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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 47

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 47

ALL the nations of the earth are called upon to unite in joyful praise to the Lord, Psalms 47:1, because he is terrible, and the almighty ruler of the whole earth, Psalms 47:2, according to the clear testimony of the events that had just taken place, the victory which he had accomplished for his people over many enemies, the protection which he afforded to his endangered land, Psalms 47:3-4. The Lord returns, after he had successfully managed the affairs of his people, to his heavenly habitation: the Psalmist exhorts to the singing of praises to him on his ascent, as to the king of the whole earth, who had manifested himself as such, Psalms 47:5-7. God reigns over the heathen, God sits upon his holy throne, this the occurrent transactions teach, and thereby impart a prophetic sense to the Psalmist: he sees how the princes of the peoples gather themselves, in order to acknowledge God, as their God, and to have themselves received into his church, Psalms 47:8 and Psalms 47:9.

The Psalm falls into two equal strophes (including the superscription), which are separated by a Selah, Psalms 47:1-4, and Psalms 47:5-9. Both contain a call to praise the Lord, with its grounding. In the first, this call is addressed to the heathen, in the second, to Israel. In the second, there is appended, besides, a general conclusion. The whole is completed in the number ten. The name Elohim occurs seven times.

The occasion of the Psalm was, according to Psalms 47:3, an overthrow of several heathen peoples, accomplished by the visible interposition of God, who had leagued themselves against Israel, and who, according to Psalms 47:4, had set out with the purpose of expelling Israel from his land. If we keep in view these distinctive marks, we shall easily be convinced of the untenableness of the hypothesis of Ewald, according to which the Psalm belongs to the time after the return from the exile, and must represent Jehovah’s sovereignty going out of Zion to the conversion of the heathen, ( Psalms 47:3 manifestly speaks of a constrained subjection, to which also the terrible points in Psalms 47:2), as also that of Hitzig, who refers it to the victory of Hezekiah over the Philistines, 2 Kings 18:8,—to say nothing of older hypotheses, which referred the Psalm to the occasion of removing the ark of the covenant, in the time of David or Solomon, or even to the ascension of Christ. The only thing that suggests itself as a fit reference is the victory of Jehosaphat over the combined Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Arabians, in 2 Chronicles 20. Many nations were thus united against Israel; they were set upon nothing less than driving Israel wholly out of his land, comp. 2 Chronicles 20:11; the overthrow of the enemies followed under circumstances, which caused the hand of God to be clearly discerned. Surprised by an attack in the rear from a host of freebooting sons of the wilderness, the enemies fled in a panic, and as the spirit of mistrust fell upon them, and each people thought itself betrayed by the other, they turned their arms one against another. So Israel obtained a victory without a battle. The reference to that event is favoured by the circumstance that then, according to 2 Chronicles 20:19, the Korahites are expressly mentioned as having been present in the army, that the immediately following Psalm refers to the same event, as also Psalms 83 (these three Psalms perfectly suffice for a defence of 2 Chronicles 20 against the attacks of modern criticism), finally, that on this supposition we obtain a suitable situation for Psalms 47:5, from 2 Chronicles 20:26, “On the fourth day they assembled themselves together, in the valley of praise, for there they praised the Lord.” Before the people left the field of slaughter, to return back to Jerusalem, they held a solemn service in that valley of praise: from that valley God made as it were, his ascent to heaven, after having achieved redemption for his people. As the army into the holy city, so the leader of the host returned to heaven. In the valley of praise was this Psalm sung, as the following one in the service of the temple.

The objection against the reference to the victory of Jehoshaphat, that then the ark of the covenant was not in the field, as here according to Psalms 47:5, would have some force, if Psalms 47:5 really presupposed the presence of the ark. For notwithstanding all that Movers says upon the Chron. p. 289, there is not a single passage that certainly bespeaks the presence of the ark with the host, after the time of David. But Psalms 47:5, rightly understood, says nothing of the ark of the covenant.

Verses 1-4

To the chief musician, of the sons of Korah, a Psalm. Ver. 1. Exult with hands all peoples, shout to God with jubilee-voice. Ver. 2. For the Lord, the Most High, is terrible, a great King over all the earth. Ver. 3. He subdues peoples under us, and nations under our feet. Ver. 4. He chooses our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loves. Selah. The clapping of the hands in Psalms 47:1 is a gesture of joy, Nahum 3:19, comp. Psalms 98:8, Isaiah 55:12. They must exult to the Lord with heart, mouth, and hands. Of homage there is no trace; this is only dragged in by Stier. The ground of joy to the heathen is announced in Psalms 47:2-4. In the victory which Israel had just gained, the glory of the Lord manifested itself, and since he is the God of the whole earth, this glory belongs also to the heathen. What was done primarily for Israel, must be a just occasion of living joy for the whole world. For even those, to whom immediately it brings no salvation, have still therein a matter-of-fact promise of this, a pledge of their obtaining it in the time to come. While it shows the greatness of God, it shows also what they may expect from this God in the future. The call of the Psalmist could certainly not be responded to by the heathen at that time, just because they were still heathen. But while he declares what they properly ought to do, he stirs up all the more powerfully the heart of Israel to praise. Similar calls to the heathen, to praise the Lord on account of his wonderful doings for Israel, are found also in Psalms 66 and Psalms 117. The original passage is Deuteronomy 32:43: “Rejoice ye nations, rejoice his people, for he avenges the blood of his servants,” comp. on Psalms 18:49. In Psalms 47:2, the Psalmist points to the attributes of the Lord, which justify the call to the heathen to praise him. Then in Psalms 47:3 and Psalms 47:4 he brings forward the proof of these attributes from his doings. Terrible—so has God shown himself in the destruction of the enemies of his people, comp. Psalms 68:35. He has proved himself to be a great king over the whole earth, as opposed merely to being king of Israel, by the victory over huge masses of people, who threatened to devour Israel.

Psalms 47:3 and Psalms 47:4 might of themselves be referred to the active operation of God, as appearing in the whole history, in conquering the enemies of his people, and preserving his inheritance. But Psalms 47:5 shows, that the question is about a particular act of God, and indeed one that had recently occurred, in which the truth declared in Psalms 47:2, furnishing an occasion for triumphant joy to the heathen, had just brilliantly shone forth. “The friendly sense,” maintained by Stier in 3, is excluded by הדביר , to drive, to force one’s self, which imports a violent subjugation; by a comp. of the parall. pass. Psalms 18:47: “The God, that avengeth me, and subdueth, the peoples under me,” (comp. on, “under our feet” of the second member, “they fall under my feet,” in Psalms 18:38,) and by the terrible in Psalms 47:2, the proving of which is furnished by this verse. Calvin’s objection, repeated by Stier, against the exposition we have given, that we cannot suppose persons, who had been constrained to serve by fear and violence, would exult with joy, is obviated by the remark, that the peoples here are different from those in Psalms 47:1,—there the whole heathen world, here the particular peoples, whom Israel conquered,—and that a bitter shell can very easily conceal a sweet kernel. How far the victory over Israel should be the object of joy to the peoples, is expressly declared in Psalms 47:2. It is not the particular in itself—this was either a matter of indifference to the peoples, or the occasion of ruin—but the general truth unfolded in the particular event, viz., the proof for the being of God in the full sense which that event furnished, to the joy to every human heart which longed for help, consolation, and salvation.

If in Psalms 47:4 the discourse is simply of the inheritance of Jacob, we can only understand by that the holy land, which is frequently so described, comp. Isaiah 58:14, Deuteronomy 4:38, Deuteronomy 15:4, etc.; and it is arbitrary, with Stier and others, upon the ground of a false meaning of Psalms 47:3, to think of the promised “fulness of the gentiles,” which can just as little, without any thing further, be designated as the pride of Jacob. This can only mark a preference, which Israel already enjoyed. Against this exposition also is the בחר , which, according to it, must mean, he will give us. The sense of the first member is simply this: God has by his conduct distinctly shown, that the holy land, the inheritance of his people, lies near to his heart, just because it is the inheritance of his people. The expression: he chooses, is to be explained by considering the inheritance to be chosen, as it were, anew, when a signal proof is given of the choice. לנו denotes those, out of love to whom the choice of the inheritance is made. In the second member, the inheritance of the Lord is epexegetically described as the pride of Jacob, that for which Jacob might be proud, comp. Nahum 2:3, Amos 6:8, because it had been rendered glorious by so many proofs of the might and grace of his God, which Amos himself, in Amos 8:7, designates the pride of Israel, his glorious possession. The expression: “whom he loves,” indicates, what was merely implied in the us of the first member, that the preference the Lord gives to the land, has its ground in love to the people. If this were not parall., we could still refer the אשר to the pride, by comp. Amos 6:8, and Psalms 78:68. But so, Malachi 1:2 is rather to be comp. The verse stands in close connection with the preceding one. The vanquishing of the peoples, which Israel would drive out of his inheritance, comp. 2 Chronicles 20:11, is that which forms the condition of the choosing=the delivering of the inheritance.

Verses 5-9

Ver. 5. God goes up with rejoicing, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Ver. 6. Sing praise to God, sing praise, sing praise to our king, sing praise. Ver. 7. For king of the whole earth is God, sing a song with edification. Ver. 8. God reigns over the heathen, God sits upon his holy throne. Ver. 9. The princes of the peoples are gathered together to the people of the God of Abraham, for the shields of the earth are God’s, he is greatly exalted. That in Psalms 47:5, the going up of God to heaven, is his return to his heavenly throne, his invisible procession to heaven, which takes place after he had displayed on earth by outward deeds his almightiness and love, and carried there the interests of his people, as a prelude to the ascension of Christ, appears from Psalms 47:8, and the comparison of all other passages, in which the going up of God is mentioned, Genesis 17:22, Judges 13:20, Psalms 7:7, and especially Psalms 68:18, which, having a typical reference to the ascension of Christ in the New Testament, has at the same time an important bearing on our verse. The call to praise the Lord on his ascension to heaven is based in Psalms 47:7 on the circumstance, that he, the king of Israel, has, by the very deeds of his almightiness, shown himself to be king over all the earth. On משכיל comp. on Psalms 32 super. Every song in praise of God, on account of his glorious deeds, contains a rich treasure of instruction and improvement. Here the instruction which should be drawn out of the foregoing deeds, is expressly declared. It is this, that God is king over the whole earth, that he reigns over the heathen, that these shall also sometime own his sovereignty. This great truth is particularly set forth in the two closing verses, as the special lesson of the particular transactions. The holy throne of God is as much as, “the throne high and lifted up,” in Isaiah 6:1, comp. on the idea of holiness in Psalms 22:3. The consequence of God’s sitting on the throne of his holiness, is his universal sovereignty, comp. Psalms 103:19, “The Lord has prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all,” Isaiah 66:1. In Psalms 47:9 the עמ is to be taken as accus., as it is commonly with verbs of gesture and motion, comp. Ew. § 477. This idea is contained in the expression: they gather themselves. To gather themselves=to come gathered. With a poet, we certainly cannot regard this accusative as “somewhat hard.” We are not, with others, to explain: the princes of the people are gathered as a people of God. For עם אלהי אברהם , cannot mean one, but only the people of the God of Abraham; neither can the princes be called a people, and after the conversion of the heathen there is not properly several peoples of God, but there is everywhere only one people, into which the converted heathen are received. The Psalmist beholds the future as the present, which many expositors failing to perceive, have lost themselves. He prepares for himself from the manifestation of the true godhead of Israel, which he has before his eyes, a ladder by which he first rises up to this true godhead, and then proceeds to its recognition over the whole earth. He sees, how the heathen princes hasten, that they may be received among the people of the Lord, comp. in the Korahite Psalms 87:4, Zechariah 9:7, and the Christol. there. The designation of God as the God of Abraham, points, as appears, to the promise of blessing on all peoples.

The words: for the shields, etc., resume the subject of Psalms 47:8. God is the rightful Lord of all the mighty ones, and this his right, which has been impaired by their rebellion, must be again re-established. Nature must force for itself a way through what is against nature, comp. on Psalms 22:28. The Princes are called the shields of the earth, as protectors of their peoples, comp. Hosea 4:18.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 47". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-47.html.
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