choicest land for its inheritance.
For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.2. We may also render as in R.V. marg.,
For the Lord is most high (and) terrible,
or better still,
For Jehovah, the Most High, the terrible,
Is a great King over all the earth,
for the universal sovereignty of Jehovah is the prominent thought of the Psalm. He is not merely King of Israel (Psalm 47:6) but King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7). It is to Him that the title ‘great King,’ so arrogantly assumed by the king of Assyria (Isaiah 36:4), really belongs. This verse links together Psalm 46:4 and Psalm 48:2. For the epithet ‘terrible’ cp. Psalm 76:7; Psalm 76:12; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17.
He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet.3, 4. It is difficult to decide what is the exact force of the tenses in these verses. The most probable rendering (see Driver’s Tenses, §§ 83 f., 173) appears to be either (1). He subdued the peoples under us … He chose our inheritance for us; referring to the settlement of Israel in Canaan as a proof of the universal sovereignty of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 32:8; Exodus 19:5): or (2), He hath subdued … hath chosen; referring to the recent triumph by which He had once more driven out the enemies of His people from the land, and proved that He had chosen it for their inheritance. The first explanation is preferable, for the second requires a somewhat forced sense to be given to hath chosen, which can hardly be justified even by Isaiah 14:1, Zechariah 1:17. Less satisfactory are the renderings subdueth … chooseth (R.V. marg.), expressing a general truth, though not perhaps without reference to its illustration by recent events: and shall subdue … shall choose, or may he subdue … may he choose.
3 a. appears to be a reminiscence of Psalm 18:47.
our inheritance] The common word for Canaan as the possession destined for Jehovah’s firstborn son Israel (Exodus 15:17; Deuteronomy 4:21; Deuteronomy 4:38; Jeremiah 3:19; &c.).
the excellency] Better, the pride of J., the land on which Israel prided itself. So the Temple is called “the pride of your power,” Ezekiel 24:21.
whom he loved] Jehovah’s love, not Israel’s merit, was the ground of the choice. Cp. Deuteronomy 4:37; Malachi 1:2. R.V. marg. loveth is a less suitable rendering.
He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved. Selah.
God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.5. God is gone up] He must therefore have previously ‘come down.’ God is said to ‘come down’ when He manifests His presence by active interposition in the affairs of the world. (Genesis 11:5; Genesis 11:7; Isaiah 31:4; Isaiah 64:1; Isaiah 64:3). He is said to ‘go up,’ when, His work over, He as it were returns to heaven (Psalm 68:18). The triumphal procession, carrying up (at least in ancient times) the Ark which was the symbol of God’s presence to the Temple which was the symbol of heaven, and celebrating the victory which He had won for them with shouts and blowing of trumpets, was the outward and visible emblem of this ‘ascension,’ and suggests the form of the expression here. Cp. 2 Samuel 6:15.
5–7. A renewed summons to celebrate Jehovah’s sovereignty.
Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.6. Sing praises] The verb from which mizmôr, ‘a psalm,’ is derived. See Introd. p. xix.
For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.7. with understanding] So the LXX, Vulg., and Jer. But better as R.V. marg., in a skilful psalm, Heb. Maschil. See Introd. p. xix.
God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.8. God hath proclaimed himself king over the nations,
God hath taken his seat upon his holy throne.
The verbs express not merely a fact but an act. God was King, but He has given fresh proof of it. He has caused Himself to be acknowledged King, and taken His seat upon His throne to judge and rule (Psalm 103:19). Cp. Revelation 11:15.
8, 9. The final realisation of Jehovah’s sovereignty over the world.
The princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham: for the shields of the earth belong unto God: he is greatly exalted.9. In the spirit of prophecy the Psalmist beholds the realisation of the hope expressed in Psalm 47:1. The nations acknowledge Jehovah’s sovereignty. Cp. Psalm 102:22. As the representatives of the nations which they rule, the princes of the peoples are gathered together to Jerusalem to pay homage to Jehovah. The Massoretic text ot the next line must be rendered with R.V., ‘To be the people of the God of Abraham’: a bold phrase, reaching the very climax of Messianic hope, and hardly paralleled elsewhere. For though the nations are frequently spoken of as attaching themselves to Israel in the worship of Jehovah (Isaiah 2:2 ff; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 56:6 ff; Isaiah 60:3 ff.; Zechariah 8:20 ff.; &c, &c), they are not called “the people of God.” This title is reserved for Israel, and only in the N.T. are the promises made to Israel extended to the Gentiles (Romans 9:25). Yet see Isaiah 19:25, where Egypt receives the title ‘my people.’ The rendering of R.V. marg. ‘Unto the people,’ is scarcely legitimate. It is however to be noted that the consonants of the word ‘am’ ‘people’ are identical with those of ‘im, ‘with,’ and the LXX read them as the preposition (with the God of A.). It is a natural conjecture that we should restore the preposition and render;
The princes of the peoples are gathered together,
Along with the people of the God of Abraham.
the God of Abraham] The title recalls the promises of blessing to the nations made through Abraham (Genesis 12:2 f. &c.).
the shields of the earth] Princes are so called, as the protectors of their people. Jehovah is their overlord, and they come to acknowledge their dependence. The title shield is often applied to God, and sometimes to the kings and princes of Israel (Hosea 4:18; Psalm 89:18).
he is greatly exalted] Cp. Psalm 97:9; and, though the Heb. word is different, Psalm 46:10.