Psalm 98 – A New Song of Praise
Almost everyone is familiar with the Christmas carol, “Joy to the World.” Psalm 98 served as the inspiration for the text; its closing verses speak of God’s coming (v.9), making “heaven and nature sing” with joy at this glorious event (vv. 7-8). At the same time, the deepest meaning of the psalm is salvation itself; three times the Psalmist explicitly remarks on God’s salvation breaking into our world (vv. 1, 2, 3), an unmatchable occasion for joy. While we often think of salvation in terms of life-altering events, the biblical mind also appreciates salvation in the less spectacular ways that characterize God’s continual care, protection, and fidelity toward his chosen ones. In v. 3, the Psalmist indicates that merciful love (hesed) and truth/faithfulness (emeth) constitute our reason for the kind of joy that is manifested in songs (v. 4), psalms on the harp (v. 5), and the blare of trumpets (v. 6). Whether this praise emerges as a consequence of rescue from the nations in their very sight (vv. 2, 3cd), or as an experience of God’s justice (v. 9cd) toward an individual or the house of Israel (v. 3), such an encounter with God always changes life for the better. Though not readily apparent in English translation, the terminology indicates that this particular event deserves more than mere mention. The “horn” of v. 6a is the Hebrew shofar, the instrument used to announce great feasts or other important events. This, then, is the reason the psalm begins with the expression “Sing a new song”: a fresh and original act of God has taken place. The event calls for a new song, a new account of God’s faithful and compassionate love. The situation is not locked in the past; it can be true for us also. Whether it be healing from a serious illness, the end of a long conflict in our lives, the long-awaited answer to a prayer, an unexpected and life-altering blessing—any or all of these experiences call forth from us a response to God’s grace in the events of our lives. St. Paul’s words about his experience on the road to Damascus and the consequences of that event fit the circumstances: “When God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles […] [The people] only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Gal 1:15-16, 23-24). St. Paul never stopped singing the “new song” of God’s marvelous love for him. Let us look deep into our own hearts to find there the faithful love of God, that we may sing our own “new song” of praise, thanksgiving, and joy.
Psalm 98 (97)
1 A Psalm.
O síng a new sóng to the Lórd,
for hé has worked wónders.
His right hánd and his hóly árm
have bróught salvátion.
2 The Lórd has made knówn his salvátion,
has shówn his delíverance to the nátions.
3 He has remémbered his mérciful lóve
and his trúth for the hóuse of Ísrael.
All the énds of the éarth have séen
the salvátion of our Gód.
4 Shóut to the Lórd, all the éarth;
break fórth into jóyous sóng,
and síng out your práise.
5 Sing psálms to the Lórd with the hárp,
with the hárp and the sóund of sóng.
6 With trúmpets and the sóund of the hórn,
raise a shóut before the Kíng, the Lórd.
7 Let the séa and all withín it thúnder;
the wórld, and thóse who dwéll in it.
8 Let the rívers cláp their hánds,
and the hílls ring out their jóy
9 at the présence of the Lórd, for he cómes,
he comes to júdge the éarth.
He will júdge the wórld with jústice,
and the péoples with fáirness.
Prayer for Psalm 98
O God, eternal and true, whose faithful love is without end, help us always to sing a new song of your compassion, fidelity, and wisdom, that we might unite with all creation in joyous and grateful acclamation of your salvation, through Christ our Lord. Amen.