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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Psalms 96

 

 

Verses 1-13

Psalms 96:1-13

THE praise of Jehovah as King has, in the preceding psalms, chiefly celebrated His reign over Israel. But this grand coronation anthem takes a wider sweep, and hymns that kingdom as extending to all nations, and as reaching beyond men, for the joy and blessing of a renovated earth. It fails into four strophes, of which the first three contain three verses each, while the last extends to four. These strophes are like concentric circles, drawn round that eternal throne. The first summons Israel to its high vocation of Jehovah’s evangelist, the herald who proclaims the enthronement of the King. The second sets Him above all the "Nothings" which usurp the name of gods, and thus prepares the way for His sole monarchy. The third summons outlying nations to bring their homage, and flings open the Temple gates to all men, inviting them to put on priestly robes, and do priestly acts there. The fourth calls on Nature in its heights and depths, heaven and earth, sea, plain, and forest, to add their acclaim to the shouts which hall the establishment of Jehovah’s visible dominion.

The song is to be new, because a new manifestation of Jehovah’s Kinghood has wakened once more the long-silent harps, which had been hung on the willows of Babylon. The psalm is probably a lyric echo of the Restoration, in which the prophet singer sees the beginning of Jehovah’s world wide display of His dominion. He knew not how many weary years were to pass in a weary and God-defying world, before his raptures became facts. But though His vision tarries, His song is no over-heated imagining, which has been chilled down for succeeding generations into a baseless hope. The perspective of the world’s chronology hid from him the deep valley between His standpoint and the fulfilment of his glowing words. Mankind still marches burdened, down among the mists, but it marches towards the sunlit heights. The call to sing a new song is quoted from Isaiah 42:10.The word in Psalms 96:2 b rendered "publish glad tidings" is also a favourite word with Isaiah II. (Isaiah 40:9, Isaiah 52:7, etc.). Psalms 96:3 a closely resembles Isaiah 66:19.

The second strophe is full of allusions to earlier psalms and prophets. The new manifestation of Jehovah’s power has vindicated His supremacy above the vanities which the peoples call gods, and has thereby given new force to old triumphant words which magnified His exalted name. Long ago a psalmist had sung, after a signal defeat of assailants of Jerusalem, that God was "great and greatly to be praised," [Psalms 48:1] and this psalmist makes the old words new. "Dread" reminds us of Psalms 47:2. The contemptuous name of the nation’s gods as "Nothings" is frequent in Isaiah. The heavens, which roof over all the earth, declare to every land Jehovah’s creative power, and His supremacy above all gods. But the singer’s eye pierces their abysses, and sees some gleams of that higher sanctuary of which they are but the floor. There stand Honour and Majesty, Strength and Beauty. The psalmist does not speak of "attributes." His vivid imagination conceives of these as servants, attending on Jehovah’s royal state. Whatsoever things are lovely, and whatsoever are august, are at home in that sanctuary. Strength and beauty are often separated in a disordered world, and each is maimed thereby, but, in their perfection, they are indissolubly blended. Men call many things strong and fair which have no affinity with holiness; but the archetypes of both excellences are in the Holy Place, and any strength which has not its roots there is weakness, and any beauty which is not a reflection from "the beauty of the Lord our God" is but a mask concealing ugliness.

The third strophe builds on this supremacy of Jehovah, whose dwelling place is the seat of all things worthy to be admired, the summons to all nations to render praise to Him. It is mainly a variation of Psalms 29:1-2, where the summons is addressed to angels. Here "the families of the peoples" are called on to ascribe to Jehovah "glory and strength," or "the glory of His name," (i.e. of His character as revealed). The call presupposes a new manifestation of His Kingship as conspicuous and earth shaking as the thunderstorm of the original psalm. As in it the "sons of God" were called to worship in priestly garb, so here still more emphatically, Gentile nations are invited to assume the priestly office, to "take an offering and come into His courts." The issue of Jehovah’s manifestation of kingly sway will be that Israel’s prerogative of priestly access to Him will be extended to all men, and that the lowly worship of earth will have characteristics which assimilate it to that of the elder brethren who ever stand before Him, and also characteristics which distinguish it from that, and are necessary while the worshippers are housed in flesh. Material offerings and places consecrated to worship belong to earth. The "sons of God" above have them not, for they need them not.

The last strophe has four verses, instead of the normal three. The psalmist’s chief purpose in it is to extend his summons for praise to the whole creation; but he cannot refrain from once more ringing out the glad tidings for which praise is to be rendered. He falls back in Psalms 96:10 on Psalms 93:1 and Psalms 9:8. In his quotation from the former psalm, he brings more closely together the thoughts of Jehovah’s reign and the fixity of the world, whether that is taken with a material reference, or as predicting the calm perpetuity of the moral order established by His merciful rule and equitable judgment. The thought that inanimate nature will share in the joy of renovated humanity inspires many glowing prophetic utterances, eminently those of Isaiah-as e.g., Isaiah 35:1-10. The converse thought, that it shared in the consequences of man’s sin, is deeply stamped on the Genesis narrative. The same note is struck with unhesitating force in Romans 8:1-39, and elsewhere in the New Testament. A poet invests Nature with the hues of his own emotions, but this summons of the psalmist is more than poetry. How the transformation is to be effected is not revealed, but the consuming fires will refine, and at last man will have a dwelling place where environment will correspond to character, where the external will image the inward state, where a new form of the material will be the perpetual ally of the spiritual, and perfected manhood will walk in a "new heaven and new earth, where dwelleth righteousness."

In the last verse of the psalm, the singer appears to extend his prophetic gaze from the immediate redeeming act by which Jehovah assumes royal majesty, to a still future "coming," in which He will judge the earth. "The accession is a single act; the judging is a continual process. Note that ‘judging’ has no terrible sound to a Hebrew" (Cheyne, in loc.). Psalms 96:13 c is again a verbatim quotation from Psalms 9:8.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 96:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/psalms-96.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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