Psalms For Life
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Psalm 47

YHWH reigns

Despite how messed up our world is, God is fully committed to redeeming it, healing our fractured humanity, making us one in him, and filling us with his perfect joy.

A descendants of Korah psalm.

Clap your hands, all you peoples!
Acclaim God with joyful shouts!
For YHWH is most high and to be revered—
a great King over all the earth.
He subdues peoples under us
the nations under our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us
the proud possession of Jacob, his beloved.
God has ascended amid the crowd’s jubilant roar
YHWH with the sound of the ram’s horn.

Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is King over all the earth.
Praise him with a psalm.
Seated on his holy throne
God reigns over the nations.
The rulers of the world gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For all of earth’s rulers belong to God
who is exalted over all.

The psalmist here celebrates two great events, God’s victory over hostile nations and his ascension as earth’s undisputed king. These events are inseparable since YHWH reigns not as a mere figurehead, but in power, as seen in Israel’s conquest of Canaan.

We may feel uneasy today about the fact that God’s chose an ethnic people, the far from perfect Israelites, to establish his rule on earth through them. But God has always chosen to work through particular people, despite their flaws. It may seem easier to think of God fulfilling his purposes remotely—without messed up humans, like Jacob, involved. But thankfully for us, beginning with Abraham, God has always worked with and through just such humans. The only kind available.

As the Jewish Midrash recognized, this psalm—building on Psalm 46—points ahead to humanity’s restored oneness under the Messiah, God’s only perfect representative. Its climax envisions the day when all the world’s leaders gather as one people, all belonging to Abraham’s God. This was God’s promise to Abraham from the first: to extend his perfect blessing to all humanity through Abraham’s family. The Messiah’s ascension to the throne and the universal harmony it ultimately produces are two causes for the over-the-top joy and celebration described here.

Who is like you, Lord, mercifully working through Abraham and even Jacob to redeem your world? Thank you that you’ve ascended to your throne and rule over the nations and will yet make all things new and restore your world to perfect harmony. I worship you, Lord God. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on this truth:

YHWH is most high and to be revered—
a great King over all the earth!

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.