Theme: The Expansion of Worship
In this week’s lessons, we see that all creation is called upon to praise the Lord.
Scripture: Psalm 98:1-9
There is a well-known and frequently quoted passage in Ecclesiastes that declares, “There is a time for everything,…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:1, 4).
The passage is familiar and frequently quoted because it applies to so many experiences of life. The point I want to make here is that it applies to Psalm 98. As we have made our way through the Psalter there have been many psalms that have expressed reasons why we or somebody else might mourn, psalms that have dealt with sin, defeat, despair or loneliness, for instance. But it is not a time for weeping now. This is a time to laugh. For we have come to one of the most joyful songs in the Bible, a psalm which I have titled “An Exuberant Praise Song.” It is a noisy, effervescent song from its beginning to the end.
In the church, Psalm 98 is known as the Cantate Domino, from its first words (“Sing to the Lord”). In the Book of Common Prayer, which is used in the Anglican and Episcopal churches, it follows the reading of the first lesson for the evening service, which means that it is familiar and probably committed to memory by many in that tradition. It is much like Psalm 96, which anyone can see by comparing them. For example, both psalms begin and end in nearly the same way. But Psalm 98 is wholly given to praise. In this psalm there are no comparisons with the heathen, no lessons about how we should worship. Instead, all is pure joy and celebration. It is a minor curiosity that this is the only psalm which has as its heading the single word mizmor, meaning “psalm,” which may signify that the best of all praise psalms should be like it.
John R. W. Stott has a useful description of the psalm’s three parts: 1) “God the Savior” (vv. 1-3); 2) “God the King” (vv. 4-6); and 3) “God the Judge” (vv. 7-9). But the stanzas can also be looked at as a swelling expansion of the worship being offered. Stanza one is directed to Israel, stanza two to the whole earth, and stanza three to nature. The force of the last section is captured beautifully in the sixth verse of the hymn “Come, Let Us Sing unto the Lord,” which is a rendering on Psalm 98:
Let earth be glad, let billows roar
And all that dwell from shore to shore;
Let floods clap hands with one accord,
Let hills rejoice before the Lord.
We have three well-known hymns based on this psalm: “New Songs of Celebration Render” by Eric Routley; “Come Let Us Sing unto the Lord,” which I have just quoted (from the Associate Reformed Psalter of 1931); and, best known of all, “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come” by Isaac Watts (1719). There is no better way of proving that Psalm 98 is “An Exuberant Praise Song” than to indicate that Watts’ hymn, which is probably the most joyful and exuberant of all our hymns or Christmas carols, is based upon it. The psalm is a great one with which to praise God.
How does Psalm 98 compare with Psalm 96?
What is unique about this psalm?
Describe the psalm’s three parts.
Reflection: What events have caused you to feel pure joy? Did your celebration include praise to the Lord?
Application: As a result of this psalm, purpose to praise God each day.
For Further Study: Knowing the Psalms well can help to enhance your praise. Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume paperback set, and take 25% off the regular price.