A Prayer of Praise

| Psalm 96:1-13

Week of October 21, 2018

The Point:  Our prayers are driven by the desire to honor God.

 The Exalted King:  Psalm 96:1-13.

[1] Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!

[2] Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

[3] Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!

[4] For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.

[5] For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

[6] Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

[7] Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!

[8] Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!

[9] Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

[10] Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”

[11] Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

[12] let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

[13] before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.   [ESV]

Worship in the Splendor of Holiness.  There must have been many joyful moments in the lifetime of King David, but to judge from the narratives the brightest of all must have been when the ark of God was brought to Jerusalem from its temporary resting place in the house of Obed-Edom. Thousands of people were assembled, led by hundreds of priests clothed in white linen. There were choirs and an orchestra. And when the priests set out with the ark, their advancing steps were heralded by the sounding of rams’ horns and trumpets, the clash of cymbals, and the happy plucking of myriads of lyres and harps. David was so delighted that he threw decorum aside and danced among the people before the Lord. He also composed a psalm for the occasion, found in 1 Chronicles 16:8-36. The middle verses of that psalm [23-33] also appear as Psalm 96. Other portions are Psalms 105:1-15 and 106:1, 47-48. The important thing about Psalm 96 is that it is a joyful hymn to the God of Israel as king and an invitation to the nations of the world to join Israel in praising Him. It is also a prophecy of a future day when God will judge the entire world in righteousness. What this means is that the coming of the ark of God to Jerusalem was viewed by David as a pledge of the future coming of God to rule as king over all the earth.

A Call to Worship God [1-3].  In the last third of the Psalter, there are numerous psalms that begin with a call to worship God. Psalm 95 began this way, starting with the words: Of come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Psalm 96 does the same. There are six imperatives in these first three verses, three calls to sing to the Lord and one call each to bless his name, tell of his salvation from day to day and declare his glory among the nations. We are being told to do this. The psalm itself is doing this, of course, so it is a model of how we can praise God properly. 1. A new song.  When we read the words a new song, we are disposed to think of the psalm itself, as if the psalmist were saying, “I have just composed a new song that I would like you to hear; and then if you like it, I would like you to join me in singing it.” Most commentators agree, however, that this is not what the psalmist is thinking of, simply because these writers are usually not thinking of themselves or what they are able to accomplish. They are thinking about God. So the call to sing a new song is actually a call to sing about some new thing God has Himself done. In 1 Chronicles, where the words of the psalm occur for the first time, the new thing was God’s coming to Jerusalem by the symbolism of the moving of the ark. From this time forward He was to be especially honored there, which is what the psalm does. It was also expected that He would now rule over His people as well as the Gentile nations from Mount Zion. When we read about a new song today we also think of the new song of Revelation 5. There we are told of four living creatures and twenty-four elders who fall down before God’s Lamb and sing a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth [Rev. 5:9-10]. The new thing here is Christ’s atonement, and the new song is a joyful acknowledgment of it. It is possible that John, the author of Revelation, was even thinking of Psalm 96, for his emphasis is on the universal reign of Christ, which is what Psalm 96 anticipates. Praise plus proclamation.  The second thing to notice about this stanza is the way the declaration of God’s glory among the nations follows upon praising Him. The psalm teaches that worship should never be merely a private thing, something between ourselves and God only, but should also be that which leads to a missionary witness: Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! We should never be satisfied to worship God alone.

The King’s Glory [4-6].  The first point the psalmist makes about God’s glory – why He is greatly to be praised – is that he is to be feared above all gods [4]. The psalmist goes on to describe these other gods as worthless idols. In Hebrew the word idol means “a no-thing,” that is, a nonentity or nothing. So verse 4 means that God is to be praised and feared above those who are only thought to be gods by the heathen nations. Actually, there is a play on words in this stanza. The words for gods is elohim, and the word for worthless idols is elilim. So what the writer is saying is that the elohim of the Gentiles are elilim. This word occurs only two places in the psalms, here and in Psalm 97:7. It also occurs in two classic passages in Isaiah.

In one of these passages Isaiah mocks the “no gods” of the heathen by describing how an artisan makes an idol with one part of a piece of wood while he uses the other to make a fire and cook his dinner. Then he falls down and worships the manufactured idol [Isa. 44:9-20]. In the other passage Isaiah challenges the handmade heathen “gods” to do something, something either good or evil, that one might fear them [Isa. 41:21-24]. Paul expressed the same thought when he declared, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one” [1 Cor. 8:4]. This is a very important point, of course. For it is a repudiation of the other world religions; it means that Christianity is an exclusive faith. This is an unpopular, even a so-called “hateful” idea in an age of political correctness. But it follows directly from who God is and what the Bible says about Him. If, as the psalm says, Jehovah made the heavens and if splendor and majesty, strength and beauty belong to Him alone, then it is not only wrong but also a sin to worship any other. If you are not worshiping the God of the bible exclusively, as God says you must do, you are not worshiping God. You are not a Christian.

The King’s Due [7-9].  It is interesting to compare this stanza [7-9] with the opening two verses of Psalm 29. Those verses are the same as verse 7 and the first lines of verses 8 and 9 of Psalm 96. Or to put it another way, Psalm 96 borrows verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 29 but adds the lines about bringing an offering and trembling before God. Yet there is this major difference: Psalm 29 calls on the angels (O heavenly beings) to worship God, while here the appeal is to the families of the peoples. That is, it is the Gentiles, whose gods have been dismissed as mere idols in stanza two, who are here called on to ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name [8]. The threefold ascribe to the Lord in this stanza corresponds to the repeated sing to the Lord in stanza one [1-2]. The meaning of the Hebrew word for worship is to prostrate oneself, not to praise God for His attributes, which is what the English word “worship” means. But here we must note that although the meaning of the Hebrew word differs from the English word, the Hebrew understanding of worship nevertheless also involves giving God praise for His attributes. That is what is being said here. Here the nations of the world are told to give God glory. Glory is a difficult word to define. It refers to the majestic aura of the divine presence, which is why the stanza speaks of the splendor of holiness. But it is also more than that. Kabod, the Hebrew word, refers to something that is impressive or weighty. Thus, in Genesis 31:1 the possessions of Jacob are said to have been his “glory”, that is, something that impressed people or made Jacob impressive. Similarly, Jehovah’s glory is the manifestation of His presence [as in Num. 16:19,42; Ps. 102:16; Isa. 8:7; 40:5; 60:1-2]. It is seen in his handiwork [Ps. 19:1] and in his marvelous works [Ps. 96:3]. Thus the glory of Yahweh is an active, not a static, concept. It is His presence, power and action in the world. And one more idea about worship. In this stanza the worship of God is described as our bringing something to God rather than our coming to God to get something from Him. We usually think of it the other way around. We think of coming to church to receive either: (1) knowledge through the teaching or (2) specific gifts from God as His answers to our prayers. But here worship is chiefly our bringing praise and offerings to God. This stanza shows us that we go into God’s presence to give rather than to get.

The King’s Coming [10-13].  The last stanza begins with verse 10, which is a command to proclaim the universal reign of God among the nations. The earlier stanza is addressed to the nations, calling on them to praise God. Here the people of Israel are addressed, as in stanza one, and a new idea is brought in – the reign of God by which righteous judgment will come to this earth. In fact, verse 10 is the climax of the psalm: The Lord reigns! The verses that follow are chiefly a commentary on and a response to this statement. There are two ways in which this stanza speaks of God’s reign. 1. God rules all history now.  It is difficult to appreciate this fact sometimes because there is so much unrighteousness and violence in the world. Nevertheless, God does rule in the sense that He both holds the evil in check and also intervenes to judge it in history from time to time. 2. God will rule the world’s nations in perfect righteousness in the future.   Psalm 96 looks forward to the day when God will judge the people with equity and rule in perfect righteousness. The striking thing for most of us is the way these verses look forward to God’s judgment joyfully. It is striking because we usually think of the judgment of God differently. We have been taught to have an acute sense of sin and to be thankful that we will be spared God’s judgment because of the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. But, as C. S. Lewis points out, the ancients lived in a world where judges usually needed to be bribed and right judgment was exceedingly hard to come by, especially for weak, poor, or disadvantaged persons. In such a climate, the disadvantaged did not fear judgment but rather longed for it, because it meant a day when evil would be punished and those who did the right things would be vindicated (Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 9-19). Without losing our joy in the atonement, by which we have escaped God’s just judgment for our sins, we who trust Christ should nevertheless also be looking forward to that day of perfect righteousness, which will come when He returns to rule the world justly. In that coming day we shall sing with the glorified saints in Revelation, Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory [Rev. 19:6-7].”  [Boice, pp. 782-787].

“Message and Application.  The composite nature of this psalm makes the expository presentation easier. Moreover, its themes are easily united for a central message: Because the majestic Lord of creation comes to judge and rule the world, all people should worship Him in fear and praise Him in holy array for His great salvation. It is a song of praise for the reign of the Lord, which has been demonstrated again and again throughout history in His mighty saving acts, but will be fully revealed when He comes to judge the wicked and to establish His righteous reign over all the earth. The series of calls in the psalm makes the application clear and direct; but the reasons for the calls to praise and worship form the theological substance of the praise. Here we have His great salvation, creation, His majesty and beauty, and His coming to judge with righteousness and faithfulness. These explanations provide evidence for the greatness of the Lord, for indeed, there is no god like Him; and they should prompt in us fear and trembling as well as praise and worship. Those who refuse to acknowledge His sovereign kingship in this life, who refuse to do obeisance to Him in holiness now, will find themselves the objects of His judgment when He comes. For the Christian, the witness of Scripture is clear: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, created all things [John 1], and will judge all things [John 5]; He came and brought salvation to us, and He will come again to judge the world and establish His righteous reign over it. When He comes to fulfill all things, He will be identified as Faithful and True [Rev. 19].”  [Ross, p. 143].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. This psalm is divided up into four parts that are identifiable by repeated words or refrains: verses 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-13. What repetition do you see in each of these sections? What is David telling us by these repetitions? What marvelous works [3] come to mind that would prompt a believer to sing God’s praises? Why is the Lord most worthy of praise [4-6,10,13]?
  2. List all the commands in this Psalm. What does this psalmist prompt you to do about those who don’t know God? This psalm invites us to sing a new song declaring His glory to others (in witness) and ascribing glory directly to God (in worship). Let the joy of knowing God burst forth in a new song of worship within you as you seek to ascribe glory to the Lord.
  3. Read 1 Chronicles 16 to see the historical background for this Psalm. The ark of the Lord, signifying God’s presence with His people, was brought to Jerusalem. How does David respond? Why is David overcome with joy and the desire to praise God?
  4. What can we learn from this Psalm concerning how we are to praise and worship God?

References:

Psalms, vol. 2, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, vol. 2, Allan Harman, Mentor.

A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3, Allen Ross, Kregel.