Psalm 47 is a call to worship. As many other Psalms, it serves to call the people to joyfully praise God for conquering enemies and ruling over the earth in power and sovereignty. The first line of the Psalm tells us what we are to do in praise to God; and, it tells us who is to be involved. In saying we are to clap our hands, does this mean applause? Does it mean that we are simply to keep time with the music? Or, does it refer to a physical expression of praise?
Matthew Henry, in his great commentary has this to say:”Clap your hands, as men transported with pleasure, that cannot contain themselves; shout unto God, not to make him hear (his ear is not heavy), but to make all about you hear, and take notice how much you are affected and filled with the works of God.”
In addition, we are to shout with a voice of joy. The Hebrew word for shout here is rua. It is the same word used when the people shouted and the trumpets blasted, and the walls of Jericho came crashing down. This gives us an idea of the volume, or exuberance we are to employ in praise. The word for joy in this verse is rinnaw. It is often translated singing. So, we see that we are to offer exuberant praise to God, expressed with our whole physical being; and, we are to sing to God with a volume that can bring down walls. And as yet, we’ve only looked at the first verse of this Psalm!
Truly, God is fearsome. But, why should His fearsomeness give us cause for celebration? It seems to be a strange response to a fearsome being. How is it that we can both rejoice and tremble at the same time? The dwarves of Tolkien’s epic didn’t celebrate the fearsomeness of Smaug the dragon; neither did the Poles and Czechs celebrate the fearsomeness of the invading German army at the outset of Hitler’s attempt to conquer the world. Why, then, would God’s people celebrate His fearsomeness? First, God is to be feared because His power is infinite, His rule is absolute, and He accomplishes all that He intends. Second, in light of the first, no enemy of His has even the slightest hope. But do we, in fact fear God as we should? Or, are we casual in our regard for Him who holds our very existence in His hands.
The Fear of the Lord
I look at commentaries and listen to sermons about fearing God, and they leave me confused. It’s so often explained that to “fear” God doesn’t mean that we are to be afraid of Him, but to hold Him in reverent awe. If this is true, then I need a definition of reverent awe.
Imagine you are an inhabitant of a small mountain village situated at the foot of a towering, shear mountain face. One day you look up and see that the only thing keeping the mountain from falling and crushing your village is a being that towers above the mountain that is holding back the precipice with his massive hand. Nobody else sees Him simply because they don’t look up. At that moment, your fear of the mountain pales in comparison to the being that holds your doom in His hand. Are you afraid? You are terrified.
He tells you that He will not hold back the mountain forever. Eventually, He will let go, allowing the mountain side to destroy the village and everyone in it. Your task, He tells you is to convince as many people in the village to look up and flee from the coming destruction. He promises that He will pull you from danger prior to letting go, not because you deserve it, but because He chooses to. From that moment on, you will live in real fear, knowing that you are living at the mercy of this being that has the power to destroy everything, should He choose to. Your fear is real. Is it reverent awe? Probably. Unfortunately, the concept of reverent awe has come to mean no more than solemn religiosity, expressed in the weekly ritual of church attendance.
Modern evangelicalism has adopted a diminished, and therefore wrong, view of what it means to fear God. We listen to preachers who tell us that fearing God doesn’t mean to actually be afraid, but to hold Him in reverence; and, we take that to mean something less than being afraid of a coming thunderstorm. Should we fear an earthquake and not fear the hand that holds the earth? Should we fear the kings of enemy nations, and not fear Him who turns their hearts wherever He wishes?
Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” God is exalted because of who He is, what He’s done, and what He’s promised to do. God is feared by those who know Him. Those who don’t fear Him simply haven’t looked up.