“O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” – Psalm 98
Church history speaks of the great importance of the Psalms through Martin Luther and John Calvin. Martin Luther once said, “[The Psalms] might well be called the little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible. It is really a fine enchiridion or handbook” (Mays, 1 – Luther, Luther’s Works, 35:254). John Calvin believed that withinthe Book of Psalms “there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation” (Mays, 1 – Calvin, Commentary, p. xxxix). John Wesley, the founder of American Methodism, remarked in his notes that Psalm 98 sets forth the glory of the Redeemer, verses 1-3, and the joy of the redeemed, verses 4-9, and focuses on salvation (Wesley, 3107-3109).
When we put our Christian worldview lenses on and read the Psalms, it is easy for us to hear the fulfillment of the Messianic foreshadowing of Jesus. To spend much time reading the Psalms you and I realize the value of the Psalms for contemporary spiritual disciplines as a guide to prayer and contemplation. Our faith heritage uses the Psalms in corporate worship in a call and response format. The Psalms play a special role in teaching us the character of God. The Psalms speak out on God’s personal relationship with humanity, and all of creation – the world and all who live in it. If we were to take a broad sweep of the Psalms, you and I would discover the content is primarily about salvation, creation, and coming judgment. The New Testament does not contain a different message than the Old Testament. The two are consistent with one another. In Hebrews the author teaches us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterdayand today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8). The connection is clear.
The collection of worship material included in the Psalms is considered Israel’s Covenantal Prayer Book for worship (Longman & Dillard, 256-257). The Psalms were used in Israel’s worship ceremonies to affirm God’s salvation of Israel, to establish his ownership of creation, and instill hope of a coming King of Israel who would rule with equity and fairness (Longman & Dillard, 251-252). The aim of Psalm 98 is to communicate the importance of heart-felt worship that embraces the whole salvation story of God from Genesis to Revelation. God’s people hope in a God who works victory in times of trouble. This psalm instructs us that there has been a victory by God’s holy arm. God’s people remember what God has done, and God remembers God’s loyal loving kindness and faithfulness. Salvation has been revealed, and as a result God will establish justice among the people and in the world. Singing comes by way of gratitude to God who acts on behalf of the people.
In this text we are given insight into God’s rule, which is over salvation and creation. Under the leadership of our God creation rejoices. Creation means both people and the world. All of creation rejoices in God’s fair leadership. God is sovereign over salvation history and world history. God reigns over a cosmic conflict, a battle between God’s people and injustice. Salvation history seeks to right injustice yesterday, today, and forever. God’s justice is always grounded in his loyal love. The Hebrew word is “hesed” is translated “loyal love” and means “reliable helpfulness of the Lord to any and all that are dependent on him” (Mays, 33, 344-347).
In our text there are two Hebrew names of God that I want to draw our attention to – Elohim (“Names of God,” Jewish Encyclopedia) and Yahweh (Klein, Bloomberg, & Hubbard, 354-355). These names reminded the Hebrew people of their salvation history in the stories of Eden and the Exodus. In our text the shofar, or ram’s horn, is an instrument of praise unique to God’s people and invited the Israelites to remember the story of the ram that saved Abraham’s son, Isaac, from certain death (Pelaia, “What is a Shofar?”). The last lines of this psalm captures the hope of a coming ruler who judges in perfect fairness and equality, and moves you and I forward to think about the Messianic promise fulfilled in Jesus. In these few lines of a poem hidden away in the middle of our ancient sacred text is a song that reaches from the beginning of time to the perfect ending of salvation history. The story of salvation is a continuing story that we join in to sing! Salvation history moves you and I from our troubles to embracing God’s help.
First, our text is a call to worship. The first three verses serve as a call to worship. Verse 1 introduces the song and explains why the poet is singing: salvation, victory, and deliverance. Verses 2-3 further emphasize God’s saving work. Verses 1-3 move from God is ruler, then God is ruler over the earth, and specifically God is ruler over the nation of Israel. The poet acknowledges God as Creator Savior.
At the heart of our call to worship is salvation history. Because God has delivered Israel from the hands of her enemies, Israel is called to rejoice at what God has done. Salvation begins with our God. All of Scripture is a story of about God’s saving acts toward the people he created. God formed fellowship with human kind through what we call covenants (Richter, 133). From Eden to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David and, finally, to Jesus all of salvation history is proclaimed to the same tune. Each covenant is a promise fulfilled. God has been acting on behalf of humanity to restore each one of us to right relationships first beginning with God and then reaching out to our neighbors. As Christians we get to participate in salvation history in a different way than the singers of this Psalm. You and I have been given the opportunity to experience the Messianic promises fulfilled in Jesus – the already not yet King of Israel – and the Kingdom of God that has been breaking through since Jesus came as the Incarnate Babe.
John Wesley spent a great deal of time talking about salvation. Our Methodist heritage rests soundly on salvation history. Wesley understood that salvation did not begin and end in a one-time event, but it was a lifetime experience. Salvation is not something earned, it is a free gift of God through an expression of faith. Most of our lives we spend earning approval whether it be from a parent or relative, colleague or boss. But salvation cannot be the reward of our good efforts in life. Salvation must be received by faith alone (Koehler, 78-79).
For John and his brother Charles salvation gave way to singing (Kinghorn, 16-18). Salvation involves a change, and we call that conversion. The change may be instantaneous or gradual, but a new beginning happens. Salvation has unique components. When you and I abandon all our attempts to prove ourselves before God, we are in line to receive God’s amazing love – God’s Grace – and you and I turn away from wrong thinking and wrong acting. Wesley inspired his followers to press on with the help of God to move away from all sin as an act of sanctification. As we press on we experience the profound love of God and neighbor. That is our goal. That is our aim. In fact Lester Ruth in his book “A Little Heaven Below” illustrates the importance of song in the early American Methodist meetings (Ruth, 229-33, 243-47). As God’s Spirit moved across the American frontier through preaching of the Gospel by men and women, the pioneers were moved with repentance that lead to shouting and singing much like Psalm 98.
Second, our text offers us instructions about worship. Verses 4-9 instruct us how to worship our God who saves us. This unit moves from the House of Israel as individual singers, and grows outward to include the community that sings together and strikes up the band. The unit moves to include the whole world, both creation and people. All of the world and its people usher in the Creator and King to rule and reign.
The psalmist weaves key stories into this song that you and I may miss out on because we are not schooled in the Jewish traditions. But these key stories teach us how important the retelling of God’s great interventions in Israel’s salvation history were to the people of God. Even today we talk about sharing our “testimony” or giving our “witness” to how we came to know God’s saving work in our lives. This is the history of our faith that we remember God’s saving acts in our community and in each one of our lives.
In Psalm 98 the shofar is a symbol of salvation history that reminds us of our salvation heritage. You and I are not the first people to believe in our saving God. God has been saving his people from the beginning of time itself. Today we entered into worship with the blast of the shofar, and it is this very instrument that the psalmist invites to be played as a part of this tremendous celebration for God’s act of loving kindness toward God’s people. We call it a horn, but for the people of Israel this instrument means so much more. For the people of Israel this ram’s horn is the story of God’s provision. God provided a ram with its horn caught in the ticket. This ram became the sacrifice instead of Abraham’s beloved son, Isaac. Jewish scholars have suggested that when the ram’s horn is blown God is reminded of his promise to Abraham and extends forgiveness to those who hear the blast of the horn (Pelaia, “What is a Shofar?”). The blast reminds the hearer to turn their heart toward God that God would forgive their sin.
We worship a God who has a history of saving his people like Abraham’s son Isaac for the sake of a family’s heritage, the infant Moses who was saved from genocide, and the Hebrew nation who was freed from captivity in Egypt. We worship a God who promises to send a good ruler, a Messiah, and our God keeps this promise for the sake of the world and it’s people.
In the midst of salvation encounters God provides a name for himself. In our text two names are mentioned: Elohim, meaning “Creator,” and Yahweh, meaning “I am who I am” (Bartholomew, 30). Elohim means the God of all creation as seen in Genesis 1.1. In Genesis 2.4 Yahweh Elohim is the name given to God (Bartholomew, 30). In Psalm 98 Creator God redeems all of creation – people and all the earth. This is no small thing. Even in this Psalm all the earth rejoices in celebration of its Creator and the coming judgment. The name Yahweh originates in the encounter of Moses with God at the burning bush. When Moses inquires of God a name, God responds, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3.14). Some have suggested that God remains mysterious and refuses to really reveal a true name. When God reveals the name, Yahweh, this foreshadows the divine warrior to come (Hess & Martens, 19-32). God sends Moses into battle with a nation, Egypt, for a slave people’s freedom. Moses’ only weapon is the name of his God, Yahweh.
As Christians you and I enter our daily battles with the name of Jesus as our only weapon. Jesus taught his disciples that there is power in his name for healing and wholeness. The Messianic Hope of Israel finds fulfillment in the God-man Jesus, the Author and Perfector of Salvation History. It is in Jesus that we find hope to battle the trouble of injustices in our world.
Third, the psalm offers us hope. The psalmist concludes this well-written tapestry of salvation history with the hope of a coming Perfect Ruler who will judge the people and all of creation in righteousness. The last verse, verse 9, deserves to stand on its own as a climatic ending. This verse draws together the beginning and the end of salvation history. Salvation history as we understand it began before the creation of the world (Genesis 1.1) and looks toward the soon coming King Jesus who will reign over all the earth and her people (Revelation 11.15-17). King Jesus rules that injustice might we addressed for all of creation – people, and the world. The poem began with God’s saving act that moves to a worship response and crescendos in the coming of a final judgment of the world and its inhabitants. Verse 9 ties this song together by acknowledging that God will save the world and all people with justice and impartiality.
Truly, the psalmist instructs us to sing to the Lord a new song. This song is the song of salvation for all people and the whole world. As you and I come to know God in a deeper way we cast off our own ways of injustice, and our hearts naturally moved to sing. As a result of God’s salvation you and I can live differently in our world and with its people.