In the 21st Century we no longer have any “great” (meaning “powerful”) kings or queens, although one doesn’t have to go too far back into history to read about some of them.
Way back though (in fact between 705-681 BC), the Kingdom of Assyria had King Sennacherib, whose reign is well documented both in archaeological discoveries (see photo of ‘Sennacherib’s Siege of Jerusalem’) and in the Bible (2 Kings 18-19). These two chapters describe the events during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah and the threat of invasion by Sennacherib in 701BC.
So, what has this got to do with Psalm 47? Certainly, when you read it there is no mention of either of these kings, or any of the events of their reigns. According to some scholars though (e.g. M. Wilcock), “The events of 701BC…do seem to colour several psalms, including Psalm 47…” (# 5) Considering the implications of this momentous event, it would be surprising if it didn’t appear in some way in some of the psalms, although the “timeless message” of this psalm still means it can be applied in any age, even in the 21st Century.
Considering this, let’s consider the very relevant titles of God (in Bold font) in this remarkable hymn of praise to the Lord:
1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy. 2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth…
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise…
If you read 2 Kings 18-19, you will see an interesting possible connection to this psalm. This connection involves the title Sennacherib used for himself and the one the Son’s of Korah use here for God, i.e. the “great King” over all the earth.
In 2 Kings 18 we read these words, spoken by Sennacherib’s field commander to challenge and threaten Hezekiah:
“This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: ‘On what are you basing this confidence of yours?’” (verse 19)
Then to create doubt in the minds of the people in Jerusalem: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria…Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? … How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (verses 28, 32-33, 35)
Certainly Sennacherib, related I guess to his run of successful battles and his huge army, was not lacking in self-confidence, nor pride or arrogance. But, like all “great” kings (in fact any human) who begins to believe they are something they are not, they eventually find themselves on a very “slippery slope”. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace…Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 11:2 and 16:18)
And Sennacherib was no exception. History (both in the Bible and from archaeological discoveries) confirms that he had to withdraw from his campaign to invade Jerusalem and was eventually assassinated by his sons! (2 Kings 19:35-37) In fact, God did deliver Jerusalem, because not only is He not just one of the ‘gods’, in fact, He is the ‘Lord Most High.’
And so, Psalm 47 reminds us (and the Sennacherib’s of this world) that there is really only one “King of all the earth” and that is God. Now that is good news, because I get the feeling that in reality, once pride and arrogance takes over, not too many people actually appreciate the ways of rulers like Sennacherib or any other such dictators. Just look at the situation in some Middle Eastern/North African/South American countries right now.
But, hallelujah, not so God! That is why this psalm is so positive and full of joyful celebration. Listen again to what it says:
1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
Do you believe this?
Lord Most High, great King of all the earth, you are awesome. Thank you that your kingdom is one of justice, peace, holiness, love, grace, mercy and kindness, because these are your attributes. And, one day, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord’, in fact, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. Amen.