Psalms 96-99, along with Psalms 47 and 93, are classified as Psalms of enthronement because they depict God as He reigns supreme in power and majesty from His throne on high. It is also classified as a praise Psalm. The praise Psalms follow a similar pattern. They begin with a call to worship or praise God, often in song. Then they detail the reasons for that praise, reasons that always center on the character and activity of God. They conclude with a renewed call to continue the praise to God.
Psalm 96 is a Messianic Psalm because it presents the message of salvation that Jesus will offer to the whole world. It’s a missionary Psalm because it talks of the whole earth responding to God and worshipping Him. It looks ahead to the millennium as it pictures a coming world order or government ruled over by God Himself. This Psalm covers it all. It reminds us of how much we have that we should be thankful for. It instructs us to share that joy with others and then tells us we can not only sing a new song of redemption but a new song of hope as we look forward to the return of the Lord.
We are told three times in the first 2 verses to Sing to the Lord. The command to sing is followed by three additional commands, the commands to praise, to proclaim and to declare. We are also commanded in verses 7-9 to ascribe or attribute to God glory as well as bring an offering to Him. Verse 9 repeats the command to worship and fear Him in a healthy way. Verse 10 commands us to declare to the nations that God reigns and is coming to judge and to establish a righteous kingdom.
The Psalm begins with a command to sing a new song. When the Bible speaks of a new song it is a song that can only be sung by God’s people as they discover in fresh ways truths about God. Read Revelation 5:9 and14:3. The new life God provides us with truly gives us a new song.
The idea of a “new song” has a dual dimension to those songs. We sing a new song whenever we reflect on so great a salvation that God has provided for us. That story is an encouragement and comfort to us. But there is another dimension to our new song. There ought to always be a newness to our song and in our witness because there should always be a newness in our walk with Him. Read Lamentations 3:22-23. Because His compassion is new every day, so too should an element of our song of praise be new every day.
Verse 2 tells us to “proclaim” His salvation from day to day. The word “proclaim” is literally “preach” or “herald” and implies a sharing of the message of salvation. What is significant is the call to do this literally daily.
According to verse 3, our new song is to, “Declare his glory among the nations.” That is another way of declaring the universal nature of the salvation message. While the church holds to the universality of the gospel, there are still hundreds of groups of people that are considered un-reached with millions of people still needing to hear the gospel for the first time. The task of missions is not over.
Verse 3 tells us that we are to declare His “marvelous deeds among all peoples.” We are to give a testimony of God’s love and provision. We are to tell others what God has done for us. We must also remember His daily provision for us. Tell of the peace He gives in times of need. Tell of the quiet voice of encouragement He gives when things get tough. Tell of how He displays His love for us and of the marvelous care and provisions He provides for us. They all become even more marvelous when we remember that they are not deserved.
Verses 4-6 spell out why He is worthy of our praise. God is great and worthy of being greatly praised because He is above all the other supposed gods who are only idols. The Hebrew word for “idol” is a fascinating one. It literally translates as “a no thing.” That more than adequately describes anything we worship instead of the true and living God. Obviously, the true God is above any no-god. Those verses then contrast the God of Israel with the heathen gods and idols and declare we are both able and compelled to praise God because of His greatness. One does not need to be ashamed of God. Idols are made by men, according to verse 5, while our God created everything including the heavens. Psalm 19:1 tells us that those “heavens declare the glory of God.”
James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on this passage, wrote, “If you are not worshipping God of the Bible exclusively, as God says you must do, you are not worshipping God. You are not a Christian.” P. 785
Note that in verse 4 David personified the character of God. It pictures His character or splendor, majesty, strength, and glory as if they were individuals. In ancient times Kings had their thrones and before them stood various individuals who were responsible to do their bidding. Those individuals stood ready to obey any directive and to accomplish the will of the king. The Psalm depicts God on His throne with His essence or nature ready and able to accomplish His will. Collectively those attributes picture a God worthy of praise because of who He is intrinsically. God’s very essence is splendor and majesty, worthy of our awe and worship. He is the Almighty One who can do what He desires as opposed to idols that can do nothing because they are, literally, a “no-thing”.
Verses 7-8 include the trilogy of “ascribe” that parallels the trilogy of “sing” in the first three verses. These verses are also almost a copy of the opening verses of Psalm 29. To “ascribe” is literally to “give” to God what is, according to verse 8, the worship He deserves. He is worthy of our worship because of who He is and what He has done.
A part of our worship, according to verse 8, is to bring an offering to Him. In the Old Testament, of course, those offerings of praise and thanksgiving or the acknowledgement of one’s sins, took place in the form of animal sacrifices brought to the temple. They were the way the Israelites said they were sorry for their sins or thankful for God’s provision. When we come to the New Testament and the church we no longer need to go to the temple, in fact there is no temple, but the sacrifices are still required. Paul told us how we are to bring a sacrifice to God. Read Romans 12:1.
Verse 9 is an important verse on worship. It reminds us that we are to come to God in worship truly recognizing the awesome nature of God. The NIV writes that we are to come trembling while some other translations say we are to come in fear. We come before God in worship not with a scared fear but with a sense of awe and reverence. There is always a delicate balance in our worship between recognizing God as being our Father in heaven and remembering that He is eternal, almighty, truly holy One. Recognizing the splendor of His holiness is the starting point of approaching Him with a sense of awe.
Verses 10-13 deal with the worship that belongs to Him because He is coming again to judge sin and correct the curse of sin. The Psalmists presented what at first seems to be a contradiction when he called on us to rejoice over the coming judgment. That apparent contradiction is not explained until we discover in the New Testament that when Jesus returns Satan and sin will be righteously judged. The Apostle Paul tells us that a major part of the judgment on sin will be the restoration of God’s creation to what it was before man’s sin. That includes God’s gracious care for believers. including the abiding with Him forever, but it is more than that. Read Romans 8:20-22.
This Psalm presents two major challenges. First, it challenges us to be more serious and deliberate in our worship. We are to be that way because of who God is and what He has done for us. We are to worship Him not only for what He did for us on the Cross, but for the new displays of His love and care that we see every day.
Second, we must be willing to openly share the gospel. We need to stand with the Psalmist and declare the gospel everywhere. We should not be hesitant to stand up and “sing,” that is tell others, what God has done for us. We do that as we verbally share our faith and as we support missions.