top of page

Psalm 96

Psalm 96 engages a world that may strike us as quite foreign from ours. Of course, ancient Israel is distant in time and space, but its proneness to idolatry is not. Admittedly, the globalized, Westernized early 21st century has the reputation of being “secularized.” It is labeled neither as polytheistic nor as monotheistic. “Gods” seem largely irrelevant to the daily affairs of world technocratic capitalism. Of course, for example, businesspersons who negotiate with each other across polished conference tables would, by and large, never think of marking “none” on a survey of “religious affiliations.” They would mark “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Hindu” or “Jew” or another standard category. And yet, when children are taught how to make their way into and through the world of socio-economic interaction, “gods” seem not to figure concretely. Perhaps, however, that is only because we have so compartmentalized the term “gods” that we are blind to the actual “religious affiliation” of the globalized, Westernized early 21st century.

Psalm 96 helps illuminate this point, indirectly. Yahweh is declared there to be the savior, the holy one, the one whose mighty works make Yahweh’s holiness manifest. Yahweh is the God who in creating the lofty heavens, so far beyond our reach, has called us all to enter Yahweh’s holy temple and abide in holy tremulous joy and terror before the holy might and beauty of Yahweh there. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; / let the sea roar, and all that fills it; / let the field exult, and everything in it.”

In contrast are the “idols” (or more literally the “nothings”), the no-gods, the vain-gods, the empty “gods.” There is nothing there, where the gods are said to be, except a confidence that they are there, that they are something, that they have power and must be respected. They draw their strength from the readiness of their devotees to imagine a future that is achieved by adhering to an imagination in which they are in control—and then acting on that imagination. When children are taught how to make their way into and through the world of socio-economic interaction, they are taught to lean daily and concretely on the imagination that shapes everything done in this world of vain-gods. Yahweh, on the other hand, “is coming . . . .” The future is not built on our imagination, on our no-gods. The future rather comes, other than our presumed power and the presumed power of the no-gods who inhabit our dreams and entice us to join them in a dream world.