Summary: Victory in Jesus!
THE LITTLE CANTATA
The Psalmist is calling us to sing of the mighty acts of the LORD whereby He has gotten Himself the victory (Psalm 98:1), secured our salvation, and demonstrated His righteousness (Psalm 98:2). This reaches back to the Exodus, when Moses and Miriam celebrated the defeat of “the horse and his rider” at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:21). It reaches forward to the mission of Jesus, culminating in the imputation of His righteousness to His people (Romans 4:3-8), and His ultimate return to judge the earth (Psalm 98:9).
The words of this Psalm may seem very martial to some, but this is in keeping with some of the canticles of the Old Testament. The song of Moses and Miriam we have already mentioned (Exodus 15:1-21); then there is the song of Deborah (Judges 5:2-31); and the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). In the New Testament, likewise, a martial theme emerges in the midst of the song of Mary (Luke 1:51-52); and in the song of Zacharias (Luke 1:69-71).
One thing which all these songs hold in common with our Psalm is that the victory, or salvation, comes from the LORD. This was the case as well, historically - and in fulfilment of the words of this Psalm - when the Persians marched into Babylon: not a shot was fired, and King Cyrus proceeded to announce the repatriation of the Jewish exiles. Thus the LORD made known His salvation, and “openly showed” His righteousness to the heathen (Psalm 98:2).
Another point of reference is the prophecy of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem - upon a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). There again the themes of victory and salvation speak praise to the coming King. Ultimately He shall return in glory to judge the earth - upon a white horse (Revelation 19:11).
The reference to the “right hand” of the LORD (Psalm 98:1) is a clear echo of the song of Moses (Exodus 15:6). The word translated “victory” in some translations of Psalm 98:1 is the same word as is translated “salvation” in Psalm 98:2-3. This points forward to the victory which our Lord Jesus Christ was going to accomplish on the Cross of Calvary: even our salvation from sin and corruption and death.
It is in the coming and Passion of Jesus that the LORD has made known His salvation (Acts 4:12). We are saved by laying hold upon the grace of God through the instrumentality of faith in the Crucified One (Ephesians 2:8). The gospel of Christ reveals the righteousness of God, and our faith in Jesus puts us on a right standing with God (Romans 1:16-17).
This salvation-victory is openly displayed to the nations (Psalm 98:2). Jesus made an open show of His triumph over the forces of evil in His resurrection and ascension (Colossians 2:15). Since then the gospel has been preached to all nations, throughout the whole world (Matthew 24:14).
It is the mercy of the LORD toward the house of Israel which first captures the imagination of the nations (Psalm 98:3). Salvation, we must remember, is of the Jews (John 4:22). The church is grafted into Israel (Romans 11:15-21), and we are blessed with faithful Abraham (Galatians 3:9).
The second section of this Psalm calls upon the congregation of God’s people throughout the earth to “make a joyful noise” (Psalm 98:4). You don’t have to be in the choir, or in the precentor’s box, in order to sing praises to the LORD. The emphasis falls rather upon the command to “rejoice” (cf. Philippians 4:4).
The mention of the instrument called the lyre (Psalm 98:5) puts us in mind of the sweet Psalmist of Israel (2 Samuel 23:1), who himself called upon his stringed instruments to join him in awakening the dawn (Psalm 108:2). Whilst trumpets (Psalm 98:6) may proclaim victory - or tell us to remain on the battlefield - the blast of the Ram’s horn will surely remind us of the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-10). It is the year of the LORD’s favour, and stands for the whole Christian era right through to the coming of the Lord in judgement at the end of the age.
The final section calls upon the natural world to join our joyful noise. The sea adds its cacophony to the resounding praise of the redeemed world (Psalm 98:7); the rivers clap, and the hills cannot contain their joy (Psalm 98:8). The righteous judge is coming (Psalm 98:9): and He has said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).