Summary: Whay should we sing this new song?
Cantate Domino (Sing Unto the LORD)
The 98th Psalm is a psalm of pure joy. It is a favorite it “high” churches where it is often sung in Latin as the “Cantate Domino.” In broader circles, the psalm serves as the basis for the well known Advent/Christmas carol “Joy to the World.” This psalmbrings us to joyful worship before the LORD our God.
We don’t know who originally wrote the psalm. The simple prescript to the psalm simply says “psalm”, although the Latin and Greek translations say “A Psalm of David.” Even if it were written by David, it would be difficult to speculate on what occasion it was written. What is does seem to be is a psalm written on the occasion of a great military victory in Israel, as it is similar to victory hymns written in ancient Ugarit and other places in the Near East. The other hymns gave praise to their gods for victory as compared to this giving glory to Yayweh, the God of Israel for victory. The reason it seems to be the occasion is the attribution of victory to the right arm of the LORD which would be the arm used to carry the weapon in war. This is because most people are right handed, and even left-handed warriors would have to conform in military formation to right-handed people or serve in their own unit like some of the Benjamite slingers. Even though, actual soldiers fought the battle, it was always considered proper to attribute the victory in battle to God who made the men strong for battle and kept them brave,
It was somewhat different in Israel than for the nations. In many cases, the men of Israel did not fight at all. We see this in Exodus 15 when God drowned Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea. The Israelites simply watched Yahweh defeat the enemies in single combat. All they did was to compose a new song in worshipful response to Yahweh’s victory where they joyfully sung “Horse and rider He has thrown into the sea. In Exodus 15, the occasion for this new song is clear. It is not clear in Psalm 98. Nevertheless, this Psalm was a new song probably sung as a victory psalm. But there are other occasions of a song of vindication like this which was not occasioned by military victory such as Hannah’s song when she was vindicated of her barrenness.
The generic nature of this psalm allows it to be adapted to many occasions. Perhaps the psalmist here speaks better than he knew. This is what makes it so useful to Christian worship. Even considering that it may have originated to commemorate a past victory in Israel, the Holy Spirit also inspires the text to point to a far greater victory in a battle fought by the LORD Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ gained this victory over Satan by His death on a cross. The Israelite victory was but for a moment. More distresses would come to her. It was not the war to end all wars. But what Jesus has done for us will become the end of all war upon His return. Then we shall all burst out in praise: “Joy to the world, the LORD is come. Let earth receive her king!”
It is hard to see how such marvelous victory could be achieved on a cross. Many of you have heard the taunt of a bully when he says “I can beat you up with one hand tied behind your back.” But here, one who was buffeted and bullied publicly in Jerusalem defeats the enemies with both hands nailed to the cross. How marvelous is this victory! Here in sight of the heather, the Romans who crucified the Lord of Glory watched as He even forgave those who impaled Him upon the cruel cross. Even the old crusty Centurion, seeing the calm repose of the divine warrior had to exclaim: “Surely, this man is the Son of God!” Not Caesar who the centurion who had given an oath of fealty to. The Caesars had brought great victories to the people of Rome. The Romans made their odes to these victorious Caesars. As gods, they attributed the might of Roman arms to them and Dea Roma, the goddess Rome herself. But in this confrontation between Caesar and Christ, Christ shall prove Himself victorious. The crucified God rose on the third day and ascended back into heaven on the 40th. The Apostles would not testify of Caesar rising into heaven to sit at the right hand of Jupiter (translated, God the Father by the way). Rather it was this crucified peasant who was convicted of treason against Rome who ascended to God the Father and who now site at His right hand..