The Lord reigns. So what?
That is a provocative title for a sermon. It is meant to be. The reality is that Christians sing this song, and many put bumper stickers on their cars with this message, and many even say these words in prayer and in conversation, yet far too many perhaps are unaware of the real implications of this truth. Yes, our God reigns, but what does this mean—practically speaking? Yes, our God reigns, but so what? Psalm 93 is intended to answer this very question. And there are at least three answers to this question in this short psalm.
Leupold notes, “This brief psalm is mighty in utterance, colorful in language, and a strong incentive to faith. Its opening sentence is its theme.”1
So let’s look a bit more closely at His reign to see what it means for us.
His Purposed Plan for the World is Unshakeable
The first lesson we need to learn, in vv. 1–2, is that God’s purposed plan for the world is unshakeable. “The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength. Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.” We need to listen up to this truth.
The anonymous psalmist begins, “The LORD [Yahweh] reigns.” The word “reigns” means to possess, to be king, or to govern.
“There is decisiveness in the Hebrew for ‘The Lord reigns’ which at least calls for an exclamation mark…. It confronts us with a fact whose impact on us may have weakened.”2 This observation by Derek Kidner is spot on and very helpful as we begin our study. Perhaps this is why, after the exile, the Jews sang this song on the Sabbath eve. They needed this reminder. When they went to the synagogue they needed to be prepared to listen up, for “the LORD reigns!”
The reality is that, all too often, we easily lose sight of the fact that “the LORD reigns.” Due to the circumstances of life, its impact us on may have weakened.
Perhaps you have received bad news on a personal level. Perhaps you face the daily and often monotonous grind of life. Perhaps you are disillusioned by the lack of excitement in the midst of the mundane. Perhaps seeming setbacks for the church have led you to discouragement. Listening to news reports may seem to indicate that the wicked are prospering while the righteous languish.
It is precisely at such times that we need this good word, this gospel, of the Lord’s reign. But we need to listen up.
We need to still our hearts and listen up to truth. And sometimes we need to speak to ourselves and make sure that we listen to the truth. The opening verses indicate that we are to remember some basic but all important truths about God and His reign.
The Lord is Clothed in Majesty
First, we must listen to the truth that “He is clothed with majesty” (v. 1).
“Majesty” speaks of something lifted up, of glory or splendour. In a wrong sense, it connotes pride and arrogance. “Majesty is a hard idea to define, but it has to do with dignity, authority of sovereign power, stateliness, and grandeur.”3 The idea is that of Yahweh being fully clothed, fully encircled in glorious splendour. And, in case we miss it, listen again: “The LORD is clothed” (v. 1).
It is possible that this psalm was written after the exile. If so, then perhaps the emotional thought is: “Again, He reigns. All has not been lost. He still reigns.” Perhaps the thought here is that reformation and revival is possible.
We need to listen especially hard in these days. Listen to the Scriptures that point us to God’s glory.
But not only is the Lord clothed in splendour; He is also clothed in “strength.” The term speaks of firmness, security, fortification and protection. Hence, He is our refuge, the one with mighty power.
Note that God is active in this: “He has girded Himself.” God actively reigns in the universe.
God is Spirit. But this does not mean that He is without substance. This terminology helps us to remember that God is all powerfully glorious. His reign is substantial.
So, Christian, listen to how Yahweh is clothed.
What He Has Done
Second, we need to listen to what the Lord has done. The psalmist writes, “Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved” (v. 1).
Oh how we need to listen to this! Though the world may be changing, nevertheless the Lord’s reign is not affected.
The word translated “established” means to stand upright, to be unchangeable, to set up, to erect, to confirm, to maintain, to create or to form (see its usage in Deuteronomy 32:6 and Psalm 119:73).
This, of course, ties intimately to the theme of the Lord’s reign. The Lord reigns over the creation that is His.
Listen up: The Lord has created this world and is sustaining this world. He will not disrobe Himself of either His glory or His strength. And this is precisely what He would be doing if the world fell apart of its own.
He is in Control
Third, we need to listen up and relax, for He is in control: “Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting” (v. 2).
This verse is the basis of what has been declared. It is because the Lord has been enthroned from everlasting that all is under control. As Boice puts it, “’The Lord reigns’ … means that he does actually reign, not merely that he seems to. He really is sovereign.”4
Creation is not independent of God. It is very much dependent upon Him. God is working His plan from His eternal throne. He rules in heaven and it is a small thing for Him to rule the earth.
We need to listen up to several things in this regard. We need to hear that God is unchangeable; He is unchanging. We need to hear that God is inescapable. We need to hear that we will give an account concerning how we respond to His rule. God’s glorious strength is a surety of His glorious and all powerful rule.
Everything is Going to Be Okay
In vv. 3–4 we learn that everything is going to be okay. We need to therefore look up as we look on the troubles we face. “The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea.”
We could just as easily say, “Look up, He reigns.” I have recently been reading in my devotions slowly through Revelation. The other day I came to Revelation 14. Following the revelation of the political and religious beasts that seemed to reign in the first century, chapter 14 opens: “Then I looked.” And what did he see when he looked? He saw God’s rule in the lives of 144,000 Jewish believers. The seeming reign of the wicked was a veneer. There was a greater picture behind the scenes.
The picture here in vv. 3–4 is that of a tumultuous world. The language used here is often metaphorically used of tumultuous situations of warfare. Consider some examples.
Isaiah 17:12—Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the roar of the seas, and to the rushing of nations that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!
Jeremiah 6:23—They will lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy; their voice roars like the sea; and they ride on horses, as men of war set in array against you, O daughter of Zion.
Jeremiah 50:42—They shall hold the bow and the lance; they are cruel and shall not show mercy. Their voice shall roar like the sea; they shall ride on horses, set in array, like a man for the battle, against you, O daughter of Babylon.
The language is also used of other turmoil in the world. And of course it is used literally of so-called “natural disasters.” Insurers are spot on when they call these “acts of God,” for that is exactly what they are.
Regardless, whether literal or metaphorical, it is clear that the psalmist is making the important point that, when we look out upon troublesome circumstances, we are in fact to then look up, for the Lord is mightier, far more powerful and greater, than any threatening. After all, He reigns.
This is why the doctrine of creation is so important. The one who created all things is sovereign over all things. Nothing is beyond the control of the one who made all things. But if He did not create all things, we have no confidence that He controls all things.
I don’t suppose that there are many things in life more intimidating than “floods” and “their waves,” which “have lifted up their voice.” But here we are encouraged that the Lord is far mightier than the voice of these storms. We need to hear this. We need to listen up and then look up. “Even as the Almighty controls raging waters of every sort, so He remains in full control of every other force that may arise and seem to challenge His authority.”5
Listen again to vv. 1–2 as you look at your tempestuous circumstances. Then lift up your eyes and remember that the Lord is in control of His creation. Then lift up your voice and ask for help. There is a wonderful illustration of this principle recorded in Mark 4:35–41.
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
I don’t believe that Jesus was disturbed because they woke Him up. I don’t believe that He was disturbed because they asked for His assistance. It was their doubt about His care for them that was so distressing. “Do you not care?” was an offensive question. Of course He cared! And in a few weeks they would see quite clearly how much that He cared for them.
Some of us need to work hard at moving from the theory of the sovereign love of God to the practical trust in the sovereign love of God. And this requires listening up to the Scriptures.
In coming weeks, I plan to start an exposition on Sunday mornings of Ephesians at our church. I must admit that this is in part a selfish decision. I feel that I need to see afresh the truth of the exalted love of Christ, and Ephesians highlights this truth perhaps better than any other New Testament epistle.
Though we are not to bury our heads in the proverbial sand when it comes to the troubles in our world—and therefore we do not to gaze hopelessly on what is happening in the world—nevertheless we need to get into the habit of looking up to the one who controls everything.
We Are to Live Like It
In the closing verse we move from earth-shaking turbulence to eternal truth: “Your testimonies are very sure; holiness adorns Your house, O LORD, forever” (v. 5). The writer moves from elemental turbulence to eternal truth. This must always be our approach.
This verse may seem to be confusing in the context, but it seems that there are at least two truths here that give the psalmist assurance concerning the Lord’s reign. They relate, first, to God’s reliable Word and, second, to God’s holy residence. These two truths highlight two practical ways in which we can live like the Lord reigns.
We Are to Trust His Word
First, we learn that the Word of the reigning King is reliable: “Your testimonies are very sure.” The word “sure” means to prop, to stay, to support, or to sustain. It speaks of being firm, unshaken, and hence connotes one on whom we can lean on; something or someone we can trust because it or he has proven to be faithful. Clearly, this is what God’s “testimonies” are.
“Statutes” is a fair translation of this word. The idea is that God’s Word faithfully reveals His character. God’s Word is His testimony that He is reliable. As we think about God’s reign we need to ask, on what basis do we say that He reigns? In other words, why do we say that He reigns? Further, in what ways does He reign, and in what areas does He reign?
This is important. It gives us perspective as we seek to explain the recent drowning of a three-old-boy in Turkey and the rape and impregnation of an eleven-year-old girl. What does God’s Word say to this? Are there some areas in which He does not reign? What things should we look for in His reign? What lessons?
If we will truly sing this song then we need to be sure that God’s Word is sure. If God’s Word is not certain, we will have no confidence as to who reigns. We need to be sure of the reliability of His Word. We need to confess with David,
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgements of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
Before proceeding, there is another way in which the word translated “sure” is used in Scripture. It is used to describe one who carries a child, who guards and raises up another. The idea is that the one rearing the child is trustworthy. For example, Esther 2:7 speaks of Mordecai who had “brought up” Hadassah (Esther), who is then described as “lovely and beautiful.” Similarly, when the Word of God rears us, we can be considered “lovely and beautiful” (see Ephesians 5:25–27).
We Are to Adore His House
The psalm closes with a reference to the Lord’s house: “Holiness adorns Your house, O LORD, forever” (v. 5). If indeed this psalm was written after the exile, then this statement would have provided much hope and encouragement. After so long a time cut off from the presence of God, what a joy to know that the Lord was once again near. And His nearness was a holy closeness, and therefore a beautiful one. It was a fitting one.
Of course, today the Lord’s dwelling place is the church. And it is fitting that it is holy. Further, this is the vantage point from which the Lord rules. His reign is from His residence, and His reign is holy.
VanGemeren reminds us that
God’s reign is evident in his creation (i.e., both earth and sea) and in his acts of redemption…. The Lord’s kingship finds particular expression in the covenant community. He has given them his “statutes” and has placed his “house” in their midst…. The wholly other God makes his “dwelling” among his people! Therefore, they must respond with awe as the appropriate expression of wonder that God is dwelling among man.6
Perhaps this last verse points to the latter: God reigns over the salvation of His people and He reigns over the place for His people, the church, His temple.
If we will adorn the gospel, then we need to adore God’s church and do all we can to adorn it by obedient living. We must prioritise the local church. Consider Peter’s lofty opinion of the church:
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.”
They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
(1 Peter 2:4–10)
The Lord rules His church and, in a very remarkable way, rules through His church (Revelation 1:5–6). That is, He illumines the world and preserves the world through the church (Matthew 5:13–16). For this reason, holiness is vital. And this comes about as we submit to His reign. This is the message of v. 5: “We cannot claim to be ruled by Jesus Christ unless we know what he has told us to do in the Bible and are doing it.”7
God’s sheep will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. So, make your home in and with it now. As Leupold puts it, “Even as the Almighty controls raging waters of every sort, so He remains in full control of every other force that may arise and seem to challenge His authority.”5
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 553. ↩
- Derek Kidner, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 2 vols. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 338. ↩
- James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 2:761. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:762. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 666. ↩
- Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 608–9. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:766. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 666. ↩