God is worthy of all praise and honor. We know this through special revelation—as we see here in Psalm 96—and we also learn the same thing from the created order itself. God is speaking both places because God is silent nowhere. The creation is an essential part of the choir. The oceans are singing bass, and the stars have the high soprano descant. We, the redeemed of all mankind, occupy the middle position and should do so as ones eager and willing to acquit ourselves well in the task. We should sing in a manner that is worthy of all our companions.
O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice. Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth (Ps. 96:1-13).
Summary of the Text:
A general invitation is given to sing unto the Lord; it is a universal invitation—“all the earth” (v. 1). Sing to the Lord, and this should be extended through time—“day to day” (v. 2). All the heathen should hear about it (v. 3). The reason for this is the greatness of our God (v. 4). The gods of the nations are idols, that is to say, nothings, but God created the heavens (v. 5). Honor and majesty are in front of Him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary (v. 6). Give glory and strength to the Lord (v. 7). Our God deserves glory, so bring Him an offering (v. 8). Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (v. 9), and notice that this adoration of beauty goes together with fear. Say among the heathen that God is in charge (v. 10). The world is fixed in place because God settled it (v. 10). Let the heavens be glad; let the earth rejoice; let the oceans roar (v. 11). The meadows and trees join in (v. 12). The judgment of God is coming, and never forget that this is good news (v. 13). The judgment of God is a good thing.
The Occasion for this Psalm:
From the content of the psalm, and from what we know of how it was used, we can see that is a psalm of mission, particularly the coming Gentile world mission, and that it is a psalm of the coming millennial glory. In the psalm, the Gentiles are repeatedly invited to join in, but we learn even more about this from the place this psalm had in the history of Israel. A form of this psalm was incorporated into the psalm of dedication for the tabernacle of David (1 Chron. 16:23-33).
But what was the tabernacle of David? What did it mean? When the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant at Shiloh, that ark became a scourge to them (e.g. 1 Sam. 5:3). Eventually they sent it back to Israel, and it became a scourge to the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh (1 Sam. 6:19). The ark was eventually settled in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, likely a Gentile (consider his name), and the Lord prospered his house greatly (2 Sam. 6:10-11). When the ark finally comes back to Jerusalem, David houses it on Mount Zion in a tabernacle of music, where the sacrifices were to be sacrifices of praise. Obed-edom comes with it. Later, when the Temple is built on Mount Moriah (where Abraham had surrendered Isaac), the tabernacle of David was disassembled and taken over to the Temple. But the center of worship is overwhelmingly identified with the name Zion, not Moriah. Centuries later the prophet Amos declares that the tabernacle of David would be rebuilt (Amos 9:11), and the apostle James declares that this was fulfilled in the fact of the Gentiles streaming to Christ (Acts 15:16). It continues down to this day—the songs we offer up this morning were all offered up in the Tabernacle of David. This psalm is about all of that.
Our God Made the Heavens:
We have touched on this point already in other psalms, but the Lord is our Maker. He is the one who has made us, and not we ourselves. Any personal beings or impersonal forces that seek to occupy the position that should only be occupied by the one who made us are idols. The word for idols here is literally nothings, or nullities, one of Isaiah’s preferred nouns for any discussion of idols (Is. 12:24). Paul echoes this when he says that an idol is nothing (1 Cor. 8:4).
This would include, incidentally, the deaf, dumb and blind process called natural selection. Either God made us or nothing did.
We must affirm that the Creator made absolutely everything, and that He used that most abundant raw material of all, which would be nothing. Nothing did not make us—nothing is what we are made of. We affirm creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing. So the doctrine of creation is profoundly foundational. Everything depends on it. It is by no means a secondary thing. Darwin was profoundly mistaken, and the only people who might be more mistaken than he was would be those Christians who think that there might be some kind of accommodation possible between Darwin and Genesis. And by Genesis I mean Genesis as handled by sober exegesis, and no funny business.
Our God is Beauty:
God is infinitely sublime. Not only is He the ultimate embodiment of Beauty itself, we must also recognize that knowledge of this lines up entirely with the need to fear before Him. The aesthetic aspect of our worship does not reduce God to manageable proportions—we fear Him, and we worship Him in the beauty of holiness. God is beauty itself, not cuteness itself. He is not a domesticated god. He is the kind of beauty that makes any sensible man to tremble.
Our God is Worthy of Glory:
We are to declare the glory of the Lord, and we are to declare it before the goyim, before the nations, before the heathen (v. 3). The fact that they don’t recognize this (yet) is not to be used as a reason for silence, but rather as a motive for declaration. All the tribes of men are to be invited to join in with the giving of this glory (v. 7). Give glory and strength to the Lord. He is worthy of great glory, and so we are to give Him the glory that is due to His name (v. 8).
When those who do not know God are silent about His glory, this is not to be taken by us as a signal to remain silent as well. When the heathen, who do not know Him, fail to give Him glory, this is a void that we must step into.
Notice also that when our offering box is brought forward, and placed on the Table, this is a scripturally assigned means of giving God glory (v. 8). Tightwad saints do not give Him glory.
And Our God Reigns:
We have a tendency to think that power is merely impressive, but we have learned already that God is the Maker of all things. But the created order is not just immense. It is also glorious. We have learned that He is Beauty itself; we are to worship Him in the beauty of holiness. We are to render glory to Him. So this God, this creative, beautiful, and glorious God, this God, is the one who reigns over all things (v. 10).
Not one atom wobbles from its place. Not one crab nebula wanders from its assigned role. Not one hair takes up residence in your hairbrush apart from His commanding it. Not one sparrow is taken down by a stray cat unless of the Father of all determined that it should be so. But this is not raw power.
This is no despot who reigns, but rather our heavenly Father. This is the one whose Son took on human flesh in order to die for all the sins of all His people. Do you think the problem of evil is a problem? God created this world, and everything in it, and determined that it should go in just the way it is going, so that all the evil in all the world might be fashioned into the shape of a Roman spear, and rammed into His side.
He is our Maker. He is our beauty. He is our glory. He is the king, the one who reigns, and His crown was made of thorns. How that crown will be transfigured in the life to come is something that we do not have the capacity to imagine. We can only wait for it, which we eagerly do.