Stop for just a moment. Ask yourself from what it is the Lord has set you free. Was it the scaring shame of deep-seated sin? Was it a relationship that was once spiraling out of control, now healed and thriving? Was it a season of depression or anxiety that you thought would never end? Was it a significant time of set-backs, financial or otherwise?
From what has the Lord liberated you? And what is your response to such freedom and forgiveness and future hope?
Psalm 98 offers an instructive portrait of how to respond when God moves on our behalf. Written (probably) in the early to middle portion of the fifth-century B.C., about the time Nehemiah and Ezra were working to restore Jerusalem, this so-called “orphan psalm” (as referred to in the Talmud) helps us all understand how we might react to God’s mercy and grace. Consider it carefully:
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the LORD, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
This anonymous psalm is divided into three parts. Verses 1-3 invite us to consider the subject of praise. Verses 4-6 focus on the style of praise. Verses 7-9 consider the scope of praise. The first and final parts remind us of the cause and necessary extent of our gratitude. God “has done marvelous things” (Psalm 98:1), thus the whole “world and those who dwell in it” (98:7) should roar with praise. Verses 4-6 tell us how to praise, and in many ways serve as the practical center for the whole hymn.
Filled with commands for us who have received God’s mercy and grace, verses 4-6 stretch us. We are told to make a joyful noise, to break forth in song, to rejoice, and to sing praises. We are told to use our voices, as well as wind and string instruments. We have to deal with the fact that these are not suggestions. These are not options. These are imperatives. That they are commands is, frankly, uncomfortable for many of us.
Behind the “joyful noise” language is the robust shout that victorious warriors give on the field of battle. It is loud. It is uninhibited. It is triumphant. The idea of breaking forth in song suggests bursting or falling to pieces. The picture is that of being out of control or being shattered. To rejoice or to have “joyous song” is to give a jubilant, ringing cry. And to “sing praises” suggests making music. Clearly the Lord relishes the musical arts!
Like any grand symphony orchestra, made up of various instruments, some soft and seemingly insignificant and others large and loud, and working together to offer a captivating program, so God’s people, coming together, made up of the soft and the loud, captivate the Living God with their praises. The key is not the particular style, the rightness or wrongness of instrumentation, the pace of the lyrics, and such. The key is unrestrained availability to the cause of praise. It really is as simple as that. When God moves in our midst, extending his mercy and grace, our only appropriate and obedient response to him is unhindered, expressive gratitude, like warrior-poets standing with swords held high in weary hands, screaming at the top of our lungs.
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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “Book IV: Psalms 90-106”, the fourth message from a brief series entitled “Verses to the King: A Survey of the Psalms,” a study through the Psalms, presented on the weekend of June 16, 2013, at Bethel Church.