In Nahum Sarna’s book, On the Book of Psalms, we come now to the 93rd Psalm.
One way to remind people that the Psalms are songs is to post contemporary versions of them set to music. So here is one I like for Psalm 93:
Sarna placed this Psalm in the category of “enthronement psalms”. This is because it starts off saying “the LORD reigns” and goes on to describe God as a king. Sarna pointed to what may have been a semi-secular practice of an enthronement announcement when someone proclaimed himself king. For instance, when Absalom rebelled and declared himself king 2 Samuel 15:10 says:
But Absalom sent undercover agents throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “When you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, Absalom reigns in Hebron.”
If this fits the pattern, then someone blew a ram’s horn, and someone proclaimed, “So and so reigns. . .” So there could have been a ceremony at the Temple where this was reenacted, only God was the one proclaimed King. Sarna spent some time showing how Israel moved from confederacy, to reluctant monarchy, to full-fledged monarchy, to divided monarchy.
Over against this, priests and prophets understood that the real king of Israel was God. Sarna used the term monarchotheism as a fancy term for how biblical writers liked to imagine God as king with a realm, a court, and a palace. Psalm 93 in verse 1 talks about the royal robes of God, and in verse 2 it talks about the throne of God. It hardly needs to be said that this is poetry. There is no question of literal robes or a literal throne.
The imaginative nature of the song continues when the singer picks up the popular notion of the creation of the world. We ran into this in Psalm 8 and 24 as well. A primeval ocean represented chaos in the old myths or epics. Creation involved overcoming the chaotic waters. So verses 3 and 4 tell us that God is stronger than chaos. He is mightier, it says, than the thunder of many rivers.
This means that when the song declares that God is king, it means not just that he is king over Israel or any human realm, but that he is king over the universe.
So let’s make this seasonal. I write this on All Saints Day, which also is the first anniversary of my father’s death. Last night, on Halloween, we wanted to be scared, because Halloween is about facing our fear of death. Then All Saints Day follows with the honoring of the faithful dead. They are not just gone. They are held in the hands of a God who is stronger than death.
The way that Psalm 93 proclaims God as king goes way beyond the political meaning of kingship. It does not just mean that God is king and that the president, prime minister, or party chairman are not. It means that God has power over the forces of chaos, the ghosts and goblins and devils of last night that represent our fear of everlasting chaos. We may have unanswerable questions about why God permits particular manifestations of chaos in disaster and death, but underlying that is a faith in one who is mightier than the thunders of the waters of chaos.
I know we do not think in terms of those old myths. But they can still be meaningful poetry for us. They speak to the power of God. And when we recite, or sing, or pray this psalm; we affirm the power of God over against all the chaos that threatens to rise up and diminish our lives.
Nahum Sarna said:
Nature’s seemingly threatening, noisy, tempestuous fury, which in the pagan religions is personified as an evil divinity, the embodiment of disorder in the universe is demythologized. It is the commanding majesty of God that is enduring (p. 188).