“Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God” is the chorus to a popular Christian song  that has been recorded by many artists. The song, of course, like “As The Deer ,” “Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken ,” Better Is One Day ,” and “Be Still And Know ,” is taken from the psalms of the Sons of Korah, an obscure group of Levites who have not received a great deal of credit for their immensely beautiful and enduringly popular hymns.
As is usually the case, the psalms of the Sons of Korah are far deeper in their meaning than the often superficial but catchy songs that are taken from their psalms. Like Psalm 87, another psalm of the Sons of Korah, Psalm 47 talks about the awesomeness of God in the context of His universal rule over the world as well as the salvation for believing Gentiles. Needless to say, this part of the psalm is usually overlooked when people want to make songs saying how awesome God is without saying why God is awesome. Therefore, let us take a look at Psalm 47 to examine why the psalmist says that God is awesome and why we should shout to God with the voice of triumph in our victory.
Oh Clap Hands, All You Peoples
Psalm 47 is divided into three short parts. The first part of Psalm 47 talks about how God will subdue the (Gentile) peoples of the world under His authority, and seems to refer to some of those Gentiles being on the side of God’s conquering army. The second part of the psalm connects the sound of a trumpet with God’s conquest of the world as a conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The third part of the psalm talks about the universality and glory of God’s rule. Let us examine each part of this verse in turn.
The first part of Psalm 47, Psalm 47:1-4, reads: “Oh, clap hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. He will subdue the peoples under us, and the nations under our feet. He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Shelah.” We can see from this passage where the chorus to “Our God Is An Awesome God” comes from, but the awesomeness of God, left undefined except for vague power and wisdom is defined here very specifically and in relationship to the covenant that God has with Israel.
Here we see an interesting and thought provoking introduction. Here the Gentiles are called to shout in triumph at the conquest of the Lord Most High over the entire earth. We also see that the Gentiles are subdued under the feet of Israel. But why would the Gentiles be called upon to celebrate that? Most people find it difficult to celebrate their military defeat (Psalm 137:4-7). Given this, it would appear likely, therefore, that the psalmist is calling upon the Gentiles to rejoice because they are part of the winning side. We have noted elsewhere in the psalms of the Sons of Korah  that believers who are born as Gentiles are counted by God as citizens of Jerusalem (Psalm 87:4-6). Paul makes the same point when He says that Gentile believers are grafted into the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:13-24), and that Israel will be grafted back into its own tree once it responds to God with belief rather than rejection of His ways. This has yet to happen, therefore the psalm would appear to be prophetic, speaking of the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom on the earth.
Indeed, we see in many prophetic passages the promise of rule for believers over unbelievers (1 Peter 2:9-10) as well as the restoration of Israel as as nation under God along with borders that fulfill the promise to Abraham (see Genesis 15:18-21, Ezekiel 47:13-23, where it also comments on the fact that strangers in the land shall receive an inheritance like a native-born citizen). It should be obvious that the blessings given to (spiritual) Israel here are the result of grace and not race, since those who are not physical descendents of Jacob but who are believers from a Gentile background are called upon to praise upon God’s rule as supporters and as fellow inheritors in the blessings promised by God to Israel.
The second part of Psalm 47, Psalm 47:5-7, reads: “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet, sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with understanding.” Here we see the repeated call to sing praises to God. Over and over again we are told to praise God because of His universal rule over mankind. Here we see one of the places that can refute the idea that the God of the Hebrews was a tribal God. Far from it–the conception of God in scriptures has always been cosmic and universal, and this passage is just one of many that demonstrate this truth.
Interestingly enough, this passage also gives some indication of the timing of the fulfillment of this prophetic psalm, an often overlooked messianic psalm. The sound of the trumpet that sounds here appears to be the same trumpet that sounds the establishment of God’s kingdom and the return of Jesus Christ in Revelation 11:11-19. Here we see a picture where the Gentiles give praise and glory to God (Revelation 11:13), and where a trumpet sounds and proclaims that all the kingdoms of the earth belong to God and to Jesus Christ, who shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15). Psalm 47 and Revelation 11 seem to be pointing to the same time period–the resurrection of the saints (both Israelite and Gentile), return of Christ, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, where God’s laws will be enforced by His redeemed saints over the entire earth for the first time in history.
Psalm 47 closes with the following verses in Psalm 47:8-9: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have been gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted.” As in many biblical writings, we have a sense of chiasma here. Just as Psalm 47 opened with a call to praise God and shout to God because of his rule over all the peoples of the earth, we see the same closing, only instead of stated as a command, it is stated in a matter-of-fact way, as an accomplished reality, that God is the sole military force on the earth and rules over all through His people, and there is nothing that anyone else can do about it.
Interestingly enough, this psalm seems to parallel the imagery of Psalm 110, a little bit, pointing to the fact that God is sitting on his throne and that all enemies are defeated. Here we see how one messianic psalm can give a different context to another. Psalm 110 focuses on the power and glory of God (and Jesus Christ) as well as point out the combined royal and priestly nature of the rule of God (Exodus 19:5-6, 1 Peter 2:9-10), and Psalm 47 focuses on the fact that the rule is universal and also includes Gentile believers, and that the rule is a fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel. Here we see how different portrayals of the same reality can provide different details depending on where the focus lies, on the actions of God or on the response of God’s people. Nonetheless, despite the clear messianic imagery of this psalm (as well as its comments about Gentiles praising God’s rule), the psalm seems to be neglected and obscure among the Messianic psalms. A psalm of such beauty ought not to have its true depth and significance forgotten.
It is ironic that Psalm 47 is popular as part of a Christian song but its true messianic and universal implications of salvation and God’s rule have been neglected. The sons of Korah are striking in their psalms for the universal implications of salvation within their works, both here and in Psalm 87. Given that only a few psalms (Psalm 117 is another) show the entrance of Gentiles into God’s Kingdom and counted as people of Israel, it is remarkable that such a large proportion of that small group of psalms was written by the Sons of Korah. It would appear that like depression (Psalm 42, Psalm 88), that the fate of Gentiles was a particular interest of the Sons of Korah within their works, as was the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom (Psalm 45, 47, 48).
At any rate, Psalm 47 takes the time to describe God’s awesomeness both directly and indirectly. God is awesome because His power extends over the whole universe (including the whole earth, a province of the universe that has long been in rebellion against the rule of God). But God’s awesomeness, which deserves to be praised, is more than just about power, but also about God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. This faithfulness extends not only to the people of Israel, but to the people of every tribe and nation who call upon the name of Jesus Christ as savior and accept and practice God’s ways. Such people will be called upon to praise the establishment of God’s kingdom and to help rule it as part of the Israel of God. How awesome is that?