Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy before the LORD.
The LORD comes;
he comes to rule the earth;
He will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.
(Psalm 98:1, 7-8, 9)
98:1 Sing to Yahweh a new song The psalmist repeats the Hebrew phrase shiru layhwh (“sing to Yahweh”). The earth is the only identified audience of the series of commands. The psalmist then commands Yahweh’s people, the Israelites, to declare His miraculous actions to the foreign peoples (or nations) around them. holy arm God’s arm is a symbol of his strength in both judgment and salvation.
98:7 Let the sea and what fills it resound The sea rejoices at Yahweh’s approach (compare Ps 93:3–4). the world The Hebrew word used here, tevel, often refers specifically to the inhabited world. The psalmist may be demonstrating that God is superior to other deities by emphasizing that He is older than the places where other deities supposedly live.
98:8 Let the rivers clap their hands Compare to Ps 96:11–12.
98:9 he comes to rule the earth Refers to executing judgment in a legal context. the peoples Refer to geographic territories outside of Israel. equity God’s judgment will be fair.
In this continued period of Christmas celebration, this psalm plays a memorable role in one of the most beloved songs of the season, “Joy to the World!” The text of the hymn, which celebrates the birth of Jesus as the coming of the LORD to rule the world with truth and grace, comes from the psalm 98.
The psalm announces the coming of the Savior God as king of the world. When Isaac Watts transformed the psalm into a hymn for Christmas, he was tutored by Scripture and tradition—and he got it right. “Joy to the World!” as hymn reflects and renews what the psalm has always meant as Christmas liturgy.
It catches and repeats the exuberance of humankind and nature in recognition of what is happening. It interprets Christmas as a decisive event in the reign of God, something that changes history for the nations. It maintains the connection between salvation and rule: “The Savior reigns.”
– James Mays
May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.