I don’t often share my journal entries from my times in the word, but I am compelled to today. Here are my thoughts/notes on Psalm 96.
This Psalm is a celebration and proclamation of how great God is. He is worthy to be sang to and worshiped and praised and adored. The Israelites–and we–are told to sing three times in the first 2 verses and we are told to declare his glory and works among the nations and peoples. Why do we sing and declare? For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods (v. 4). All other gods are idols but the LORD made the heavens (v. 5). Unlike other gods who are surrounded by sinful and fragile men who made them, the LORD is surrounded by splendor and majesty…strength and beauty (v. 6). Man can only create what he knows, which is why idols are always something that has already been created. Man never worships an original idol. The Israelites worshiped a golden calf. Americans worship money and nice cars. There is nothing new under the sun.
The psalmist then bursts out into exclamatory praise/exhortation to the people of God: Ascribe…to the LORD glory and strength…the glory due his name (vv. 7-8). The word “ascribe” in Hebrew means “to acknowledge or give what is due.” Acknowledge God, with my being, not just my mind, that he is worthy of praise for his glory, strength, and name. He is worthy, because he has created the heavens and because he is holy (v. 9). And because of this picture of who God is, the nations are called to tremble before him (v. 9), not out of paralyzing fear, but in humble reverence and awe.
The LORD, Yahweh, is also due praise and worship because the world has been founded on his unchanging character (v. 10). Because of this, he is able to judge with equity. A God who could change and did not stand for righteousness would not be worthy of glory, strength, and honor, for he would not be holy. If God could change, then what he is tomorrow could be better than today (or vice versa), and therefore, he might not be “the best” thing in the universe. He would be at the whim of his emotions or desires. But our God is not changeable, and because of this truth–that God has founded the earth and will judge it according to his unchanging character–there is a worshipful response in creation. Let the heavens be glad…let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar…let the field exult…all the trees of the forest sing for joy (v. 11-12). The reason for this singing and praise is that the Lord judges the world in righteousness and faithfulness (v. 13). If inanimate nature is called to sing and be glad, how much more God’s people, who wait with anticipation and expectation for his coming!
Now we ask, “How will God judge the world?” Ultimately, he will judge the world through Jesus. Paul writes in Acts 17:30-31, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (my emphasis). And lest I think this is a Pauline construction, Jesus himself says in John 5:25-29:
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now where, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (my emphasis).
But what about what Jesus said in John 3 to Nicodemus? “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (v. 17). If Jesus were to judge, wouldn’t he be obligated to condemn, too? But look at what Jesus does. He puts the correct framework on “judgment.” He says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (vv. 18-19, my emphasis).
Jesus judges, not as a cruel, unjust, bloodthirsty dictator, but as one who identifies what is already in the heart of man. Jesus doesn’t make up a judgment on a whim on that “fixed day” Paul describes. No, he already knows the judgment. The judgment is the answer to: “Do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus is King, Lord, Savior, Treasure, Judge, Creator? Do you believe Jesus’ name is due glory, strength, and honor and have you worshiped him–not other gods of your own making–as your supreme delight because of who he is and what he has done?”
God will judge the world in righteousness and faithfulness someday. I will die, and I will rise again and give an account to a Man, the only one who fully and completely gave God’s name the glory he deserved. He is the only one who perfectly embodied righteous and faithful living. And it is he who took all of my unrighteousness and unfaithfulness to the cross, becoming my substitute, absorbing the wrath of God in judgment, reconciling me to God, and making me his friend, not an foe.
I ask myself, and you the reader: Will you have Jesus today?