To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah
1 O clap your hands, all ye people: shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
2 For the LORD Most High is terrible: He is a great King over all the earth.
3 He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet.
4 He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah.
5 God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding.
8 God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of His holiness.
9 The princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham: for the shields of the earth belong unto God: He is greatly exalted.
We sing praises to God, our conquering King.
Exaltation. Our spirits are lifted up to the highest level of praise to God. We feel a rush of admiration not unlike the sentiment experienced by a people whose armies win a war. As we consider the sovereign rule of God over the most powerful kings of the earth, we are overcome by a sense of awe which drives that praise and worship due His name.
Verse 1. Do you know how to tell if there is worship going on? Listen for cheering. If there is loud clapping, shouting, and cheering you can be sure that there is worship going on. Regrettably, the only time most people witness this sort of activity would be during sporting events or political rallies. In general, our worship of God is not loud enough because there is not enough joy and faith to express in worship. Perhaps there is little confidence that we already have the victory in Christ. To the extent that we realize the victory, there ought to be joyful praise that should at least rival the praise given to warriors and sports heroes that win their lesser battles.
But, how can worship come across as loud, yet still reverent, and enthusiastic, but not obnoxious? Certainly, worship must begin in the heart where reverence, admiration, faith, and love give birth to true praise. Most communities of people know something about praise and how to encourage it. For example, in most organized sporting events, squads of cheerleaders are responsible for encouraging the crowds to praise the teams. Here the Psalmist serves in a similar role as he issues a rousing call for God’s people to start clapping and shouting in praise to God.
You may have noticed that a number of the psalms fully expect the Gentile nations to join in this worship. This psalm is no exception. The psalms were written for the entirety of church history, and today this psalm is as applicable as ever. Indeed, we should call our brothers and sisters to join in with our worship from as far away as China, Pakistan, Indonesia, France, Ghana, Columbia, New Zealand, Greenland, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Iran.
Verses 2–3. Now the Psalmist provides good reasons to praise God. Indeed, Yahweh is worthy of our praise for His transcendence. Although the president of this country may not be your friend, he is still worthy of your admiration because he is above you in power and glory. This is the idea of “transcendence.” Note the word used in verse 2 to describe this transcendence. The King James Version uses the word “terrible.” Other translations render it as “awesome.” Actually, the word is derived from the word “fear,” and is best rendered as “fear-inspiring.” What is prominent in the mind of the Psalmist is the scene at the Red Sea where Pharaoh’s armies were wiped out, or the battle scenes throughout Canaan where God overcame the enemies of His people. When God executes His fierce justice against those who refuse His rule and despise His law, there is only one word to describe it: “terrifying.”
God is the King over all the earth. Through centuries of human history, this King wages war and subdues the nations under “us.” Primarily, this happens by means of the work of the Spirit of God through the preaching of the Word. Throughout all of history, we find many examples where God has exalted the humble. It is precisely when His church is most despised that He works the most powerfully to subdue the nations. As the church gains ascendancy in a culture, oftentimes it falls into heresy and schisms that are rooted in pride. But in the general course of church history, we have seen the pattern begin with the Gospel introduced to new lands. Then the church is persecuted for hundreds of years, followed by a period of peace and prosperity. This pattern has been repeated on every continent since Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. The King is subduing the nations under the church.
Verse 4. Another reason we have to praise God is found in His immanence. Whereas His transcendence refers to His power and glory, His immanence is evident in the gracious relationship that He has established with His people. While God is terrifying in His judgment, He is overwhelmingly gracious to His covenant people. As children of a King, we know that God has laid out a blessed inheritance for us. The land of Canaan was just a foretaste of what God’s people will enjoy in eternity. Likewise, today we enjoy great blessings as God’s kingdom comes into our own lives, but the consummation of our inheritance awaits us in Heaven.
Verses 5–9. The psalm speaks of the kingship of God, and you know that Jesus Christ, the son of David, has already ascended to His throne. God has made Him both Lord and Christ. By the Apostles’ testimony we know beyond any doubt that our Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, and He must rule until He brings all His enemies under His footstool (Acts 2:34–36). This ascension is described in verse 5. Christ’s resurrection and ascension made up the definitive victory for His people. This was the beginning of His conquering campaign in the hearts and institutions of men. This constituted the initiation of Jesus’ rule at the right hand of the Father. Now His kingdom spreads across the globe—and there is not a country, nor an institution of man, that has not been touched by His powerful rule.
Towards the end of the psalm, we are reminded again several times that our God rules over every nation. He maintains His rule in perfect holiness. Even people who rule in the civil magistrate (princes) will participate in His worship.
Praise is a matter of faith. How do you praise a King you have never seen? Of course, we must believe what the Bible says about God before we will praise Him. We cannot believe in a God we do not know. That is why it is so important for us to study God’s Word, that we may praise God with understanding and faith.
1. In worship, the focus is not on ourselves, our sins, our failures, or our successes. As we worship God, we must always bring our focus back to God, the source of all blessings, the terrifying Judge of the wicked, and the Sovereign over all the earth. If our worship services have not done that, we have not worshiped God.
2. God requires us to sing in His worship. There are no options on this point. Because it is the one art form required by God, we ought to take this element of worship seriously and train ourselves and our children to sing and sing well.
3. It is fitting that we celebrate again the resurrection of our victorious Savior each and every Sunday, and to join in with the shouts of the angels. Five times in this worship service, the Psalmist cries out, “Sing praises to our God and King.” He is relentless in his insistence to worship. It is as if he were saying, “We cannot be satisfied with this worship service until everybody has put their all into it. No one should be sitting back in his seat and gazing out the window. Nothing short of warm-hearted, whole-hearted praise is appropriate when it comes to the worship of our King.” The spirit, praise, and adoration we see in sporting events should be nothing in comparison to that which exists in our churches.
The Apostle Paul adds an important qualification to godly worship in 1 Corinthians 14:15, when he tells the church at Corinth to be careful to “sing praise with the understanding.” It is easy to fall into the trap of employing sentimental emotion at the expense of intelligent communication in our praise.
Unfortunately, the church has seen far too much of this sort of hymnody over the last few centuries. Sometimes emotions are manipulated through lighting, repetition of phrases or mantras in music, wild and uncontrolled exhibitionism, or through use of other worldly methods. The real problem with these ploys is that they disengage the mind from the worship. Good worship music is rooted in good, solid, biblical doctrine. It is rich in its use of whole psalms. It starts with a rich understanding of God’s nature and works, and continues in faith with adoration and praise. God wants our minds, emotions, and wills fully engaged in His worship.
1. What kind of expectation does this psalm hold out for the heathen nations?
2. What is the difference between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence?
3. What art form is required in God’s worship?
4. Why is God so terrible?
5. How do we sing praises?
6. Give an example of a Messianic Psalm.
1. Do we enter into the praise of the King in worship with hearts that are filled with awe, triumph, and true joy? Or do our minds wander during the singing of psalms and praises?
2. Can you see how your relationship with God is closer than your relationship with the president of this country? Can your heart be filled with awe and reverence for a great man in history, though you may have never met him? How much more should your heart fill with awe and reverence for God?
3. Is our worship loud enough? Do we ever shout in worship?