Psalm 96 is a joyous celebration of praise and worship. It is paired in the Psalter with Psalm 98, each being followed by a hymn to the reign of YHWH (Psalms 97 and 99).
We can divide Psalm 96 into two parts. Only the second part is included in today’s readings in the Lectionary. The Psalm begins with a three-fold invitation to “sing”. This second part begins with a three-fold command to ascribe glory to the LORD.
Psalm 96: 7-13 (NIV)
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.
9 Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
12 let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
13 they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.
This note addresses just three aspects of the second part of this Psalm:
- the call to worship,
- the proclamation to the nations, and
- the assurance of judgement.
The call to worship requires recognition that the LORD is glorious and powerful and that we do not come to his presence empty-handed. We come in awe and reverence, acknowledging his holiness. Verse 7 calls not only the Hebrew people but all nations to ascribe glory and strength to the LORD. Verses 11 and 12 invite the created order of sun, moon and stars, earth, sea, fields and forests to contribute to the worship of their Creator.
The proclamation to the nations extends this worship, as we have noted, beyond the children of Israel; it proclaims to all nations the sovereign rule of the LORD of heaven and earth. “The LORD reigns” is to be heard among all humankind. In the Christian traditions which use a “church year”, it is fitting that between last Sunday’s celebration of “Christ the King” and next Sunday’s celebration of the first Sunday in Advent this Psalm is read, enjoyed and used as an inspiration for prayer.
The assurance of judgement at the end of verse 10, “(The LORD) will judge the peoples with equity”, is repeated in verse 13. The LORD will come to judge the earth, the world, the peoples! All peoples will be subject to his judgement: those who ignore him and dismiss him and those who acknowledge him and honour him as LORD of all the earth. His judgement will deal finally with wickedness and evil. This judgement will establish his righteousness and his truth.
Are we ready for the return of the King? Are we ready for his judgement? What do we now need to be doing to prepare ourselves for his return?
Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.