The Book of Psalms

Thursday: Worship in the Splendor of God’s Holiness


Theme: Giving God Glory
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
Derek Kidner calls the third stanza of this four-part poem “The King’s Due,” which is a good description since it is about the glory due God for his greatness (vv. 7-9).
It is interesting to compare this stanza with the opening two verses of Psalm 29. Those verses are the same as verse 7 and the first lines of verses 8 and 9 of Psalm 96. Or to put it another way, Psalm 96 borrows verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 29 but adds the lines about bringing an offering and trembling before God. Yet there is this major difference: Psalm 29 calls on the angels (“O mighty ones”) to worship God, while here the appeal is to the “families of nations.” That is, it is the Gentiles, whose gods have been dismissed as mere idols in stanza two, who are here called on to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” The three-fold “ascribe to the LORD” in this stanza corresponds to the repeated “sing to the LORD” in stanza one.
In studying Psalm 95 last week, I said that the meaning of the Hebrew word for worship is to prostrate oneself, not to praise God for his attributes, which is what the English word “worship” means. But here we must note that although the meaning of the Hebrew word differs from the English word, the Hebrew understanding of worship nevertheless also involves giving God praise for his attributes. For that is what is being said here. Here the nations of the world are told to give God glory.
Glory is a difficult word to define. It refers to the majestic aura of the divine presence, which is why the stanza speaks of “the splendor of his holiness.” But it is also more than that. Kabod, the Hebrew word, refers to something that is impressive or weighty. Thus, in Genesis 31:1 the possessions of Jacob are said to have been his “glory,” that is, something that impressed people or made Jacob impressive. Similarly, Jehovah’s glory is the manifestation of his presence (as in Num. 16:19, 42; Ps. 102:16; Isa. 8:7; 40:5, 60:1, 2). It is seen in the “work of his hands” (Ps. 19:2) and in his “marvelous deeds” (Ps. 96:3). Marvin E. Tate, who lists these and other texts, concludes, “The whole of the created world is filled with the ‘glory’ of Yahweh (Isa. 6:3), and his power over the processes of creation is acclaimed as ‘Glory’ in Ps. 29:9. His glory also manifests itself in history (cf. Exod. 14:4, 17, 18; Ezek. 28:22.). Thus the ‘glory’ of Yahweh is an active, not a static, concept. It is his presence, power and action in the world.”1
And while we are thinking about worship, there is this additional idea. In this stanza the worship of God is described as our bringing something to God rather than our coming to God to get something from him. We usually think of it the other way around. We think of coming to church to receive either: 1) knowledge through the teaching; or 2) specific gifts from God as his answers to our prayers. But here worship is chiefly our bringing praise and offerings to God. J. J. Stewart Perowne rightly reminds us that “we go into God’s courts… to give rather than to get.”2
The last stanza begins with verse 10, which is a command to proclaim the universal reign of God “among the nations”: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.’ The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
H. C. Leupold includes verse 10 with the previous stanza, noting that “the whole piece then becomes a summons to praise Yahweh’s kingship.”3 But this is not quite right. The earlier stanza is addressed to the nations, calling on them to praise God. Here the people of Israel are addressed, as in stanza one (cp. vv. 3, 10), and a new idea is brought in, namely, the reign of God by which righteous judgment will come to this earth. In fact, verse 10 is the climax of the psalm: Yahweh malak (“The LORD reigns”). The verses that follow are chiefly a commentary on and a response to this statement.4
1Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 512.
2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, p. 197. Original edition 1878, 1879.
3H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, p. 684.
4This verse played an unusual role in early church history because of the way it appeared in the bilingual (Greek/Latin) Verona Psalter (sixth century). It read, “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns from the tree.’” That was seen as a prediction of the reign of Jesus Christ from the cross with the result that many early crucifixes portrayed Jesus with a robe and a crown. An old Latin hymn declared:
Fulfilled is all that David told
In this prophetic song of old.
“Amid the nations God,” said he,
“Hath reigned and triumphed from the tree.”
For this and further versified expressions of the idea, see Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), pp. 349, 350. Earlier writers accused the Jews of having removed the words “from the tree” from the Hebrew text because of the apparent reference to Christ, but the words were probably not in the psalm originally.
Study Questions:

What does it mean to give God the king’s due? To whom is the psalmist appealing?
Explain the difference between the English and Hebrew meanings for the word “worship.”
Read Psalm 29:1, 2. Compare this text with Psalm 96. Also, look up Numbers 16:19, 42; Psalm 102:16; and Isaiah 8:7; 40:5; 60:1, 2. What images do these passages contribute to your understanding of the word “glory”?
What is the purpose of worship?

Application: While we do receive blessings from God when we come before him in worship, can you honestly say that you approach worship with the idea that you are bringing something to God rather than getting something from him? Ask God for help in bringing praise to him.

Study Questions
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