Psalm 98 is traditionally read and used in the Christmas worship season. This entry examines the meaning of this psalm in its historical and canonical context.
Key Observation: All creation worships the Lord with joy because of his saving and just reign.
Psalm 98 resounds in praise to the Lord who saves. It captures the joy of God’s people and of the whole world for the God who liberates and rules with righteousness, love, and faithfulness. In fact, this psalm was the inspiration behind Isaac Watt’s familiar hymn, “Joy to the World.”
Psalm 98 unfolds in two sections: verses 1–3 and 4–9. God’s people are the focus of verses 1–3, where they receive the invitation to “sing a new song to the Lord” (cf. Psalm 96:1). The Lord has achieved a great victory and worked salvation for his people. The new song emphasizes the “marvelous things” that God has done (v. 1). This invites worshippers to reflect on how God’s salvation has impacted their lives. The Israelites would have remembered the exodus from Egypt, the gift of the land of Canaan, and the return from Babylonian exile. The struggles of Psalms 88–89 are past. The Lord is bringing renewal to the world through a revival of his people. The words, “right hand and his holy arm” (v. 1), which are symbols of God’s power, echo back to the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 15:6).
Verses 2–3 remind God’s people that moments of grace from God serve as a testimony of his greatness to the rest of the world. There is always a missional dimension to the Lord’s actions. Salvation is never merely about us. Good news comes to us on its way to others. The Lord is a God of love and faithfulness and his actions for Israel are ultimately actions for the world (Genesis 12:3b; Exodus 19:5–6; Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6). As God’s people, we worship him now in the anticipation that all people will join us someday.
The second part of Psalm 98 imagines a future in which all creation joins in the praise (cf. Psalms 65–67; 148; 150). There is no mention of enemies or the forces of chaos. God’s victory has been won. As followers of Jesus, we live in the anticipation of God’s final victory and new creation (Revelation 21:1–5). God’s mighty acts for Israel in the Old Testament and for us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are a foretaste of the coming of his kingdom which will be fully made manifest “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
In verses 4–6, all creation worships the Lord as its true King in exuberant song and with an array of instruments. We can imagine the terror and dread that might accompany the arrival of certain rulers and kings, but the Lord is different. When the Lord reigns, joyful praise marks the occasion.
Verses 7–9 conclude the psalm by making it clear that all creation will worship—even the roaring seas and all the creatures within them. God’s reign even brings gladness to the rivers and hills. What makes the Lord’s reign so different from that of other kings or even other gods? It is the Lord’s character. Verse 3 reminded us of God’s love and faithfulness. Verse 9 affirms that God judges with righteousness and fairness. This is a vision our world desperately needs today.
Questions for Reflecting on This Psalm
Are you interested in learning more about the Psalms? Consider taking a deep dive into the book with a dynamic teacher, Brian Russell. The book of Psalms is often quoted and clichéd, but much less often contextualized. When we understand the Psalter relative to the circumstances in which it was written, we find a rich resource for God’s people. Through these prayers, God both speaks to us and models how we might speak back to Him. At its core, the book of Psalms is an instructional guide to a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. Get the book and accompanying videos in our store here.
In these pages you’ll:
- Discover how the psalms of the Bible can translate to your daily life
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