This blog is part of a series of translations and comments on Psalms 42-72 the second book of Psalms. (see preceding blogs)
Fot the choir leader. A psalm of the Korahites.
All nations, clap your hands!
Shout to God with cries of joy!
For Yahweh, God Most High, brings terror,
He is a great king over the whole earth.
He puts nations under us;
He puts peoples under our feet.
He selects for us our domain,
the splendour of Jacob whom he loves.
God has gone up to Zion with a shout,
Yahweh with the ram horn’s voice.
Sing to our God, sing praise!
Sing to our King, sing praise!
For God is King of all the earth:
Sing a wise psalm!
God rules over the foreign nations;
God is set on the throne of his holiness.
The princes of the nations are gathered
with the people of Abraham’s God,
for all earth’s rulers belong to God,
the One Supreme.
This is one of those Psalms which many readers find unattractive. Christians should reflect that their own hymns that praise the triumph of their God are similarly unattractive to those of other faiths, and even to some of the same faith, like me. It’s true that this psalm was written in a tiny nation that was always getting duffed up by the big boys of the region. The victories over other nations mentioned in it, are probably the mythical nations defeated in the mythical conquest of Canaan, as recounted in the book of Joshua, which is the story of what ought to have happened, rather than what actually did happen. The belligerent language of the psalm represents either a scene from the future kingdom of God, or a ceremonial enactment of Yahweh’s power, or both. In any case the “gathering of the (foreign) nations to the Abrahamic God” is voluntary: they recognise his worth.
In the psalm, the foreign nations are called into the worship of Israel’s God, they should join the procession which takes the Ark of the Lord into the temple on Zion. Israel’s God dwells with the people, with the Ark, but requires them to move upwards towards the holy place. As they move upwards, other peoples can join them, wihout losing face, because they all have to “ascend.”
But this God is frightening as well as helpful; meeting God requires praise, the human way of standing before God. The victories of God’s people are directed simply to bringing the defeated to praise the one God. The domain of Israel, the land, is God’s great gift to Jacob/ Israel, but is not meant to provoke requests from other nations for equal treatment. At this point the notion of divine justice falls apart. Other peoples only come to God through Israel. Even the bold assertion that all rulers belong to God means that they assemble with Israel before God rather than in their own right.
The psalm can be seen as a promise of the kingdom of God, but it remains sectarian rather than ecumenical, national rather than human.