Psalm 96 | Summary of the Psalms
Defining the Gospel, Pt 2
“Oh sing to YHWH a new song, sing to YHWH, all the earth!”
That is the central call of Psalm 96, and the reason for this is the gospel of God’s salvation. In the previous articles, we looked at the word group euaggelion in the historical books and in the Psalms (here and here). In this article, I want to finish our discussion of the Psalms with Psalm 96 and summarize our findings thus far, before moving on to the Prophets in the next article.
Psalm 96 is situated in Book 4 of the Psalms, which concerns the exile of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the house of God, as well as of the royal house of David.
This psalm is part of a group of psalms that talk about God’s universal kingship (Ps. 93, 95–99). The Septuagint has the superscript: “When the house was being rebuilt after the captivity.” This would place the psalm in the context of the new exodus out of exile and the establishment of eschatological God’s kingdom in Israel.
Psalm 96 is a short psalm and consists mainly of a call for the nations to worship God as king. This call can be unpacked by answering some simple questions.
The Psalmist addresses “all the earth” (v. 1, 9), namely the “families of the peoples” (v. 7), the heavens, the earth, the sea, the field and everything in them, and all the trees of the forest (v. 11-12).
All the earth is called to sing to YHWH, to praise his name, and to declare his glory (v. 1–3). They are to worship him and tremble before him (v. 9). They are to be glad, rejoice, roar, exult, and sing for joy (v. 11–13).
In particular, they are to sing a “new song” (v. 1), namely about God’s salvation and his marvelous works (v. 2–3). They are to ascribe to YHWH the glory and strength which he is due (v. 7–8) because of what he has done for his people.
The reason why all the earth is to worship God is, firstly, because he is the rightful king of all the earth. He is the creator of everything. His glory and majesty is like no other. All the idols and the rulers of this earth are as nothing before him (vv. 4–6; cf. Isa. 40).
God shows this glory magnificently in his acts of judgment (v. 10, 13) and salvation (v. 3). The gospel is tied specifically to ‘salvation’ (v. 2; Gk.: soteria). The good news is that God, as king, is the savior of his people. Furthermore, God is also the judge. He judges the nations in equity and thus establishes his righteous rule.
This worship of God takes place in his sanctuary (v. 8). One would assume that that refers to the Temple in Jerusalem. However, we must keep in mind the cosmic sanctuary-motif which starts all the way back in Genesis 1–2. God cannot be contained within a building (2 Chron 2:6; 1. Kings 8:27). All of creation is meant as his dwelling place. “Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isa 66:1; cf. the context of new creation).
God’s rule is not limited to any political nation, and so is his presence. He can be worshiped in all of creation, and should be worshiped, because he is worthy. Therefore all the nations are invited to serve him.
In short, the gospel is: YHWH saves! He is the creator and rightful king of the whole world. He saves his people and judges the nations. In this way, his kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven.
Summary of the Historical Books
Now, let me rehearse our findings of the previous articles. In the first article, we saw that
a gospel in the Historical Books is not a generic message with ‘good’ content but a message about the king with positive implications for his people. Such a royal message often involved deliverance from enemies or the ascension to the throne. Because of its national implications, a gospel must be heralded to the people.
So, a gospel was primarily aimed at a national level (…). It is good news first and foremost for the (loyal) people of the king. By implication, it is bad news for the enemies of the king. Secondarily (but still importantly) is a gospel relevant at the individual level: “Well, this is good news for the king’s people, but am I loyal to the king? Or am I his enemy?” (…) Thirdly, one might even say that in some instances, a gospel is also good news for the world. (…) [T]he royal seed of David was meant to be God’s means to bring the Abrahamic blessing to the nations.
So, in the historical books, a gospel involves the (re-)establishment of the kingdom through victory in battle or ascension to the throne, often involving Davidic kings.
Summary of the Psalms
In the Psalms, we see that a gospel is about God’s kingdom being (re-)established through salvation and judgment. In other words, God defeats the pagan enemies of David and Israel and delivers his people from their oppressors. The weak are protected, the proud defeated, and in this way God’s righteous rule is established in Israel. This is an expression of God’s faithfulness to the covenant and to his covenant people.
Furthermore, we note a dual kingship: the gospels are both about YHWH, the God of Israel, and David, the anointed king of Israel and agent of YHWH’s rule. God’s ‘theological’ kingdom cannot be opposed to David’s ‘political’ kingdom. David is the agent of God; God rules through David. The gospel has wide political effects.
Moreover, it is important to consider the narrative context of the whole Bible. God is not just the king of Israel but the rightful king of the whole earth. The ‘gospels’, therefore, are not merely concerned with Israel but through Israel with the world. God reaches out to the nations through Israel and its Messiah to bring them into his kingdom. The Messiah will rule the nations, and the whole earth will bow to YHWH.
In the next articles, we will finish our discussion of the Old Testament with the remaining references from the Prophets. Here we will encounter maybe the most influential gospel texts of all…