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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 96

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1


All the inhabitants of the earth are invited to praise the

Lord, 1-3.

His supreme majesty, 3-6.

The tribes of Israel are invited to glorify him, 7-9;

and to proclaim him among the heathen, 10.

The heavens and the earth are commanded to rejoice in him,



This Psalm has no title, either in the Hebrew or Chaldee. The Syriac: "Of David. A prophecy of the advent of Christ and the calling of the Gentiles to believe in him." The Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and Arabic have, "A Song of David, when the House was built after the Captivity." We have seen in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33 a Psalm nearly like this, composed by David, on bringing the ark to Sion, from the house of Obed-edom. See the notes on the above place. But the Psalm, as it stands in the Chronicles, has thirty verses; and this is only a section of it, from the twenty-third to the thirty-third. It is very likely that this part was taken from the Psalm above mentioned, to be used at the dedication of the second temple. The one hundred and fifth Psalm is almost the same as that in Chronicles, but much more extensive. Where they are in the main the same, there are differences for which it is not easy to account.

Verse Psalms 96:1. Sing unto the Lord a new song — A song of peculiar excellence, for in this sense the term new is repeatedly taken in the Scriptures. He has done extraordinary things for us, and we should excel in praise and thanksgiving.

Verse 2

Verse Psalms 96:2. Show forth his salvation from day to day. — The original is very emphatic, בשרו מיום ליום ישועתו basseru miyom leyom yeshuatho "Preach the Gospel of his salvation from day to day." To the same effect the Septuagint, Ευαγγελιζεσθε ἡμεραν εξ ἡμερας το σωτηριον αυτου, "Evangelize his salvation from day to day."

Verse 3

Verse Psalms 96:3. Declare his glory among the heathen. — The heathen do not know the true God: as his being and attributes are at the foundation of all religion, these are the first subjects of instruction for the Gentile world. Declare, ספרו sapperu, detail, number out his glory, כבודו kebodo, his splendour and excellence.

His wonders among all people. — Declare also to the Jews his wonders, נפלאותיו niphleothaiv, his miracles. Dwell on the works which he shall perform in Judea. The miracles which Christ wrought among the Jews were full proof that he was not only the Messiah, but the mighty power of God.

Verse 4

Verse Psalms 96:4. He is to be feared above all gods. — I think the two clauses of this verse should be read thus: -

Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised.

Elohim is to be feared above all.

I doubt whether the word אלהים Elohim is ever, by fair construction, applied to false gods or idols. The contracted form in the following verse appears to have this meaning.

Verse 5

Verse Psalms 96:5. All the gods of the nations are idols — אלהי elohey. All those reputed or worshipped as gods among the heathens are אלילים elilim, vanities, emptinesses, things of nought. Instead of being Elohim, they are elilim; they are not only not GOD, but they are nothing." "Jehovah made the heavens." He who is the creator is alone worthy of adoration.

Verse 6

Verse Psalms 96:6. Honour and majesty are before him — Does this refer to the cloud of his glory that preceded the ark in their journeying through the wilderness? The words strength and beauty, and glory and strength, Psalms 96:7, are those by which the ark is described, Psalms 78:61.

Verse 7

Verse Psalms 96:7. Ye kindreds of the people — Ye families, all the tribes of Israel in your respective divisions.

Verse 8

Verse Psalms 96:8. Come into his courts. — Probably referring to the second temple. The reference must be either to the tabernacle or temple.

Verse 9

Verse Psalms 96:9. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness — I think בהדרת קדש behadrath kodesh, signifies holy ornaments, such as the high priest wore in his ministrations. These were given him for glory and beauty; and the psalmist calls on him to put on his sacerdotal garments, to bring his offering, מנחה minchah, and come into the courts of the Lord, and perform his functions, and make intercession for the people.

Verse 10

Verse Psalms 96:10. Say among the heathen that the Lord reignethJustin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, quotes this passage thus: Ειπατε εν τοις εθνεσι, ὁ Κυριος εβασιλευσε απο του ξυλου, "Say among the nations, the Lord ruleth by the wood," meaning the cross; and accuses the Jews of having blotted this word out of their Bibles, because of the evidence it gave of the truth of Christianity. It appears that this reading did exist anciently in the Septuagint, or at least in some ancient copies of that work, for the reading has been quoted by Tertullian, Lactantius, Arnobius, Augustine, Cassiodorus, Pope Leo, Gregory of Tours, and others. The reading is still extant in the ancient Roman Psalter, Dominus regnavit a ligno, and in some others. In an ancient MS. copy of the Psalter before me, while the text exhibits the commonly received reading, the margin has the following gloss: Regnavit a ligno crucis, "The Lord reigns by the wood of the cross." My old Scotico-Latin Psalter has not a ligno in the text, but seems to refer to it in the paraphrase: For Criste regned efter the dede on the crosse. It is necessary, however, to add, that no such words exist in any copy of the Hebrew text now extant, nor in any MS. yet collated, nor in any of the ancient Versions. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome even refer to it, who wrote comments on the Psalms; nor is it mentioned by any Greek writer except Justin Martyr.

The world also shall be established — The word תבל tebel signifies the habitable globe, and may be a metonymy here, the container put for the contained. And many think that by it the Church is intended; as the Lord, who is announced to the heathen as reigning, is understood to be Jesus Christ; and his judging among the people, his establishing the holy Gospel among them, and governing the nations by its laws.

Verse 11

Verse Psalms 96:11. Let the heavens rejoice — The publication of the Gospel is here represented as a universal blessing; the heavens, the earth, the sea, and its inhabitants, the field, the grass, and the trees of the wood, are all called to rejoice at this glorious event. This verse is well and harmoniously translated in the old Psalter: -

Fayne be hevenes. - and the erth glad;

Styrde be the see, - and the fulnes of it;

Joy sal feldes, - and al that ere in thaim.

And the paraphrase is at least curious: -

Hevens, haly men. Erthe, meke men that receyves lare (learning.) Feldes, that is even men, mylde and softe: they shall joy in Criste. And all that is in thaim, that es, strengh, wyttes & skill."

I shall give the remaining part of this ancient paraphrase, which is an echo of the opinion of most of the Latin fathers.

Verse 12

Verse Psalms 96:12. Thou sal glad al the trese of woddes. - Thou, that is in another Iyfe. Trese of woddes. - Synful men that were fyrst withouten frut, and sithen taken into God's temple.

Verse 13

Verse Psalms 96:13. For he coms, he coms. He coms, fyrste to be man. - Sythen he comes to deme the erth.

He sal deme in evenes the erth: - and folk in his sothfastnes. Nothing is evener, or sothfaster, than that he geder with hym perfyte men; to deme and to deperte to the rig hande (thaim) that did mercy: - pase to the lefte hande (thaim) that did it nogt.

The psalmist here in the true spirit of poetry, gives life and intelligence to universal nature, producing them all as exulting in the reign of the Messiah, and the happiness which should take place in the earth when the Gospel should be universally preached. These predictions seem to be on the eve of complete fulfilment. Lord, hasten the time! For a fuller explanation see the following analysis.


Although this Psalm was composed by David at the bringing back of the ark, yet most ancient and modern Christian expositors acknowledge it a prophecy of Christ's kingdom, to be enlarged by the accession of all the Gentiles, and finally, his coming to judgment.

There are two parts in this Psalm: -

I. A general exhortation to both Jews and Gentiles to praise God, Psalms 96:1-3.

II. A prophecy of Christ's kingdom, described by its greatness, Psalms 96:4-5; the honours and glory, Psalms 96:6; of the majesty of the King, Psalms 96:7-8.

1. The amplitude of this kingdom, Psalms 96:10.

2. His judicature in it, Psalms 96:11-13.

I. 1. The invitation to praise God for the benefits conferred on the whole earth by Christ. Psalms 96:1-3. 1. That the praise be full, he thrice repeats, "O sing, sing, sing;" to the honour of the Trinity, says Bellarmine, obscurely intimated in the Old, but plainly to be preached in the New, Testament. 2. "Show forth." Give praise by thanks and singing. 3. "Declare." Carry good news - the Gospel of glad tidings.

2. The song to be sung must be new: "Sing unto the Lord a new song." New, for a new benefit; new, to be sung by new people; new, as being on a most excellent subject.

3. It was to be sung "by the whole earth." By new men, and all the world over; for God was not now to be known in Judea only, but by all nations.

4. It must be continually sung, from day to day, without cessation; for as one day succeeds another, so should there be a continual succession in his praise.

Afterwards he expresses the benefits for which the whole earth is to praise him, which is for the redemption of the world by his Son.

1. He shows forth his salvation, which he has conferred on mankind by Christ.

2. "Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people." Salvation was a glorious work, full of wonders. And this was to be evangelized, as before to the Jews by the prophets, so now to all people by the apostles.

II. And that this exhortation might appear more reasonable, he presents God as a king, and sets down the greatness, amplitude, and equity of his kingdom.

1. "Sing to the Lord all the earth, for he is Lord of the whole earth." 1. "The Lord is great." Great in power, wisdom, goodness, mercy, dominion, riches; great in every way of greatness. 2. "He is greatly to be praised," or worthy of all praise, for his innumerable benefits. He bestows them, spiritually and temporally, in his creation, redemption, and preservation of the world. What is praiseworthy in any king may be found superlatively in him.

2. "He is to be feared above all gods;" for he can cast body and soul into hell. They though called gods, can do neither good nor hurt; the devils, who set them up, believe that he is above them, and they tremble. Sing to him then, for the supremacy is his; he is above all gods. If there be other gods, show their works; produce the heavens they have made, or the earth they have framed. It is our God alone who "made the heavens, and all things that are in them;" fear him, and not them.

The prophet elegantly derides the heathenish gods, and the heathen for fearing them.

1. For the multitude of them, for they were many; which is contrary to the nature of God, who must be but one, for there can be but one Supreme.

2. For their division: one of the Ammonites; another of the Moabites; one of the Philistines; many of the Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans: their gods were according to the number of their cities; three hundred Jupiters, thirty thousand deities.

3. They were elilim, Dii minores. Moloch had the rule of the sun; Astarte, of the moon; Ceres, of corn; Pluto, of hell; Neptune, of the sea, c. Their power was not universal, as the power of God ought to be.

4. Lastly, in the opposition, which plainly shows the difference between God and idols. They are but the work of men's hands. Our God is a creator he made the heavens, and all that is contained in and under them. He then is terrible, and to be feared; not those diminutive, vain, unprofitable gods of the nations.

And so, having removed out of his way all the gods of the nations, he returns to our God and King. Having said "he was great, greatly to be feared, and praised above all gods," he now sets forth his majesty to the eye of the subject and stranger: Honour, majesty, strength, beauty; so says our prophet: "Honour and majesty are before him, strength and beauty are in his sanctuary." God is invisible; but his honour and majesty, strength and beauty, may be easily observed in his ordering, governing, and preserving the whole world and his Church; both which may be justly called his sanctuary, and the last his holy place.

He has proved God to be a universal King, and now he endeavours to persuade his subjects, all kindreds of people, to return to their king his tribute, his honour and worship, which he comprehends in these words: Give - bring an offering - worship - fear - proclaim him to be King.

1. "Give unto the Lord;" and again, "Give unto the Lord glory and strength." Give freely to him, and alone attribute to him the glory of your being and well-being, that he made and redeemed you, and that by the strength of his right hand he has plucked you out of the hands of your enemies. This was the glorious work of his mercy and power.

2. "Give unto the Lord the honour due to his name." It is a debt; and a debt, in equity, must be paid. The honour due to his name is to acknowledge him to be holy, just, true, powerful: "The Lord, the faithful God," - "good, merciful, long-suffering," c. Defraud not his name of the least honour.

3. "Bring an offering, and come into his courts." Appear not before the Lord empty, as the Jews were commanded to which the prophet alludes. "They had their sacrifices, and we also have our spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," to bring; 1 Peter 2:5. These are the sacrifices of a contrite heart. Bring these when you enter into his courts, and into his house of prayer.

4. "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." They who enter into the presence of a king presently fall on their knees in token of submission and homage; in the presence of your King do the same. Adore, and remember to do it in the beauty of holiness; referred to the material temple, it is by relation a holy place, and should not be profaned; a beautiful place, and should not be defaced, but kept beautiful. If referred to the spiritual temple, the temple of the Holy Ghost is to be beautiful with holiness; a holy life, holy virtues, beautiful garments, righteousness and true holiness.

5. "Fear before him, all the earth." Join fear to your worship, for a man may be bold in the presence of his king. "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with reverence." There is a fear which arises out, of an apprehension of greatness and excellency in the person, together with our dependence on and our submission to him, which in body and mind makes us step back, and keep at a distance. This kind of fear produces reverence and adoration, and this the prophet here means.

6. "Say among the heathen, the Lord reigns;" or, as some say: "The Lord reigns among the heathen." Be heralds; and proclaim, with the sound of the trumpet, God reigns, God is King.

The prophet begins to set forth the amplitude of Christ's kingdom: -

1. Before, it was confined to Judea, but is now enlarged: "All nations are become his subjects; he reigns among the heathen."

2. Its stability: "The world shall be established, that it shall not be moved." The laws of this kingdom are not to be altered, as were the laws of Moses, but fixed and established for ever. The Gospel is an eternal Gospel, a standing law.

3. The equity to be observed in it: "He shall judge the people righteously," for he shall give to those who observe his laws, rewards; to those who despise them, break them, and say, "We will not have this man to reign over us," condign punishment.

4. The prophet, having described the King, and the state of his kingdom, exults in spirit, as if he had seen him coming to sit upon the throne. He calls, not the Gentiles only, whom it did very nearly concern, but all creatures, to rejoice in him; heaven, earth, sea, trees, fields, c. Although there are who by heaven understand angels by the earth, men; by the sea, troublesome spirits; by trees and fields, the Gentiles who were to believe; yet this need not be thought strange, because such prosopopoeias are frequent in Scripture. The meaning is, that as the salvation was universal, so he would have the joy to be universal: "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord."

He incites all creatures to rejoice for Christ's coming, both for the first and for the second: for the first, in which he consecrated all things; for the second, in which he will free all things from corruption, Romans 8:19-22.

1. "For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth." - Which first part of the verse the fathers refer to his first coming, when he was incarnate, and came to redeem the world by his death: and was to the end to judge, that is to rule and govern, the world by his word, ordinances, and Spirit.

2. And again: "He shall come to judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth:" which coming, though terrible to the wicked, will be joyful and comfortable to the righteous. For, says our Lord, "Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth near;' and to comfort them, and terrify the wicked, he tells them he will judge with equity, that is, in justice and in truth, according to his word and promise. He will accept no man's person, but render to every man according to his works.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 96". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/psalms-96.html. 1832.
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