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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 96

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 96

Let the whole earth praise the Lord, who has bestowed upon it glorious salvation, Psalms 96:1-3, for he is in his glory worthy of this praise, Psalms 96:4-6. May all the families of the heathen worship and reverence the Lord, Psalms 96:7-9. For he has entered upon his dominion over all the earth, and all nations stand under his righteous and salutary government, to the joy of the whole world, Psalms 96:10-12. At the conclusion, in Psalms 96:13, there is the sum of the whole Psalm: the Lord cometh to judge the earth.

The thrice-repeated “give,” in Psalms 96:7-8, corresponding to the thrice-repeated “sing” of the beginning, divides the Psalm into two halves, each of six verses. These are divided again into two strophes of three verses. The three is marked out as the fundamental number by the three-fold “sing” and “give.”

The formal arrangement announces that the Psalm, along with the one that precedes it, forms one pair. The extra verse here corresponds to one deficient in the preceding Psalm; the eleven and the thirteen together make up twenty-four, double the significant twelve, so that the numbers of the individual Psalms designedly devoid of meaning make up, when taken together, a significant number. The contents also lead us to the same result, the relation of Psalms 95 to Psalms 96, the connection of both is illustrated by Isaiah 2:5, where, on the announcement of the reception of the heathen into the kingdom of God, Isaiah 2:2-4, there follows an exhortation to Israel, not to exclude himself by his sin from the glorious salvation of the future, in which the whole earth shall participate. The only difference is, that the arrangement here is inverted. The salvation, for which the Psalmist exhorts the heathen to praise the Lord, is a future one, and appears as present only in so far as the Psalmist transposes himself into the future—the present is not real but ideal. This is clear from the nature of the thing, as, during the whole existence of the Old Testament dispensation, such a salvation encompassing the whole earth never existed, and the dominion of the Lord over the whole earth here represented as having arrived everywhere else, appears as the object of desire and hope, and more particularly from the ( Psalms 96:12) 12th verse, where the prophet leaves the point of view of the ideal, and passes on to that of the real present: then shall rejoice. From this fully ascertained fact that the Psalmist transfers himself here into the future, in reference to the salvation spoken of, and that with so much earnestness, that he throughout addresses the heathen living in it, and exhorts the heathen who, in his own day, knew nothing of the Lord, to thank him for a salvation for which at the time there had not been made the least preparation, it follows that he may very well have adopted the same procedure also in Psalms 94, in reference to the misery with which Israel was threatened, and which was to precede the development of that salvation. Further, if it cannot be denied that the Psalmist here transfers himself into the future, with what truth can the genuineness of the second part of Isaiah be objected to, on the ground that the prophet’s point of view is not that of Isaiah, inasmuch as it belongs to prophecy, to look upon the future as present much more than it does to lyric poetry, which could be induced to adopt such a style only in imitation of prophecy.

There can be no doubt (comp. the induction of proof at Psalms 96:1) that the Psalmist was stimulated by the second part of Isaiah to compose this poem, that the Psalm is a testimony of that inward movement of soul which was excited among the people by these prophecies, at a time when they were advancing with rapid strides to a period of severe suffering. It is the less possible to overlook this connection between the poetry of the Psalms and prophecy, as we observe in prophecy itself a transition to Psalm-poetry. We may compare, for example, Isaiah 12 and Habakkuk 3.

The exhortation “sing to the Lord a new song,” could only be responded to by the heathen after the salvation which forms the subject of the poem had arisen. Behind the exhortation, however, addressed to the heathen, to praise God, there lies concealed another addressed to the Israelites. The church of the Lord should be raised by this Psalm to joyful hope, should be awakened to an active zeal to serve with uprightness the Lord who had formed such a mighty purpose with her. She beheld indeed the heathen preparing to destroy the kingdom of the Lord in the small corner which still remained to her. But at the same time she beheld at a greater distance with the eye of the Spirit of the Lord, the Lord himself coming, in the full glory of his being, to judge the whole earth, to judge the world in righteousness, and the nations in faithfulness.

As the promise which forms the basis of our Psalm is as yet unfulfilled in its whole extent, the whole fulness of the heathen have not yet entered into the kingdom of God, the Psalm is fraught with importance to us, not only in regard to its general thought, but even as to its very language. It is a missionary-hymn for all ages of the church; and it becomes more and more appropriate to our times in proportion as the heathen begin to respond to the call, “Sing to the Lord a new song,” and in proportion as we find in the melancholy condition of the church at home occasion to look with a hopeful eye towards the heathen world.

On the relation of the Psalm to 1 Chronicles 16:23 ss., comp. at Psalms 106.

Verses 1-6

Ver. 1. Sing to the Lord a new song, sing all the world. Ver. 2. Sing to the Lord; praise his name; make known from day to day his salvation. Ver. 3. Recount among the heathen his glory, among all the nations his wonders. Ver. 4. For great is the Lord, and very glorious, dreadful above all gods. Ver. 5. For all the gods of the nations are null, and the Lord has made the heavens. Ver. 6. Majesty and glory are before him, might and beauty in his sanctuary.

On the “new song,” Psalms 96:1, comp. at Psalms 33:3. The first clause, however, is not at all borrowed from this passage, but from Isaiah 42:10, “ Sing unto the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth.” This is clear from the literal agreement; from the circumstance that the following words of Isaiah are re-echoed in the second clause here: that the exhortation is here, as in Isaiah, addressed to the heathen, which is not the case in Psalms 33, that the whole contents of the Psalm, as also those of Psalms 98 which begins with the same words, are nearly allied to the second part of Isaiah; that in our Psalm, as also in Isaiah, the irrational creation is, immediately after the rational, exhorted to praise God, and that the sea and its fulness, in Psalms 96:11, is literally borrowed from Isaiah 42:10. The verbal reference to Isaiah is designedly placed at the beginning, for the purpose of pointing out the prophetical fountain from which the lyric stream has flowed. The new song occurs in a more developed form in Revelation 5:9-10. On the last clause of Psalms 96:2, comp. Isaiah 52:7, “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of joy,. . . . who maketh known salvation, who saith to Zion, thy king reigneth” (the Lord reigneth here in Psalms 96:10), and also Isaiah 52:10, “all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God.” The בשר , in its reference to the future Messianic salvation, is peculiar to the second part of Isaiah: כבוד , also, is one of the favourite expressions of that writer. “From day to day” points to the greatness and the permanent character of the salvation; Calvin: “May this salvation not be frail or transitory.” The exhortation, “make known,” in Psalms 96:3, which is addressed to the heathen themselves, for no others had been spoken of, and the fundamental passages, are clear against the translation, “they make known” (imper.), Isaiah 60:6, “all they of Seba shall come and make known the praise of the Lord,” and especially Isaiah 60:18-19, “The time comes for assembling all heathen and tongues, and they come and see my glory, and I point them out and send from them runners to the heathen to Tarsus,” &c. There also the heathen are the messengers of salvation to the heathen; those who have themselves seen the glory of the Lord go out to make it known to others. His glory, which is now unveiled, so that all flesh sees it at once, Isaiah 40:5. “For,” Psalms 96:4, is “as his glory and his wonders show.” The first half is literally from Psalms 48:1. The second half alludes to Psalms 47:2. Psalms 95:3, Psalms 97:9, Psalms 99:2, are parallel. The gods are those whom the heathen had hitherto served. Dreadful, at the time when the Psalm was composed, was the pressure of these Elohim against Jehovah and his people, of the many against the one; but the Psalmist looks upon this pressure with joyful composure, he knows that the One will eventually gain the victory. Calvin: “The true worshippers of God had, at that time, a great and severe conflict with the mass of superstition with which the whole world was filled. For the true God was concealed in Judea, as it were, in a dark comer. . . . As each country had its own particular gods, they obtained also in other places acknowledgment, only the true God was deprived of his honour . . . . It follows that, from the unanimity of the multitude, nothing can be concluded in favour of the truth of a religion. Even innumerable men may therefore,” &c. The angels whom Stier would still understand by the Elohim, are excluded by Psalms 96:5, and also by the retrospective nature of the expression. The אלילים is, as is evident from Job 13:4, Zechariah 11:17, not an adjective, but a substantive: nullities. This expression, according to Hoffman (Prophecy and its fulfilment, i. p. 120), who maintains the real existence of the heathen deities, must have, not an absolute, but only a relative sense: “if they would stand in opposition to God the Creator, or if men associate them with him, they are אלילים .” But, in opposition to this, we have the two fundamental passages of the Pentateuch, Leviticus 19:4, “ye shall not turn you to the Elilim, and ye shall not make to yourselves molten gods;” Leviticus 26:1, “ye shall make no Elilim and carved image, and a molten image ye shall not set up,”—passages, at the foundation of which there lies the supposition, that the heathen gods have no other than a material existence, and in which, consequently, the basis is laid down on which may rest the assertion of their nullity. In the passage, Isaiah 41:24, which serves as an exposition of the Elilim, “behold ye are of nothing,” is preceded by “ye do neither good nor evil,” as proving that the non-existence of the idols is an absolute one. It is on the supposition that the idols have no existence except the images that the whole vigorous controversy rests, which is carried on throughout the second part of Isaiah against idol-worship. In the New Testament, the non-existence of heathen gods is expressly taught, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. 1 Corinthians 10:19-21, does not prove anything in reference to their real existence, which, in 1 Corinthians 10:19, is distinctly denied, but in reference to the demoniac back-ground, which is concealed behind the fore-ground of the null idolatry. Individual idols are the product of human imagination and of human hands, but the system, as a whole, stands under the direction and the influence of the powers of darkness, of which, besides this particular passage, according to the whole tenor of scripture doctrine, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt; comp. the Beitr. on the Pentateuch, i. p. 248. The exclusive deity of the Lord is here founded on the creation of the heaven, as in Psalms 95:4, and on his power over the earth.

On הוד and הדר , majesty and glory, in Psalms 96:6, comp. at Psalms 45:3. Before him,—as his inseparable attendants, comp. Job 41:14. On תףארת , ornament, glory, at Psalms 71:8. The חדוה , which is substituted instead of it, in Chronicles, refers to the festival connected with the use of the Psalm on that occasion, and to the musical establishment of David, comp. 1 Chronicles 16:4 ss. 1 Chronicles 16:37 ss. The question whether the sanctuary of the Lord is the heavenly (comp., for example, Psalms 29:9, Psalms 11:4, Isaiah 6) or the earthly sanctuary, is an improper one. The sanctuary of the Lord is wherever he is. The “his place” of Chron. is a good exposition. Even the earthly sanctuary is, by its inhabitant, high and lifted up: comp. at Psalms 78:69.

Verses 7-12

Ver. 7. Give to the Lord, ye generations of the people, give to the Lord glory and might. Ver. 8. Give to the Lord the glory of his name, bring offerings and come into his courts. Ver. 9. Worship the Lord in holy beauty, tremble before him, all lands. Ver. 10. Say to the Lord: the Lord reigneth, therefore the earth stands firm, it moves not, he judges the nations in righteousness. Ver. 11. Let the heaven rejoice and the earth shout, let the sea roar and its fulness. Ver. 12. Let the field rejoice, and every thing which is in it, then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy.

On Psalms 96:7-9, comp. Psalms 29:1-2, “give to the Lord ye sons of God, give to the Lord glory and power; give to the Lord the glory of his name, worship the Lord in holy beauty.” The quotations from this Davidic Psalm is a literal one, with the difference that two clauses are added, and that, in place of the sons of God, the tribes of the heathen are addressed, with marked reference to Genesis 12:3, “and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in thee.” The leaning upon Psalms 29 has not proceeded from an accidental reminiscence. It gives a strong basis for the announcement there made, as to the conversion of all the heathen. He whom the angels above praise with their song, must also, in future days, be praised by the harmonious song of the inhabitants of this earth. What God already is in heaven, is, according to the words, “as in heaven so also upon the earth,” a prophecy of what he shall in future days be on the earth. The difference between heaven and earth can only be a temporary one. The manifestation of the holy arm of the Lord must remove that difference in his own time. The נשא מנדחה is used of the bringing of gifts of allegiance to earthly sovereigns, in 2 Samuel 8:2, “and the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts;” comp. at Psalms 68:29, Psalms 72:10, Psalms 76:11. The courts, Psalms 92:14; Psalms 100:4.

The trembling, Psalms 96:9, is the natural feeling induced by a sight of the glory of God, even in those who have nothing to fear; comp. “may both joy and trembling be now found in me,” in the sacramental hymn, “Adorn thyself O blessed soul.” The trembling, more than anything else, points to the glory of the approaching revelation of God, and hence stands very appropriately at the end of the whole exhortation to praise and worship God.

In Psalms 96:10, there is the revelation of the Lord, which fills the whole earth with praise and worship, and which the heathen who first receive it, are with joyful lips to impart to other heathens. [Note: Venema: As this exhortation (ver. 7-9) takes for granted that the God of Israel had made himself known, even among the Gentiles, and is based on that manifestation, the Psalmist immediately subjoins that this would be done, or had been done, by means of an exhortation to proclaim God as king, that this would be done, or had been done.] The verse rests upon Psalms 93:1, “ The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty, he is clothed, the Lord girdeth himself with power, therefore the earth standeth firm, it does not move.” The government of the Lord shall again make firm the earth, which had been shaken to its innermost basis by the sins of men (comp. Psalms 75:3, “the earth with all its inhabitants is dissolved,” as it were, loosened, in consequence of the conqueror of the world), shall restore to it order, salvation, and peace; nation shall no longer lift up the sword against nation, and they shall not learn war any more,” Isaiah 2. In Psalms 93 the establishing of the earth follows through the omnipotence of God; and here by his righteous and righteousness-promoting judgment: so that the two passages thus mutually supplement each other. It is only the righteous omnipotence and the omnipotent righteousness that can produce such effects. On “the Lord reigneth,” = “he has entered upon his kingdom,” comp. besides the passages already quoted at Psalms 93, Isaiah 24:23, also Isaiah 57:7, “who saith to Zion: thy God reigneth.” The pre-existence of such fundamental passages is presupposed by the frequent repetition of the expression before us. These alone are sufficient to set aside the reference to any fact which had already taken place in the time of the Psalmist. The last clause attributes to the Lord what is elsewhere generally said of the Messiah, comp. for example Isaiah 11, Psalms 72. The Lord shall even by the “God-warrior,” Isaiah 9:5, judge the nations in righteousness.

The תגל shows that the futures in Psalms 96:11, and in the first half of Psalms 96:12, are to be taken as optatives. The exhortation, however, has for its basis the expectation that what is desired shall happen; and the transition to the expression of this in the second half of Psalms 96:12 is a soft and easy one. The fundamental passages are Isaiah 44:23, Isaiah 55:12. There is no necessity for supposing a reference to a participation by the creation itself, as in Romans 8:21. The living creatures in this case would have been named first. The earth standing in the middle is in contrast on the one hand to the heaven, and on the other to the sea. The field and the forest stand over against each other, on the dry land, as in Psalms 98:8, floods and mountains.

The expression, “ then shall rejoice,” in Psalms 96:12, shows that the exhortation “let the heaven rejoice,” &c., was spoken from an ideal present,—a point of view which the Psalmist here leaves, comp. the אז in Isaiah 24:5-6, Psalms 126:2. [Note: Already Muis: This particle denotes future time, and looks far forward.]

Verse 13

Ver. 13. Before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth, he shall judge the world in righteousness, and the nations in faithfulness.

The repeated “for he comes,” which so significantly expresses the joyful expectation of a glorious good, for which the heart of the Psalmist in his bosom so ardently longed, is omitted in Chronicles, which is characteristic of the version of the poem given there. It is also wanting at the conclusion of Psalms 98. For such an expression of emotion does not admit of repetition, and would appear artificial. The שפט , as is manifest from the fundamental passage Isaiah 2:4, particularly from the construction with בין , and the parallel הוכיח , has not the sense of “to reign,” but that of “to judge.” The judging, however, is such as affords matter of joy to the righteous, Psalms 96:1, it is not a retributive but a gracious judging, by which controversies are adjusted and prevented, and the law of love is introduced into the lives of the people, comp. the fundamental passage. [Note: Calvin: “Hence it follows that it is only by the light of the justice and the truth of God that the depravity and hypocrisy natural to men are dissipated and cleared away.”] The language does not apply to the “judgment of the world” as the “punishment of idolatry.” The faithfulness of God stands in contrast to the faithlessness of man, their want of trust-worthiness, and their deceit, the reign of which on the earth can be destroyed only by God acting out his own faithfulness, and setting it up as a model.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 96". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-96.html.
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