New International Version (NIV)
1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
2 Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.
3 The seas have lifted up, Lord,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the Lord on high is mighty.
5 Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days.
“The Lord reigns!”
Some of us use the expression to console ourselves in times of defeat: We lost but it’s OK because the Lord still reigns anyway.
But the rest of us also use the same as the reason for victory: We won because the Lord reigns and will not allow injustice to rule.
So, who’s got it right? But perhaps that’s not the question to ask. So, instead of answering that question, let us take a closer look at the expression “The Lord reigns” as found in Psalm 93.
Psalm 93 was written in Hebrew which is considered a dead language. And the truth of the matter is, although I took courses on biblical Hebrew–and passed!–I still am a “dead-language-impaired” student of the Bible.
But hey, even Mark Throntveit who has taught the dead-language-impaired for almost thirty years does not have an easy time interpreting the text either! Throntveit may be Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament but the first two words of Psalm 93 seem to have already given him a headache! He writes, “I still marvel at the problems associated with the first two words of Psalm 93, two of the very first words one learns in the study of Hebrew.”1
The first two words in question are Yahweh malak, which the NIV translates “The Lord reigns,” or, as Throntveit puts it, “Virtually every translation simply and elegantly renders these words…, ‘The LORD (‘Yahweh’) is king.’”
However, Throntveit points out that “Yahweh has become king,” as an alternate translation, “is frequently encountered in the commentaries and scholarly literature…” and that “the discussion centers on important theological implications.”
Honestly, Throntveit’s explanation of the problem gave me a headache! But maybe it’s just me. At the end of what was like a dark tunnel, however, I saw the light. Regardless which translation one might prefer, the meaning of Psalm 93 is straightforward and clear: it is a hymn of praise that reasserts Yahweh’s kingship, which is eternal and established.
The Lord reigns and his kingship which has no beginning or end and is well-established. And thus “the world is established, firm and secure” (v. 1). Now that sounds pretty good until we look at what’s going on in our own life and in our world where evil or the kingdom of darkness seems to have the upper hand.
Not long after after Israelis and Hamas agreed to stop killing each other through a cease-fire that Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi helped broker, the Egyptians took to the streets, again, and violent protests broke out across Egypt. This time they are mad at Mursi’s use of “expanded” power. With angry chants they demand the “downfall of the regime”– the same rallying cry in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
In our world today, chaos and conflict seem to be the rule rather than the exception. And you and I can just shake our heads and wonder when this insanity is going to end, or if it is going to end at all.
So if the Lord really reigns how come this is the kind of world we have? Why is it that evil seems to triumph over good? And if the Lord is King, how come people do not seem to acknowledge him or see his rule?
Before we let ourselves give in to despair and hopelessness, let us remind ourselves that the reason why this psalm of praise was written and sung by God’s people was to reassert the truth that Yahweh reigns despite what was going on in their world, which I assume was no better than our world today.
Because the Lord’s reign is eternal and secure, the people of the Lord, theking, should then have the confidence to not only proclaim it but, more importantly, to live under God’s rule! There is a need for us to live a certain kind of life–a kingdom life–that would help make the kingdom of God visible.
And that need is urgent. We need to live and work for God’s kingdom not tomorrow or next year. We need live and work for the Lord and his kingdom right now! Through the life and work of God’s people, the eternal reign of the Lord can be made manifest in time and space and in a world that badly needs it!
That’s why I think the reading “Yahweh has become king” makes perfect sense. If this is how God’s people originally read it, and it seems that there is good reason to think it is because syntactically it is the more natural reading,2 then we can assume that although people of Israel knew that the Lord reigns eternally and securely, yet to make the rule of God visible in a world of chaos and conflict they had to reassert the the Lord’s reign and enthrone him again.
We, the people of the Lord, the King, can do the same today. How? Maybe by proclaiming together “The Lord has become king,” but certainly by rededicating our lives wholly for the Lord and devoting our time and resources in service of the King of kings and Lord of Lords!
And what does it mean to make the Lord king? It means that as God’s people the object of our faith and trust is ultimately the Lord–the good and gracious king who is personally interested in us, in our world and its redemption. Our trust should be in the Lord who is not only able but willing to rescue us. Our confidence should be in him who has power even over nature and who said to the raging sea, “Peace, be still” and, as a result, “there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39, KJV) .
It means that we should not put our leaders above our king and political parties above the kingdom of God. If we do, then we may not only go against God but also against each other. And we are supposed to work together for the Lord and his kingdom!
It means that as people who recognize the Lord as king and have enthroned him as king, we are to take his kingdom of light to the world and dispel the darkness. Yes we need to pray and we need to pray hard! But we need to go beyond prayers.
And yes we need to work together and we need to work hard. But we need to work smart as well. The world may be in spiritual darkness but that doesn’t mean people are ignorant. Scaring people with the prospect of spending eternity in hell no longer works. And why resort to such tactic when many people don’t believe in hell anyway? Most Americans don’t.3
In a pluralistic world, we can gain a hearing and succeed if we are committed to the truth as well as follow Jesus who is not only Lord or king but also “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The Twelve and other disciples did and that’s why it’s been said that these men “have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
What might prevent us from making the Lord king of our lives? Having selfish goals and worrying about life and needs and wants? Perhaps. But as our Lord Jesus himself said, “… do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:31-33).
So as angry crowds who are mad at their leaders shout, “Down with the dictator!,” or as jubilant free people celebrate and hail their newly-elected President with “Four more years!” or sigh because deep within they wished only “Four more days!” for him, we the people of God, regardless of who are in power or who are not in this chaotic and conflicted world, proclaim, “The Lord has become king!”
1Psalm 93, Commentary on Psalm by Mark Throntveit
2Throntveit: “Yahweh is king” is unusual in that if the subject precedes the verb, that the verb would normally be an imperfect (Proverbs 8:15), an active participle (Psalm 22:28, but with mashal not malak), or, usually, simply a noun, (melek).
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