Sing to Give, Not Get, Praise (Psalm 96:1-3)
Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! ²Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. ³Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! —Psalm 96:1-3
God made us to sing songs. I used to sing into my curling iron, holding it up like a microphone while imagining myself belting out Little Orphan Annie’s songs with all the vibrato of a Broadway star. Whether you ever dreamed of signing a recording contract or you’re the sort that hums softly under your breath, your vocal cords were designed to make music. But left to ourselves we often sing in order to be praised.
Psalm 96 urges us to use our voices not in order to earn praise, but to give it. Three times David tells us to “sing to the Lord.” This repetition signals, “Pay attention!” God created vocal cords to give praise to Him.
Not Just Any Song
What is this new song we're to sing? The newness springs from its daily-ness. Just as Jesus taught us to pray every day for bread to eat, forgiveness for sin, and rescue from evil, so the psalmist shows us how to respond to God’s answers to our prayers: with new songs sung every day.
In our consumer culture, we tend to think new means different, changed, or better than the old version. But in Psalm 96, new means unending and undiminished. Alec Motyer says the new songs commanded here correspond to the new mercies celebrated in Lamentations 3:22-23. "Just as [God's] ‘compassion’ is ‘new every morning’ so is [our] responsive song” (Psalms by the Day, 72). We must sing from day to day because God’s salvation is at work in us day to day. The hymn Amazing Grace captures the meaning of new with the line, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun / We’ve no less days to sing His praise than when we’ve first begun.”
Command and Invitation
The song’s newness also stems from who it is doing the singing. “All the earth” is both a command and an invitation cloaked here in mystery, but revealed fully at the cross. As Paul says in Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Every person in every people group in all the earth is commanded to give God the praise that is His due. But they are also invited to join in the chorus of joyful worship and praise as they bless His name in response to His grace. This is not unfeeling obligation, but wide-eyed wonder and heartfelt response to God’s overwhelming goodness!
Scripture reveals that what God commands, He will accomplish. In Revelation 5, the Apostle John gives us a vision of heaven where the four living creatures and the 24 elders lie prostrate before the Lamb in worship. Verse 9 tells us they, too, are singing a new song, saying,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth (v. 9-10).
This song is full of past tense verbs: of actions accomplished, of peoples ransomed, of a kingdom and priests prepared to reign. What was commanded in Psalm 96—a global response of praise for a great and costly salvation—Jesus has accomplished. He alone is worthy to open the scroll because He was slain on the cross. By His atoning blood He ransomed a people from all the peoples for God.
Jesus our Savior is worthy of worship today, tomorrow, and every day for all of eternity. Our exuberant praises should never cease, our songs never come to an end, they are to be new every morning from today, and forever.
These verses contain five sets of instructions repeated in sets of three. In addition to “sing, sing, sing...to the Lord, to the Lord, to the Lord,” what else does the passage require of God’s people?
What songs do you sing when you’re in the car, in the shower, in the mood to sing? How might you grow your daily musical response to God’s mercy and grace?
Start now. Sing a song of praise to God wherever you are.