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Psalm 96

Our words contain the power to shape reality. Our words declare the boundaries of our hearts and thereby create our environment. As demonstrated by Psalm 96, declaration through poetry speaks into being the central story of God’s renewing work, dismantling the old and reconstructing the new. When newness is both recognized and proclaimed, this reality is brought forth all the more in our midst.

Newness: Psalm 96 and Isaiah 43

The writer of Psalm 96 starts with the declaration: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” It is important to notice the relationship between this directive and that of YHWH in Isaiah 43 who says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.”[1] The invitation to sing a “new song” welcomes the community of God into creation’s declaration that “God is King.” Because God is Creator, creation has declared this good news since the beginning. Because God continues in this newness as he creates newness, the community of God takes up the mantle of declaration- God takes His throne afresh when newness springs forth. This new song articulates the presence of God’s kingdom here on earth and the song continues to be recreated among us as we point to ever-fresh manifestations of this newness.

Liturgy of Newness

Psalm 96, along with the other enthronement psalms, is thought to have been a script for the liturgical drama of divine enthronement that took place annually in the temple.[2] Within this liturgy, the worshiping community is invited “to stop singing the old domesticated songs of the empire” and to announce and (thereby) enact the new rule of YHWH.[3] This new song marks the beginning of the dismantling of the old order.[4] Brueggemann says that this “…news breaks out of the liturgy and begins to erode the old world. The liturgy begins to subvert the empire.”[5] It not only declares the new direction and orientation of creation, it tells how the new kingdom looks.[6] In the practice of this liturgy, the enthronement of YHWH declares newness and this declaration brings about further newness.

Subverting the Old Story

Rooted in Psalm 29, the liturgical script of Psalm 96 makes clear the breaking in of a new order for all creation. The author subverts the exclusively heavenly declarations of Psalm 29 by adapting a borrowed quotation. Psalm 29:1 says, “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name…” However, the psalmist in Psalm 96 adjusts and writes, “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name…” In doing this, the psalmist makes all of humanity the central announcer and identifies radically new claims, focused on the universality of YHWH’s kingdom to “all the earth” (v.1).[7] Drawing on the Sermon on the Mount, heaven is breaking into earth; the Creator God is making all things new.[8] As stated above, Psalm 96 is unique in that it not only declares the newness of God, it also describes the content of this new Kingdom. This newness is understood as equity (v.10), justice and truth (v. 13) and it is the role of all creation to declare these new realities. The imagery provided by the Psalm is of all creation, heaven and earth, sea, field and forest announcing the enthronement of their Creator. The concluding verse says, “for [the Lord] is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” This judgment is the act of YHWH’s continual renewal. Reflecting on the present day reality, N.T. Wright says, “We have discovered what the Psalmist knew: That for God to judge the world meant that he would, in the end, put it all to rights, straighten it out, producing not just a sigh of relief all around but shouting for joy from the tree and the fields, the seas and the floods.”[9] In the same way, humanity enthrones God by the recognition and declaration of newness in our community today. This two-part act of recognition and declaration creates the space for newness to occur and thus enlivens new creation all the more.

Telling the New Story

What does it look like to enthrone YHWH now in our lives? In a world full of pain, estrangement and fear, the community of God must identify and affirm the glimmers of subversive newness that are dismantling the old order and ushering in fresh manifestations of the newness of God’s Kingdom. When we recognize the giftedness of the excluded, when we champion the entrepreneurial mind of the rejected, when we share vulnerability with all creation and with our neighbors, we recognize the newness of God’s reign among us. The story of God’s renewing Kingdom breaks open our boundaries and re-creates our world. The poetry of declaration must continue to write the new story that is already in our midst.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter and William Bellinger Jr. New Cambridge Commentary: Psalms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 417. Also, Isaiah 43: 18-19: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[2] Brueggemann, Psalms, 414.[3] Brueggemann, Walter. Israel’s Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1988, p. 49. and Brueggemann, Psalms, 417.[4] Brueggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984, p. 146.[5] Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise, 49.[6] Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms, 144.[7] This continues with the following references, as well: “among the nations” (v.3), “all the earth” (v.9).[8] The Lord’s Prayer: “On earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:10).[9] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.121.

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