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This article was originally published in Missionalia, the journal of the Southern African Missiological Society. If you would like to see some other articles from Missionalia, have a look at the list of Missionalia articles on the Web

Some notes on its composition, exegesis and significance for the church's mission at the turn of the century

J. du Preez1


The article gives a new translation of Psalm 47, discusses its possible Sitz im Leben in Israel's worship, as well as its composition and structure, before making a verse-by- verse exegesis. On the basis of this, the author gives a Christian missiological interpretation of the Psalm by emphasising four central themes: 1) accepting others as God accepts them, since other nations are called in v.9 'a people of the God of Abraham;' 2) living in the end-time in the power of the risen Lord, by reading the Psalm in the light of the Ascension of Christ; 3) living God's future doxologically in the present, since the Psalm is a confession of faith in the indestructible rule of God; 4) capturing the final all-embracing vision, by linking it with Rev. 5:13.


1. All you peoples, clap your hands!

Bring ringing praise to God!

2. For Yahweh is the awesome Most High,

a great king over all the world.

3. He subdued peoples under us

and nations under our feet.

4. He chose for us our heritage,

the glorious land of his beloved Jacob.

5. God ascends amid shouts of joy,

Yahweh at the sound of the horn.

6. Praise God, praise him with psalms!

Praise our king, praise him with psalms!

7. For God is the ruler of all the earth;

praise him to the utmost of your ability.3

8. God reigns over the nations;

God is seated on his holy throne.

9. The princes of the peoples are assembled:

a people of the God of Abraham!

10. For to God belong the shields of the earth;

sovereignly exalted is He!


Using the style of a hymn, this short but vigorous psalm praises – with an almost passionate enthusiasm – the sovereignty of the God of Israel over all the nations. In this sense it may be classified with Psalms 93 and 96-99 (Weiser; Westermann; Brueggemann 1986; Kraus) and serve as an important parallel to Psalm 68:24-32. Furthermore, the close connection between this psalm of Zion and the other two psalms of Zion between which it stands, should not be overlooked (Davison n.d.: 242, cf Auffret 1991:339- 348). Psalm 47 expands upon the thought of Psalm 46, especially verse 10 (CEV):

Calm down, and learn that I am God!

All nations on earth will honor me.

At the same time the main thought of Psalm 47 is confirmed in Psalm 48, especially verse 10 (NIV):

Like your name, o God,

Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.

In later Jewish history, Psalm 47 was utilised as part of the New Year's service, which uniquely extols Yahweh's sovereign rule, while the emphasis on God's ascension in verse 5 gave rise to its use on Ascension Day in Christian liturgy. There is a theory that the Jews sang Psalms 42-49 during the same procession. Since Psalm 47 is the first Korahite psalm to be called a mizmôr (a song with musical accompaniment), one may perhaps conclude that with this song the feast was beginning to reach its climax (cf Van der Merwe 1996:2). One or more events during King David's reign might have led to the composition of Psalm 47. First, David's conquest of the old Jebusite stronghold on Mount Zion in order to proclaim it as the city of the Lord (2 Sam 5:6-10). Secondly, the transfer of the Ark of God (symbol of his throne) from Obed Edom's house to the tent specially erected for it on Mount Zion (2 Sam 6:12,15,17; 1 Chron 15:1-3). In this respect one may compare the verb wayya`al (from `âlâh: bring up) in 2 Samuel 6:12 with the noun `elyôn (Most High) for God in Psalm 47:2, while the words "with a shout ... with the sound of a trumpet" in 2 Samuel 6:15 and in Psalm 47:5 are identical in the Hebrew (cf Kidner 1977:177-78). Thirdly, It was customary for Israel to bring the Ark back to its resting-place on Mount Zion after they had conquered their ene mies. For instance, the Ark may have been conveyed in glory after David's victory over the Philistines, Moabites, Aramaeans, Ammonites, Amalekites and Edomites as reported in 2 Samuel 8.

Concerning the time subsequent to David, some scholars prefer to think of King Jehoshaphat's victory over the nations mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20 (e.g. Delitzsch 1880:97 and Smal 1956:82). Others remind their readers that the astonishing defeat of Sennacherib of Assyria, when 185 000 of his men were killed by divine intervention during his campaign against King Hezekiah of Judah in 701 BC (Is 37:36), was precisely the kind of triumph which could give birth to a jubilant song like Psalm 47 (so e.g. Kirkpatrick, Leupold and Motyer). According to Moses Buttenwieser (1969:351) the psalm refers to God's entering of Zion in triumph at the head of the exiles from Babylon after the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus, with the attendant deliverance of Israel (cf Is 40:1-10).

Instead of linking Psalm 47 to a specific historical event in Israel's history, some accept a cultic origin. Well-known, although by no means certain (cf Schaper 1994), is the thesis of Mowinckel (1962:121) that Psalm 47 and other so-called enthronement psalms presuppose an annual enthronement festival of Yahweh, closely linked to the old festival of harvest and new year, the feast of tabernacles. According to him all these feasts have in common, inter alia, the idea of Yahweh's dominion over the earth. Another possible cultic origin for the psalm is to be found in the idea that it basically reflects the cultic community's confession of faith in Yahweh as ruler of the whole world (Van Uchelen 1977:49; cf Burger 1988:131-132).


The significance of numbers in Hebrew literature

Labuschagne (1987:1) remarks that one of the most important discoveries of our time in the field of biblical studies is the fact that the Bible contains literary works structured by symbolic numbers, and that this numerical structural analysis may assist in emphasising the meaning of the text (cf also Bazak 1988 and Sibinga 1987:187). However, Labuschagne warns that this must not be confused with the traditional world of mysticism, magic, or pseudo-science. A quick look at some of the findings with regard to Psalm 47 must suffice.

In his article on the composition of Psalm 47, Sibinga (1988:478) points out that, leaving aside the superscription, the psalm consists of 37 words and that the confession of faith in verse 2.b ("A great ruler over all the world") is composed of five Hebrew words, words 13 to 17 from the beginning of the psalm. Its twin confession in verse 7.a ("For God reigns over all the earth") also has five words, in this case words 13 to 17 of the second half of the psalm, which, for Sibinga, begins with `alâh in verse 5. According to Samuel Cohen (1995:259), the central thought of God mounting his universal throne (v.5) is emphasised by means of a number of numerical devices. Thus, for instance, the Tetragrammaton (=YHWH) in verse 5 is found exactly in the centre of the psalm (36 words + YHWH + 36 words), thereby placing the covenantal name of God in the centre of all things. Between the YHWH name in verse 2 and verse 5 there are exactly 26 words, with the number 26 forming the numerical value of the YHWH name. The central verse 5 consists of precisely 26 consonants in Hebrew, thereby giving it further emphasis. Some 400 years ago Rabbi Yaakov Emden drew attention to the fact that the name 'Elohîm for God appears seven times in Psalm 47 (Cohen 1995:261) – the significant number suggesting wholeness and completeness.

Grossberg (1982:101-102) noticed a specific form of the so-called inclusio in Psalm 47: a rhetorical device whereby the author returns to the point where he began, but using dissimilar forms for the words to be repeated, in order to maintain the reader's attention and highlight the psalm's meaning. Thus, for instance, in verse 2 the divine epithet `elyôn (Most High) is used, while in verse 10 the same root `lh is employed in the word `alâh (exalted). The root is even to be found at the central point of the psalm in verse 5: "God ascends (`âlâ) ...." The consonantal similarity in these three cases serves to form a strong unifying connection between the beginning, middle and end of the psalm, while the variations in form serve to strengthen rather than weaken this connection.

All the above numerical and geometrical devices combine to reinforce the theme of Yahweh's reign over the whole earth and accordingly over all nations.

The structure of the Psalm

As may be expected, a good number of divisions have been suggested in an attempt to explain the structure of the psalm (see e.g. Auffret 1990:61). An attractive division in three parts is suggested by Nic H. Ridderbos (1973:95). With the bringing of the Ark to Mount Zion in mind, he understands verses 1-4 as dealing with the Ark at the foot of the mountain, verses 5-7 with the Ark reaching the top, and verses 8-10 with the Ark after having been carried into the sanctuary. For the purpose of the present article, I find the following most valuable: a division into two more or less synonymous parallel parts (1-5, 6- 10), each with a summons to praise God, followed by reasons for praising him (see e.g. Barnes; Motyer; Kraus; Van der Ploeg). I therefore present the following division:

Part One Part Two

Summons to praise Yahweh v.1     v.6

Motivation one: the universal God    v.2   v.7-8

Motivation two: the favoured people   v.3-4     v.9

Motivation three: the exalted Lord     v.5    v.10

A figure of speech, broadly speaking called parallelism, found in many individual verses in the Psalter (e.g. 2:4; 6:1), is here, in the case of Psalm 47, extended to the psalm as a whole. A closer look at the contents will enable us to decide whether the parallelism is to be qualified as a synonymous parallelism or a progressive one – something of considerable importance for the psalm's missionary significance.


Verse 1. The peoples (`ammîm) are called upon to praise Yahweh, as a new king is saluted on his enthronement, with the clapping of hands (2 Kings 11:12) and shouting (see Num 23:21, where the "shout of the king" means the shout with which Israel celebrated the presence of Yahweh in its midst as a victorious king, and compare the more detailed description in Psalm 68:24- 26, 81:1-4 and 98:4-6). The peoples are Israel at large as well as the other nations, as most exegetes (e.g. Nic Ridderbos 1973:96-97) maintain (cf Ps 66:1,4,8, 96:1,7-10). J. Ridderbos (1958:54) understands `ammîm here and in verse 10 in terms of the tribes of Israel, but Nic Ridderbos (1973:97) says it is doubtful whether `ammîm ever referred to the tribes of Israel. What is more, the universal character of the whole psalm suggests a wider interpretation of the term. Dahood (1966:283) translates verse 1(a): "All you strong ones, clap your hands, acclaim, you gods, with shouts of joy," interpreting `ammîm as 'elôhîm, gods. However, as Roberts (1976:129) has pointed out, the evidence for this translation is very tenuous, while the traditional, well-attested meaning for `am (people) fits the present context perfectly well.4 The psalm as a whole invites its readers (singers!) to include everyone in the summons to praise Yahweh. As Peterson (1994:69) translates in a scintillating way:

Applause, everyone.

Bravo, bravissimo!

Shout God-songs at the top of your lungs!

Verse 2. Here the first reason is given why God should be praised. He is `Elyôn, the Most High. According to Ras Shamra, this title belonged to a supreme Canaanite deity. But as victor over the Canaanite gods, Yahweh is most properly accorded this title (Taylor 1955:246; cf also Wharton 1993:163). The emphasis in verse 2 falls on the name `Elyôn. Consequently some scholars prefer the translation "For Yahweh is the awesome Most High," rather than the more traditional rendering: "Yahweh, the Most High, is awesome." Roberts (1976:130; cf also NH Ridderbos 1973:98) says: "The foreign peoples are called upon to worship God, not simply because he is awesome, but because he is Elyon, the Most High, the legitimate ruler of the divine world, and hence of the human as well." As `Elyôn, God is Creator of heaven and earth (Gen 14:19,22), the great ruler over the whole world and consequently over all peoples and nations and their gods (cf Mal 1:14). The title "great king" (v.2), so arrogantly assumed by the Assyrian king (Is 36:4), really belongs to Yahweh.

Verses 3-4. These verses provide the second reason why the peoples should praise Yahweh: He subdued peoples before Israel and nations under their feet. The author describes Israel's victory over other nations in terms of an ancient custom whereby the conqueror put his feet on the necks of the defeated as a symbol of his power (Josh 10:24; Ps 110:1). The victory (or victories) referred to may be Israel's settlement in Canaan as proof of Yahweh's universal sovereignty (so e.g. Kirkpatrick; Beaucamp; Rogerson/ McKay). Beyond that the subjugation of foreign nations by David and Solomon may also be included (N.H. Ridderbos 1973:98). Another possibility, but perhaps less likely, is that the verb refers to a recent triumph by which God had once more driven out the enemies of his people from the land and proved that he had chosen it for their inheritance (cf. Is 14:1; Zech 1:17). The point is that the psalmist knows from the history of Israel that Yahweh demonstrated his rule over the `ammîm in great victories (Kraus 1988:468).

Verse 4, which speaks of Canaan as Israel's inheritance (cf Ex 15:18; Deut 4:38), stands parallel to verse 3: By means of their victory over the nations (v.3), Israel took possession of its heritage (v.4), literally called "the pride of Jacob" (cf Jer 3:19; Dan 8:9), because it was looked upon as a precious treasure entrusted to Jacob (=Israel) by God (Maclaren 1893:88). It should not be overlooked that the emphasis in verses 3 and 4 falls on what Yahweh did for Israel: He gave them the victory; He gave them the land. But He does it not for Israel's sake alone and not because Israel deserved it in any way, but because He loved Israel. "Israel is the 'servant of God' and her history, which takes place in the light of the revelation of God, is a history of salvation also for the other nations, so that they may recognize in that history the nature and providential rule of God and may bow down before him" (Weiser 1962:377; cf Wiersinga n.d.:81 and Smal 1956:86). Viewed in this light, it is rather too much said when EM Poteat (1955:247), in his exposition of Psalm 47, claims that the psalmist's call to the defeated peoples to sing praises to the God of Israel, "surely is the excess of patriotic zeal." In the strict sense of the word it is not a question of patriotic zeal, least of all patriotic zeal in excess. However, this is not to deny that it must have been most difficult for a defeated people to give heed to a summons which on the surface appears to be a call to seal one's own destruction.

Verse 5. This verse contains the third reason for praising Yahweh: He is the exalted Lord. In the section on the historical background of the psalm I have already referred to the opinion that verse 5 is in one way or another associated with the bringing of the Ark to Zion, whatever the occasion(s) might have been. Shouts of joy and the sound of the horn (šôfâr: horn or trumpet) were heard at the bringing of the Ark to Zion (2 Sam 6:15), at the inauguration of a king (1 Kings 1:39) and at other important occasions (e.g. 2 Chron 15:14).

If the verb `âlâh (ascend) indeed refers to the bringing up of the Ark into the temple of Zion, for instance as a cultic repetition of an occurrence during the time of David, as Kraus (1988:468) maintains, then the dark holy of holies of the temple, where the God-King Yahweh "dwells" (1 Kings 8:12-13) and sits enthroned between the cherubîm (Ps 99:1), is the goal of the cultic act. In the temple heaven and earth meet, because the temple is the earthly counterpart of the heavenly sanctuary. This implies that the procession to Zion is at the same time an ascent to the heights of heaven. Before the Most High not only the portals of the earthly sanctuary but also the "gates of heaven" open (cf Kraus 1988:468).5

Verses 6-8. Verse 6 repeats, in its own words, the summons of verse 1 to praise God, while verses 7-8, like verse 2, motivate the summons by confessing Yahweh as ruler of the whole world.

Verse 9. Here a second reason is given for the summons of verse 6. Like verses 3-4, it deals with the relationship between Yahweh and the nations, though here in verse 6 this relationship appears to be remarkably different from the one in verses 3-4. The psalmist sings it out:

The princes of the peoples have assembled themselves: a people of the God of Abraham!

Because of the importance of this marvellous verse for our subject, we must first of all try to obtain clarity, as far as possible, regarding its translation. There is much difference of opinion among scholars. Do the peoples (nations) assemble themselves with the people of the God of Abraham, that is, with Israel? This is a rendering followed by many translations and commentaries, mostly on account of the supposition that the Hebrew preposition `im (with) should be inserted before `am (people).6 Or, secondly, is `am itself to be read as `im, so that one should translate: "The rulers of the people are assembled with the God of Abraham, as the Septuaginta and Syriac versions do, followed, for example, by Ewald? (cf Delitzsch 1880:100). Or, thirdly, are the peoples assembling themselves as (or to be) a people of the God of Abraham, as the elliptic Hebrew sentence may be understood and as rendered by many translations and commentaries?7 Realising that each line of thought has something in its favour, I eventually decided to opt for the third. As Rogerson and McKay (1977:223) explain, the Hebrew actually describes the nations "as the people of the God of Abraham." And Kirkpatrick (1906:261) calls the unaltered Hebrew text on which this translation is based, "a bold phrase, reaching the climax of Messianic hope and hardly paralleled elsewhere," while Du Toit (1958:1167) describes it as: "'n heerlike universele gedagte" (a glorious universal thought).8

As far as the Old Testament is concerned, the phrase is perhaps only paralleled by Zechariah 2:11, where many nations are said to be joined with Yahweh to become his people (however, see also Is 19:25). But here in Psalm 47, non-Israelite nations are specifically called the people of the God of Abraham. "The God of Abraham" is a name for Yahweh which, apart from the book of Genesis, is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Old Testament. The title recalls God's promises of blessing to the nations made to Abraham (Gen 12 and 17). It is striking that the promise was repeated on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:2,17-18), the later Mount Zion (2 Chron 3:1), which figures so prominently in our psalm (v.5). The promise which was given anew to Abraham there on the mountain, is visualised in verse 9 as being in a process of fulfilment in a striking way (cf. N.H. Ridderbos 1973:105 and Maillot- Leliévre 1972:292).

The princes or nobles are powerful and influential rulers (cf Ps 83:12), representing the peoples or nations. In verse 10 they are called "the shields of the earth" (cf Ps 89:18), because they are supposed to guarantee their people's safety. Kraus (1988:470) says one may certainly imagine that at the great annual festivals in Jerusalem there were emissaries of foreign nations present and that the psalmsinger sees this as a sign for a realisation of God's universal rule. In accordance with this view, Van der Ploeg (1966:294) remarks that the Hebrew verb for "gather together" should be understood as a prophetic perfect: the psalmist expects it to take place in future.

Verse 10. As in verse 5, God is pictured as the sovereignly exalted one, seated on his holy throne (v.8).

Psalm 47 – A progressive parallelism

Concluding the exegetical notes on different verses, one may say that the parallelism into which the psalm as a whole is moulded, could be defined as a progressive parallelism, especially in the light of verse 9 when compared with its counterpart in verse 3. The comparison reveals a striking progressive unfolding of the divine plan of salvation. In the following paragraphs I will attempt to point out in brief what this may imply for the church's mission in today's world.



Accepting others as God himself accepts them

All three the translations that have been proposed for verse 9 show a remarkable difference from its counterpart in verse 3. But this is more especially the case with regard to the translation of verse 9 chosen in this article, in agreement with many translations and commentaries. If this translation may be followed as the one with most in its favour, then the difference between the two verses regarding God's plan of salvation for the whole world, is simply amazing (cf. Du Toit 1958:1167). Here in verse 9, nothing is heard of other nations under Israel's feet. On the contrary, a spontaneous coming to God is suggested, whereby the nations become a people of the Most High, a people of the God of Abraham. Leupold (1969:373) even prefers to read "the willing ones" instead of "princes" or "leaders," according to the "primal meaning" of the Hebrew word. As Delitzsch (1880:98) tellingly remarks, the true and final victory of Yahweh "consists not in a submission brought about by war and bloodshed and consternation that stupefies the mind, but in a change in the minds and hearts of the peoples, so that they render joyful worship unto Him.'

Mays (1994:187) writes that one should notice the implicit understanding of the concept "the people of God" in verse 9. They are constituted "not by ethnic or national identity, but by recognition of the rule of the LORD" (cf. also Weiser 1962:378 and Deist 1996). People from other nations may become people of the God of Abraham, completely on a par with the people of Israel. Of this, Israel had to sing in praise of God, and joyfully so. Does this not imply a process of development in the heart of the psalmist which he would expect to be reflected in the hearts and minds of every believing Israelite when singing this psalm?

But hundreds of years after this psalm had been composed, during Jesus' life and work on earth, something happened in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4) which shows how difficult it is for the Lord's people of a certain nationality to accept people from another nation as his people in the same way as they deem themselves to be accepted as his people. Jesus' sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth was initially accepted as gracious words from his lips (Luk. 4:22). But it met with fierce opposition and resentment the very moment when he, by pointing to God's healing of a Phoenician widow and a Syrian general, proved from Israel's own history that non-Jewish outsiders were just as well included in a divine redeeming love which did not stop at any racial or national barrier. Says H.D. Leuner (1983:68-69):

Judaism is at once a religion and a people, and the very core of all its doctrine is this conception of the "bene Yisrael," the Children of Israel as the people of God who cannot withdraw his benediction given once for all .... This conviction of the physical or biological concept of Judaism ... is the ultimate reason for the rejection of a Messiah who not only claimed to be the Saviour of the Jews, but had come to admit the outsider on the same terms as the sons of the promise.

One other example from the New Testament: How difficult it was for the apostle Peter and other Jewish Christians, even after having been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to believe that God really makes no distinction in accepting Jews and people from other nations into his kingdom! It was only after a special vision from God and a marvellous experience in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10), that Peter, speaking at the Council in Jerusalem, was able to witness as follows concerning people from other nations: "God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them (i.e. ta ethnê, the nations, Acts 15:7) by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:8-9, NIV).

The message for the church as God's witness among the nations should be clear enough. The mission of the church must be carried out, right into the 21st century, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This means, inter alia, that it should be done in the spirit of Christ's humility (Matth. 11:29), without any spirit of religious and/or cultural superiority, willing to accept others from whatever religion or culture, as Christ accepts us all – unconditionally (cf. Du Preez 1990 and Deist 1996). Such a spirit will, more than anything else, enhance the indispensable unity of God's people everywhere – a unity which is clearly implied in Psalm 47 and emphasised by different authors (e.g. Calvin; Maclaren; Du Toit; Wiersinga).

Living in the resurrection power of the crucified Lord

While referring to past events, the psalmist looks forward to the end-time when the Lord will take possession of world empires. In other words, the eschatological dimension may not be forgotten (see e.g. Noordtzij; J Ridderbos; Grosheide; Odendaal; also Beuken in Van Gemeren 1991:358). In this sense the church has reason to connect this psalm with the ascension of Christ, as has been done since the days of the early church. The ascension of Christ is a basic event on the way to the fulfilment of the psalmist's vision. It is in a special way the enthronement of the crucified and risen Christ. Church, society, nature, history, culture, economics – everything is subject to the reign of the crucified and risen Christ. He is Kurios, Lord.

Here we should take great care. A wrong kind of affirmation of this lordship of our Lord may feed the confidence that our ideology, our religion, our way of life is right and destined by God to be utterly victorious over all opposition. However, as far as a right kind of affirmation of Christ's lordship is concerned, we Christians should in all earnestness give heed to James A. Wharton's word in his article on Psalm 47 (1993:165):

The affirmation that the Crucified One is Lord ... calls all cocksureness into question, whether social or political or economic or religious or ideological. If the Crucified One is Lord, then the only reliable evidence for it is in the lives of communities and individuals who are empowered by God's spirit, by the present power of the Crucified and Risen Christ, to be "Christminded" (see Phil. 2:1-5), according to a definition of "wisdom" most people find "foolish," a definition of "power" most people frankly regard as "weakness," a definition of "nobility" most people despise as "nothing stuff" (see 1 Cor 1:26-31).

Living God's future doxologically in the present tense

The psalmist's vision of God's universal rule in a universal kingdom will ultimately be fulfilled in the final coming of God in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Consequently, another believing Jew, while on the island of Patmos, heard loud voices from heaven hundreds of years after Psalm 47 had been written, exclaiming: "The power to rule over the world belongs now to our Lord and his Messiah, and he will rule for ever and ever!" (Rev. 11:15, TEV). Meanwhile the very opposite may often seem to be the case. But it is in this very "time of the end," that is, the interim between the Ascension and God's final coming in Christ, that the people of God have to exercise their faith and hope in the God to whom the future belongs. In such a spirit the people of God may indeed sing a song like Psalm 47 even in an alien land and in alien circumstances. The psalm is in a very special sense to be called a confession of faith in the indestructible rule of God (cf. Valeton; Van Uggelen; Burger). By confessing this in their congregational worship, the people of God witness to him doxologically in the midst of the kingdoms of this world.

However, not only should Christians confess before the world their belief in the God of Psalm 47, but, knowing that the kingdom already belongs to him, they should convert the psalm into a constant prayer: "Let thy kingdom come!" This will include lifting up holy hands in prayer for the princes of the peoples (Ps 47:9), all those in authority, so that the people of God everywhere may be allowed "to live a quiet and peaceful life, in entire godliness and proper conduct" (1 Tim. 2:2, TEV).

In the strength of the assurance that God is really governing the whole world for the good of the world, Psalm 47 invites the people of the Lord to enter in anticipation into the jubilation of the great day when God finally ascends his throne to receive the homage of all humans (cf. Rogerson/McKay 1977:222). And J L Mays (1994:187) goes as far as to say: "The reign of God ... cannot be perfectly represented by any human proceedings, but it can be experienced by human beings as actuality only in praise and prayer of liturgy." By confessing doxologically what the psalmist believes, by praying for what he believes and by rejoicing in what he believes, the people of God may be said to be "living out God's future in the present tense," to use a phrase from Rabbi Heschel (Wharton 1993:164).

Capturing the final, all-embracing vision

Let us capture the psalmist's vision once more: God's people in a doxological procession amidst the nations, with the Ark of his presence in their midst, on their way to Mount Zion, calling upon the nations to join the covenant people's praise of the one and only Most High, confessing their faith in him as the one who will create a nation for himself from among all the nations of the world. A modern Christian version of this vision envisages a united church of Jesus Christ among the nations of the world, entering the twenty-first century under the guidance of his Holy Spirit, urgently calling all people, wherever and whoever and whatever they may be, to turn willingly to God in Christ and join the praise of the Most High, to which this great little psalm, from its beginning to its end, as with one great trumpet blast so emphatically summons everyone.

Finally, a New Testament version of Psalm 47 would most likely merge into the doxology of every living being in creation as overheard by the seer of Patmos (Rev. 5:13):

To the One who sits on the throne

and to the Lamb

be praise and honour and glory and power

for ever and ever!


Hebrew Text and Bible Versions

AfrV = Die Bybel in Afrikaans (1953-vertaling), Kaapstad: BBBG, 1962.

Alte Testament = Das Alte Testament (Einheitsübersetzung der Heilige Schrift). Stuttgart: Katholische Bibelanstalt, 1974.

Amplified Bible = The Amplified Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

AV = Holy Bible (Authorised Version). London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1964.

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (ed. K Elliger/W Rudolph). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1984.

BRUNS = Hans Bruns: Die Bibel (neu übertragen und erklärt von Hans Bruns). Giessen-Basel: Brunnen Verlag, 1971.

CANISIUS = De Petrus Canisius vertaling, 1929, in: Het Oude Testament in zes Nederlandse Vertalingen II. 's-Gravenhage: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 1979.

CEV = Holy Bible (Contemporary English Version). Cape Town: Bible Society of South Africa, 1996.

God's Word (Today's Bible Translation that says what it means). Grand Rapids, Michigan: World Publishing Inc., 1995.

Gute Nachricht = Die gute Nachricht (Die Bibel in heutigem Deutsch). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1982.

JB = The Jerusalem Bible. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966.

La Bible = La Sainte Bible. Alliance Biblique Universelle, 1986.

Leidse Vertaling = De Leidse Vertaling, 1914, in: Het Oude Testament in zes Nederlandse Vertalingen II. 's-Gravenhage, 1979.

Lewende Bybel = Die lewende Bybel. Roodepoort: CUM, 1983.

Living Bible = The living Bible. Paraphrased. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972.

LUTHER = Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments nach der deutschen Übersetzung D. Martin Luthers. Stuttgart: Privileg. Würtemb. Bibelanstalt, 1951.

MOFFAT = The Moffat Translation of the Bible. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953.

New American Standard Bible (The open Bible). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985.

NAV – Die Bybel (Nuwe Afrikaanse vertaling). Kaapstad: Bybelgenootskap van Suid-Afrika, 1983.

NBG = Nieuwe Vertaling Nederlandsch Bijbelgenootschap, in: Het Oude Testament in zes Nederlandse Vertalingen II. 's-Gravenhage, 1979.

NEB = The New English Bible. Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, 1970.

NIV = New International Version of the holy Bible. New York: New York International Bible Society, 1979.

New Jerusalem Bible = The New Jerusalem Bible. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985.

New Living Translation = The New Living Translation. Christian Art Publishers, 1996.

New Revised Standard Version. Oxford University Press, 1989.

NXT = Ibhayibhile (Inguqulelo Entsha). Umbutho weBhayibhile womzantsi-Afrika, 1996 (New Xhosa Translation).

OBBINK = De vertaling van prof H.Th. Obbink, 1934, in: Het Oude Testament in zes Nederlandse Vertalingen II. 's-Gravenhage: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 1979.

OXT = Izibhalo Ezingcwele. Umbutho weBhayibhile womZantsi-Afrika, 1994 (Old Xhosa Translation).

PETERSON = E H Peterson: The message: The Psalms. Colorado: Colorado Springs, 1994.

REB = The Revised English Bible. Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, 1989.

RSV = The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. London: Thomas Nelson, 1963.

RV = The Revised Version of 1881.

SEGOND = Louis Segond: La sainte Bible. Nouvelle édition revue. Paris: 58 rue de Clichy, 1959.

Septuaginta (edidit A. Rahlfs), vol.2. Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1952.

TEV = Today's English Version (Good News Bible). Collins/Fontana: The Bible Societies, 1976.

Vulgata = Biblia Vulgata (Biblia Sacra). Matriti: Biblioteca de Outores Christianos, 1946.

Commentaries, articles and other relevant works

ARENS, A. 1961. Die Psalmen im Gottesdienst des Alten Bundes. Trier: Paulinus-Verlag (Trierer Theologische Studien).

AUFFRET, P. 1990. "Il est monté, Dieu'. Étude structurelle du Psaume 47. Science et Esprit, 42(1): 61-75.

AUFFRET, P. 1991. L'ensemble des trois Psaumes 46, 47 et 48: étude structurelle. Esprit, 43(3): 339-348.

BARNES, A. Notes, critical, explanatory and practical, on the Book of Psalms II. London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.

BAZAK, J. 1988. Numerical devices in biblical poetry. Vetus Testamentum, 38(3): 333-337.

BEAUCAMP, E. 1976. Le Psautier (Ps. 1-72). Paris: Librairie Lecoffre (Sources Bibliques).

BÖHL, F.M. Th. 1947. De Palmen II. Groningen, Batavia: J.B. Wolters (Tekst en Uitleg).

BRIGGS, C.A. & BRIGGS, E.G. 1907. The Book of Psalms I. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark (The International Critical Commentary).

BRUEGGEMANN, W. 1984. The message of the Psalms. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.

BRUEGGEMANN, W. 1986. Praying the Psalms. Winona, Minnesota: Saint Mary's Press.

BURGER, C.W. 1988. Psalm 47, in Riglyne vir prediking oor die Psalms (red. C.W. Burger et al). Kaapstad: NGK-Uitgewers, 131-136 (Woord teen die Lig II/4).

BUTTENWIESER, M. 1969. The Psalms (chronologically treated with a new translation). New York: KTAV Publishing House.

CALVYN, J. 1970. Het boek der Psalmen. Goudriaan: W.A. de Groot.

COHEN, Samuel I. 1995. Psalm 47: Numerical and geometrical devices used to emphasize the author's message. Jewish Biblical Quarterly 23(4): 258-264.

DAHOOD, M. 1966. Psalms I. New York: Doubleday.

DAVISON, W.T. n.d. Psalms I. Edinburgh: T.C. & A.C. Jack (The Century Bible).

DEIST, F.E. 1996. Hemelvaart. Die Burger, 18 Mei, hoofartikelbladsy (editor's page).

DELITZSCH, F. 1880. Biblical Commentary on the Psalms II. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

DU PREEZ, J. 1990. David Bosch's theology of religions: an exercise in humility. Missionalia 18:1 (April): 195-204.

DU TOIT, S. 1958. Die Psalms, in Die Bybel met Verklarende Aantekeninge, vol.2. Kaapstad: Verenigde Protestantse Uitgewers, 1087-1329.

GROSHEIDE, F.W. 1952. De Psalmen I. Kampen: J.H. Kok.

GROSSBERG, D. 1982. The disparate elements of the inclusio in Psalms. Hebrew Annual Review 6: 97-104.

KIDNER, D. 1977. Psalms 1-72. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries).

KIRKPATRICK, A.F. 1906. The Book of Psalms (Psalms 42-89). Cambridge: University Press (The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

KRAUS, H-J. 1988. Psalms 1-59. Minneapolis: Augsburg.

KROLL, W.M. 1987. Psalms. London: University Press of America.

LABUSCHAGNE, C.J. 1987. De numerieke structuuranalyse van de bijbelse geschriften. Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 41: 1-16.

LEUNER, H.D. 1983. Judaism, in The world's religions (ed. Sir Norman Anderson). London: Inter- Varsity Press.

LEUPOLD, H.C. 1972. Exposition of Psalms. London: Evangelical Press.

MACLAREN, A. 1893. The Psalms II. London: Hodder & Stoughton (The Expositor's Bible, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll).

MAILLOT, A. et LELIÉVRE, A. 1972. Les Psaumes I. Genève: Éditions Labor et Fides.

MAYS, J.L. 1994. The Psalms. Atlanta: John Knox Press (Interpretation).

MOTYER, J.A. 1994. The Psalms, in New Bible Commentary (ed. G.J. Wenham et al). Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

MOWINCKEL, S. 1962. The Psalms in Israel's worship I. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

MUILENBERG, J. 1944. Psalm 47. Journal of Biblical Literature 63: 235-256.

NOORDTZIJ, A. 1934. Het boek der Psalmen. Kampen: J.H. Kok (Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift).

ODENDAAL, D.H. 1988. Psalm 47, in Riglyne vir prediking oor die Psalms (red. C.W. Burger et al). Kaapstad: NGK-Uitgewers, 125-131 (Woord teen die Lig II/4).

POTEAT, E.M. 1955. The Book of Psalms (Exposition). New York: Abingdon Press (The Interpreter's Bible, Vol.4).

RIDDERBOS, J. 1958. De Psalmen II. Kampen: J.H. Kok (Commentaar op het Oude Testament).

RIDDERBOS, Nic. H. 1973. De Psalmen II. Kampen: J.H. Kok (Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift).

ROBERTS, J.J.M. 1976. The religio-political setting of Psalm 47. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 221: 129-132.

ROGERSON, J.W. & MCKAY, J.W. 1977. Psalms 1-50 (The Cambridge Bible Commentary).

ROSENDAL, B. 1991. "Gott ist aufgesteigen'. Zur Geschichte der Interpretation von Psalm 47. Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 1: 148-154.

SABOURIN, L. 1974. The Psalms: Their origin and meaning. New York: Alba House.

SCHAPER, J. 1994. Psalm 47 und sein "Sitz im Leben'. Zeitschrift für das Altentestamentische Wissenschaft 106: 262-275.

SIBINGA, J.S. 1987. Gedicht en getal. Over de compositie van Psalm 6. Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 42: 185-207.

SIBINGA, J.S. 1988. Some observations on the composition of Psalm 47. Vetus Testamentum 38: 474-480.

SMAL, P.J.N. 1956. Die universalisme in die Psalms. Kampen: J.H. Kok.

TAYLOR, W.R. 1955. The Book of Psalms. New York: Abingdon Press (The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 4).

VALETON, J.J.P. (jr.) 1912. De Psalmen I. Nijmegen: H. ten Hoet.

VAN DER MERWE, C.H.J. 1996. Psalm 47. Unpublished notes for an Old Testament seminar, Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch, 20 May 1996.

VAN DER PLOEG, J.P.M. 1971. Psalmen I. Roermond & Zonen (De Boeken van het Oude Testament).

VAN GEMEREN, W.A. 1991. Psalms, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol.5. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

VAN UCHELEN, N.A. 1977. Psalmen II. Nijkerk: Callenbach (De Prediking van het Oude Testament).

WATSON, W.G.E. 1984. Classical Hebrew poetry (A guide to its techniques). JSOT Supplement Series 26. Sheffield: Dept. of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield.

WEISER, A. 1962. The Psalms. London: SCM (The Old Testament Library).

WESTERMANN, C. 1980. The Psalms (Structure, content and message). Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.

WHARTON, James A. 1993. Psalm 47 (From text to sermon). Interpretation 47: 163-165.

WIERSINGA, H.A. n.d. Zendingsperspectief in het Oude Testament. Baarn: Bosch & Keuning.

1 Jannie du Preez is an emeritus professor of Missiology at the University of Stellenbosch. His address is: 11 Orange Ave., Union Park, 7600 Stellenbosch.

2 With some hesitation I offer my own translation of the Psalm. The numbering of the verses of the Psalm varies from author to author. I therefore make consistent use of the numbering I used in my own translation when referring to another author's opinion on a certain verse in the Psalm.

3 Verse 7(b) literally reads: 'Sing a psalm maskîl'. The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain. It may indicate a musical or literary term, characterising either the contents of the song (skilful, artistic, doctrinal), or the way in which it is to be sung. A variety of renderings is found in Van der Ploeg (1971:293).

4 Less convincing still, says Sabourin (1974:198), seems to be Dahood's reading in verse 9: "The God of Abraham is the Strong One" instead of the traditional "people of the God of Abraham.'

5 For the sake of the interested reader I mention (in alphabetical order) a number of translations and commentaries which reflect the view that other nations join with the people of God (Israel). Translations: Except the Vulgata also e.g. Amplified Bible; Canisius; Gute Nachricht; La Bible; Living Bible; Moffat; Obbink; NAV; NEB; New Jerusalem Bible; NXT; REB; Segond; TEV. Commentaries: Barnes; Briggs. Buttenwieser; Davison; Kraus; Maillot/Leliévre; Noordtzij; Van der Ploeg.

6 Here follows a number of translations and commentaries which reflect the idea that the nations themselves gather together as people of God. Translations: Except Luther, also e.g. Alte Testament; AV; Afr.V; Bruns; CEV; God's Word; Leidse Vertaling; Lewende Bybel; New American Standard Bible; NBG; NIV; New Revised Standard Version; OXT; RSV; RV. Commentaries: Beaucamp; Böhl; Delitzsch; Du Toit; Leupold; Muilenberg; NH Ridderbos; Rogerson/McKay; Valeton.

7 Here follows a number of translations and commentaries which reflect the idea that the nations themselves gather together as people of God. Translations: Except Luther, also e.g. Alte Testament; AV; Afr.V; Bruns; CEV; God's Word; Leidse Vertaling; Lewende Bybel; New American Standard Bible; NBG; NIV; New Revised Standard Version; OXT; RSV; RV. Commentaries: Beaucamp; Böhl; Delitzsch; Du Toit; Leupold; Muilenberg; NH Ridderbos; Rogerson/McKay; Valeton.

8 With reference to verse 9, W Brueggemann (1984:150) opines that Psalm 47 wishes to affirm both God's general governance of the nations and his special commitment to the people of Israel. However, it may be questionable whether verse 9 can be claimed for this thought.

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