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Psalm 47

Worship is a political act. Claims of kingship are political claims.

Perhaps it is the impending national election here in the United States that has me reading Psalm 47 in a political framework, but I do not know how it can be read in any other way. Certainly the psalmist was not thinking of America in 2016 when it was written; even so, the claims made in these verses would have had profound political implications for the culture in which it was produced. In fact, the claims made in Psalm 47 have profound political implications in any cultural context of any time period.

Psalm 47 is known as an enthronement psalm. Enthronement psalms are those that exalt God as king. In these nine verses, God is addressed or referred to specifically as “king” four times. This does not take into account other language, phrases, etc. that heighten God’s standing. After reading this psalm, it is difficult to come away from the text with an understanding other than that this God is ruler over all—people, nations, and creation. There is no sphere where God is not king.

God’s kingship was a matter of celebration for God’s people. Scholars have noted that worshipers journeyed to Jerusalem in the fall of the year to remember and celebrate God’s victory over all powers that would oppose God’s rule. This is the way worshipers began the new year, by claiming God’s unique authority over everything.

There were others in that day and age who would give their allegiance to other gods and kings. Israel’s neighbors had festivals in honor of their gods, one of which was from the Babylonian people. They, too, enacted a liturgy but this liturgy was to remember the Babylonian creation myth between Marduk and the goddess Tiamat. Bernhard Anderson writes, “The myth portrays human involvement in the processes of human nature which, moving in a circle, ever return to the beginning when a god must win a new victory over the powers of darkness and chaos.” [1] The degree to which Israel’s psalms of enthronement are shaped by the practices of their neighbors is not known, but it is clear that these neighbor peoples are making similar claims. The Babylonian myth posits that Marduk reigns over darkness and chaos, which must continually be won in battle. The account from the people of the God of Abraham claims that their God, the Most High, IS king. This kingship does not have to be re-won in new battles. It is fact—God is King. And we see here that the proper response to that is worship!

God’s kingship takes form in two ways here. First, God is king over all the earth. Verse one calls on “all you peoples” to shout to God. [2] This summons is for all people everywhere, because God is king over all the earth and over the nations (see vv. 2, 7). Second, God reigns over the chosen people, the people of the God of Abraham. Verse four states, “He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.” Out of God’s everlovingkindness, God has covenanted with this people to reflect the very character of God in the world. So God is king over all (universal) and over a select people (particular).

Because of who God is and what God has done, the people respond in worship. It is difficult to read Psalm 47 and not feel moved to act somehow. We have been given reasons to celebrate, and like the psalmist, we just start clapping and singing and shouting. But it would be a shame if our action, in response to this psalm, ends here. Just as it was good and right for the people of God to journey to the Temple to worship God, it is right for us to celebrate our God, the Almighty King, on Sunday. But our worship has to move beyond the Temple, or beyond the walls of the church, and into the rest of our lives.

This is why this psalm is so political, because it makes claims on the entirety of our lives. It has to do with the way we live together; with the way we organize our lives together. We cannot give worship to the King of Kings on Sunday for an hour, and then return to our consumeristic way of life on Monday (or immediately after Sunday service) without harm. We cannot sing praises to the One who brought us out of slavery and then deny people justice and freedom during the work week. We cannot sing songs of joy to the One who gives us life and then speak words of hate and violence to those with whom we disagree. As the people from the line of Abraham, our response to God the King is to embody the character of this praiseworthy King. We do that through by giving every facet of our lives over to this God; we do it by promoting justice and freedom; and we do it by being people of life in thought, word, and deed. These are political acts and we are to be political people! Granted, we are not political in the same ways that the world approaches political matters. Our politics flows from our worshipful response to God, the one who is King over us and all the earth. Now let us go forth as the peculiar, particular people of God embodying God’s character so that all the world might join us in clapping, singing, and shouting praise to this most worthy King!

[1] Bernard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 158.

[2] Emphasis mine.