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Friday 27 May 2022

In this psalm we get a picture of the people of God joining with the whole of creation in giving praise and blessing to God. Verses 1-3 celebrate the new activity God in the life of the world, drawing on corporate memory of past events as well as perhaps thinking about the more recent activity of God in the life of the community.

Psalm 98

In this psalm we get a picture of the people of God joining with the whole of creation in giving praise and blessing to God. Verses 1-3 celebrate the new activity God in the life of the world, drawing on corporate memory of past events as well as perhaps thinking about the more recent activity of God in the life of the community. The celebration of which this psalm is a part is a liturgical event - in other words, it is an occasion for public worship (which is all that “liturgy” means - it has nothing to do with things being written down officially on paper for use in worship!) This psalm is to be sung at a meeting in the Temple - the place in which the new power and governance of God have become known and are seen to be effective. So the congregation are invited to sing a “new song”. It is thought that this is likely to refer literally to a new song - a new anthem for the occasion. But the idea of a “new song” has come to mean more than that. We read it as not just about freshly composed music, but as incorporating all that we want to say when we see God at work in inexplicable ways. We don’t know what to say - all we can do in the face of such things is to offer our praise. By the time we get to Revelation 5:9 the “new song” has become a celebration of the end-time, declaring God’s ultimate triumph and rule on earth.

It’s not just a song for use in public worship, but it is rooted in real-life events, public events. The subject of the song is “marvellous things” - God’s powerful and miraculous actions that have transformed the earth and the situation of the people of Israel. We don’t get any specific examples of these “marvellous things” in these verses, so the concrete examples need to be filled in from Israel’s memory. The psalm may be referring to the miracles of creation in which God defeated chaos in order to make an ordered life possible, or the miracles of liberation seen particularly in the time of Moses and Joshua. The word “victory” (yesuah) is used three times in these first three verses. It might be better understood as an act of deliverance or liberation. It is a military term, describing a powerful intervention with the intention of rescuing from an enslaving power. Another key word is “vindication” (sedaqah) which is used in verse 2. This refers to God’s intervention to make a situation right. If you look back to last week’s study on Psalm 22 you may remember this idea of vindication being important there too (Psalm 22:31). Two other words are important in these first 3 verses - “steadfast love” (hesed) and “faithfulness” (emunah). These words refer to God’s long-standing promise and commitment to Israel. All four of these words are a reminder of God’s resolution to act decisively to transform Israel’s situation into one of well-being, freedom and joy. The “marvellous things” are actually wonderfully life-giving acts.

After this focus on public events in Israel’s history, verses 4-6 return to the theme of the “new song” that began in the very first part of verse 1. There are four imperatives in these verses, all of which summon the people to a loud, exuberant, joyful celebration of God’s activity. What else can you do when you see a miracle occur?! This praise and thanksgiving has an element of commitment - acknowledging the miracles of God and accepting them as defining our reality from now on. In verse 4 the call of praise is directed to “all the earth”. Even though verse 2 has celebrated God’s victory for Israel, the whole earth is invited to join in the grateful response. The implication is that even non-Israelites can see these miracles as signs of God’s good and loving intentions for the whole world. In verse 6, for the first time in this psalm, God is described as “the King”. God can assert authority over the nations because of these actions on behalf of Israel. The larger claim is rooted in God’s activity for Israel which provides concrete evidence for God’s rule over all the earth. In this act of praise in the context of corporate worship, God’s rule is enacted, established and given justification. Here, in worship, God is elevated to the office of king of the world, because God’s qualifications have been demonstrated in these events of liberation and transformation. There is clearly a political element to this, as this psalm is sung in the Jerusalem Temple, the chapel of the kings in the line of David.

Verses 7-9 make the claim of God’s sovereignty even bigger. God’s rule isn’t just over people and nations, but to nonhuman creatures as well. The sea, the world, the floods and the hills are all shown as personally participating in the worship of God. Along with Israel and the nations they all break out in singing and applause. They are also delighted about God’s new reign over all the world. The reason for their delight is that the earth will finally be reordered in justice, righteousness and equity (verse 9). There is the implication here that waters don’t need to fear pollution, and the hills don’t need to fear abuse and exploitation. The “seas” and “floods” symbolise chaos, but now they too are willing to submit to God. No wonder there is a new song for a new governance! There is so much goodness and newness for the people to sing about - and not just the people. All the world, every aspect of creation, welcomes the God of loving faithfulness as its new ruler, and commits itself to accepting and willingly submitting to God’s kingship.

For further reflection…

  • Read through the psalm again slowly two or three times. Which words, phrases or images stand out for you?
  • Imagine yourself being invited to join in this new song of praise. What “marvellous things” can you recount, both in your faith tradition and in your own life?
  • How does the act of worship described in this psalm compare with the kind of worship that you are most often a part of? What are the similarities and differences?
  • How do you respond to the idea of our worship being just a small part of the worship that is offered to God? What do you make of the idea that the whole of creation is singing and clapping in praise to God all around us?
  • Under God’s rule there is justice, equity and righteousness for all of creation. How does this affect your understanding of our responsibility to seek justice for all, to enable a proper sharing of the earth’s resources, and to care for the natural world? What do your actions reveal about your priorities? In what ways are you seeking to work for justice for both people and the environment? What changes can you make today that will have a positive impact on other people and on the natural world?
  • Read through the psalm again, prayerfully and in worship. Pause between verses and try to hear the words of challenge that God may be speaking to you today.