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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Psalms 96

 

 

Verses 1-13

EXPOSITION

THIS psalm occurs, with very little change, in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33, and is there (1 Chronicles 16:7) ascribed to David. It is also entitled, "A Psalm of David," in the Septuagint. But the phraseology and the style, especially the frequent iteration (1 Chronicles 16:1, 1 Chronicles 16:2, 1 Chronicles 16:7, 1 Chronicles 16:8, 1 Chronicles 16:13), belong to the later Hebrew. If David, therefore, was the original author, we must suppose a reconstruction of the composition at a later period. The psalm is one entirely devoted to praise. It sets forth Jehovah, first, as the Creator and Wonder worker of old (1 Chronicles 16:1-6); secondly, as the present Ruler of the earth and its inhabitants (1 Chronicles 16:7-10); and, thirdly, as the coming Judge of all men (1 Chronicles 16:10-13).

Metrically, the psalm consists of four stanzas, the first three of three verses each, and the last of four.

Psalms 96:1

O sing unto the Lord a new song (comp. Psalms 33:3; Psalms 98:1; Psalms 144:9; Psalms 149:1; Isaiah 42:10). This clause does not occur in 1 Chronicles 16:1-43. It seems to belong to the second recension of the psalm, when it was recast to suit some "new" occasion. Sing unto the Lord, all the earth. So in Isaiah 42:10, "Sing unto the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth." The psalmist at once makes known his "universalism" by calling on the whole earth to join in his song of praise (comp. Psalms 66:1, Psalms 66:4). This psalm has been well called "a missionary hymn for all ages."

Psalms 96:2

Sing unto the Lord, bless his Name (cf. Psalms 100:4; Psalms 145:1, Psalms 145:10, Psalms 145:21, etc.). Show forth his salvation from day to day; or, publish his salvation ( εὐαγγελίζεσθε, LXX.); i.e. "make it known"—"spread the good tidings."

Psalms 96:3

Declare his glory among the heathen. Publish God's praise, not only in Israel, but to the ends of the earth. Let all mankind hear the joyful news (comp. Psalms 2:8; Psalms 47:1, Psalms 47:8; Psalms 138:4). His wonders among all people; rather, among all the peoples; i.e. "all the nations of the earth" (see Psalms 96:7).

Psalms 96:4

For the Lord is great (comp. Psalms 95:3), and greatly to be praised. Whatever is "great" excites our admiration, and naturally calls forth our praise. God's greatness is such that he needs to be "greatly praised." He is to be feared above all gods (comp. Psalms 95:3, and the comment ad loc.).

Psalms 96:5

For all the gods of the nations are idols; rather, vanities, or nothings. In the original there is a play upon the words—the elohim of the nations are mere elilim. Elilim is a favourite designation of the heathen gods in Isaiah. Compare the statement of St. Paul, "We know that an idol is nothing in the world" (1 Corinthians 8:4). But the Lord made the heavens. That which is nothing can do nothing, can make nothing. How far superior is Jehovah, who "made the heavens" (comp. Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24)!

Psalms 96:6

Honour and majesty are before him. Another paronomasia—hod ve-hadar. Dr. Kay translates, "grandeur and majesty;" Professor Cheyne, "glory and grandeur." Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. The original phrase used seems to have been, "Strength and gladness are in his place" (1 Chronicles 16:27)—terms suiting the simplicity of David's time. When the psalms came to be used in the temple service, loftier language was more fitting. The whole passage has probable reference to the glory of God as seated between the cherubim in the first temple.

Psalms 96:7

Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people; rather, O ye fatuities of the peoples. A renewed appeal to the heathen to join in the song of praise (comp. Psalms 96:1). Give unto the Lord glory and strength. "Give" must be understood in the sense of "ascribe" (see Professor Cheyne's translation, and compare the Prayer book Version). Both this and the next verse are echoes of Psalms 29:1, Psalms 29:2.

Psalms 96:8

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his Name; literally, the glory of his Name. Bring an. offering, and come into his courts. The parallel expression in 1 Chronicles 16:29 is, "Come before him." "Courts" would be inappropriate until the temple was built. (For the bringing of "an offering" (minchah) by the Gentiles, see Malachi 1:11.)

Psalms 96:9

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. This is generally explained as "holiday attire." or "in vestments suited to holy service," but may include, besides vestments, the other material accessories of Divine worship. Fear before him, all the earth; or, tremble before him (comp. Psalms 97:4). The fear of God is constantly inculcated by the psalmists, not only as "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10), but as required of every man during his whole life (Psalms 19:9; Psalms 34:9; Psalms 40:3; Psalms 64:9; Psalms 86:11; Psalms 119:63, etc.).

Psalms 96:10

Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth (comp. Psalms 93:1; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1). The world also shall be established that it shall not be moved. When God takes his throne, and manifestly reigns, the earth is at once "established," settled, placed on a firm footing (see the comment on Psalms 93:1, where exactly the same words occur). He shall judge the people righteously (comp. Psalms 96:13). God, the Deliverer of old time (Psalms 96:3, Psalms 96:4), God, the King of the whole earth (Psalms 96:10), is also God the Judge, who gives sentence on the "peoples" with equity.

Psalms 96:11

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. "An appeal for the sympathy of nature" (Cheyne); comp. Isaiah 44:23; Jeremiah 51:48. If the final coming of Messiah's kingdom be the event alluded to in Jeremiah 51:10, as is quite possible, the calling on heaven and earth to rejoice may indicate a real renovation of the material universe, such as to bring it into harmony with the newly established spiritual conditions of the period (comp. Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-4). Lot the sea roar, and the fulness thereof (comp. Psalms 98:7). The sea is to show its joy by raising its voice, and "roaring," or "thundering."

Psalms 96:12

Let the field be joyful; i.e. "the cultivated ground." And all that is therein. Its vines, its olives, its other fruits, and its harvests. Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord. Lebanon and Bashan shall rejoice equally with Carmel and Sharon. The whole earth shall "break forth into singing" (see Isaiah 44:23).

Psalms 96:13

For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth (see above, Psalms 96:10). This is given as the reason for the burst of joy. God's coming to judgment is the establishment of moral order in the place of moral disorder upon the earth, and the inauguration of a reign of love, peace, and happiness (comp. Isaiah 65:18-25). He shall judge the world with righteousness (see above, Psalms 96:10, and comp. Psalms 9:8). The judgment which the psalmist has specially in view is, "not a retributive, but a gracious judging, by which controversies are adjusted and prevented, and the law of love introduced into the life of the people" (Hengstenberg). And the people with his truth; rather, the peoples; i.e. all the nations on the face of the earth.

HOMILETICS

Psalms 96:5

Idolatry.

Thus it was three thousand years ago. Thus, to an extent as astounding as melancholy, it is today. Population of globe estimated at fourteen hundred millions; if so, one thousand millions heathen. Considering the prevalence, permanence, antiquity, of idolatry, that these words and many like these should have been written when and where they were, is no unsubstantial proof of the superhuman authorship, Divine inspiration, of Old Testament Scriptures. History presents no more impressive and significant sight than that of the little nation of Israel, holding a tiny corner of earth not twice the size of Yorkshire, hemmed in by mighty empires and ancient civilizations, often crushed by their irresistible weight; with absolutely no advantage over other peoples in the struggle for life, save their religion; yet maintaining for fifteen centuries their single-handed witness to the foundation-truth of religion, and protest against the perverted faiths of the world.

I. THE CAUSES OF IDOLATRY. How to account for this terrible and amazing fact—the widespread, long continued prevalence of idolatry? No single origin can be historically verified. Worship of forces and forms of nature, of ancestors, of deified heroes, of symbols or personified attributes, of partial and degraded conceptions of the one living God, or fading traditions of his worship,—all these have their place in the labyrinth of the history of national faiths. The theory propounded with immense assurance and eclat a generation ago, that fetishism was the parent of polytheism, and the worship of many gods crystallized into the worship of One, has shared the fate of theories which facts are forced or invented to fit, in place of theory being fitted to fact. Degraded superstitions of barbarous nations have the clear marks of being dust and dregs of ruined faiths (most striking illustration in the history of Madagascar, where proverbs still bore witness to God, while idols were bundles of sticks and rags). American Indians (types, according to Sir W. Dawson, of pre-historic men), among remnants of decayed civilization, have preserved the ancient faith in "the Great Spirit." Greece and India bear witness to the fact that the worship of nature preceded that of deities in human shape. In China, where the emperor once a year publicly worships "the God of heaven," and where worship of ancestors is the strongest form of religion, Buddhism, dating only some five centuries B.C.—at first a system of atheistic morality—has been transformed into idolatry. The two most amazing proofs of the all but irresistible tendency of human nature are found in the history of Israel and the history of Christianity. From the time of Joshua's successors to the Babylonian Captivity, the incurable propensity of rulers and people to idolatry is scarcely a less striking feature of Israel's history than the steadfast witness of the prophets and of the faithful remnant against it and on behalf of the truth. Christianity itself, whose glorious message to the heathen was—to turn from dumb idols to the living God, became in five centuries so encrusted with the worship of saints, the Virgin, the Host, relics, images, that when Mohammed drew the sword against idolatry, he reckoned Christians among idolaters. What is, then, the explanation? We find in it

II. THE EVIL OF IDOLATRY. People ask—Is not this greatly overrated? Does there not lie in the heart of idolatry a craving after God? Is it not better to worship an idol than not to worship at all—blind reverence better than none? Answer: Granting this, it does not change the fact that idolatry has death at its root, and death as its fruit (Jeremiah 2:13). Blind reverence brings no fruit of blessing into life, pardon, love of goodness, strength for duty, comfort in trouble, moral renewal, or spiritual life. To be Godless is to be Christless, hopeless (Ephesians 2:12). False substitutes for God do not prepare the heart to know and love him, but harden and close it against his voice. And for the most part idolatry brings the grossest immorality in its train.

III. THE DUTY, therefore, of delivering from the curse of blind, false, degrading worship a thousand millions of mankind, and spreading in its place the true knowledge of the ever-living Creator, the Father of spirits, and the glad tidings of reconciliation to him, and life eternal, as his children by faith in Christ Jesus, is one of the noblest, happiest, most imperative, to which Christians are called.

HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY

Psalms 96:1-3

Songs and sermons.

We have both in these verses. There is a threefold summons to sing unto the Lord, and a similar threefold summons to speak for the Lord. Such psalms as this never contemplate a religion which can be hid away and held in secret. The passionate love which breathes in this psalm must have vent or die. There is here no coming to the Lord by night, or being secretly a disciple for fear of the Jews, but the psalm is an open, full, joyous confession of the soul's delight in the Lord. And such confession takes this double form.

I. Song. This is called for:

1. Because our love to the Lord should be amongst those deep and intense feelings which demand the fullest utterance of which the soul is capable. Plain prose will serve for ordinary communications, but when the soul is deeply stirred, as it should be, by the love of God, then song becomes a necessity. See in the Scriptures how the rapt utterances of psalmist and prophet inevitably clothe themselves in poetical form.

2. Because it is so attractive. It tells of a glad, bright, winsome religion, of sunshine in the soul and joy in the heart, all which in this sad, weary, sin-stricken world cannot but be infinitely attractive. Therefore God would have his people sing.

3. And because it is the noblest form of utterance. Music and poetry combine to invest the soul's deepest and holiest thought in the most perfect garment of praise.

4. And the song is to be a new song. Every day is a new day, and brings with it material for a new song.

"New mercies, each returning day,

Hover around us while we pray;

New perils past, new sins forgiven,

New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven."

5. And universal. This is our desire, and, if so, its expression commits us to do our best to unite "all the earth" in this song.

6. It is to be grateful. "Bless his Name." What abundant reason there is for such gratitude! Happy they who thus sing unto the Lord!

II. SERMONS. These also are called for—fervent, holy speech for God. Not necessarily set discourses such as we understand by sermons. These, but not these alone, nor these at all, if God has not given us the needed capacity; but God-prompted, loving words spoken for him—these all can speak, and should do so as opportunity is given. Such speech is described, as was the song, in a threefold way.

1. Showing forth God's salvation. And this from day to day. This can be done, and perhaps best done, by what we are and do—by our life as well as by our lips; yet let not the latter be silent, as they too often are, to our own and others' great loss.

2. Declaring his glory among the heathen. There is no need to go far away to find these heathen. They are all around us. Tell them of the glory of his character, his Word, his service, his Spirit dwelling within, his eternal rest by and by.

3. His wonders among all people. Not the good people only—it is easy to talk before them; but among the unsaved, tell them what a wonderful Saviour Jesus is.—S.C.

Psalms 96:3

The spirit of missionary work.

Amongst the brighter signs of the times in which we live must be reckoned the universal anxiety, now in so many ways manifested, on the part of Christian people for the spread of the message of Christ's salvation both at home and abroad. The whole psalm overflows with thankfulness and delight, and in it is found this summons to missionary work. Now, in a human composition we should say that it was unskilled and lacking in true art if there were introduced an idea which marred the unity of the whole, which was out of harmony with its spirit and incongruous with its main intent. But in an inspired composition like this psalm we can be quite sure that there would be no such incongruity. But then it follows that this summons to missionary service must be in keeping with the spirit of this psalm, or it would not be found where it is. Therefore we note—

I. THE SPIRIT OF SONG IS IN HARMONY WITH MISSIONARY SERVICE. For think of what this service is. It is:

1. To preach. Not to amuse by gaudy ceremonial. Men are not so won to Christ. And not to conjure as by mystic sacramental grace. But to preach. This is what Christ commanded, what the text bids, what such as Paul gloried in, what God ever blesses. And it is a joyful service. True preachers own this as they feel that those to whom they speak are moved and touched, and are conscious in their own souls of the inspiration of their theme—a theme with which none other can compare. For:

2. It is to preach God's salvation. That which the text calls "his glory," "his wonders." Now, we know how pleasant it is to be the bearer of happy tidings—say, to a distressed household, a heart trembling with fear. And such is the work of the preacher of the salvation of God. He goes to the consciously guilty, and tells them of free forgiveness in Christ; to the sin enslaved, and tells them of complete deliverance from the accursed tyranny under which they groan; to the Sorrow-stricken, and tells them of him who shall wipe away all tears; to the dying, and tells them of him who, when he had overcome the sharpness of death, opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Such is the missionary's joyous task.

3. And to preach this to all. None are to be left out. One who had been the means of rescuing many from a watery grave through the breaking of a sheet of ice on which they had been joyously skating, tells how all his joy was marred by the fact that he had been compelled to leave many unsaved. So if we were limited, and not suffered to go to all with the glad tidings of God's salvation, we should feel our joy marred indeed. But because it is for all, therefore is our joy great.

4. Thus he is a coworker with Christ. In fellowship with him. This is an enhancement of the gladness of the work. A regiment is honoured by distinction won by one of its soldiers; a whole family, if one member wins high place. How much more the missionary when Christ is coworker with him! And:

5. It is a work which has not been in vain. What glorious results have been achieved! what trophies won! Therefore we say this service is in harmony with glad song.

II. AND THIS SPIRIT OF GLAD SONG IS NEEDED FOR SUCH SERVICE. For:

1. Men will not care for that which, so far as they can see, does you little or no good. But when they see that the faith of Christ is the sunshine of our lives, then they will more ready to believe. Do we let men see this? And:

2. It alone is strong enough for the work. Let me tell you a parable. There was a tyrant who sought to oppress the inhabitants of a certain land. The better to do this he built a strong castle, built it deep and high, and placed it at the entrance of a valley which led to the land he sought to oppress. A little stream ran along that valley near the foundation of his fortress; but he heeded not that, sure it could do no harm. Many who loved that land felt very sad as they saw the oppressor's power; but yet they hoped that somehow his power would be overthrown. And so it came to pass. The summer went on and the autumn rains came, and the little rivulet became a rapid stream, and began to gnaw away at the foundations of that grim castle; but it could not do much harm. But the winter storms came, and the stream swelled into a strong river, and began to be dangerous to the tyrant's fortress, so that he, at length, did feel fear. But matters grew worse; the winter was over, and the snow high up on the mountains which shut in the valley began to melt, and the river went on increasing in its might till, one wild night, the great reservoirs of waters that had been gathering all the winter through suddenly burst, and with a rush and a roar raged all down the valley, the waters bearing with them a vast mass of timber, stones, trees, earth, and all kinds of material; and they came down upon the tyrant's castle and overwhelmed it, sapping its foundations and tearing down its walls till it had perished out of sight. Such the parable. The interpretation is not far to seek. Heathendom is that fortress, and the prince of darkness he who built it. The rill, the stream, the river, the torrent, represent respectively the force of the motives which assail the strength of heathendom. The sense of fear, of duty, of pity, of glad joy in God. It is this last which alone avails; the others do but little, though some much more than the rest. "The joy of the Lord is our strength."

III. THE SPIRIT OF SONG SHALL BE GIVEN TO THOSE WHO ENGAGE IN THIS SERVICE. For joy comes in the service of the Lord—true joy. Be not content until you know this joy, for not till then will you effectually serve.—S.C.

Psalms 96:6

Strength and beauty.

It is supposed that this psalm was composed for the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem; but it existed in the time of David, though it was doubtless used in the service of the second temple. The previous reference of the strength and beauty told of here is to the massive foundations and the solid structure of the temple,—such was its strength; and the "beauty" told of the lavish adornments and the varied splendour and richness which characterized all the appointments of the house of the Lord. In very real and literal sense "strength and beauty were in his sanctuary."

I. THEY ARE THE DISTINGUISHING MARKS OF ALL GOD'S WORKS. "Jehovah made the heavens"—so we read in Psalms 96:5; and assuredly they are seen there. And look where we will, it is the same. See the account of the Creation.

II. THEE SHOULD BE IN OUR SANCTUARIES TODAY. It is a public dishonouring of God if men are content that the sanctuaries in which they worship should be mean and ill-appointed, as so many of them are, whilst in their own houses no costly expense is spared and no adornment withheld (see Haggai 1:4). On the other hand, the magnificent churches, minsters, abbeys, which still remain in this and other lands, have throughout all the long centuries since they were built borne silent but eloquent testimony to the reverence, love, and devotion towards God which dwelt in the hearts of their builders, and which it was their profound conviction ought to dwell in the hearts of all. Meanness and miserable selfishness often skulk behind the plea of spirituality of worship, and that the heart is all that God desires.

III. THEY ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE WELFARE OF ANY CHURCH.

1. Strength must be there. Not necessarily the strength of wealth, or intellect, or social rank, but spiritual strength—that strength which springs from a firm and living faith universally and tenaciously held, manifesting itself in conscientious adherence to the truth and unsullied righteousness of life, and nourished by fervent prayer and diligent use of all the means of grace. If such strength be wanting, then the glory of that Church has departed, and her decay and dissolution and degradation are at hand. Ecclesiastical organization and money and property may keep up the scaffolding and outworks of such Church for a while, but ere long they too will fail, and the Church must die. But with such spiritual strength, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.

2. And there must be beauty also. "The beauty of holiness," in which we are bidden "worship the Lord" (Psalms 96:9). By this we understand that moral and spiritual beauty, such as were pre-eminent in our Lord; that winsomeness and grace, that attractiveness of love and pity and compassionate helpfulness, that beautiful grace of which St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. has so much to say, that sweet reasonableness and evident sincerity, and that holy peace and joy which union with Christ imparts,—such is the beauty, the only real beauty, which should be in the Church of the living God.

IV. AND THEY SHOULD CHARACTERIZE THE TEMPLE OF THE SOUL.

1. Strength born of faith and love, which holds the soul true to Christ and causes it to be rooted like the oak, and grounded like the deep foundations of a temple, so that it can never be moved.

2. Then beauty. The superstructure, fair in form and symmetrical, that arrests the attention and awakens the delight of the beholder—that holy beauty of Christ-like character, which, with strength also, he is waiting and willing to impart to every faithful soul.—S.C.

Psalms 96:8

Bring an offering, and come into his courts.

This psalm is one continuous appeal for all to render praise unto the Lord. Not men alone, though they, of course, chief of all, are to join in the song unto the Lord; but the heavens, the earth, the sea, the fields, the trees,—all are to testify to their Creator's praise. And the psalm tells of a threefold expression of this joy in God.

1. The song. All are to join in; no stopping to inquire into the motives, but all are to sing (Psalms 96:1). It will be good even for evil men, as well as the people of God, to unite in his praise. It may help them to pass over to the side of God's people.

2. Preaching. The very idea of missions as here set forth is the overflowing, the exuberance, of the Church's joy. So only can missions really succeed (see homily on Psalms 96:3).

3. Offerings. Of these we would specially speak. For our text lays down—

I. THE DUTY OF OFFERING TO GOD.

1. The witnesses to this will of God are numerous.

2. The need of it is so great. Think of the multiplied objects which call for such offerings. The Church of God needs such aid for the maintenance of her ministers, her fabric, her missions, and her varied religious agencies. The poor rightly claim our help. If we have not compassion for them, how dwelleth the love of God in us? Our own spiritual life demands that we make such offerings. The only way to overcome that idolatry of money which seduces so many is to give it away in wise and Christian manner. If we hoard and keep it, the love of it will drive out the love of God.

II. THE MANNER OF FULFILLING THIS DUTY.

1. Presenting it in the house of God when we come to worship. This was the custom of the Jews (see 1 Chronicles 16:1). Also of the early Christian Church (see 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1-24 and 2 Corinthians 9:1-15). St. Paul's argument on this matter is very interesting and noteworthy. He was very anxious to relieve his own countrymen; to fulfil his own promise (Galatians 2:10); to prove the reality of the faith of the Gentile Churches and their love to their Jewish brethren, and thus to heal the breach that so sadly severed the Jewish and Gentile Churches. Hence he was very anxious about this collection, and hence, also, he would be sure to seek out the best means for securing it. Hence he directed that there should be the weekly Lord's day storing for this end (1 Corinthians 16:2). Now, as this plan is so good, and no other is so commended to us, we may regard it as having special claim on our attention.

2. For it has great advantages. It takes away the temptation to neglect of this duty which arises from:

But, of course, this especial manner of offering is not obligatory, though it has especial sanction.

III. THE MOTIVE. Love to Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). That is the only worthy and reliable motive. Others are sure to break down sooner or later, and to miserably fail in securing the end sought after. Let Christ possess a man's heart, all else will go along with that.—S.C.

HOMILIES BY R. TUCK

Psalms 96:1

The call for a new song.

"The series of psalms to which this belongs is by nearly all commentators assigned to the period immediately succeeding the seventy years' captivity. The joyous feelings, the glorious expectations, the marked repetition (both in matter and style) of the later prophecies of Isaiah, their rhythmical character suggesting that they were intended for liturgical purposes, combine to identify them with this period." Take this idea of historical connection, and the newness of the song called for is at once explained. God is spoken of as beginning to reign, and as coming to judge, or rule; and this precisely represents the feeling of the returned exiles, who were setting up a new theocracy. They were restoring, beginning again, their theocratic, social, and religious system. The altar of burnt offering was new. The temple was new. The order of worship was new. And if the Divine relations were not new, they were at least freshly realized. On the call to song, H.W. Beecher suggestively says, "The wings God has given us to fly up to him are the wings of song. The lyrical element is the best expression of feeling. All forms of experience have been touched in the poetry of chant and song. Singing is the process by which intellectual propositions can be converted into emotion and heart expression." The point for us is this—a new age finds a new song to God. Illustrate from the Book of Revelation, which presents the white-robed host singing a new song, because no song can ever have risen before for a completed redemption. The Christian's is a new song, because it is that fresh thing, a soul's joy in God revealed and apprehended in Christ Jesus. Illustrate the following topics from the circumstances of the returned exiles.

I. NEW SUBJECTS FOR SONG. Divine faithfulness. Divine mercy. Renewed national life. Freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Signs of Divine favour. Realization of the Divine presence. We can always find subjects for new songs in our new and ever-varying circumstances.

II. NEW FORMS OF SONG. Every generation makes its own hymns. Davidic psalms may be partly used by the exiles; but the thoughts and emotions of the hour called for an immediate and natural expression. The thoughts of God in these psalms are new. Note especially the idea of God as "coming to reign."

III. NEW FEELINGS TO EXPRESS IS SONG. Contrast the depressed moods of the time of captivity, and the joyous moods of the time of restoration. In Babylon they hung their harps on the willows, and could not sing. When back at Jerusalem they called for harp and song with which to praise the Lord.—R.T.

Psalms 96:3

The law of Christian missions.

The "heathen" of the Old Testament match the "Gentiles" of the New Testament. "Gentiles," as our Lord used the term, means "those who do not know of God as the Father in heaven." And "heathen" means "those who do not know God as the One, the Spiritual, and the Holy." But in referring such an expression as this to missions, we are using for our purpose the language, not precisely discerning the psalmist's meaning. In desiring that God's glory should be declared among the heathen, the returned exile did not think of, or wish for, the conversion of the heathen to the faith and service of Jehovah. He only wanted everybody to know of his new liberty and dignity, and of the great things his God was doing for him. It was as if Englishmen went everywhere to tell what great things God had done, and was doing, for England. Active effort to convert the world to Judaism has never been made, and is not being made now. The truly missionary idea is introduced by Christianity. There is a sense in which the exclusiveness of the Jews was broken down by the Captivity. Jews were then scattered over the earth; but they were only silent missionaries wherever they went. They witnessed for Jehovah by what they were, rather than by what they said. Wherever they went they found a sort of belief in one God, clouded over by an active belief in many gods. This is the characteristic of all heathenism; and we too readily miss seeing the idea of one supreme God, which is really the root religious idea of man everywhere; the idea to which the higher revelation makes its appeal. The law of Christian missions, and missions in all ages, is this—If any man has a higher and better view of God than his neighbour, he is bound to tell it to his neighbour.

I. THE JEW HAD A BETTER VIEW OF GOD THAN HIS NEIGHBOURS. Take especially the Jew of the Restoration, to whom the primary truths concerning God seemed as if freshly revealed. He knew of three truths that are fundamental to right conceptions of God.

1. The unity of God.

2. The spirituality of God.

3. The holiness of God.

Show that these were higher views of God than were entertained in either Babylon or among the neighbouring Samaritans, Ammonites, etc. What responsibility, then, rested on the Jew, specially to show that good doctrine bears good fruit?

II. THE CHRISTIAN HAS A BETTER VIEW OF GOD THAN HIS NEIGHBOURS. He knows God in the face of Jesus, through the Sonship of Jesus as the Father, as the Forgiver of sin, and as the Forgiver on the basis of one ever-acceptable sacrifice for sin.—R.T.

Psalms 96:5

The God of heaven.

This seems to have been the Babylonian name for the God of the Jews. "Lord of heaven;" "King of heaven." It expresses the apprehension gained by the Babylonians (see Nebuchadnezzar's acknowledgment, Daniel 5:1-31 :37). It intimates that Jehovah, though an all-powerful God, was in no sense a local God, with a limited kingdom and ordinary earthly claims. To call God the "God of heaven" is at least making a beginning towards the realization of him as spiritual.

I. GODS OF EARTH. Explain the strictly local and limited area of the kingdoms possessed by idol gods. Bel belonged to Babylon; Ra to Egypt. There were "gods of the hills and gods of the valleys." There were distinct conceptions of, and representations of, Baal for each country and almost for each city. Jealous over their own particular divinity, no missionary idea found place in the ancient world. Nobody wanted to share his god with any one else. (A striking exception to this is found in the proselyting spirit of Jezebel.) Curiously, the god of the limited district was conceived as almighty within his limits. Even when the world conquering idea took possession of nations, such as Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Grecia, Rome, in no case did propagating the religion become a primary inspiration. The conquerors freely left the conquered their local religion. So we can see the force with which the local limitations of the gods took possession of the ancient mind.

II. GOD OF HEAVEN. Observe the strong contrast. Jehovah is unlocalized, above earth, and doming all the earth. It is impossible to express, not only the superiority, but also the essential difference, of Jehovah in more brief and succinct terms. Down on earth, a multitude of small spaces, each with a petty deity. Up above, ruling from rim to rim, the one eternal God. The all-hallowing dome is heaven. This was more strikingly apprehended when the prevailing idea was that earth was a flat surface, with the blue heaven fitting to it like the cover of a dish. Work out these points concerning the "God of heaven."

1. His forces are not exclusively material. He does control the material, but he commands the spiritual.

2. His forces are working universally. We can think of no sphere in which we may not find their operation.

3. His forces claim for him universal recognition. See how the Christian revelation has taken this figure for God, and glorified it.—R.T.

Psalms 96:8

Offerings associated with worship.

Oriental custom demands that every person seeking an audience with a king shall offer him a present. An Eastern traveller writes, "It is counted uncivil to visit in this country without an offering in hand. All great men expect it as a kind of tribute due to their character and authority, and look upon themselves as affronted, and indeed defrauded, when this compliment is omitted." For illustration, reference may be made to Saul, anxious about a present for the man of God; to the gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, offered by the Magi to the infant Saviour; and to the Malagasy custom known as making "hasina." Offerings to the gods involve the heathen, oftentimes, in ruin, so exorbitant are the demands made by the priests. The psalmist is full of the idea of God as the actual, present, though unseen, King of the nation, and he is thinking of the offering as the acknowledgment of allegiance, the outward sign of loyalty. There is no idea of God's needing offerings; the psalmist thinks only of what is fitting on the part of the people. Distinguish between taking an honourable share in the support of Christian worship, and making offerings as a sign of loyalty. See under what conditions offerings are still acceptable, showing first how far the King-figure for God may be used by us.

I. OFFERINGS FOR GOD MUST BE REASONABLE. That term includes two distinct things:

There may be times when an impulsive gift is acceptable; but as a rule no proper gift can be made to God save upon due consideration of all our claims. God asks but a proportion of our time, our land, or our labour. Our care should be to get and keep an honourable proportion. There is some danger in our over-valuing mere impulsive acts. They "loom large" to our view. Whereas the man who, thoughtfully estimating his means, sets aside his offering for God, lays a far nobler gift on God's altar. It is a gift of mind, and not of merely excited feeling.

II. OFFERINGS FOR GOD MUST BE MADE TO MATCH INDIVIDUALS. Two young pigeons for a mother if she be poor. Two mites for a widow; but gold for the rich. The gift should match means and good will.

III. OFFERINGS FOR GOD MUST BE EXPRESSIVE OF OFFERED SELF. To God there can be no value in things. What he asks for, and can alone accept, is the spiritual offering of the man himself—his will, his love. This can find expression in a material offering. God will only receive the offering when it is the voice of the man.—R.T.

Psalms 96:9

The essential feature of God's worship.

"O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." This is also read, "in the glorious sanctuary," and "in holy vestments." The Authorized Version is the more poetic sentiment, and may therefore be preferred. The expression is given in 2 Chronicles 20:21, where Jehoshaphat, in sending forth his army, "appointed singers who should praise the beauty of holiness." Holiness is the keynote of the worship of Jehovah; but it is the keynote of the worship of no other god. "Had a medal been struck in praise of Jupiter, who is the best of the pagan gods, on one side might have been engraved 'Almightiness, omnipresence, justice;' and on the reverse, 'Caprice, vengeance, lust.'" But the association of beauty with holiness now requires our attention. The best idea may be gained by thinking of ripe fruit; if it is really healthy and ripe, it cannot help having a bloom on. That bloom is the beauty of ripeness. "Beauty is a combination of elements according to the laws of harmony; the more beautiful the parts or elements, and the more perfect the harmonious combination, the higher the beauty." Then we must find the elements that go to make a worship so holy that, both in God's sight and in man's, it should be beautiful. Worship that can be thought of as showing the "beauty of holiness" must be—

I. LAWFUL. It may not be sufficiently recognized that public worship was arranged for, authorized. There is no room for self-will. There may be different views as to the ultimate authority for forms of worship. If it is to be "holy," the elements of mere self-willedness and pleasure must be excluded.

II. PURE. "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." This was at once typified and testified by the clean white linen garments of the priests, and by their washing before engaging in their offices. Bodily purity did but represent the moral purity God requires.

III. SINCERE. This brings before us the condition of the will. God's great reproach is levelled at the divided mind. That worship cannot be acceptable in which the man's hand is one way and his heart is another. Worship is only ceremony and routine unless a man's heart is in it. Absolute simple-mindedness is the beauty of worship, the bloom on the fruit.

IV. CHEERFUL. The psalmists constantly remind us of the joyousness of worship. It excited high emotions. Lifted out of all drudgery to become a holy delight, we feel still the "beauty of holiness" in God's glorious sanctuary and exalted worship.—R.T.

Psalms 96:11, Psalms 96:12

Nature sympathies.

There is a strange and wonderful response of material nature to the spiritual moods of men. Faces may not change, but expressions on faces change continually, and even seem different to different individuals. And so nature keeps the same, but seems ever-varying to us, according as our moods are to it. Lowth says on this verse, "Nothing can excel that noble exultation of universal nature, which has been so often commended. Poetry here seems to assume the highest tone of triumph and exultation, and to revel, if I may so express myself, in all the extravagance of joy." Keep in mind that nature is represented as suffering in consequence of the sin of man. It may well exult with man in the redemption which uplifts out of suffering both him and it (Romans 8:20-23). In a very well known discourse, Dr. H. Bushnell illustrates these two propositions:

I. NATURE SYMPATHIES WITH MAN IN HIS INNOCENCE. Show the kindness between the Garden of Eden and the man put into it.

II. NATURE SYMPATHIES WITH MAN IN HIS FALL. Bringing forth thorns, etc. Ground cursed for man's sake. A well known artist has a picture of Adam and Eve after their fall. They are seated, in utmost distress, at a distance from each other, and what seems to divide them is a hideously shaped tree, the trunk of which seems to take almost demon form. The artist made nature kin to our fallen parents.

III. NATURE SYMPATHIES WITH MAN IN HIS MOODS. Illustrate this by the darkness which fell behind the cross of Jesus when he died. See also the effect of the shading olives on Jesus in Gethsemane. Compare the harvest psalms—the corn, etc; shouting for joy in response to the glad and thankful moods of men.

IV. NATURE SYMPATHIES WITH MAN IN HIS REDEMPTION. For illustration, see Isaiah 11:6-9, where the very beasts are poetically represented as affected by the peace of eternal purity which one day shall come to men.—R.T.

Psalms 96:13

The coming Judge.

Compare the idea of God's coming to judge with the basis idea of all this series of psalms, that God was beginning to reign, setting up again his kingdom among his restored people. Here the Judge is put poetically for the King, because deciding cases, magistracy, is the main feature of Eastern kingship. Absalom enticed the people from their allegiance to David by a half-veiled promise of considerateness, if not favouritism, in the king's work of judging. The first thing recorded of Solomon is an act of skilful judgment. The association of this passage with a "day of judgment" is purely a Christian association. God the Judge is simply God the active, present Ruler and King. But we may see the element of judging as punishing, in the verse, if we take the standpoint of the returned exiles; for any intervention of God for the salvation of his people necessarily involves some judgment on those from whom they are delivered; and so the redeeming King is found to be also a Judge. Just as the idea of God's "coming to judge" endangered the sense of his actual presence and actual working as Ruler and Judge, so the idea of Christ's second coming may be so entertained as to spoil the living sense of his actual presence and abiding relations with his people. The idea of a continual appraisement of human action, of a Divine judgment, with adequate rewards and punishments, as always going on, is coming more and more into Christian thought, and is replacing the older idea of the delegation of everything to a final assize day. Two things are indicated in this verse of the text, as characteristic of God's rule or judgment.

I. IT IS ETERNALLY RIGHT. "With righteousness shall he judge." Find the absolute standard of right, and all God's kingly ways will be found in precise accordance with it.

II. IT IS ADAPTED TO CIRCUMSTANCES. "With equity shall he judge." Equity is righteousness applied to the individual as placed in particular circumstances.—R.T.

HOMILIES BY C. SHORT

Psalms 96:1-13

How and why Jehovah is to be worshipped.

I. WITH A NEW SONG. (Psalms 96:1.) Praise that shall celebrate the new revelation of himself, which he is about to make in a new era of the world. Constantly new revelation.

II. BY CELEBRATING THE SAVING WORK WHICH GOD IS DOING IN THE WORLD. (Psalms 96:2.) His coming to judge the people righteously, and thus to save them. Saving men every day.

III. BY PUBLISHING HIS CHARACTER AND WORK THROUGH THE WHOLE EARTH. (Psalms 96:1, Psalms 96:3.) This is a strongly missionary psalm: "Among the heathen;" "Among all people."

IV. BECAUSE OF HIS EXCLUSIVE DEITY. (Psalms 96:4, Psalms 96:5.) The idol gods of the nations have no existence; an idol is nothing. But Jehovah is faithful and righteous and omnipotent.

V. BECAUSE OF THE GLORY OF HIS CREATIVE WORK. (Psalms 96:5.) "But the Lord made the heavens."

VI. BECAUSE OF HIS MANIFESTATIONS OF HIMSELF TO TRUE WORSHIPPERS. (Psalms 96:6-9.) He reveals his honour and majesty, shows them his beauty and strength.

VII. HIS RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT SECURES THE ORDER AND STEADFASTNESS OF THE WORLD. (Psalms 96:10.) Despotic kings and turbulent peoples seem to shake the world and make it insecure—the moral world.

VIII. THE TRUE WORSHIPPER FEELS THAT ALL NATURE IS IN SYMPATHY WITH HIS DEVOTION. (Psalms 96:11, Psalms 96:12.) To him in his highest moods the heavens rejoice, and the earth is glad; the sea thunders forth the praises of God, and the trees of the forest clap their hands; for all see that God is coming forth to assume the supreme and universal reign.—S.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 96:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/psalms-96.html. 1897.

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