June 20 – Psalm 98


This week begins our new series in the Book of Psalms, and this specific psalm will help us begin at the end. If you read through all 150 psalms you’ll see every conceivable human emotion represented somewhere, from exquisite emotional highs to anguishing lows, and everywhere in between. Throughout our study in the psalms we’ll ride some of their emotional waves, taking time to express our joy, loneliness, gratitude, frustration, faith, and repentance, and each as a means of worship. But here’s another thing you’ll notice if you read through the whole book of psalms (which you really should, at some point). Towards the beginning of the book you’ll notice more psalms of lament. But as you progress through the book you’ll notice laments give way to more and more psalms of praise, like Psalm 98, extolling God’s goodness, faithfulness, and works of salvation. The whole book is intentionally structured to help you see that God turns “mourning into dancing.”(Ps. 30:11)
So, to help us see where we’re headed, we decided to start our study with dancing. You’ll notice in Psalm 98 that the call to worship keeps widening. The first stanza (v.1-3) tells the people immediately present to “sing to the LORD a new song” because of the Lord’s many accomplishments. The second stanza (v.4-6) tells all the people of the earth to “make a joyful noise” with all kinds of instruments. Then the third stanza (v.7-9) tells even the seas to roar, the rivers to clap, and the hills to sing. This psalm kicks down all the walls so we can see the whole creation around us erupting in a chorus of praise to the Creator.

The litany of God’s accomplishments in verses 1-3 describes his victorious, saving efforts on Israel’s behalf. Perhaps the psalmist wrote this shortly after a military victory, or perhaps they were thinking about the many past deliverances of God in Israel’s past like the Exodus. Either way, the psalmist is remembering the faithfulness of God and exploding in praise. And note in verse 3 how the psalmist describes this: “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.” The psalmist is saying that the Lord delivered Israel because he remembered his own steadfast love towards his people, not their love of him. The language here highlights God’s self-sufficiency in doing this; it’s his hand, his arm, his salvation. He’s responsible for it all, and he gets all the credit—the only thing human beings contribute to the matter is their “joyful noise.”(v.4)

When the psalmist wrote this they already had plenty of things to praise God for. But here in our time we have Jesus’ death and resurrection as the even greater Exodus. On the cross God provided the most costly and most necessary work of salvation, freeing us not just from earthly slavery or political enemies but from bondage to sin and death. Thus we can praise him over salvation and judgment; judgment because sin and the wickedest of evils don’t go unpunished, and salvation because God has made a way for us to escape his wrath. Note that the invitation to worship God, to turn to him in full surrender, results in salvation from judgment. And it’s this work of salvation that will be praised for all eternity. Read Revelation 5:6-14 and you’ll see another “new song” like Psalm 98, where humans and heavenly creatures circle Jesus’ throne and praise him, saying “Worthy is the lamb that was slain!”

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Psalm 98 for us?

• What stood out to you in this psalm?

• What can this psalm tell us about God?

• Look at verse 3; what does it mean that God has “remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness”?

• How can this psalm help us when we don’t want to worship God or feel his absence?

• In verses 4 and 9, why do you think both salvation and judgment are mentioned in this psalm of praise?

• In verse 4 and verse 7 all the people of the earth are invited to praise the Lord. How does that help us understand what it means to “sing to the Lord a new song”?