Theme: God’s Present and Future Reign
In this week’s lessons, we learn how to worship God, who is the one true God who rules over all, both now and forever.
Scripture: Psalm 96:1-13
There are two ways in which this stanza speaks of God’s reign.
1. God rules all history now. It is difficult to appreciate this fact sometimes because there is so much unrighteousness and violence in the world. Nevertheless, God does rule in the sense that he both holds the evil in check and also intervenes to judge it in history from time to time.
One striking contemporary example of God’s intervention is the fall of Communism in eastern Europe toward the end of 1989. The overthrow of the Communist states was perceived as a purely political matter by the secular world press, but the true instrumental cause was the prayers of God’s people beforehand and the revivals that led up to it. This was especially obvious in Germany where a prayer meeting at the St. Nikolai Church in Leipzig grew from a small group of people in the early 1980s to hundreds of thousands by the end of 1989. News of what was happening in Leipzig spread to the people of East Berlin, and on November 9 the hated wall was torn down and the East German government collapsed.
Bud Bultman, a producer and writer for CNN, wrote later:
We in the media watched in astonishment as the walls of totalitarianism came crashing down. But in the rush to cover the cataclysmic events, the story behind the story was overlooked. We trained our cameras on hundreds of thousands of people praying for freedom, votive candles in hand, and yet we missed the transcendent dimension, the explicitly spiritual and religious character of the story. We looked right at it and could not see it.1
2. God will rule the world’s nations in perfect righteousness in the future. Victories like that over Communism are infrequent, however, which is why Psalm 96 also looks forward to the day when God will judge the people with equity and rule in perfect righteousness.
The striking thing for most of us is the way these verses look forward to God’s judgment joyfully. It is striking because we usually think of the judgment of God differently. We have been taught to have an acute sense of sin and to be thankful that we will be spared God’s judgment because of the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. But, as C. S. Lewis points out, the ancients lived in a world where judges usually needed to be bribed and right judgment was exceedingly hard to come by, especially for weak, poor or disadvantaged persons. In such a climate, the disadvantaged did not fear judgment but rather longed for it, because it meant a day when evil would be punished and those who did the right things would be vindicated.2
Without losing our joy in the atonement, by which we have escaped God’s just judgment for our sins, we who trust Christ should nevertheless also be looking forward to that day of perfect righteousness, which will come when he returns to rule the world justly. In that coming day we shall sing with the glorified saints in Revelation, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory” (Rev. 19:6, 7).
1From his book Revolution by Candlelight, cited by Ann Clark in “The Fall of the Wall: The Untold Story” (reNEWS, a Journal of Presbyterians for Renewal, December 1994, p. 17).
2See C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), pp. 9-19.
Identify the climax of this psalm.
How does the psalmist depict God’s reign?
Of what does God’s rule in history anticipate?
Reflection: What examples do you see of God’s rule in the world today? How does it encourage you to rejoice for the day when his righteous judgment will be revealed?
For Further Study: All of James Boice’s expositional studies on the Psalms are available in paperback. Order your copy of the three-volume set, and receive 25% off the regular price.