Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendour and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:1-9 ESV)
Some people like poetry; others not so much. Some people like history; others not so much; Some people like the news; others not so much. Some people like instructions; others not so much. Since all of them are found in the Bible some people are drawn to it – or parts of it – and others not so much. And if there is one part of the Bible which does seem to draw more of a frown for modern people, it is not Revelation so much (because people have some resonance with apocalyptic / fantasy literature) it is, in my view, the psalms. It’s like finding in an attic all the lyrics for the songs of the Beatles and Rolling Stones but having no real idea of the music and or much of the world in which they were written.
Unless one is immersed in the psalms every day as in the monasteries where they take three weeks or so to go through all of them, Sunday worshippers take 3 years. So they are part of the foreign terrain of the Old Testament; they are worship and temple songs and prayers of individuals, choirs, citizens and a nation – in joy and sorrow, in peace and conflict, crying out for help in desperation, fear, even rage and anger; and there are lots of ‘thank you’ songs for prayers answered and help given. Undergirding all of the thank yous, the praises, the pleas for forgiveness, and the declarations that this God is to be remembered is the relationship God has established with his people in the Old Testament through the Exodus – the rescue from Egypt. That event defines the Old Testament people – even those living today those who follow Judaism – that God has rescued his people and is with his people.
Since we do not follow Judaism, it is important for us to know and understand why we read and use the Psalms. We do so as followers of Jesus because Jesus said that they – and also the Law and the Prophets – reveal him and point to him – and so if we want to understand Jesus, it is good for us to understand the psalms. This thought is quite uncomfortable for many followers of Jesus who have deep down a rather Superman view of Jesus – more God, less human – where as Christianity has
always taught the mystery that Jesus is fully human – that Jesus needs to eat and drink, he sweats and gets tired, he bleeds and dies. People try and psychoanalyse Jesus which is unwise because that largely creates Jesus in our own image when what we should do is do what Jesus said – search the Scriptures which for him was the Old Testament and because we believe that the Holy Spirit has given to the Church the New Testament we search them to and we let the words speak and reveal Jesus to us.
In terms of the Old Testament, we do need to know the story of God with his people because all parts of the story are fulfilled in Jesus. Judaism is still waiting for the Messiah. Christians say that Jesus is the Messiah … and more!
So when looking at Psalm 96 we discover from 1 Chronicles 16 that it was used when the Ark of the Covenant was placed inside the Tabernacle when King David had brought it to his city – the city of David – Jerusalem. Remember that the Tabernacle is the tent in which God dwelt with his people – the glory had descended into the Holy of Holies and encompassed that space in which was placed the Ark of the Covenant – comprising the Mercy Seat, the winged cherubim, and the covenant tablets from Sinai – the agreement God made with his people that he would be their God and they would be his people and how they would live as his people. The sacrificial system and the Priests and Levites were all put in place by God so that he would be among them and not destroy them. This is the subtext forgotten more than anything else today – that God is holy and that holiness and sin are a flammable combination which results in sin’s destruction – separation from God. God is not our imagined genie – rather he is a divine, triune mystery, all powerful, all knowing, all present who has created everything and then rescued it – rescued us. God’s rescue and presence among us is thus with shielding or masks because no one can see the face of God and live and those who do find themselves close to God cry ‘Woe is me’ – it’s like being close to the sun – there’s so much power – we are tiny, we are specs.
And yet this God has chosen to relate to us, to be close to us and wants all of creation – and especially people – to live with him.
Psalm 96 is all about the King of kings coming to the king’s capital city. David is pointing to the people that he is also under someone but this God need not be feared – he is not like all the other gods this world produces. He is gracious and merciful who has rescued and defeated enemies and deals with sin his way. That’s a big problem for people – we want to deal with it our way.
The new song of Psalm 96 when it was sung and remembered back in Old Testament times is a song sung to remind the people that God was physically present – not up in heaven so to speak – in the Tabernacle and later Temple. All talk of splendour and glory and majesty recall hundreds of years of God dealing with his people – and rejoicing in this faithful, patient God the people come to worship.
For us Jesus is the Word made flesh who tabernacles among us – dwells among us according to John 1:14 but the Greek is ‘tabernacle’ – and thus Jesus is the glory of God come to Earth. Jesus is the majesty of God and Jesus is the faithful one when we are faithless and he is patient and kind. This is the Jesus crucified for us – whose strength and power is hidden under his suffering and death – he didn’t use his power for himself but emptied himself – and like blotting paper took sins into himself and what happens when sin and holiness meet up close and personal? Sin is destroyed! Thus our Passover lamb’s blood was shed so that creation may live.
But then God raised Jesus from the dead – that is how the vast bulk of the New Testament describes the resurrection – and we glimpse in awe and wonder that somehow God took sin and death into himself and thus rescued humanity from the hell of our own making. Through Jesus’ resurrection and ascension he is now where words are said in his name and as he instructed, where water is used as he said, and where bread and wine are used. The mystery is that through the cross, because of the cross, God’s holiness is not shiny and sparkly but is where Jesus says he is – that is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer as he taught – Hallowed by Thy name – God’s name is holy already but we pray for it to be holy in our lives as we go to where Jesus told us to go to meet him – words, water, bread and wine. Jesus meets us in worship!
And so for us Psalm 96 is …
Reader 1: Oh sing to the LORD a new song
Reader 2: about Jesus, the Word made flesh;
Reader 1: sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name
Reader 2: for Jesus died for us;
Reader 1: tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples!
Reader 2: Who else is risen and ascended?
Reader 1: For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary
Reader 2: hidden under words, water, bread and wine.
Reader 1: Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Reader 2: Look to Jesus on the cross! Reader 1: Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:1-9 ESV)
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. [Amen]
- Psalm 96:1 - 9