There are widening circles in this wonderful psalm. It first speaks to the people of God, then to all the nations of the earth, and finally to creation itself.
There is no author attributed in the Hebrew text, but Psalm 96 contains the middle verses of the psalm David sang for the entrance of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:23-33), suggesting that David was the author.
A. A new song for all the earth to sing.
1. (1-3) Worshipping God with a new song.
Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.
a. Sing to the LORD a new song: God loves to receive the rejoicing and praise of His people expressed in song, especially the new song. A new song can come from old saints as they gain fresh awareness of God’s love and grace.
i. “The song is to be new, because a new manifestation of Jehovah’s Kinghood has wakened once more the long-silent harps.” (Maclaren)
ii. A new song: “A song of peculiar excellence, for in this sense the term new is repeatedly taken in the Scriptures. He has done extraordinary things for us, and we should excel in praise and thanksgiving.” (Clarke)
iii. “A new song, always new; keep up the freshness of your praise. Do not drivel down into dull routine…. We have new mercies to celebrate, therefore we must have new songs.” (Spurgeon)
b. Sing to the LORD, all the earth: Praise is due to Yahweh from all the earth. He isn’t a local deity, meant for only Israel. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the psalmist saw a day when all the earth would sing a new song to the LORD, described in its fulfillment in Revelation 5:9.
c. Proclaim the good news of His salvation: These songs to the Lord were not only celebrations; they were also proclamations. They proclaimed His salvation and declared His glory and His wonders to the entire world, to the nations.
i. From day to day: “Other news delights us only at first hearing; but the good news of our redemption is sweet from day to day…saith Luther, Christ is now as fresh unto me as if he had shed his blood but this very hour.” (Trapp)
ii. From day to day means we should never stop proclaiming the good news of His salvation. “Every man should praise God every day – on each returning morning, and on every evening – for the assurance that there is a way of salvation provided for him, and that he may be happy for ever.” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Declare His 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.” (Boice)
iv. “You know men are very much attracted by aught of glory and renown. They will even rush to the cannon’s mouth for so-called glory…. tell them about the glory thereof, what a glory it brings to Christ, and to what a glory it will bring every sinner by- and-by.” (Spurgeon)
v. “If the Lord Jesus has become King of your heart, and has brought blessing to you, do not hesitate to give voice to your allegiance. In private, sing unto Him a new song; in public, show forth His salvation, and declare His glory.” (Meyer)
2. (4-6) Why God deserves praise.
For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
a. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised: The psalmist would not give God empty or unthinking praise. He first spoke regarding the greatness of God, and noted that His greatness made Him greatly to be praised.
i. For the LORD is great: “He is, in every possible sense, ‘great;’ great in dignity, in power, in mercy; and therefore ‘greatly to be praised’ by every creature.” (Horne)
b. He is to be feared above all gods: Yahweh deserves worship from the entire earth because He isn’t like the gods and idols of the pagans. He is the Creator who made the heavens.
i. “Idols; or, nothings, as they are called, 1 Corinthians 8:4, 10:19; or, vain things, as the word signifies, and is translated by others. The sense is, Though they have usurped the name and place of the Divine Majesty, yet they have nothing of his nature or power in them.” (Poole)
ii. “The term idols is elilim, which the Old Testament treats as a mere parody of elohim (God). It is the word translated ‘worthless’ in Job 13:4 (‘worthless physicians’) and Jeremiah 14:14 (‘worthless divination’).” (Kidner)
iii. “Yahweh alone is God and all other deities are ‘fakes.’ They cannot be gods, because Yahweh alone has made heaven. The pagans may claim that their gods have power over the heavenly realms, but this is excluded by virtue of Yahweh’s sole claim to having created ‘the heavens.’” (VanGemeren)
iv. “The contemptuous name of the nation’s gods as ‘Nothings’ is frequent in Isaiah.” (Maclaren)
c. Honor and majesty are before Him: God’s greatness and power give Him a regal, royal bearing. He is marked by strength and beauty.
i. Strength and beauty: “In him are combined all that is mighty and lovely, powerful and resplendent. We have seen rugged strength devoid of beauty, we have also seen elegance without strength; the union of the two is greatly to be admired.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Not in outward show or parade of costly robes does the glory of God consist; such things are tricks of state with which the ignorant are dazzled; holiness, justice, wisdom, grace, these are the splendours of Jehovah’s courts, these the jewels and the gold, the regalia, and the pomp of the courts of heaven.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary: “If we ask whether this sanctuary is earthly or heavenly, the probable answer is both. The earthly one was a ‘copy and shadow’ of the heavenly (Heb. 8:5).” (Kidner)
3. (7-9) Calling the entire world to glorify God.
Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Give to the LORD glory and strength.
Give to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
a. Give to the LORD the glory due His name: The theme is repeated – God is worthy of praise from the entire earth, from all families of the peoples. In this context, give means to recognize and to declare the glory and strength that belong to God in all His being.
i. When we give unto the LORD these things, we do not give or attribute things to Him that He did not have before. We recognize things as they really are, because God is full of glory and strength.
ii. “Neither men nor angels can confer anything upon Jehovah, but they should recognise his glory and might, and ascribe it to him in their songs and in their hearts.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “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. That is what is being said here. Here the nations of the world are told to give God glory.” (Boice)
b. O families of the peoples: God promised Abraham, in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3), and that promise would be fulfilled in Abraham’s greatest descendant, Jesus the Messiah. The same word for families found in Genesis 12:3 is used in Psalm 96:7: Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples, give to the LORD glory and strength. This verse may refer to the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 12:3.
c. Give to the LORD…Give to the LORD…. Give to the LORD: We come into God’s presence to receive, but also to give unto Him. We give Him our time, our attention, our worship, our surrender, our service, our resources, and much more.
i. “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.” (Boice)
ii. Give to the LORD the glory due His name: “It is a debt; and a debt, in equity, must be paid. The honour due to his name is to acknowledge him to be holy, just, true, powerful.” (Clarke, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. The triple repetition of this phrase impresses the urgency of the call, and is a subtle reference to the Triune nature of God.
d. Bring an offering, and come into His courts: Sacrifice is appropriate for the worshipper. True worship is often revealed by sacrifice in some way.
i. Bring an offering: “The word here rendered ‘offering’ – minkhah – is that which is commonly used to denote a bloodless offering, a thank-offering.” (Barnes, cited in Spurgeon)
e. In the beauty of holiness: The psalmist called the world to worship God in recognition of His holiness, and to see that there is a beauty connected to His holiness.
i. Beauty and holiness are not often connected ideas in our popular culture. Yet in reality, there is surpassing allure and attractiveness in true holiness. If a purported type of holiness has little beauty, it may not be true holiness.
ii. “Fear of God is the blush upon the face of holiness enhancing its beauty.” (Spurgeon)
iii. God’s holiness – His “set-apart-ness” – has a wonderful and distinct beauty about it. It is beautiful that God is God and not man, that He is more than the greatest man or a super-man. His holy love, grace, justice, and majesty are beautiful.
B. The declaration to the nations and to creation.
1. (10) What to say among the nations.
Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns;
The world also is firmly established,
It shall not be moved;
He shall judge the peoples righteously.”
a. Say among the nations: The theme of speaking to the entire earth continues, calling the people of the world to worship and honor God as they should.
b. The LORD reigns: This is a fundamental and powerful message for God’s people to proclaim to the world. Whether others recognize His reign or not, the LORD nevertheless reigns, and that reign will one day be openly and obviously imposed upon the whole world.
i. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns”: “Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, quotes this passage thus: ‘Say among the nations, the Lord ruleth by the wood,’ meaning the cross; and accuses the Jews of having blotted this word out of their Bibles, because of the evidence it gave of the truth of Christianity. It appears that this reading did exist anciently in the Septuagint, or at least in some ancient copies of that work, for the reading has been quoted by Tertullian, Lactantius, Arnobius, Augustine, Cassiodorus, Pope Leo, Gregory of Tours, and others.” (Clarke)
c. The world also is firmly established: God’s people are also meant to tell the world that His work as Maker of the earth is good and lasting. He didn’t make the world in a careless way; it is firmly established, so that it shall not be moved.
d. He shall judge the peoples righteously: The world also needs to hear that God is a righteous judge, before whom the whole world must give account. When the world hears and believes this, they will rightly prepare themselves for that judgment to come.
i. “He shall judge the people righteously; he shall not abuse his invincible power and established dominion to the oppression of his people, as other princes frequently do, but shall govern them by the rules of justice and equity, which is the only foundation of a true and solid peace.” (Poole)
2. (11-13) The message of joy to all creation.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
a. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad: The thought introduced in the previous line is used as reason for all creation to be glad. The fact that God is a righteous judge who will call things into account is good for creation – good for the heavens, the earth, the sea, the field, and all the trees.
i. “Transported with a view of these grand events, and beholding in spirit the advent of King Messiah; the Psalmist exults in most jubilant and triumphant strains, calling the whole creation to break forth into joy, and to celebrate the glories of redemption.” (Horne)
ii. Paul had this concept in mind in Romans 8:21: because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
iii. “The thought that inanimate nature will share in the joy of renovated humanity inspires many glowing prophetic utterances, eminently those of Isaiah – as e.g., Isaiah 35:1-10. The converse thought, that it shared in the consequences of man’s sin, is deeply stamped on the Genesis narrative.” (Maclaren)
iv. All the trees of the woods: According to VanGemeren, the idea here is more than just a forest, but of wilderness or even thick jungle. The sense is that all creation is excited that God is coming to judge the earth.
b. For He is coming to judge the earth: The psalm ends with the joyful confidence that God will judge and set things right. The goodness of this is apparent to those who love God, love His ways, and hurt over the injustices of the present age.
i. He is coming to judge the earth: “To rule it with discretion; not to tax it, and control it by force, as kings often do, but to preside as magistrates do whose business it is to see justice carried out between man and man.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “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.” (Boice)
iii. “The world of men may be glad also, because the reign of Jesus means equity for the oppressed, equal-handed justice for the poor, peace among the nations.” (Meyer)
iv. “Honesty, veracity, integrity, will rule upon his judgment-seat. No nation shall be favoured there, and none be made to suffer through prejudice. The black man shall be tried by the same law as his white master, the aboriginal shall have justice executed for him against his civilised exterminator, the crushed and hunted Bushman shall have space to appeal against the Boer who slaughtered his tribe, and the South Sea Islander shall gain attention to his piteous plaint against the treacherous wretch who kidnapped him from his home. There shall be true judgment given without fear or favour. In all this let the nations be glad, and the universe rejoice.” (Spurgeon)
v. “He smites with destruction. But the fierceness of His wrath, the weight of His stroke, are inspired by His love of man, and His determination to establish that order of life in which strength and beauty shall abound.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org