When we see all that is happening in the world, how are we to have joy? When we consider our own personal struggles in life, how can we find joy and hope? The psalms are always a great place to turn to find strength and words of hope during difficult times. Many of the psalms were written during personal distresses experienced by God’s people. Some of the psalms were written after the nation of Judah was invaded, captured, and carried away into captivity at the hands of foreigners. The psalms become God’s book of hope to his people.
Before we look at the meaning of Psalm 98 and how it can help us today, I want you to notice how often the psalm calls for joy and singing. Verse 1 reads, “Sing to the Lord.” Verse 4 reads, “Make a joyful noise, sing praises, break forth into joyous song.” Verses 5-6 repeat these calls for joyous songs and joyful noises. Verse 8 says to clap the hands and sing for joy together. The point of this psalm is for his people to sing and have joy. So how is this possible? How can we have joy in a world that seems to be crumbling down to its very foundations? Let us read Psalm 98 and consider the Lord’s answer.
The Sovereign Savior (98:1-3)
First, the instruction given in verse 1 is to “sing to the Lord a new song.” Singing a new song does not mean that God is tired of hearing old songs and is looking for a new tune. A “new song” is a celebration of a new victory accomplished by the Lord. What is typically being sung is a song of salvation offered to the Lord in the context of military victory.
The reason the people are to sing is because they are to remember God’s deliverance for them. The Lord’s right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. I love this declaration. God is powerful and he brings about salvation for himself. It is by his own power that he brings victory for himself. This is the great hope we have: God will act for his own purposes and to defend his own name and holiness. Yes, we know that God will act on behalf of his people. But consider that God will act on his own behalf which gives us hope.
God’s faithfulness and righteousness is revealed through his salvation to Israel and to the ends of the earth. God is conducting a great international campaign of redemption. God remembers his steadfast love and faithfulness at this is our hope today. God’s people are continuing to sing the new song.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang 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.” (Revelation 5:8–10 ESV)
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (Revelation 14:1–3 ESV)
Notice the message of the new song in the book of Revelation is the message of victory and salvation. By the blood of the Lamb, God’s people have been ransomed (5:9) and redeemed (14:3) and made a kingdom and priests to the Lord. God’s victory is our victory. God acting for his benefit is our benefit.
For us, we look at God’s deliverance from our sins when we see the cross. Our hope in difficult times is the knowledge of God’s deliverance that he has revealed to the earth through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We sing by faith in the midst of distress because we rest in the joy of salvation accomplished by our Lord.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1–4 ESV)
In the days of despair and hopelessness, think of God’s love for you and the salvation he brought to you through Christ Jesus.
The Sovereign King (98:4-6)
Verses 4-6 are a call for all the earth to make joyful noises and sing praises to the King, the Lord. Notice again that our worship is to be joyful. Our worship is not to come from a feeling of obligation but from the joy in our heart that the Lord is king. Our God reigns.
The picture of God as king over all the earth is the second reason we can have joy in the midst of distress and fear. God is ruling. God rules over the earth.
20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:20–22 ESV)
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:28–32 ESV)
Consider the title that is on the thigh of Jesus in the book of Revelation:
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16 ESV)
Since Jesus is the King over all other kings and the Lord over all other masters, then our joy rests in the knowledge of God’s sovereign rule over the events of the earth. This was the message of the book of Revelation. You can have joy and comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is King and Jesus rules over the earth.
The Sovereign Judge (98:7-9)
All of the earth is called upon to rejoice in the Lord. We have already seen that our joy comes from our God as our savior and our God as our king. But we also see in verses 7-9 that we have joy in distress because God is the judge. Notice this in verses 8-9. “Let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
The judgment of the Lord is the occasion for joy! Jesus will judge the world. Sing of the coming judgment day. Look forward to the return of Christ. Jesus will make things right. We find joy and hope in the judgment of the Lord. Listen to some of the New Testament expressions of this truth.
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 ESV)
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:5–12 ESV)
When it comes to your enemies, God will right the wrongs you have experienced. When it comes to the world’s evils, like terrorism and ISIS and the like, God is the righteous judge and he will judge them according to their deeds. The world seemed to collapse in the first three centuries as Christians were being killed for their love of the Lord, but God judged those evildoers. We may be entering another time of global distress but we know that God will judged every evil act committed by every evil person. Our joy is in the return of our Lord.
Our joy and hope come, not from ourselves, but from the Lord who saves, rules, and judges the earth. We do not have to be disturbed by life problems or political issues or global events because God reigns and he will put all his enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).