This post is part of a series called CANTICLES, in which I reflect upon a poetic biblical text chosen for the upcoming Sunday’s worship. For a general introduction to the series, read this post.
I love this psalm for verses 5-7 alone. How many times and in how many ways can the psalmist call us to singing?! As someone who loves music, who loves singing with other people, the call to sing rings wonderfully in my ears. I could sing my whole life long. Not only that, but God has gone up with a joyful shout as well! God is singing right alongside us. Actually, God initiated the song. We’re the ones joining.
Still, verse 3 kind of sticks in my throat. There’s a militaristic tone that feels wrong on my tongue. How can I praise God for subduing other people? This question lead me to three reflections.
If we want to talk about the people we meet, the media we consume, the economy in which we participate, and the faith of which we are a part, we must speak in global terms and think about global impact and the range of different people, places, worship styles, theologies and customs that are implicated in this global perspective.
First, we can never forget, when reading the Hebrew Bible, that the people who sang these songs were the underdogs. Israel was never a massive empire, like Egypt, or Babylon or Rome, or the United States today. When the people of Israel sang about God subduing other people under their feet, it is almost always a song of relief from the unending instability of being a small kingdom surrounded by warring empires. This drives me to consider how my actions, as a part of a nation with so much power, are influencing the lives of those who live amidst the wreckage of our wars overseas. Do those people long for God to subdue us here in the US?
Second, the Israelites, at least in this psalm, call all the nations to become a part of their family. They are not calling for utter destruction here. They are calling for God to bring all of the families of the earth together. Now, admittedly, the desire is for those families to be together under Israel’s sway and that is a human tendency to want to subjugate others which should give us pause.
Finally, all of the power belongs to God. God is the great king, not the king of Israel. God did the subduing, not Israel’s armies. God sits on the throne and owns all the shields. It is God who is to be exalted.
But why does this matter for youth ministry? I’m glad you asked.
Current estimates predict that immigrants will make up one-seventh of the US population by 2023. That’s 7 years from now. In 7 years, every seventh person you meet will have come from a different country. This leaves aside the fact that, save for the Native American population, most of us in the US are children of immigrants. By 2060, when our current teenagers will have teenagers of their own, the immigrant population will reach 1/5th of the US total. We will be living in a truly multicultural, multilingual country. My kids already play with friends whose parents come from across the world and speak languages at home other than English.
Leaving aside the not-so-distant and the fairly distant future, the influence of technology and trade on our daily lives cannot be understated. On Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix and the host of other streaming sites, we can watch TV shows and movies from Asia, South America and Europe. Trade policies, job growth, higher education and a whole host of other issues that influence our daily lives are global matters. And, make no mistake, the face of Christianity is not a white, western, European face. Currently, the balance of the Christian world is shifting to the global south. Sub-Saharan Africa holds a greater percentage of the world’s Christian population than North America. Brazil has almost as many Christians as the United States. You can find these statistics (and others) by using this interactive map.
If we want to talk about the people we meet, the media we consume, the economy in which we participate, and the faith of which we are a part, we must speak in global terms and think about global impact and the range of different people, places, worship styles, theologies and customs that are implicated in this global perspective. This is very difficult for us to do. It is especially difficult for us to do well and to do in ways in which we are not the center of the conversation. But Psalm 47 reminds us that God, in fact, should be the center of the conversation. It is God who redeems us, God who unites us, God to whom we sing.
Newsboys, “He Reigns,” – One of the purest versions of this psalm I know. Not a direct translation, but a spiritual sibling. Also, incredibly singable and easy to play.
Robert Lowry, “How Can I Keep from Singing,” sung by Audrey Assad – While this is a more meditative expression of Psalm 47, it gets at the core dynamic of verse 5-7. God’s salvation enables us to live through the “tumult and strife” in ways that keep us singing and singing and singing.
Robert Grant, “O Worship the King,” sung by Wendell Kimbrough – Though this is technically based on Psalm 104, there are quite a few echoes of Psalm 47 here. Kimbrough includes a chord sheet for his version of the song. Also, check out his website for information about various psalm projects that he has been working on.
Taizé, “Laudate Dominum” – Sung with multiple languages! This wonderful Taizé chant is easy to learn, simple to play. Verses can be sung in multiple languages over the repeated refrain. This dynamic reminds us of our unity that is created out of, not in spite of diversity.
Marcus A. Hong is a child of God, a PhD Candidate in Christian Education and Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a cultivator of worship who has served in congregations, college chapels, and youth groups for over fifteen years. A lover of movies, fantasy literature, poetry and songwriting, Marcus and his wife Sarah have their hands blessedly full raising two precocious children.