Selected Psalms (2): Psalm 98
The lyrics of Psalm 98 are divided into 3 stanzas of 3 verses. It is the only Psalm to come down through history to us with the simple Scriptural heading of “a Psalm”, perhaps written with the youngest voices of God’s choir in mind. It is profound in its simplicity and powerfully beautiful in its elegance. In its few lines we find Reformational, Eucharistic, Advent, and Eschatological themes. What a joy it is to sing and meditate on them! God commands us to sing with understanding, and so this Sunday, with God’s blessing, we’ll spend our time thinking through this Psalm. I hope to do this by asking some of the basic “detective” questions of it – the What, When, How, and Why of thanksgiving.
V 1-3. We must give thanks to God for what He has done, is doing, and will do.
Our God puts a high premium on thanksgiving. In Romans 1, we read that in His eyes, thanklessness is a capital offense. I was once asked by a close Christian friend how my Jeep was running in the cold weather. “I’m very thankful - it’s been running great. I haven’t had a single problem with it,” I replied, “But now that I’ve said that, it will probably break down tonight.” My friend responded with a perfectly-timed rebuke that I will never forget. “Don’t say that, Brother! That’s not the way God repays His children for giving thanks.” Faithful are the wounds of a friend. That was a word fitly spoken if ever I’ve heard one, and I’m so grateful to have received it. It is easy to adopt a ‘Murphy’s Law’ attitude in life. But God calls us to something more. Verses 2 and 3 draw our attention to the wonderful way God has provide salvation for His people. To mix my metaphors, at the foot of the cross, his burden having fallen from his back, Bunyan’s pilgrim could never have been mistaken for Milne’s Eeyore. Our God is a gift-giving God. The whole world is full of His goodness, and every good thing we have, we receive as a gift from His hand. May we be people who grow in our ability to find God’s kind and gracious Hand at work in our daily lives and eager to give Him thanks for it.
V 4-6. We must sing our thanks heartily to God.
Thankful hearts often overflow in gratitude, and when they do, it involves music. The Puritans used to speak of singing “lustily”, that is, with volume from the heart and soul. For the Christian, singing is not optional, it is commanded. But our songs are more than mere mechanical acts of obedience. They are received by our Great King as the pleasing aroma of the sacrifice of praise. It has often perplexed theologians how little we are told about Heaven in the Bible. But one of the few details God has given us in His Word is that it will involve singing, lots and lots of singing. We are given the privilege of experiencing a small foretaste of our eternity with God by singing His praises here and now.
V 7-9. We must learn to yearn for Christ’s coming judgment with hope and joy.
This Psalm builds to a crescendo in the third stanza, calling the whole world - human and natural - to praise God. But the ultimate reason for these anthems of praise may come as a surprise to many Christians. We are called to praise God for being the coming Judge of the world. Though many believers dread the thought of ‘the Last Day’, Scripture calls us to join nature in groaning anticipation of Christ’s return as the just Judge Who will set all things right, once and for all. Throughout history, God’s children have been comforted by this thought in the midst of their trials. Job found hope at the thought of standing before his Redeemer at the final resurrection. [I encourage you to read Heidelberg cat. question 57, Westminster Shorter question 38, and the Belgic con article 37.] We can do this because of the unwavering goodness of God. As Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” Well, do we really believe that He will?
Ben is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (CREC) of Valparaiso, FL where he lives with his wife and five children. He also teaches Bible at Rocky Bayou Christian School. He has studied at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, PA and the Reformed Baptist Seminary of Easly, SC, as well as receiving pastoral training through All Saints Church, Lancaster, PA.