Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm contains an exhortation to praise God, an exhortation which is directed not only to the Jews, but to all nations. We must infer from this, that it has reference to the kingdom of Christ. God’s name could not be called upon in any other part of the world than Judea, until it had been revealed; and the heathen nations were at that time necessarily altogether incapacitated for any such exercise. 74 Yet it is evident that the Holy Spirit stirred up the saints who were under the Law to celebrate the Divine praises, till the period should arrive when Christ, by the spread of the Gospel, should fill the whole earth with his glory.
1. Sing to Jehovah a new song, sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. 2. Sing unto Jehovah, bless his name; show forth his salvation from day to day. 3. Declare his glory among the heathen; his wonders among all people.
1 Sing unto Jehovah a new song This commencement shows that, as I have already observed, the Psalmist is exhorting the whole world, and not the Israelites merely, to the exercise of devotion. Nor could this be done, unless the gospel were universally diffused as the means of conveying the knowledge of God. The saying of Paul must necessarily hold true,
“How shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed?” (Ro 10:14.)
The same Apostle proves the calling of the Gentiles, by adducing in testimony of it, “Praise the Lord, ye Gentiles, with his people” — from which it follows, that fellowship in the faith stands connected with the joint celebration of praise, (Ro 15:11.) Besides, the Psalmist requires a new song, 75 not one which was common, and had formerly been raised. He must therefore refer to some unusual and extraordinary display of the Divine goodness. Thus, when Isaiah speaks of the restoration of the Church, which was wonderful and incredible, he says, “Sing unto the Lord a new song,” (Isa 42:10.) The Psalmist intimates accordingly, that the time was come when God would erect his kingdom in the world in a manner altogether unlooked for. He intimates still more clearly as he proceeds, that all nations would share in the favor of God. He calls upon them everywhere to show forth his salvation, and, in desiring that they should celebrate it from day to day, would denote that it was not of a fading or evanescent nature, but such as should endure for ever.
3 Declare his glory among the heathen Additional terms are adduced to commend the salvation spoken of. It is called his glory and his wonders; which is equivalent to saying that it was glorious and admirable. By such titles the Psalmist would distinguish it from any deliverances which had formerly been granted, as indeed there can be but one opinion, that when God appeared as Redeemer of all the world, he gave a display of his mercy and of his favor, such as he never vouchsafed before. This salvation it was impossible, as I have said, that the Gentile nations could have celebrated, had they been left without it. The words teach us that we can never be said to have rightly apprehended the redemption wrought out by Christ, unless our minds have been raised to the discovery of something incomparably wonderful about it.
4. For Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised; he is terrible above all gods. 76 5. For all the gods of the nations are vanities; 77 but Jehovah made the heavens. 6. Strength and honor are before him; power and glory are in his sanctuary.
4. For Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised. He particularly describes that God, whom he would have men to celebrate, and this because the Gentile nations were prone to merge into error upon this subject. That the whole world might abjure its superstitions, and unite in the true religion, he points out the one only God who is worthy of universal praise. This is a point of the greatest importance. Unless men are restrained by a due respect to it, they can only dishonor him the more that they attempt to worship him. We must observe this order if we would not profane the name of God, and rank ourselves amongst unbelieving men, who set forth gods of their own invention. By gods in the verse may be meant, as I observed already, (Ps 95:3,) either angels or idols. I would still be of opinion that the term comprehends whatever is, or is accounted deity. As God, so to speak, sends rays of himself through all the world by his angels, these reflect some sparks of his Divinity. 78 Men, again, in framing idols, fashion gods to themselves which have no existence. The Psalmist would convince them of its being a gross error to ascribe undue honor either to the angels or to idols, thus detracting from the glory of the one true God. He convicts the heathen nations of manifest infatuation, upon the ground that their gods are vanity and nought, for such is the meaning of the Hebrew word אלילים, elilim, 79 which is here applied to idols in contempt. The Psalmist’s great point is to show, that as the Godhead is really and truly to be found in none but the one Maker of the world, those religions are vain and contemptible which corrupt the pure worship of him. Some may ask, Are angels then to be accounted nothing and vanity, merely because many have been deceived in thinking them gods? I would reply, that we do injury to the angels when we give them that honor which is due to God only; and, while we are not on this account to hold that they are nothing in themselves, yet whatever imaginary glory has been attached to them must go for nothing. 80 But the Psalmist has in his eye the gross delusions of the heathen, who impiously fashioned gods to themselves.
Before refuting their absurd notions, he very properly remarks of God that he is great, and greatly to be praised — insinuating that his glory as the infinite One far excels any which they dreamt of as attaching to their idols. We cannot but notice the confidence with which the Psalmist asserts the glory of the true God, in opposition to the universal opinion which men might entertain. The people of God were at that time called to maintain a conflict of no inconsiderable or common description with the hosts and prodigious mass of superstitions which then filled the whole world. The true God might be said to be confined within the obscure corner of Judea. Jupiter was the god every where received — and adored throughout the whole of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Every country had its own gods peculiar to itself, but these were not unknown in other parts, and it was the true God only who was robbed of that glory which belonged to him. All the world had conspired to believe a lie. Yet the Psalmist, sensible that the vain delusions of men could derogate nothing from the glory of the one God, 81 looks down with indifference upon the opinion and universal suffrage of mankind. The inference is plain, that we must not conclude that to be necessarily the true religion which meets with the approbation of the multitude; for the judgment formed by the Psalmist must have fallen to the ground at once, if religion were a thing to be determined by the suffrages of men, and his worship depended upon their caprice. Be it then that ever so many agree in error, we shall insist after the Holy Ghost that they cannot take from God’s glory; for man is vanity himself, and all that comes of him is to be mistrusted. 82 Having asserted the greatness of God, he proves it by reference to the formation of the world, which reflects his perfections. 83 God must necessarily exist of himself, and be self-sufficient, which shows the vanity of all gods who made not the world. The heavens are mentioned — a part for the whole — as the power of God is principally apparent in them, when we consider their beauty and adornment.
6 Strength and honor are before him I translate the Hebrew word הוד, hod, by strength, and think those interpreters who render it glory have not duly considered the context. It is evident that the next member of the verse is a repetition, and there it reads, Power and Glory are in his sanctuary. The Psalmist means that we cannot be said to know God if we have not discovered that there is in him an incomparable glory and majesty. He first takes notice of his power and strength, as that in which his glory consists. There, as God is invisible, he directs the thoughts of his people to the sanctuary, which we have already seen to be the symbol of his presence. Such is the weakness of our minds that we rise with difficulty to the contemplation of his glory in the heavens. The Psalmist reminds us that we have no reason to say that his glory is obscure, since there were emblems of his presence in the temple, the sacrifices, and the ark of the covenant. Let us endeavor, when we make mention of God, to conceive of this glory which shines before him — otherwise, if we do not apprehend his power, it is rather a dead than a living God whom we worship. 84
7. Give to Jehovah, O ye assemblies of peoples! give to Jehovah glory and strength. 85 8. Give to Jehovah the glory of his name; bring an offering, 86 and come into his courts. 9. Worship before Jehovah in the beauty of the sanctuary; 87 let the whole earth tremble before his face.
7 Give to Jehovah, etc. Since praise waited for God in Zion, (Ps 65:1,) and that was the place devoted to the celebration of his worship, and the posterity of Abraham were alone invested with the privilege of priesthood, we cannot doubt that the Psalmist refers here to that great change which was to take place in the Church upon the advent of Christ. An opposition or distinction is intended between God’s ancient people and the Gentile tribes, which were to be afterwards adopted into the same fellowship. To declare his glory and strength, is the same with declaring the glory of his strength And to show that man can boast nothing of his own, and in refusing to celebrate God, impiously despoils him of his just honors, he subjoins, Give unto the Lord the glory of his name; an expression which denotes that God borrows nothing from without, but comprehends all that is worthy of praise in himself. He calls upon the Gentile nations in so many words to render unto God the same worship which the Jews did; not that we must worship God now according to the outward ritual which was prescribed under the Law, but he signifies that there would be one rule and form of religion in which all nations should accord. Now, unless the middle wall of partition had been broken down, the Gentiles could not have entered along with God’s children into the courts of the sanctuary. So that we have here a clear prediction of the calling of the Gentiles, who needed to have their uncleanness taken away before they could be brought into the holy assembly. The mincha, or oblation, was only one kind of sacrifice, but it is here taken to denote the whole worship of God, because it was a part of divine service more ordinarily practiced. We see from this, and other passages, that the inspired penmen describe the inward worship of God under symbols common in the age when they lived. God would not have meat-offerings presented to him after Christ had come; but the words which the Psalmist employs intimate that the doors of the temple, once shut, were now to be opened for the admission of the Gentiles. The Apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, (Heb 13:15) tells us what are those sacrifices with which God will now be worshipped. Hence the absurdity of the Papists, who would adduce such passages in support of the mass and their other fooleries. We may very properly learn from the words, however, that we ought not to come empty-handed into the presence of God, enjoined as we are to present ourselves and all that we have as a reasonable service unto Him, (Ro 12:1; 1Pe 2:5.)
9 Worship before Jehovah The Psalmist prosecutes the same train of sentiment. In requiring oblations of his people, God was not to be considered as standing in need of the services of the creature, but as giving them an opportunity of professing their faith. The true reason, therefore, is here mentioned why the oblation was enjoined, That his people might prostrate themselves before him, and acknowledge that they and all belonging to them were his. Mention is made of the beauty of the temple, referring to the fact that the Gentiles should be raised to a new honor, in being associated into one body with God’s chosen people. 88 At the time when this psalm was written, it was generally deemed scarcely credible that the heathen nations would be admitted into the temple in company with the holy seed of Abraham. This should make us think all the more highly of our calling as Gentiles, which seemed then so incredible and impracticable a thing. We may be convinced that God only could have opened for us the door of salvation. The beauty of the temple is an expression intended to beget a reverential view of the temple, that men may approach it with humble fear, instead of rushing without consideration into God’s presence. The clause which follows in the verse is inserted for the same purpose — tremble before his face, intimating that we should prostrate ourselves as suppliants before him when we consider his awful majesty. Not that he would deter worshippers from drawing near to God. They should esteem it their greatest pleasure and enjoyment to seek his face. But he would have us humbled to the right and serious worship of God. I may add, that the beauty or glory of the sanctuary did not consist in silver and gold, in the preciousness of the material of which it was made, nor in polished stones, nor in any splendor and decoration of this kind, but in the representation of the heavenly pattern which was shown to Moses on the mount, (Ex 25:9.)
10. Say among the heathen, Jehovah reigneth; also the world shall be established, it shall not be moved: he shall judge the peoples 89 in righteousness, [literally, in righteousnesses.] 11. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder, and the fullness thereof. 12. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein; likewise let all the trees of the wood rejoice. 90 13. Before Jehovah; for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. 91
10. Say among the heathen, Jehovah reigneth His language again implies that it is only where God rules and presides that he can be worshipped. The Gentiles could not possibly profess the worship of God, so long as his throne was only in the small corner of Judea, and they were not acknowledging his government. Accordingly, the Psalmist speaks of his extending his kingdom to all parts of the world, with the view of gathering unto himself in one, those who had formerly been divided and scattered. The expression, Say among the heathen, signifies that God would enlarge the boundaries of his kingdom by his word and doctrine. What is said of the world being established, is particularly worthy of our observation. So far as the order of nature is concerned, we know that it has been Divinely established, and fixed from the beginning; that the same sun, moon, and stars, continue to shine in heaven; that the wicked and the unbelieving are sustained with food, and breathe the vital air, just as do the righteous. Still we are to remember that so long as un-godliness has possession of the minds of men, the world, plunged as it is in darkness, must be considered as thrown into a state of confusion, and of horrible disorder and misrule; for there can be no stability apart from God. The world is very properly here said therefore to be established, that it should not shake, when men are brought back into a state of subjection to God. We learn this truth from the passage, That though all the creatures should be discharging their various offices, no order can be said to prevail in the world, until God erect his throne and reign amongst men. What more monstrous disorder can be conceived of, than exists where the Creator himself is not acknowledged? Wicked and unbelieving men may be satisfied with their own condition, but it is necessarily most insecure, most unstable; and destitute as they are of any foundation in God, their life may be said to hang by a thread. 92 We are to recollect what we have seen taught, (Ps 46:5) “God is in the midst of the holy city, she shall not be moved.” Very possibly there may be an indirect allusion to the imperfect and uncompleted state of things under the Law, and a contrast may have been intended between the perfect condition of things which should obtain under Christ, and the prelude to it under the former period. Next he predicts that the kingdom to be introduced should be distinguished by righteousness, according to what we have seen, (Ps 45:6) “A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom.” The term judging, in the Hebrew, includes government of any kind. If God’s method of governing men be to form and regulate their lives to righteousness, we may infer, that however easily men may be satisfied with themselves, all is necessarily wrong with them, till they have been made subject to Christ. And this righteousness of which the Psalmist speaks has not reference merely to the outward actions. It comprehends a new heart, commencing as it does in the regeneration of the Spirit, by which we are formed again into the likeness of God.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. With the view of giving us a more exalted conception of the display of God’s goodness in condescending to take all men under his government, the Psalmist calls upon the irrational things themselves, the trees, the earth, the seas, and the heavens, to join in the general joy. Nor are we to understand that by the heavens he means the angels, and by the earth men; 93 for he calls even upon the dumb fishes of the deep to shout for joy. The language must therefore be hyperbolical, designed to express the desirableness and the blessedness of being brought unto the faith of God. At the same time, it denotes to us that God does not reign with terror, or as a tyrant, but that his power is exercised sweetly, and so as to diffuse joy amongst his subjects. The wicked may tremble when his kingdom is introduced, but the erection of it is only the cause of their fear indirectly. 94 We might notice also, that the hyperbole here employed does not want a certain foundation of a more literal kind. As all elements in the creation groan and travail together with us, according to Paul’s declaration, (Ro 8:22) they may reasonably rejoice in the restoration of all things according to their earnest desire. The words teach us how infatuated that joy is, which is wantonly indulged in by men who are without God. From the close of the psalm, we learn that it is impossible to experience the slightest measure of true joy, as long as we have not seen the face of God, Rejoice before the Lord, because he cometh And if the very sea and land mourn so long as God is absent, may we not ask what shall become of us, who are properly the subjects of God’s dreadful curse? The Psalmist, to remove all doubt regarding an event which might seem incredible, repeats his assertion of it, and states, at the same time, in what that rectitude consists, which he had formerly mentioned, when he adds, that God shall govern the world with righteousness and truth. This shows us that it is only by the light of God’s righteousness and truth that the wickedness and hypocrisy of men can be removed and dispelled.
“Mutae erant ac surdae.” — Lat.
We meet with a psalm very similar to this, in 1 Chronicles 16, delivered by David to Asaph, to be sung on occasion of the removing of the ark from the house of Obed-edom to Zion. But the ode, as it stands in 1 Chronicles 16, is considerably longer, extending from the 8th verse to the 36th [1Ch 16:8-36]; and this is only the part of it from the 23rd to the 33rd verse [1Ch 16:23-33]. It has been supposed that this part was extracted from the psalm above mentioned, and, with a few inconsiderable alterations, adapted to the solemnity of the dedication of the second temple. This opinion is founded upon the inscription of the psalm in the Septuagint, Vulgate, Æthiopic, and Arabic versions, which is, “A song of David when the house was built after the captivity.” Consequently, strictly speaking, this is not a new song. But it may be called new, from its having been adapted to a new purpose — from its having been intended to celebrate new mercies conferred upon the Jews, and to lead the mind forward to the glorious era of the coming of the Messiah, and the establishment of his kingdom, which probably was the matter of more general expectation among the chosen people, at the period when the temple was rebuilt, than when the ark was brought to Mount Zion from the house of Obed-edom. It may be observed, that the first verse is not in the original poem, as recorded in the book of Chronicles, but appears to have been added for the new occasion to which this shorter psalm was adapted.
The original word for gods is אלהים, elohim Dr Adam Clarke, who doubts whether this word is ever by fair construction applied to false gods or idols, reads —
“Jehovah is great, and greatly to be praised.
Elohim is to be feared above all.”
“Ou, idoles.” — Fr. marg. “Or, idols.”
“Quia Deus per angelos irradiat totum mundum, in illis refulgent Deitatis scintillae.” — Lat. “Pource que Dieu jette comme ses rayons sur tout le monde par les anges, des estincelles de Divinite reluisent en iceux.” — Fr.
אליל, elil, signifies a thing of nought; as if from אל, not, the ל being doubled to denote extreme nothingness. Thus a false vision or prophecy, on which no dependence can be placed, is called אליל, elil, “a thing of nought,” Jer 14:14, and a shepherd that leaves the flock, and instead of visiting, healing and feeding them, devours and tears them in pieces, is called in Zech. 11:15, 16, “a pastor, האליל, haelil, of no value.” In this sense the word is used of the false gods of the heathen. Instead of being אלהים, elohim, gods, they are אלילים, elilim, mere nothings Accordingly, Paul, in 1Co 8:4, speaks of an idol as being “nothing in the world.”
“Sed quicquid imaginarium illis affingitur, nihilum esse.” — Lat.
“Quia eorum vanitas nihil derogat unis Dei gloriae.” — Ib.
“Car tout ainsi qu’ils sont vanite aussi tout ce qui procede d’eux est vain et plein de deception.” — Fr.
“The argument of God’s superiority over all other beings, drawn from his creation of the world, is sublimely expressed in the following lines ascribed by Justin Martyr (de Monarchid. page 159, ed. Oxon. 1703) to Pythagoras, —
Εἴ τις ἐρεῖ, Θεός εἰμι πάρεξ ἑνὸς, οὗτος ὀφείλει
Κόσμον ἴσον τούτῳ στήσας εἰπεῖν ἐμὸς οὗτος.
“One God our hearts confess: whoe’er beside
Aspires with Him our homage to divide,
A world as beauteous let him first design,
And say, its fabric finished, ‘This is mine.’”
— Merrick’s Annotations.
“Car ceux qui separent de luy sa puissance, imaginent plustost une essence morte, qu’une Divinite vive.” — Fr.
The original word for strength is עז, oz, which is derived from עזז, azaz, he was strong “The same word,” says Hammond, “signifies what the Greeks call ἐξουσία, power, dominion, empire In the notion of strength or valour it may probably be used in verse 6, where as beauty so strength is said to be in his sanctuary; beauty in respect of the glory of the divine presence, by the guard of angels that attend there, and strength in respect of the assistance that is by God provided and furnished there to all that seek it by prayer. But the other notion is fitter for this place, where the word is joined with glory and attributed to God; and so in 1Pe 5:11, which seems to be taken from hence, it is αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος, ‘to him be glory and dominion;’ and hence God’s title of παντοκράτωρ is best rendered, not ‘almighty,’ or ‘he that hath all strength’ but ‘he that hath the עז or, κράτος, dominion or empire over all.’”
Horsley reads, “Take an offering.” “A mincha,” says he, “an offering of bread and flour, not of flesh.”
The words בהדרת-קדש, which Calvin renders, “in the beauty of the sanctuary,” are rendered in our English Bible “in the beauty of holiness.” The Septuagint reads, αὐλὢ ἁγια αὐτου, “in the court of his holiness;” from which it has been thought probable that the text originally stood בחצר-קוו. See this word at the end of the preceding verse. In Ps 29:2, the same sentence occurs. The version of Calvin, and that of Jerome, which is precisely the same, in decore sanctuarii, partake both of the Hebrew and Septuagint reading.
“Pour monstrer que les Gentils devoyent estre receus a un honneur nouveau, qu’ils feront un mesme corps avec le peuple eleu.” — Fr.
“The peoples. The Hebrew word is plural, and it is rendered plurally by all the ancient versions. It is not one people only, but all the nations upon earth, that God will judge.” — Street.
The Hebrew verb רננו, rannenu, here rendered rejoice, “expresses,” says Mant, “the vibratory motion either of a dancer’s feet, or of a singer’s lips. Hence it signifies, to wave to and fro’ as trees.” In support of this sense of the word he refers to Bishop Horsley’s note on Ps 98:8, and Parkhurst’s Lexicon on רנן, 1:2. Accordingly, he translates the verse —
“Be glad, ye fields, and fruits, the fields that spread;
Wave high, ye woods, in worship wave the head;”
which, he observes, will remind the reader of Adam and Eve’s morning hymn: —
“— and wave your tops, ye pines,
With every plant, in sign of worship wave.”
Paradise Lost, v.
This psalm has been admired for its grandeur and magnificence. The three last verses in particular have been frequently quoted as a specimen of sublimity in sentiment and language, which cannot be surpassed. “Nothing can excel in this respect,” remarks Bishop Lowth, “that noble exultation of universal nature in the 96th Psalm, which has been so often commended, where the whole animate and inanimate creation unite in the praises of their Maker. Poetry here seems to assume the highest tone of triumph and exultation, and to revel, if I may so express myself, in all the extravagance of joy.” — Lectures on Sacred Poetry, volume 1, page 378.
“Semper tamen fluctuari necesse est, et vitam eoram pendere de filo, quia in Deo fundatus non est eorum status.” — Lat.
“Neque enim metonymice de angelis vel hominibus loquitur.” — Lat. “Il ne faut pas penser que ce soit yci la figure nommee Metonymie, et que par les Cieux il entende les Anges, par la Terre les hommes.” — Fr.
“C’est une chose accidentale.” — Fr.