I did a double-take just now as I read the psalm from today’s lectionary. I went back and found that Psalm 47 was, indeed, the same psalm – same verses – that was also used yesterday. That is rather unusual although sometimes sequential verses of the same psalm can follow one another from one day to the next. Why it was so striking, however, had more to do with the initial images of the psalm. All you peoples, clap your hands, it sings; shout to God with cries of gladness. For the Lord, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth. I had a flash of a crowded town square with people – hands held high – cheering for God. When I tried to picture the same number of people in a church praying, the image was much more subdued. Added to that was the impact of the word awesome as an adjective used to describe God. At least in the modern world of the United States that is a word that belongs to the lexicon of the young these days. Everything is AWESOME! Although it has crept into the conversations of those of us who are senior citizens, it sounds more at home in the mouths of our grandchildren. And more than a decade ago, “awesome” appeared in Christian rock music attesting to the truth in song that “Our God is an awesome God.”
So what is the point of all this? I found a commentary that spoke well to what I am trying to convey. It causes me to consider my approach to worship and my definition of what is “appropriate behavior before God.” See what you think.
The subject of this Psalm is a God of order and providence in the midst of a world of chaos. Is the universe simply a collection of material objects in flux and chaos, or is there an Intelligence, an Order at its heart? The ancient peoples saw the latter and rejoiced, while often we in the modern world only see the former. This is a Psalm about seeing the Center of Being as Sovereign, and in that seeing being filled with joy. It is a sight that produces ecstasy, dance, and music. In the Middle East this is no chamber orchestra of soft music, this seeing is expressed in wild dancing and ecstatic joy. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 118)