Psalm 47 Teaches Us How to Worship

Psalm 47 gives us a guide about how and who to worship while allowing the flexibility to incorporate personal or cultural tastes.

The nature, character, and method of worship has been debated for centuries with multiple opinions offered.  The conversation, however, often revolves around five questions:

  • Who is to worship?
  • Who do we worship?
  • How do we worship?
  • Why do we worship?
  • What should be included in a worship service?

These questions have been asked by Christians ever since the early days of the church. Often, it is clothed in debates of architecture, musical styles, and other less important things. Many books and classes have been taught promoting one idea over another. Rather than look at such outward things, let’s look at scripture. Psalm 47 answers these three questions for us while allowing the flexibility to incorporate personal or cultural tastes.

Let’s take these questions one at a time.

Who is to worship?

Verses 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, and 9 all mention “all peoples” or “all nations.” Verse 9 states that all people who believe in God–all those who are saved–are adopted as God’s children. Those who are to worship are those who are saved. In other words, all Christians are to worship God. Eventually the whole earth, saved and unsaved, will call him Lord, but those who reject Christ will call him Lord not out of worship and love, but out of recognizing an undeniable fact. I will answer the question why Christians worship in a few moments.

Who do we worship?

Christians worship God and God alone. The psalmist states Christians “shout to God” (v. 1), that “the LORD Most High is to be feared” (v. 2), and we are to “sing praises to God… sing praises to the King” (v. 6). Also, God told us in Deut. 5:7, “You shall have no other gods before me.” God alone shall be worshipped. Not man, not money, not the pastor, not things, nothing but God.

How do we worship?

This is less about the procedures and more about the attitude. The psalmist mentions two attitudes: joy (v. 1) and fear (v. 2). Joy means seeking God’s will rather than our own. God is central in our worship and desires. We should seek to honor Him and Him alone. It also includes a sense of happiness and satisfaction. Worship, at times, calls for celebration. We should rest in God’s grace and celebrate our salvation given to us by Him.

Fear in the Hebrew sense incorporates both being afraid/dreading God’s judgment as well as honoring and recognizing his awesomeness. It’s a statement of terror (judgment) and respect. Sometimes, the Hebrew intends one or the other. In this psalm, I believe the author intends both. Fear God’s judgment, for His is king and ruler over all; respect his sovereignty, for He is the one who chooses us and provides for us.

Therefore, as Christians, we are to worship with both joy and fear.

Why do we worship?

The psalm mentions three primary reasons. First, because God is king over all peoples and places (vv. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, and 9). There is no place on earth beyond His reign or reach. No person or place is outside His rule, judgment, or reach. Second, we are told God chooses us and our inheritance (vv. 3, 4, and 9). In other words, God wants us and provides for our needs. The inheritance in verse 4 refers to the promised land, which God gave to His chosen people to provide for all their needs. Third, we are told to worship God because He adopted us as His children (v. 9). As Christians, God saved us by His grace through faith, and not of our own works. Otherwise, if our works played a role in our salvation, we would have room to boast and brag about ourselves. But only God can boast, not man, because it is grace alone, through faith, that saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9).

What should be included in a worship service?

A variety of methods of worship are mentioned, including

  • clapping hands (v. 1);
  • shouting to God (v. 1);
  • singing praises (vv. 6-7);
  • using our minds (v. 7).

Clapping hands

Clapping includes more than just literal clapping. It refers to any physical motion, including dancing (David danced; 2 Samuel 6:14), raising hands, drama, or other physical motions. Those who forbid raising hands or clapping to a sing to praise God are stopping worship.

Shouting to God

Shouting means singing aloud. Many Christians attend church and either sing quietly or not at all. We are to sing aloud. God doesn’t hear as we hear. Man hears someone sing and decides of they are tone-deaf or on key. God listens to the heart. If you sing to God, say “amen,” or say “hallelujah” during the sermon to praise God, God finds it beautiful. Those who stop people from singing aloud because they don’t like how it sounds are going against God. They are stopping someone from worshiping God as God said to worship Him.

Singing praises

Singing praises means singing songs. Some churches refuse to sing songs to God for various reasons. God wants us to sing. He wants us to sing about Him and to Him. God gave us music so we can use it to worship Him. Therefore, sing praises to God!

Using our minds

The phrase “using our minds” is not found in this psalm based on many English translations. Here’s how some popular translations render the last Hebrew word in verse 7.

  • ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT – use “with a psalm” or “a skillful psalm;”
  • NEB – uses “with all your heart;”
  • KJV, NKJV, RV, LXX* – uses “with understanding” or “learning.”

According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament,1 the Hebrew word used here derives from words meaning “memory passage,” “wisdom song performed to music,” and “with insight.” Paul referenced this psalm when he said, “I will sing with the mind” (1 Cor. 14:15).

I am convinced Paul understood the Hebrew and accepted the LXX translation as valid. Therefore, based on scriptural understanding of scripture and HALOT, I believe this is not a call to sing a psalm, a skillful psalm, or with all our heart. Rather, this is a call to learn and sing scripture. We can do this in a worship service today by preaching the word. On our own, we can study and memorize scripture. We can sing various psalms.

Worshiping God means learning and preaching His word. Many preachers spend time developing sermons based on scripture. They decide to preach or speak on a topic and use scripture to support what they proclaim. I believe preachers should spend less time preaching sermons based on the Bible and start preaching from the Bible. If pastors want to see their congregations understand scripture better, then they should start preaching scripture. God’s word should be the text of the sermon, not the support for a sermon. We should never demote God’s word to second place behind any idea. Rather, the ideas should align with the authoritative teachings of scripture.

*LXX = Septuagint; Greek translation of the Hebrew text. The writers of the New Testament and Jesus often referred to the LXX when quoting from the Old Testament.

1. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Ludwig Koehler And Walter Baumgartner. CD-ROM Edition. © 1994-2000 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.

About John L. Rothra
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