Psalm 96
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This spirited Psalm opens the series of ‘coronation anthems’ which are the response to the invitation of Psalms 95, and form a lyrical counterpart to the prophecies of Isaiah 40-66. Its occasion, as we have seen in the Introd. to Psalms 95, is in all probability rightly indicated by the LXX title, When the house was being built after the Captivity. In the recent deliverance of Israel the Psalmist sees the earnest of the establishment of the universal Divine kingdom of righteousness, and he looks forward to the new Temple becoming “a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The liturgical use of such Psalms as this served to keep alive the Messianic hope in Israel, and to prepare the way for the Advent of God in Christ. See Introd. p. lxxxi.

The Psalm consists of four stanzas.

i. Let Jehovah’s praise be sung and His glory proclaimed among all the nations (Psalm 96:1-3).

ii. For He alone is supremely great and glorious (Psalm 96:4-6).

iii. Let the nations acknowledge Him and pay Him homage in His Temple (Psalm 96:7-9).

iv. Let His proclamation of His kingdom be made known throughout the world, and let universal Nature rejoice in the establishment of His righteous rule (Psalm 96:10-13).

With some omissions and variations this Psalm forms part (v. 23–33) of the composite anthem which the Chronicler introduces to celebrate the translation of the Ark to Zion (1 Chronicles 16:8 ff.); and this may be the reason why it is called in the LXX A Psalm of David, inconsistently with the earlier part of the title When the house was being built after the Captivity. It is hardly necessary to remark that it is quite impossible to regard the Chronicler’s Psalm as the original of which this Psalm is a fragment detached for liturgical use.

O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth.
1. O sing unto the Lord a new song] From Isaiah 42:10. Cp. Psalm 98:1; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 33:3. Fresh mercies demand fresh expressions of thanksgiving, and the deliverance of Israel from Babylon inaugurates a new stage in the nation’s history. All the earth is summoned to join in Israel’s thanksgiving (Psalm 100:1).

1–3. A call to the universal praise of Jehovah.

Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.
2. Shew forth &c.] Lit., Proclaim the good tidings (LXX, εὐαγγελίζεσθε) of his salvation, the deliverance which He has wrought for Israel, from day to day, renewing your praises with each returning day, for such a revelation of infinite mercy demands unceasing celebration. Cp. Isaiah 52:7.

Psalm 96:1 b, 2 b are combined in 1 Chronicles 16:23, Psalm 96:1 a, Psalm 96:2 a being omitted.

Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.
3. Tell of his glory among the nations,

His marvellous works among all the peoples.

Cp. Isaiah 66:18; and see note on Psalm 9:1.

For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.
4. The first line is borrowed from Psalm 48:1 a (cp. Psalm 145:3): the second combines Psalm 47:2 and Psalm 95:3. Cp. Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17.

4–6. Jehovah’s worthiness to be praised.

For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.
5. For all the gods of the peoples are things of nought [or, idols]; powerless, nay, non-existent. Cp. the argument of Isaiah 40:18 ff; Isaiah 44:9 ff.

but the Lord &c.] The appeal to the works of creation as a proof of Jehovah’s power occurs frequently in Isaiah 40-66. See Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24.

Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
6. The attributes of honour and majesty (Psalm 104:1) are perhaps personified, and regarded as attendants standing in God’s Presence. Strength and beauty are terms applied in Psalm 78:61 to the Ark, the symbol of His Presence. The sanctuary is not heaven, but the restored Temple, where with the eye of faith the Psalmist sees the glory of Jehovah returning to dwell, although the Ark was no longer there to represent it. Cp. Isaiah 60:13. 1 Chronicles 16:27 reads “Strength and gladness are in his place,” possibly to adapt the Psalm for the occasion when the Temple did not yet exist.

Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
7. O ye kindreds of the people] Ye families of the peoples. Cp. Psalm 22:27; Amos 3:2.

7–9. An appeal to the nations to acknowledge Jehovah. These verses are a free imitation of Psalm 29:1-2.

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.
8. The glory of his name is given to Jehovah when He is acknowledged as the One Living and True God. The offering is the ‘present’ which subjects bring to their lord in token of their submission (2 Samuel 8:2). Cp. Isaiah 60:5 ff.

For into his courts 1 Chronicles 16:29 reads before him, to suit the time when the Temple was not yet built.

O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.
9. in the beauty of holiness] In holy array. See on Psalm 29:2. “As the priests were to minister only in ‘holy attire’ (Exodus 28:2) so must the nations be now clothed with holiness” (Kay).

Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
10. Say among the nations, Jehovah hath proclaimed himself King. The message to the nations resembles the message to Zion, Isaiah 52:7. By His recent action He has proclaimed Himself King not of Israel only but of all the world. Cp. Psalm 93:1.

The Old Latin Version as preserved in the Psalterium Romanum (Introd. p. lxxii.) contains the famous reading Dominus regnavit a ligno, ‘The Lord hath reigned from the tree,’ which is quoted by many of the Latin Fathers from Tertullian onwards as a prophecy of Christ’s triumph through death. Justin Martyr appears to be the only certain Greek authority for the addition[53]. He treats the Psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s reign after His crucifixion (Apol. i. 41), and in the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (c. 73) he charges the Jews with having falsified the text by erasing the words from the tree (ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου). The charge is groundless. Doubtless the words were simply a Christian gloss on the text, which had no wide currency, except through the Old Latin Version. No MSS. of the LXX contain them except the transliterated Graeco-Latin Psalterium Veronense, which has apo xylu, and cod. 156, which has the barbarism ἀπὸ τῷ ξύλῳ. In both cases the reading was probably introduced from the Old Latin.

[53] Possibly there may be an allusion to this reading in the Ep. of Barnabas, c. viii., ὅτι ἡ βασιλεία Ἰησοῦ ἐπὶ ξύλου.

The words have however been familiarised by Dr Neale’s translation of the hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt, ‘The royal banners forward go’ (by Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers,† a.d. 609),

“Impleta sunt quae concinit

David fideli carmine,

Dicendo in nationibus

Regnavit a ligno Deus.”

“Fulfilled is now what David told,

In true prophetic song of old;

How God the heathen’s king should be,

For God is reigning from the Tree.”

the world also &c.] Yea, the world shall be established that it be not shaken. So Psalm 93:1 c. On the reading he hath ordered the world, represented by the LXX, Symm. and Jer., see note there.

he shall judge &c.] He shall minister Judgement unto the peoples in equity. From Psalm 9:8 b, cp. Psalm 7:8. The first and third lines of this verse are omitted in Chron.

10–13. Proclaim that Jehovah is King, and let universal Nature rejoice in the prospect of His righteous rule.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
11. Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice (R.V.)] Such appeals to Nature to rejoice in the redemption of Israel are characteristic of the later Isaiah (Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13). In the establishment of God’s righteous rule the Psalmist sees the prelude of the Messianic age which is to bring harmony and peace to all creation. Cp. Isaiah 11:1 ff; Isaiah 35:1 ff; Isaiah 55:12-13; Romans 8:19 ff.

roar] Lit. thunder. Cp. Psalm 98:7.

the fulness thereof] I.e. all that is therein, as the same word is rendered in Isaiah 42:10. Cp. Psalm 24:1.

Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
12. be joyful … rejoice] Exult … sing for joy (R.V.). Then is significant: in that age when the Divine kingdom is universally established.

Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.
13. Jehovah comes to establish His righteous rule on earth. The predominant aspect of judgement here is not punishment but government, although no doubt government must include punishment (Isaiah 11:3-4). The verse recurs in Psalm 98:9; and it is an echo of Psalm 9:8.

and the people with his truth] Rather, and the peoples in his faithfulness. Cp. Psalm 92:2.

The last two lines are omitted in Chron.

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