By Mark Scott
The Psalms improve your song. If your song is exuberant, a psalm will sound like seventy-six trombones in a marching band. If your song is a lament, the psalm will sound like the blues. For every season of the heart, there is a psalm. Much like the preaching of Jesus, there is something for everyone.
One characteristic of church music today is putting new lyrics to old tunes. Another characteristic of church music today is putting old lyrics to new tunes. People have their preferences, but God’s people always have a song. The Christian faith is a singing faith—in contrast to so many world religions today. Psalm 96 is only 13 verses long, but it is filled with commands to sing and reasons for doing so.
Song 1: Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves
Six verbs carry the imperatives related to singing. Sing is used three times; praise, proclaim, and declare each appear once. Singing does not seem optional. When the heart is caught up in the wonder of God, the only response of the lips is to sing. The song is new (fresh). The song is worldwide (all the earth and the nations and among all peoples). The song centers on the character of God (praise his name—name standing for his person and character). The song’s content is salvation. To accomplish this salvation, God’s glory showed up in marvelous deeds (miracles).
The psalmist gives five reasons why we would sing the song of salvation: First, the Lord is great. There is no one like him. Second, the Lord is most worthy of praise. He is the only one who deserves the honor. Third, the Lord is feared above other so-called gods (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Other gods are worshipped in the world, but there is only one true God. Fourth, the nations are idol worshippers—unlike God’s people—and in worshipping their idols they are really worshipping themselves. Fifth, the Lord made the heavens. He is the Creator.
“We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus saves, Jesus saves; spread the tidings all around Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”
Song 2: Holy, Holy, Holy
Once again six verbs carry the imperatives related to this song. Ascribe is used three times; bring, worship, and tremble each appear once. The singer remembers who is worshipped—none other than God, our “blessed trinity.” He is holy—he is totally other and distinct from his creation. He dwells in splendor, majesty, strength, and glory. These qualities of God are personified as standing before God.
Since God is holy, those who worship him must be holy in their worship. First, this involved bringing an offering that was without blemish. Second, ascribing to God his worth was to be done in the splendor of his holiness. Worship must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), but it must also capture the holy heart of the one being worshipped. Third, all the families of nations and all the earth were to participate in this grand worship of God. No spot on the globe is exempt.
“Only Thou art holy—there is none beside Thee; perfect in power, in love and purity.”
Song 3: Great Is the Lord, He Is Holy and Just
The church often sings itself to health. God’s people sing the song of the redeemed, and in so doing, they sing health to their weary souls. The psalmist invites the nations, the earth, and the world to sing (or say) that God is in charge. He is great, holy, and just, and “by his power we trust in his love.” At the end of the day he will have the last word. He will judge (a verb that appears twice in this paragraph). His judgment is as sure as the world and is always done with equity.
The psalmist personifies creation by calling it to witness God’s sovereignty. The heavens, the earth, the sea, the fields, the trees, and all of creation are called forth to testify to God’s pure and righteous judgment. In fact, God himself is the standard by which all judgment takes place. He will judge the world (pagans) and the peoples (Israel) in two ways—righteousness and faithfulness. God is the judge, but he is also the standard by which people will be judged. Put that to music.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.