A Jubilant and Noisy Psalm
Music forms part of life. Joggers jog past with their earphones plugged in, the radio plays, the internet streams song after song and we sing in the shower! We sing when we’re happy and we sing when we’re down cast in order to lift our spirits – surely that must be the reason why the English football supporter sings while watching the national team!
Singing has been important in the life and experience of God’s people too from very early times. There is good reason for this: God’s people and Christians in particular have a lot to sing about!
Psalm 96 encourages us to sing and to celebrate as we praise the One True Living God. We are told what to do, how to do it, who is to do it, where we are to do it, what doing it entails and why we should be doing it.
Well this is the subject before us this afternoon so let’s get going.
Sing to the LORD vv.1-
The threefold repetition of the phrase "Sing to the LORD" right at the outset dominates the opening section of the psalm and sets the tone. It is there to tell us what we should do and this is not rocket science or something difficult to understand: we are to sing to the LORD.
Firstly, we are exhorted to sing to the LORD a new song.
Now, as each of us comes to understand and experience the love God has for us in a personal way and as we respond to his gracious call and offer of salvation, we are urged and exhorted to sing our own song, our new song, our fresh song in order to praise him. We are not to understand this to mean that we must sing newly written songs all the time, though there would be nothing wrong with that, but it is about us joining in and celebrating what has become new and vital for us.
Let me explain what I mean. There are any number of hymns I could chose to illustrate my point but let me refer to just one:
"I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath "
This hymn was written by Isaac Watts who lived from 1674-
Have you started to sing a "new song" to the LORD? Or are you still merely mouthing the old words of others without making them personally your own.
The exhortation to sing to the LORD a new song must firstly be understood as an exhortation to exercise personal faith in repentance and trust in God through Jesus Christ.
The second exhortation to sing to the LORD tells us that no-
Now the OT did not develop this missionary emphasis all that much though there are clear indications that the LORD God did intend his blessings to extend way beyond the confines of his chosen people Israel. For example the LORD made this set of promises to Abraham:
The message of the Book of Jonah also makes it very clear that the LORD’s loving concerns embraced not only Israel but Israel’s enemies too.
Jon.4:11 "And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
I once heard a preacher say that the message of the Book of Jonah was that the LORD’s heart beat to the rhythm of the evangelization of the nations. I think he was right.
This emphasis on the evangelization of the nations is of course fully opened up in the NT and in particular with the gospel mission which Jesus committed to his followers:
Mt.28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."
The third exhortation to sing to the LORD tells us that such singing is to be full of praise: "bless his name". And this idea is unpacked in the verses that follow.
His salvation is to be regularly shared v.2b
His glory is to be declared v.3a
His greatness is to be made known v.3b
His uniqueness is to be honoured and respected v.4
His rivals are to be seen for what they are – ‘worthless idols’ or as the Message puts it "tatters and rags" v.5a
His is the active God who has created all things v.5b
He is supreme – full of regal splendour and awesome beauty and power v.6
This is indeed good news to transmit to others! No wonder the psalmist wants us to sing about it all!
Ascribe to the LORD vv.7-
If the phrase "sing to the LORD" dominated the opening verses of the psalm this second section is marked by a different set of words:
"Ascribe to the LORD" is the repeated refrain here. Other translations have "Give to the LORD" or even "Praise the LORD".
Now to "ascribe to the LORD" means to regard a set of qualities as belonging to him. Some of his qualities the psalmist has already been singing about and he continues here with worship which is verbal and full of content.
As before the exhortation is extensive. All the families of the earth are addressed and that means everyone in the world. There is here a deliberate link to the gospel promise made and repeated several times to the patriarch Abraham:
Gen.12:3 "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Gen.28:14 "Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
The Christian faith is the realisation of these promises and is in no way designed to be relevant for only a few cultures or a select group of countries: all the families of the world are invited and exhorted to participate.
Missions today talk about different people groups, different language groups, sometimes even hidden-
The psalmist goes on to detail tell us what it is that the believer is to ascribe or attribute to the LORD God in his praises:
Glory of which he is fully deserving
And when we think about it that is just what that great multitude mentioned in Revelation was doing as they cried with their loud voice ""Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
This great God is himself awesome in his splendour and in his utter holiness – and consequently he must be approached with all the appropriate respect and with holiness. The type of holiness that is required for a man or a woman to properly worship such a God is a holiness that is not inherent but a holiness that is freely given to those who receive Christ. Centuries before Christ came Isaiah looked forward prophetically and declared:
Is.61:10 "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,"
Do you do what these verses tell you to? Are you a person who praises and glorifies the LORD God worshipping him with awe and wonder?
If you can’t answer "yes" to those questions why not? Is it because you are intent on being a disobedient Christian or is it because you simply are no Christian at all? The robe of Christ’s righteousness can’t be earned but is freely given to all those who repent of their sins and look to Christ alone for their salvation.
Say among the nations vv.10-
The pattern is somewhat broken as there is no threefold repetition of a command but still the believer is left in no doubt as to his responsibility to share the truth that he has come to know and enjoy for himself:
"The LORD reigns!"
And because he does the believer can face an uncertain world with confidence. When everything appears to be going wrong and his world appears to be falling apart the believer has the comfort of knowing that his LORD, his Heavenly Father to use NT language, is in charge. When the wickedness of men appears to be running rampant the believer knows that appearances can be deceptive – it is his LORD who will intervene to judge and he will do some with equity.
And now the psalmist allows his imagination to run riot! This news is just so good! It is news that ought to thrill every believer giving him hreat heart and cause for rejoicing. But it is as though the LORD’s greatness and goodness is just too great and extensive to be restricted by the limits of human praise and so he calls upon what we might call nature to join in the fun!
The skies, the earth, the sea and everything they contain are encouraged to praise this most wonderful of LORDs whose rule over all is so good and upright and true. His rule is a righteous rule (judge here should not be limited to the courtroom as though all that is involved is the execution of justice in passing a just sentence).
And once again at the risk of becoming repetitive this message is not for just a few it is a message to be proclaimed among the nations. No nations are to be left out – big ones or small ones.
What a tremendous privilege is ours to know such a God and to able to celebrate him – we have not the slightest reason to be ashamed. Men in their foolish ignorance might try to assert that there is no God but we know otherwise and we know a little of just how good this One True Living God is.
So let us be glad to be Christians. Let us pray that the nations of the world will indeed hear and come to understand what the LORD has done for undeserving sinners and let us look forward to that time when, as the Book of Revelation puts it:
"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." (Rev.11:15)
And to God alone be the Glory