Psalm 96 – Week Four of Psalms
Believe it or not, I watched the Super Bowl last Sunday. Well, to be more precise, I was in the same room as the television on which the Super Bowl was showing. I did look up to watch the commercials and I did watch the halftime show. On social media, many people were commenting on the nostalgia of the songs sang during the halftime show. I didn’t feel that. Those were not songs of “my generation”, but they did make me want to listen to some songs that would make me feel nostalgic.
So on Monday, while I was doing some housecleaning, I asked Alexa to play some Michael Jackson. First up was Billie Jean. As I went around mopping the floors, I sang along much like I did in the 1980s. “Billie Jean’s not my lover. She’s just a girl, something, something, mumble, the one, but the chair is not my size.”
As I sang the chorus, this 55-year-old mind of mine suddenly realized that those lyrics I had been singing for 40 plus years didn’t make any sense. For some reason, I had always thought it was a reference to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You know, this chair is too big, this chair is too small, but this chair is just right; it’s just my size. (Don’t laugh at me! Laugh with me!) I felt compelled to look up the lyrics and found that I was way off. The lyrics are actually “Billie Jean is not my lover. She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one. But the kid is not my son, hoo!” I had no idea. In fact, as I looked over the lyrics to the entire song, I realized that I had most of the lyrics wrong and I had no comprehension of what that song was about. By not knowing the right words or the story of the song, I had been singing empty words that had no meaning and made no sense. After reading the correct words and piecing together the significance of the words, Billie Jean became a new song to me.
There are so many songs that we sing, whether it’s in church, with the radio, or wherever that even if we do get the lyrics right, we have no real understanding of what the song means. We sing along mindlessly, not recognizing what we are singing.
For example, this song by Edward Mote.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
How many times have we sung this song? How many times have you wondered what the sweetest frame refers to? Compiling several different interpretations, “sweetest frame” refers to a life that is cozy and comfortable and one that others would desire. So in other words, this song is saying that we place our hope in Jesus and not what seems to be appealing. We build our lives on the righteousness of Jesus and lean entirely on Him and nothing else.
What about the song A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Martin Luther?
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.
I must admit that I have always spent my energy making sure I pronounce the word “bulwark” correctly because it’s an awkward word that just doesn’t roll off the tongue for me. I’ve never stopped to realize I didn’t know what a bulwark was. In case you’re like me and need to be enlightened, it means a defensive wall or a barricade. So as we sing the lyrics of that song, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing”, we can envision God as our defense against the tsunami of mortal ills or storms in life that come along. The storms still exist, but God serves as a barrier so that we are protected from being overtaken by the floods. How many of us can identify with that?
Understanding the meaning of songs as we sing them and applying them to our own circumstances breathes new life in them. How can we sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see” without feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude and praise? If we really sang that all-too-familiar hymn with the emotions we should be experiencing, Amazing Grace would become a new song.
Psalm 96 speaks to us of singing. Psalm 96:1 NKJV “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
3 Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.”
Pop quiz: how many times in those three verses were we told to “sing to the Lord”? Three! The number three is quite significant throughout Scripture. How many times did Peter deny Jesus? Three. How many times did Jesus ask Simon Peter if he loved Jesus? Three! How many times did Jesus ask Simon Peter to feed His sheep? Three! How many days after He was crucified was Jesus resurrected? Three! How many does the Trinity include? Three! And finally, in Isaiah 6:3 NIV “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Three times is the word “holy” used to describe the Lord.
When something is repeated three times in Scripture, it’s done so in order to intensify its meaning. The Hebrew word for three is Shelosh [f.]. That word means “resurrection” or “new life”, “foundation”, “unity”, and “harmony”. [i] So, the purpose of something being repeated three times in Scripture is meant to be awakening, groundbreaking, and life-changing.
In those first three verses of Psalm 96, we are told to sing to the Lord. And more description is given. We are to sing a new song. Do you ever hear a new song that just really tugs at your emotions? The first time I heard the song, “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe I was struck by the imagery the lyrics provoked.
“Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees, will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.”[ii]
There’s no way of knowing how many times I heard that song and sang along over the years. It never failed to give me a sense of thoughtfulness as I considered the lyrics. But the day came that the very familiar song became a new song to me. The lyrics took on a new life. As I knew that my Daddy was indeed in the presence of God after his physical suffering on Earth, I thought of that portion of the song that asked,
“Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus
Or in awe of You be still?” [iii]
You see my daddy hadn’t been able to stand, much less dance in years. That song became a new song to me because it awakened in me the reality that with God and being surrounded by the glory of God, Daddy could do both of those things and even more.
God wants us to sing to Him a new song. A renewed sense of thankfulness. A song of praise for a new experience or perhaps a song of praise for an older experience that has taken on new meaning. Lamentations 3:22 NASB “The Lord’s acts of mercy indeed do not end, For His compassions do not fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” If God is giving us new mercy and compassions every morning, why shouldn’t our praise to Him be renewed just as often?
“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” It’s believed that King David wrote Psalm 96 as the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant wasn’t new, of course, but under King Saul’s reign, the people had lost their zeal and reverence towards God. David wanted that renewed. He wanted the Ark to be in their midst because the Ark represented the presence of God and David loved God. He wanted others to love God as passionately as he did. He wanted them to feel God’s presence. But you may have noticed that in writing the first verse of Psalm 96, David refers to the whole earth singing to the Lord. Not just Jews. “All of the earth” would have included Jews and Gentiles! Here’s a commentary on Psalm 96:1. “It would be difficult to find a paragraph with any greater stress of the truth that God’s “salvation” was never intended for Jews only, but for “all the earth.” The call of the Gentiles into God’s service is absolutely declared here as a commandment of God.”[iv]
Keep in mind, this was way before Jesus was born so this psalm is much more than a song of praise for the Jews. It’s a song of prophecy. It’s a song of things to come. It’s a proclamation that God will be Lord to all of the earth, to every tribe and nation. The psalmist was permitted to see a day in the future in which all of the earth would sing to the Lord. In Revelations 5 (NIV), we are told that “9 they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
The third time we are commanded to sing to the Lord in Psalm 96, we are told to sing and bless or praise His name. And we are to proclaim the Good News (the Gospel) from day to day. In other words, we should be sharing the Gospel every day. We should keep the excitement and wonderment of God’s plan of salvation fresh every day!
Have you ever gotten a phone call in which the person on the other line says, “I’ve got some good news for you”? That good news may range anywhere from “Kroger has Coca-Cola products on sale” to “your loan has been approved” to “the results are in and there is no indication of cancer”. Good news can mean a lot of different things. But there are moments when we receive good news and it is life-changing. And when we hear that good news for the first time, there’s something euphoric about it. There’s exhilaration, thrill, and joy.
Years ago, we were on the brink of losing my dad. He was bleeding internally, and they couldn’t find the source. Unfortunately, this was on a Friday and the only hope that was given to us was that they would continuously give him blood to sustain him until he could be moved to a better-equipped hospital on Monday. We went through the weekend praying, asking for others to pray, preparing ourselves for whatever God’s will might be. As we gathered at the hospital on Monday expecting Daddy to be transported and not knowing if he would survive the trip, the doctor came out to give us the news. The good news. Daddy’s bleeding had stopped, and he was making a miraculous recovery and I don’t use the word “miraculously” lightly. We sat in shock and Mom even asked the doctor to repeat what he had just shared. The good news seemed to be too good to be true. That memory will pop up from time to time and each time, I am just overwhelmed with thankfulness for so many reasons. Don’t we all have moments like that in our life when God delivers news to us that seems too good to be true, but it is!? The good news that God gives us is life-changing. It should never become dull or old or boring. We should celebrate it continuously.
But why? Why should we celebrate Him continuously?
Psalm 96: 4 NKJV “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”
God is great! Let that simple statement take residence in your heart. He is great and we need to praise Him! Not with empty praise but meaningful praise! Did you ever get a present you were expecting? As you unwrap it and see what it is, you say a quick “thanks!” and that’s it? It’s as if you already knew that the gift was yours and so, while you were thankful for it, the exhilaration of receiving it wasn’t really felt. I wonder if that’s how we are about our salvation at times. We know that the gift of salvation is ours and we’re thankful for it, but we don’t experience the thankfulness that we should and we don’t praise Him greatly. And not just for our salvation, but also for ALL that He does for us!
In verse 5, it reads, “For all the gods of the peoples are idols.” The original word used for idols was “elilim” which means “nothings”.[v]
And why would they be considered nothings? Because God made the heavens. He is responsible for all of creation and because of that, He reigns over it all.
Four strong descriptive words are used in verse 6. Honor, majesty, strength, and beauty. Can you think of one thing or one person that all four of those words can be used to describe? I can think of people that I honor such as parents or grandparents. I can envision majestic scenes like the Grand Canyon. I can picture people who have demonstrated unthinkable strength. And I can think of things of pure beauty like a sunrise or sunset over the ocean. But I can’t say that I could attribute all four descriptions to just one thing or one person – – except to God, Himself. That is a very rare combination. Charles Spurgeon had this to say about the strength and beauty of God. “In Him are combined all that is mighty and lovely, powerful and resplendent. We have seen rugged strength devoid of beauty, we have also seen elegance without strength, the union of the two is greatly to be admired.” Charles Spurgeon
We should sing to the Lord a new song of praise because He is great and worthy of our praise. But there’s more that the psalmist calls on us to do.
Psalm 96:7 NKJV “Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Give to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
9 Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.”
Pop quiz number two. How many times are we told to give to the Lord? Three! Again, it is emphasized that we are to give to the Lord. What are things we can give Him? It’s difficult to give a gift to a person who has everything, isn’t it?
There was a movie entitled “The Littlest Angel” that came out in 1969. It starred Johnny Whitaker who played Jody in the show Family Affair and Fred Gwynne who played Herman Munster on the television series, The Munsters. The storyline of the movie focused on a 4-year-old boy who finds himself in Heaven and feels like a misfit. Fred Gwynne is his guardian angel and allows the little boy to return to his earthly home to retrieve a box of what he treasures the most. Inside the box are a butterfly, a sky blue egg, two white stones, and a chewed-up dog collar. It just so happens that this takes place at the time Jesus is to be born and all of the other angels are gathering up extravagant and elaborate gifts and the little 4-year-old boy has nothing to give; except for his box of treasures, those things that meant the world to him. And so he places his wooden box amongst the beautiful gifts given by the other angels.
But he’s embarrassed thinking that his gift is not enough. He saw it as ugly and worthless as compared to the others. He wants to get it back and hide it, but it was too late. As God’s hand moved across the mound of gifts, He selected the old wooden box much to the horror of the little boy. As God examined the butterfly and the other objects, the littlest angel wondered why he thought the box and its contents were so wonderful. It all seemed so useless.
But then God spoke and said that “Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases Me most. Its contents are of the Earth and of men, and My Son is born to be King of both. These are the things My Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretful, will leave behind Him when His task is done. I accept this gift in the Name of the Child, Jesus, born of Mary this night in Bethlehem.”[vi]
Whatever we give to God is something He already gave to us. Whether it’s our time, our attention, our heart, our service, He’s the One who gave it to us in the first place. That alone makes it worthy to Him. We can’t give to God anything that He doesn’t already have. God doesn’t need us to praise Him; He wants us to praise Him. God doesn’t need us to honor Him; He wants us to honor Him. There’s no sacrifice that we make for Him that is worthless to Him. The sweetest part of the story of The Littlest Angel is that God takes that old wooden box and transforms it into a bright light that becomes the Star of Bethlehem. He will use what we give. Give to the Lord, give to the Lord, give to the Lord. We absolutely come to God to receive, but we need to come to God to give to Him as well. If we are truly worshipping Him, then we can’t help but sacrifice.
Psalm 96:10 NKJV “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns;
The world also is firmly established,
It shall not be moved;
He shall judge the peoples righteously.”
We need to remember that God reigns! And we need to proclaim it and remind others of that fact. Other people can choose to believe it or not, but one day it will be made clear to all! The Lord reigns! We forget that. We dismiss that simple fact that should be reinforcing our hope. And this world that He not only established but FIRMLY established won’t be moved. Not by us, not by the economy, politics, sinfulness, or Satan himself. Isn’t that worthy of our praise?
We are told that He will judge people righteously. The word “judge” has a negative connotation. We don’t like to be judged. For the most part, we don’t look forward to having a judgment entered. We’ve all seen verdicts that were handed down in a courtroom that were just plain wrong. Anyone who has ever had any dealings with the court system knows that it has its faults. Judges and judgments are not always fair. But God’s judgment is perfect and He will judge righteously which means He will make things right. Oh, what a day that will be!
Psalm 96:11 NKJV “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice
13 before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.”
As the psalm comes to a close, certain things are personified, given human qualities that we don’t normally think of. The heavens rejoice. The earth is glad. (Can you help but picture a big smile on the planet Earth?) The seas roar. Fields are joyful. Trees will rejoice. I see a great Disney movie in those descriptions! Romans 8:21 NLT “the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Even the seas, the trees, and the fields of the Earth are excited about the day when they will be freed from bondage. How much more so should we be? God’s good news seems too good to be true – but it is true! Let it be a new song, a gift of praise and honor to God as we sing lyrics such as:
Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine[vii]
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know. It is well, it is well, with my soul.[viii]
To God be the glory, great things He hath done.[ix]
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace.[x]
Or even the popular Christmas song, Joy to the World which is based on Psalm 96:
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”[xi]
Our praise needs reigniting as we give to the Lord a new song full of honor and glory that is more than deserved for our great God! Sing to Him! Give to Him! And then watch what He does.
[vii] “Blessed Assurance” by Fanny J. Crosby
[viii] “It is Well With My Soul” by Horatio Spafford
[ix] “To God Be the Glory” by Fanny J. Crosby
[x] “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” by Helen Howarth Lemmel
[xi] “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts