You might say that psalm 98 is a marvelous psalm. It is part of a set of royal psalms that stretch from 93-99. This psalm is an exuberant psalm of praise and it shares the same joy as psalm 96. This psalm celebrates the Lord’s kingship. The Lord is the one True King of Israel. He is their champion and their Savior. This psalm is His people singing a new song celebrating His victorious power and faithfulness to them. The Lord displays His righteous rule to all the nations of the earth and this will culminate in a worldwide kingdom of justice. Because of this, all the world will worship and rejoice together because the Lord is coming. Some believe Isaac Watts used this psalm for the inspiration for the beloved Christmas hymn Joy toy the World. We also have a hymn in the Lutheran hymnal called Earth and all Stars that uses this psalm as its inspiration. The psalm was written to praise the Lord for a great victory over Israel’s enemies, perhaps the victory of the Medes and Persians over the Babylonians. Psalm 96 also speaks of a future judgement. It is as though the psalmist saw in the destruction of ancient Babylon a picture of God’s judgement of end time Babylon.
The focus on the first section in on the Jewish people and the wonderful new demonstration of God’s power they had seen. His power was so great the people had no choice but to sing and praise Him. The term marvelous things is used only in the Bible to describe the actions of God. What God did for Israel was a witness to the Gentile nations and a vivid demonstration of His faithfulness to His covenant, and His love for His chosen people. The right hand of the Lord is a way of referring to His great salvation of Israel from Egypt. In fact the phrase is like a slogan for the Lord’s redemption. The Lord is known for His righteousness and faithfulness, and He has revealed it in front of all the nations. Israel has experienced God’s saving many times in their history. Usually the greatest saving act of the Lord is a reference to what the Lord did when He brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But we can also look to the Lord leading His people into the promised land, the repeated saving through the judges, and the miracle in Jerusalem when the Lord saved His people from king Sennacherib and the Assyrians. This was when Hezekiah was king. What God has done was intended to be seen by everyone. This psalm points us back towards Moses’ commands In Deuteronomy chapter 4:6-8. By living in faithfulness to the Lord, Israel would become a counter cultural force through its manner of life, government, and society. God’s blessings on Israel would cause the nations to seek to learn about Him.
The call to sing a new song of marvelous praise was the mark of a joyous celebration. The command or invitation, went out to all the nations of the earth to shout joyfully in praise to the Lord for what He had done for Israel. The emphasis here is on the King. The people are called to praise and sing, two different things. One does not have to praise God with song. The people could shout, dance, or play musical instruments. Everything done here would have been done with joy and it would have been loud. Several instruments are listed in this psalm besides voices. We see harps, trumpets, and ram’s horns. The temple musicians used trumpets to call people together for meetings. The ram’s horns referenced here would have been the shofar. This time of worship the psalmist was writing about would have been a special celebration and the trumpets referred to in verse 6 would have been the special, long, straight trumpets used in the temple.
Not only are the people invited to join in praising the Lord but the whole created order is personified as joining in rejoicing at the coming of the righteous judge. In Canaanite thought the sea represented a dark deity. In the psalms the sea is part of creation that God completely controls. So we read of the sea roaring, the rivers clapping their hands, and hills singing songs of joy. All of creation is praising the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The lapping of the waves of the sea on the shore sounds to him like a prayer to the Lord. And the river flowing sounds like applause in response to the announcement that the King is coming. The play of the wind on the mountains sounded to the psalmist like a song of praise. There will be a time when all creation sings “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”. (Revelation 22:20) There will come a day when all wrongs will be righted and all sins will be judged. The judge Himself will bring justice and equity to the earth.
First the psalmist wrote of the Lord as deliverer and king and now at the end of the psalm the Lord is presented as the judge who will one day come and deal with the world as He once dealt with the kingdom of Babylon. This points us right towards the second coming of Jesus. The psalmist had seen Israel delivered from bondage. He had heard the nations of the world praising the Lord. And now he heard all of creation eagerly anticipating the Lord’s return. Creation waits because at the second coming of Jesus, all of creation will be set free from the bondage of sin that was caused by the fall into sin by Adam and Eve. This verse answers the call for justice found at many points in the psalms. The coming of the judge is cause for joy, because at last the Lord will put an end to cruelty, evil and injustice. This is the promise we hold onto and the hope we have.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W