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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 96

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This psalm is similar in structure and design to Psalms 95:1-11. It is an exhortation to universal praise, and was doubtless designed to be used in public worship - in the service of the sanctuary.

The psalm has no title in the Hebrew, and its authorship cannot with any certainty be determined. There is, however, a very marked similarity between this psalm and a portion of that which was composed and sung at the removal of the ark by David, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 16:0, and of which it is said 1 Chronicles 16:7, “Then on that day David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord, into the hand of Asaph and his brethren.” Of the original psalm, therefore, David was undoubtedly the author. Psalms 96:1-13 is merely an abridgment of that one, or more properly an extract from it, since it is essentially similar to one portion of it, and is taken from it with very slight variations, 1 Chronicles 16:23-33. But by whom the extract and the slight alterations were made, and on what occasion this was done, we have no certain means of ascertaining. The title in the Septuagint is, “When the house was built after the captivity. An ode by David.” The same is the title in the Latin Vulgate. According to this, it is supposed that on the dedication of the temple, when it was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, a portion of a psalm composed by David was selected and arranged for that purpose.

Hence, it might be properly called “A Psalm of David;” though not, of course, composed by him for that particular occasion. This seems to me to be a very probable account of the origin of the psalm, and of the reason why it has its present form. In the original 1 Chronicles 16:0 there were things which would not be particularly appropriate to the dedication of the temple, while the portion which is extracted is eminently suited for such a service. DeWette doubts the genuineness of the psalm in 1 Chronicles 16:0; and Hengstenberg supposes that that psalm was made up of parts taken from psalms which were then in common use. But it seems to me that the suggestion above is the most natural, and sufficiently explains the origin of this psalm. It would be very appropriate to the re-dedication of the temple; and it is appropriate to be used in similar services at all times.

The structure of the psalm is very simple, and it does not admit of any particular analysis.

Verse 1

O sing unto the Lord a new song - See the notes at Psalms 33:3. This is the only addition made to the original form of the psalm. The word new here implies that there was some fresh occasion for celebrating the praises of God; that some event had occurred, or that some truth relating to the divine character had now been made known, which could not well be expressed in any psalm or hymn then in use. It is a call on all to celebrate the praises of the Lord in a “new” song - new, particularly, as it calls on “all the earth” to join in it; and possibly this was designed to suggest the idea that while that temple stood, a dispensation would commence, under which the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles would be broken down, and all mankind would unite in the praise of God.

Sing unto the Lord, all the earth - All nations. All people had occasion to bless his name; to praise him. What he had done, what he was still doing, was of interest to all lands, and made an appeal to all people to praise him. The psalm is constructed on this supposition, that the occasion for praise referred to was one in which all people were interested; or, in other words, that Yahweh was the true God over all the nations, and that all people should acknowledge him.

Verse 2

Sing unto the Lord, bless his name - This verse is substantially the same as 1 Chronicles 16:23; “Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; show forth from day to day his salvation.”

Show forth his salvation - His interposition; the fact that he has saved or delivered us. This may have referred originally in particular to what he had done to save the people in time of danger, but the language is such also as to express salvation in a higher sense - salvation from sin and death. As such it may be employed to express what God has done for mankind - for all people, Jews and Gentiles - in providing a way of salvation, and making it possible that they should reach heaven. For this all people have occasion for praise.

From day to day - Continually; always. It is a fit subject for unceasing praise. Every man should praise God every day - on each returning morning, and on every evening - for the assurance that there is a way of salvation provided for him, and “that he may be happy forever.” If we had right feelings, this would be the first thought which would burst upon the mind each morning, irradiating, as with sunbeams, all around us; and it would be the last thought which would linger in the soul as we lie down at night, and close our eyes in slumber - making us grateful, calm, happy, as we sink to rest, for whether we wake or not in this world we may be forever happy.

Verse 3

Declare his glory among the heathen - Among the nations; the people who are not Hebrews. The meaning is, Let it be proclaimed in all lands, among all people. Let it not be confined to those who are professedly his people, but let it be announced everywhere. This is copied literally from 1 Chronicles 16:24.

His wonders among all people - His “marvelous works;” those things which are suited to produce astonishment in the mind. The reference is to those works and doings of God which lie so far beyond the power of any created being, and which by their vastness, their wisdom, and their benevolence, are suited to produce a deep impression on the human mind.

Verse 4

For the Lord is great - Yahweh is great. See the notes at Psalms 77:13. This verse is taken literally from 1 Chronicles 16:25.

And greatly to be praised - Worthy of exalted praise and adoration.

He is to be feared above all gods - He is to be reverenced and adored above all that are called gods. Higher honor is to be given him; more lofty praise is to be ascribed to him. He is Ruler over all the earth, and has a claim to universal praise. Even if it were admitted that they were real gods, yet it would still be true that they were local and inferior divinities; that they ruled only over the particular countries where they were worshipped and acknowledged as gods, and that they had no claim to “universal” adoration as Yahweh has.

Verse 5

For all the gods of the nations are idols - All the gods worshipped by the people of other lands are mere “idols.” None of them can claim to have a real existence as gods. The word here rendered “idols” is translated by the Septuagint, δαιμόνια daimonia, “demons.” So the Latin Vulgate “daemonia.” The Hebrew word - אליל 'ĕlı̂yl - means properly “of nothing, nought, empty, vain.” See Job 13:4. The meaning here is, that they were mere nothings; they had no real existence; they were the creations of the imagination; they could not in any sense be regarded as what it was pretended they were; they had no claim to reverence and worship as gods. Of most of them it was a fact that they had no existence at all, but were mere creatures of fancy. Of those that did really exist, as the sun, moon, stars, animals, or the spirits of departed people, though it was true that they had an actual existence, yet it was also true that they had no existence “as gods,” or as entitled to worship; and hence, it was also true that the worship offered to them was as vain as that which was offered to mere beings of the imagination. This verse is extracted literally from 1 Chronicles 16:26. The Hebrew is the same.

But the Lord made the heavens - Yahweh created the heavenly hosts, and therefore he is the true God, and is entitled to worship. The power of “creation” - of causing anything to exist where there was nothing before - must pertain to God alone, and is the highest act of Divinity. No pretended pagan god has that power; no man has that power. The true God has reserved the exercise of that power to himself, and has never, in any instance, imparted it to a created being.

Verse 6

Honour and majesty are before him - This part of the verse is taken literally from 1 Chronicles 16:27. The meaning is, that that which constitutes honor, glory, majesty, is in his presence, or wherever he is. Whereever he manifests himself, there are the exhibitions of honor and majesty. They are always the accompaniments of his presence.

Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary - This is slightly varied from the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 16:27. The word rendered “strength” is in both places the same. The word rendered “beauty” here - תפארת tiph'ereth - is in 1 Chronicles 16:27 חדוה chedvâh - “joy or gladness.” The word here rendered “sanctuary” - מקדשׁ miqdâsh - is in 1 Chronicles 16:27 - מקום mâqôm - “place.” These variations are such as to show that the psalm is not a mere extract, but that it was altered of design, and adapted to the occasion on which it was to be employed - confirming the supposition that it may have been used in the re-dedication of the temple after the return from the captivity. The word “sanctuary” refers to the holy place where God dwells; his sacred abode, whether his residence in heaven, or the temple on earth as the place of his earthly habitation. When it is said that “strength” is there, it means that the dwelling-place of God is the source of “power,” or that power emanates from thence; that is, from God himself. When it is said that “beauty” is there, the meaning is, that whatever is suited to charm by loveliness; whatever is a real ornament; whatever makes the world attractive; whatever beautifies and adorns creation, has its home in God; it proceeds from him. It may be added that whatever there is of “power” to reform the world, and convert sinners; whatever there is to turn people from their vicious and abandoned course of life; whatever there is to make the world better and happier, proceeds from the “sanctuary” - the church of God. Whatever there is that truly adorns society, and makes it more lovely and attractive; whatever there is that diffuses a charm over domestic and social life; whatever there is that makes the world more lovely or more desirable to live in - more courteous, more gentle, more humane, more kind, more forgiving - has its home in the “sanctuary,” or emanates from the church of God.

Verse 7

Give unto the Lord - Ascribe unto the Lord - to Yahweh. This is extracted literally from 1 Chronicles 16:28.

O ye kindreds of the people - Hebrew, “Families” of the people: people, as united by family ties. The idea is that of worship not merely as individuals, nor as a mere “aggregate” of individuals united by no common bonds, but as those united by strong ties; bound by blood and affection; constituted into communities. It is a call on such to worship God in their capacity as thus bound together; to come as families and to worship God. In other words, it is a call on families “as such” to acknowledge God. A family is a proper place where to honor God. When the same joy pervades all hearts in prosperity, and when all are alike made sorrowful in adversity, there is an evident fitness that all should unite in the same worship of God; and that, as in all other things they have common interests, sympathies, and affections, so they should have in religion - in the service of their Creator.

Give unto the Lord glory and strength - That is, Proclaim that these belong to God; or, worship him as a God of glory and power.

Verse 8

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name - This also is literally taken from 1 Chronicles 16:0: Psa 96:1-13 :28. The margin here is, as in Hebrew, of “his name:” the honor of his name. The idea is that which is expressed in our translation. Bring to God what is due to him; or, render such an acknowledgment as he deserves and claims. Acknowledge him as God, and acknowledge him to be such a God as he is. Let the honor due to God as such be given him; and let the honor due to him, for the character which he actually has, be ascribed to him.

Bring an offering - This is language taken from the temple-worship, and means that God is to be worshipped, in the manner which he has prescribed, as a suitable expression of his majesty. The word here rendered “offering” - מנחה minchāh - is that which is commonly used to denote a “bloodless” offering - a thank-offering. See the notes at Isaiah 1:13.

And come into his courts - The courts or areas around the tabernacle and the temple, where sacrifices were made, and where the people worshipped. See the notes at Matthew 21:12.

Verse 9

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness - This verse is literally taken from 1 Chronicles 16:29-30. The margin here is, “in the glorious sanctuary.” The Septuagint, ἐν αὐλῇ ἁγίᾳ en aulē hagia - “in his holy court.” So the Latin Vulgate. On the meanings of the expression, see the notes at Psalms 29:2.

Fear before him, all the earth - All lands; all people. The word rendered “fear” means properly to writhe, to twist, to be in pain; and then, to tremble, to quake, to be afraid. The word “tremble” would perhaps best express the idea here. It is that solemn awe produced by the sense of the divine presence and majesty which causes trembling. It denotes profound reverence for God.

Verse 10

Say among the heathen - Among the nations; all nations. Make this proclamation everywhere. This is changed from the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 16:0. The language there is, “Fear before him, all the earth; the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved: let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice: and let people say among the nations, The Lord reigneth.” The sense is, however, essentially the same. The idea here is, “Make universal proclamation that Yahweh is King.”

That the Lord reigneth - See the notes at Psalms 93:1.

The world also shall be established ... - Under the reign of God. The meaning is, that the world is fixed or immovable. It has its place, and it cannot be moved out of it. The government of God is fixed and stable. It is not temporary, changing, vacillating, like the dynasties of the earth, but is stedfast and abiding, and is well represented by the earth - so fixed and firm that nothing can move it from its place.

He shall judge the people righteously - The people of all lands; the nations of the earth. See the notes at Psalms 67:4.

Verse 11

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad - Let all worlds be full of joy, as they are all interested in the fact here stated. The universe is one. It has been made by the same hand; it is under the control of the same mind; it is governed by the same laws. The God who reigns on earth reigns in heaven; and what affects one part of the universe affects all. Hence, in all the manifestation of the character of God, whether made in heaven or in the earth, it is proper to call on all the universe to partake in the general joy.

Let the sea roar - In praise to God. It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to call on inanimate things to praise God. Compare Psalms 148:7-9. The same thing is common in all poetry.

And the fulness thereof - Its abundance. That which fills it. All that it contains. That is, Let all that dwell in the seas praise God. His reign is an occasion for universal gladness. All in the inanimate world; all among the irrational tribes of being; all in the air, in the waters, or on the earth, have occasion for praise, and would render praise if they could appreciate the wisdom and goodness evinced in their creation. Though unconscious, the lower creatures seem to celebrate his praise; but man only can give an intelligent utterance to thanksgiving.

Verse 12

Let the field be joyful ... - This is taken - with the change of a single letter, not affecting the sense - from 1 Chronicles 16:32-33. It is a call on the fields - the cultivated portions of the earth - to rejoice in the reign of God. As if conscious of the beauty with which he clothes them, and of the happiness which they confer on man in their beauty and in the abundance of their productions, they are called on to praise God.

Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice - The forests - the oaks, the cedars, the pines, that wave with so much majesty. If they were conscious of their own magnificence and beauty - if they could see how much wisdom and goodness God has lavished on them, in their forms, their branches, their leaves, their flowers, their fruit - if they could know how much they are made to accomplish in rendering the world beautiful, and in contributing to the happiness of man - if they understood what a bare, bleak, cold, desert world this would be but for them, they, too, would have abundant occasion for praise and joy.

Verse 13

Before the Lord - This is altered from 1 Chronicles 16:0. The language there is simply, “Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord, because he cometh to judge the earth.” The meaning here is, that all these things have occasion to praise the Lord whenever he appears; to rejoice in the presence of Him who has made them what they are.

For he cometh - That is, he will come. He will manifest himself as a righteous judge. He will come to reign over the world, and there will be in his reign universal occasion for joy. The allusion would seem to be to some future time when God would come to reign among people; to dispense justice; to vindicate his people, and to establish truth. The “language” is such as would properly refer to the anticipated reign of the Messiah, as a reign of righteousness, and is such language as is frequently employed in the Old Testament to denote the character of his reign. There is no reason to doubt that this psalm may be “designed” to describe the reign of the Messiah, and that the psalmist in this language may have looked forward to that future kingdom of righteousness and peace.

For he cometh to judge the earth ... - See this language explained in the notes at Psalms 72:2-4; and the notes at Isaiah 11:2-5. What is here stated occurs now, wherever the gospel reigns in the hearts of people; it will be fully accomplished when the Lord Jesus shall come again and judge the world.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 96". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/psalms-96.html. 1870.
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