The People of the God of Abraham

jerusalem2At a time when the daily news trumpets the latest political scandal, our Facebook walls vomit forth more madness, our Twitter feeds grow ever darker, and the comment boxes on our favored websites grow more vile by the moment, a Christian ought to pause to consider the end-game. Christ will return, and there will be true peace on earth for all those with whom He’s favored. Then, on that day, there will be no more “fake news,” no more victimized gymnasts, no more predatory medical doctors – no more sin at all.

Christ declared to the Apostle John, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5). This passage of Scripture (Psalm 47) gives us a brief glimpse of what this day of rejoicing will look like.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy (Psalm 47:1)

This is clearly a psalm celebrating a momentous event. All the people are commanded to clap, and shout to God with riotous joy. Is the psalmist referring to the Israelites in the congregation, or to “all peoples” who belong to Yahweh, including Gentiles? This is interesting, but we’ll have to wait for more context before making a decision. For now, just consider – why should the people shout for joy, and clap with such glee?

For the LORD, the Most High, is terrible
a great king over all the earth (Psalm 47:2)

It’s a celebration about who Yahweh is. He’s the Most High, He’s terrible (i.e. “fearful,” [NEB]; “to be feared” [NASB]; “awesome” [NLT; LEB]; “awe-inspiring” [NET]. He’s a great king over all the earth!

Yahweh is the King now, even as He allows Satan to be the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2). You can’t read the story of Job, for example, without seeing God in complete control over His creation (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). Satan operates only because God permits it. This means people who reject Yahweh and His promise of salvation through the coming Messiah are criminals in God’s universe. He’s already the King; He just hasn’t come back quite yet.

Some readers might quibble, and suppose this psalm is only describing some future event. Perhaps so, but this psalm was sung by faithful Israelites as they worshipped. It had meaning then, too. Yahweh was their king then and, in this New Covenant era, He’s our king, also. It’s a present reality, with a still future fulfillment.

He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves (Psalm 47:3-4)

The congregation praises Yahweh for what He’s done. Through His blessing, this small nation “dispossess[ed] nations greater and mightier than yourselves,” (Deut 9:1). This only happened because He chose the Israelites from among the pagans, made them His own, and blessed them abundantly. It was a corporate election to salvation and service, and it was all of grace (Deut 7:7-8; 9:4-5). This is why they clap and shout with such joy in their hearts and souls. God is good, and He’s full of mercy, grace, love and kindness.

God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm (Psalm 47:5-7)

Again, God is the king of all the earth. It’s a present reality that all people are commanded to acknowledge and respect. They do this by confessing their sins, believing in Yahweh’s promise of a future Deliverer, Messiah and Savior, and then proving their love by following His law in sincerity and truth. God’s people will love Him, and want to praise Him for who He is, and what He’s done. This kind of universal joy and praise to Yahweh will only come when all creation bows in submission to Him. As another psalmist wrote, “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!” (Ps 110:2).

The scene here almost reads like a coronation, as if the King has just assumed His throne, been crowned as “Lord of Lords,” and is accepting the rapturous praise of His servants. The psalmist is viewing the event as if it’s just happened, and he’s recording it all in his trusty notebook. This song may have been sung at coronations for Israelite kings at some point, or it could be purely prophetic – the Israelite people looking forward to that glorious day when Messiah would come and assume David’s throne. Some people assume the Old Covenant saints were largely ignorant about the details of the Messianic prophesies. Perhaps they were, but David certainly wasn’t (compare Ps 16:8-11; Acts 2:25; 13:32-36).

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne (Psalm 47:8)

Yahweh will reign on earth one day. The Book of Revelation tells us this will be an entirely new earth, situated in an entirely new creation. And, in a new holy city, Yahweh will sit on His throne with His eternal Son, and they’ll reign together over the nations (Rev 21:22-27).

The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted (Psalm 47:9)

What a wonderful picture! This is so different from the Jewish attitude in Jesus’ day; an attitude which was racist, prejudiced, and characterized by a sneering nationalism borne out of centuries of the most rabid and insatiable persecution. God told the Israelites they would “be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex 19:6). Their task was to represent Yahweh to the pagan world around them, loving Him with everything they had (cf. Deut 6:4-5), as they modeled His kingdom by living according to His laws. They came closest during Solomon’s reign (1 Kgs 10), but even that wasn’t very close at all

The exile changed everything, and the Israelites gradually began to emphasize orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy; right behavior over against right belief. This subtle shift had enormous implications, which compounded themselves as the years went by. The Book of 1 Maccabees, for example, speaks of “the Gentiles” over and over again (e.g. 3:25-26; 3:52; 3:58-60, etc.). It doesn’t matter who Judas and Jonathan’s enemies were, they were always “the Gentiles.” The Maccabees weren’t concerned with a “circumcision of the heart” at all. Theirs was a religion of law, of right behavior, of cultic ritual. There is no mention of devotional piety; only external conformity. Judas sallied forth and “hunted and tracked down the lawless” (3:6), and “destroyed the godless” (3:8). He forcibly circumcised young Israelite boys (2:46), and “thus they saved the law from the Gentiles and their kings …” (2:48). On his deathbed, Judas’ father Matthias exhorted his sons to “draw your courage and strength from the law, for by it you will win great victory,” (2:64).

By Jesus’ day, He encountered an externalism that boasted an elaborate, blasphemous theology of ritual defilement from contact with Gentiles. It was this perversion that prompted His condemnation of their ceremonial washing rituals (Mk 7:1-13); “you leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men!” (Mk 7:8). Peter had enormous trouble getting rid of this baggage (Acts 10:34-48; Gal 2:11-13). The Jerusalem church likewise struggled mightily with the very idea that Gentiles could be joint-heirs of living grace. They criticized Peter (Acts 11:1-2), were wary of the Antioch congregation’s Hellenistic makeup (Acts 11:22-23), and had repeated issues with some of their own members advocating a perverted, works-righteousness salvation (Acts 15:1-2). Even the Apostle James treaded lightly around these men (Acts 21:17-26).

And yet … this psalm knows nothing of this prejudicial attitude. Instead, the author catapults over this madness and lands squarely in the New Jerusalem. The princes of the people (i.e. the Gentiles) have gathered together as (some translations render this “with”) the people of the God of Abraham. The Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Israelites. This is the glorious future for all who believe. The Gentiles and the Israelites will serve Yahweh together, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. There, in the true celestial city on a new and perfect earth, all God’s people from every nation will come to the tree of life to eat freely. After all, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations,” (Rev 22:2).

Yahweh is the King of all who believe. This psalm paints a glorious future. The King will reign. The people, Jew and Gentile alike, will clap, shout and “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Pet 1:8). Oh, the half has never yet been told!

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