Derek Kidner says that in Psalm 98 ‘all is joy and exhilaration’.
This is apparent from the opening of this Psalm which sets God up as a great God (vv. 1-3).
The theme of these first three verses is salvation – it is mentioned in each of the verses. This theme is then supported by ‘marvellous things’ (v. 1), which very often speaks of supernatural intervention, and ‘righteousness’ (v. 2), which has been revealed in the sight of the nations. In fact, it appears that this greatness is a display of God’s covenant love for Israel (v. 3).
What is particularly striking about this Psalm, however, is the absence of a historical setting for this greatness of God. Undoubtedly, the author’s aim is to remove attention from an event and reorientate it toward the God who orchestrated that event. That God is the LORD, Yahweh.
There are numerous events which this could be referencing – indeed, it could be referencing them all.
The exodus – The LORD led his people Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, a great deliverance.
The conquest – The LORD defeated Israel’s enemies, on occasions without Israel having to do much.
The giant – The LORD felled the champion Philistine warrior with a small shepherd boy.
The exile – The LORD brought his people back to the Promised Land and built his Temple again, even after their repeated disobedience and discipline.
The Messiah – The LORD, delivered his own Son over to death, so that people could be delivered from his judgement.
This last event is undeniably the greatest deliverance and the one to which all other deliverances point to.
The Psalmist is not content to just display A Great God – he proceeds to say that A Great God Demands A Great Response.
Initially it is Israel that is called to respond (vv. 1-3).
However, this soon develops into ‘all the earth’ (v. 4). This is a reference to all that live on earth – that is all the nations. This is evidenced by three imperatives in the second half of verse four (break forth, rejoice and sing) which are translated as ‘break forth into joyous song and sing praises’. Yet, the praise of the nations is not limited to just singing – it includes instruments (vv. 5-6).
The Psalm then opens up to include all of creation (vv. 7-9). The response from all of creation is a degree less articulate than that of the nations, but it is praise all the same. The seas simply roar (v. 7), the rivers clap their hands, and the hills lift their voices (v. 8).
This is certainly a great response!
Creation reveals the eternal power and divine nature of a great God (Rom. 1:20). He has spoken to us, in these last days, through his Son, Jesus (Heb. 1:2). And as his people, we, the church, have been blessed with the awesome responsibility of being his ambassadors; sent to implore others to be reconciled to God through his Son (2 Cor. 5:20).
What will our response be to this great God?
Will we live lives characterised by ongoing repentance and trust in his Son (Col. 3:1-17)? Will we be obedient ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us, imploring others to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20)? Will we give him the sacrificial worship he deserves (Rom. 12:1-2)?