Psalm 98/Undertake or Overtake

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When we sing the psalms back to God, one of the things we are learning how to do is how to address Him as He would like to be addressed. Instead of cooking up our own idea of pious noises and a liturgical shuffling around, our own ex tempore musical, we can read the script, commune with the librettist, and follow the stage directions. The Psalms are an enormous help with this.

The Text:

“O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Ps. 98:1-9).

This psalm can basically be divided into three stanzas. The first concerns why we are invited to praise Jehovah (vv. 1-3). The second addresses how (vv. 4-6). And the third has to do with the matter of who (vv. 7-9).

Summary of the Text:

We are to praise God because His strong right arm has obtained the victory (v. 1). We are to praise Him because He does not keep the fact of His salvation a secret (v. 2). He has remembered His mercy and truth with regard to Israel, and the whole world can see that (v. 3).

So, make a joyful noise, make a loud noise, and do it with song (v. 4). Sing to the Lord with a harp, and also with a psalm (v. 5). Add to all the jubilation with some brass (v. 6). Act like this is the coronation of the king, for it is.

Let the fullness of the oceans join in on the chorus, not excluding all the inhabitants of these oceans (v. 7). Waves crashing together on the offbeat are glorious, and because the hills refuse to be left out, they also rejoice (v. 8). We all sing together in joy because of the coming judgment. This judgment will be sheer relief for the planet, not to mention all the nations (v. 9).

The Magnificat:

Our Lord’s mother was very likely a teenage girl when Gabriel appeared to her. Not only was she of such a character to be chosen by God at such a tender age, she was also a young woman who was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures. The heading of this psalm says simply “a psalm,” and the Magnificat was also very much a psalm—filled with echoes of this psalm, as Adam Clarke notes:

Sing a new song to the Lord, and Mary answers, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” He has done marvelous things, and Mary answers, “He that is mighty hath done great things.” His arm has gotten Him the victory, and Mary answers, “He hath showed strength with his arm.” The Lord has made known His salvation, and Mary answers, “His mercy is from generation to generation.” He has remembered the house of Israel, and Mary answers “He hath holpen his servant Israel.”

Criminal and Civil Cases:

In Scripture, we are invited to think about our relationship to God under different images. If we think biblically, we can use them all profitably, not allowing one of them to dominate, and without falling into the trap of applying them woodenly. For example, when we think of the coming judgment, we are invited to think it as a criminal trial, in a capital case, and with ourselves as the accused. This makes us tremble, as it should. Nothing short of a perfect justification could deliver us from this.

But we are also invited to think of that judgment, as here, as a civil case, with ourselves as the plaintiffs. In the former illustration, we want to get out of the courtroom as rapidly as possible, and with minimal fines. In the latter illustration, the difficulty is getting into the courtroom. Your case is ironclad, and your problem is that no one will listen to you. The good news is that Jehovah Himself is coming, and He will listen. He will hear you. This is the case with the widow in the Lord’s parable (Luke 18:3). For example, consider Ps. 67:4 and Ps. 96:12-13 and Ps. 35:24. Judgment in this instances is a matter of jubilant joy.

The judge is at the door. He will dry every tear (Rev. 21:4). He will bind up every wound (Ps. 147:3). He will set every bone. He will untie every treachery. He will reverse the effect of every desertion. Every disease will be sponged away. Every cruelty will be dissolved into nothingness. No unrepentant sinner will be given the power to blackmail the redeemed cosmos out of her joy. The fatherless will be brought to their everlasting Father, and all the pieces of this glorious story will be fitted together, and there will be no remainder.

Undertake or Overtake?

So what do you make of Jesus? He was crucified, buried, raised, raised again, and then enthroned. He is now seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, and every creature is summoned to face Him. Every one of us either does so or refuses to do so. The Latin word convertere means to turn around, and it is where we get the word conversion.

Our solemn responsibility is to turn and face Christ. If we do, then we will look upon the one who was pierced. We will see Him, and that means we will see the judge who undertakes on our behalf. We can know this because we have been looking at the judge who undertook (past tense) on our behalf.

So that is the foundational issue. Christ either undertakes for you, and does so as one kind of judge, or He overtakes you, doing so as the other kind of judge. Do you want to look on the kind face of a merciful judge? Then you must repent. You must turn around. You must look upon His face.

Or do you want the other kind of judge? You intend to continue running away from Him, running pell mell through all your slippery sins? You who are stuck in the miry clay, you think you can make your escape? Do you really think you have the competence to successfully run from absolute Justice? You think you can make a run for the border? There is no border. The place you are running to is called the outer darkness for a reason. The outer darkness has no shape.

The rebellious option is to flee and to feel, necessarily, the iron clasp of an avenging judge grip your shoulder. Or you might turn around, as the gospel commands, and see both of His hands outstretched, palms up, and pierced clean through.