Singing the Lord's Salvation to the Nations
By Daniel Mayfield
So this is my go-to Psalm for whenever I need to remind myself what should be the source or the catalyst for any evangelism I extend forward. If I’m to speak about Jesus in a public school or in the prison or to any group that isn’t part of the church, I come to this Psalm to remind me of what should be the driving force behind my testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because true Christian testimony is not that which is contrived. It is not that which is forced out of us in a way that says, “Well, I know I’m supposed to be evangelizing, so I guess I’ll force myself to do it!”
True, authentic evangelistic persuasion that the nations will see as credible comes from an entirely different place. Not from a contrived, forced location, but from a willful spilling over from our spirit, like the prophet Jeremiah who said, “there’s a fire shut up in my bones! I tried to keep it in, but I couldn’t help but shout the truth of God to the dying world!” Jeremiah couldn’t keep quiet about sharing the message even when he tried. We can keep quiet very, very well.
So the question is, how do we get there? And I picked this passage very intentionally for our purposes this week as we very literally tell of the Lord’s salvation to the nation of the Cayman Islands. What should be our focus; what should be the stem of this evangelistic effort we put forward this week?
And as I said, this Psalm that I’m preaching today is my go-to meditational Psalm when I need to reestablish proper evangelism within myself. So as I preach to you, I’m preaching a message to me.
Now it doesn’t say so here in Psalm 96, but in 1 Chronicles 16 we see that this Psalm was a Psalm of David as the people of Israel returned the Ark of the Covenant to the tabernacle after many years of being displaced.
Praise and Testimony — The Psalm’s Twofold Purpose
From a broad perspective, this Psalm has aim to do two things: (1) It is a rally for you, me, the universe, and every people group on the earth to sing praises to God; and (2) it is an appeal to declare his salvation to every person with whom we come into contact. Let me prove those two purposes to you.
First, this Psalm intends to generate a worldwide choir made up of us, the physical creation, and every other nation, whereby we will all join together in one voice to praise God. So this is a three-unit choir, consisting of God’s people, God’s creation, and ultimately every tribe on the face of the planet. Verse 1 says, Oh sing to the Lord a new song — the implied subject of that sentence being you and me (God’s people).
The second part of verse 1 says, sing to the Lord, all the earth! The “earth” here refers to every physical entity on this planet. Notice also verses 11-12: 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! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
So this choir is made up of God’s people, the physical universe, and thirdly, every people group on earth—even those who don’t yet know God. Verse 7 says, Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Well, who are the peoples? Is he still speaking to the people of God?
Look at verses 3-5: Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols. The peoples being rallied to join in this God-glorifying song are the ones of every nation who currently don’t know God and consequently worship gods made of wood.
Some of you may have heard of him, but there’s a famous composer and conductor named Eric Whitacre. Several years back he began an experiment to generate a worldwide choir through the internet. He essentially created a virtual choir with voices from around the globe all coming together to harmonize in one voice. The end product was absolutely beautiful. Imagine thousands of individuals from countless different countries pouring into the same song—the same message.
David’s purpose in this Psalm is generically similar—to create a global choir of singers—but it is infinitely more valuable because he’s not just creating a song with melodic notes or a composition with aesthetic appeal. Let every person, every nation, every plant, every rock shout in praise unto God! Says David. And the manner by which each new voice is added to this beautiful harmony is the second purpose of the Psalm—that if we are a part of the choir, we should be declaring the Lord’s salvation to every soul on the face of the planet. To join the choir is to receive salvation, and to sing is to declare salvation!
To the people who are already singing, David says in verse 2, Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. So we’re to be singing and declaring. Praise and testimony.
He then says in verse 3, Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! And then in verse 10, Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Tell of his salvation—Declare his glory among the nations—Tell of his marvelous deeds to all peoples—Say to the nations, “The Lord reigns!” All of that language is describing the duty of every singer to also be a proclaimer.
So the bi-fold purpose of this Psalm is to re-establish authentic praise unto God and to remove any shackles of timidity that would keep us from telling everybody we know about the God of our salvation.
Why Praise Him and Witness to His Salvation?
So we need to mine through the text to understand David’s means to bolster those two foundational aspects of spiritual life. Praise and testimony, worship and evangelism, are the heart and soul of spiritual living—and surprisingly are the things which most often get neglected.
And I think its because we don’t see these things as entirely necessary. “I can be a Christian without singing and being an evangelist!”
So perhaps there are some who would say, “Why? Why should I have to sing and declare salvation among the nations?” I’ve met some who’ve said, “I just don’t sing! My voice isn’t beautiful, so I just listen.” And I’ve met many many many who say, “Evangelism is not my talent! I will shine my light through other means, but I just can’t bring myself to tell others about Jesus.”
So David, I believe anticipating the question, “Why should I do this?” gives an answer. Let’s begin reading in verse 1: Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name (that’s purpose number one); tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples (that’s purpose number two)! But why, David? Why should I do these things? For (KEY: BECAUSE) great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
So did you catch the two reasons David gives for why we should sing and testify? First, because the Lord is great (he will give some evidence for this as the Psalm progresses). But that’s the first reason. God is great. And second, God is the creator of the universe.
Does David’s order of reason strike you as odd in any way? Why should I sing praise to God and declare his salvation to the nations? David says, “Reason 1, because God is great! And reason 2, he’s the one that made your body out of dust from the ground and with a word of his mouth the whole universe appeared from nothing.” Does that order seem reversed in any way?
And the more I study the God of the Bible, the less it seems odd that the order would be given in this way! David says in verse 4, he is GREAT and GREATLY TO BE PRAISED! His dealings with mankind, his conduct, his status, are not merely to be praised because he’s the Creator—but because the things he does as Creator are praiseworthy! He is good! It’s not just that he’s GOD but that he’s GOOD. And David wants us to praise him first because he’s good and second because he’s God.
How Do We Come to Praise Him?
How do we develop more authentic, true spiritual praise unto God? David is saying, “Do it!” So perhaps from time to time we can reflectively say, “My singing just doesn’t seem to stem from the heart! I’ve forgotten how to praise God authentically! So how do I get that back?”
Well, I would respond by asking, “Is there anything you do praise?” True praise is never a coerced thing. We praise many things in the world and we have no problem doing it. On America’s Got Talent, performers are praised by the judges and the audience of thousands all the time. If any of us eat a really good pizza or a McDonald’s french fry, we know how to sing its praises. “Man this is GOOD! I love this pizza!”
If we see beautiful flowers, we have no problem verbalizing their beauty. “What a beautiful flower,” we’ll say. And those praises are never coerced. They’re the perfectly natural response to recognizing the value of someone or something.
So if your praise unto God has waned, you’re probably not spending enough time looking at God. Because if you look at him—truly look at him—for only a moment, praises will flood your being.
Here’s David’s method for how to develop more authentic praise unto God. Get back into his presence. He says in verse 6, Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Verses 8-9 say, Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering (more literally, lift up a present), and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
We can step outside and behold the ocean with its powerful, crashing waves, and we praise it! “Look at the beauty! Take my picture in front of it! Let me post it to Facebook for all of my friends to see its beauty!” Do you see how natural that praise is?
Now, imagine stepping into the throne room of God—which is what David is telling us to do. Imagine a being who’s presence is the literal source of light for an entire realm.
Speaking of heaven, John says in Revelation 21:23, 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Imagine a massive courtyard with beautifully engraved columns and pillars surrounding a seated throne the size of our globe. And upon it is a being whose presence is so bright, you cannot lift your eyes. And though his voice is as thunder, his fists gently provide a shadow of comfort. His primary purpose from eternity past was to bring salvation to all mankind by freely giving them his most beloved possession, though he knew they would scorn him and ridicule him.
This thunderous, magnificent, eternally powerful God of all might has aim to love you and deliver you from an oppressor who hates you. David spent a GREAT amount of time in God’s throne room, meditating on that awesome image. So his praise flooded forth! And so will yours!
Verse 2 again, Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day! Then verse 10 says, Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Verses 11-13 say, "11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness."
This God—this reigning, all-powerful God—judges people with fairness, and righteousness, and faithfulness. And he brings salvation to everyone who will believe in him.
Church, I really believe that the songs of our hearts very often lose their melody because we’ve stopped looking at the one, true God. We’ve stopped meditating on the infinite value of our salvation. And we’ve spent so much time looking at the gods of the peoples—the ones that are “worthless idols,” according to verse 5. That’s why we can praise louder our football team for scoring a touchdown. That’s why a new pair of cute shoes brings us greater joy than gathering with the saints to praise our God.
So this is the order David provides in this Psalm—it is both logical and chronological.
Before even thinking about praising God, let yourself meditate for a good long while on his goodness and his glory. Spend time with him in his sanctuary. Try and envision his awesome presence.
Praise God! You won’t need coercion, nor will you feel contrived in your efforts. You’ll very naturally praise him.
Let that praise pour forward in a song of salvation unto the nations. Tell everyone of the God of your salvation—how he delivered you from an enslaved condition of discontentment and apathy. When outsiders hear the song of your salvation being sincerely sung from your heart, they’re gonna wanna join in.
All Creation Sings
Now as we come to a close today, I want to spend just a couple moments talking about this very interesting language David uses at the close of this Psalm. Now, it’s poetic, there’s no doubt the language is poetic because trees don’t have mouths, therefore they can’t literally sing. But though it’s poetic, there’s some very deep spiritual meaning behind what David is saying.
Here’s what he says in verses 11-13:
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
First of all, it should be noted that all of God’s creation is in a constant state of glorifying God. David even said in Psalm 19:1 that the heavens declare the glory of God. Whereas people fail to glorify God, the physical creation is always doing so.
So what does he mean, then, when he says, “Let the heavens be glad—Let the earth rejoice—Let the sea roar—Let the field and everything in it exult (praise)?” Well, if creation is already doing it, then I think David is calling for us to let creation’s melody be heard. Listen for God in the sound of the morning song bird. Listen for God in the crashing oceanic waves. Watch for God in the beautiful green landscapes across the globe.
Paul said in Romans 1 that many things can be known about God through the things that have been made; namely, his invisible attributes, his divine nature, and his eternal power.
So, we should be listening to creation’s chorus as it demonstrates the magnificent beauty and glory of God. Therefore, in addition to entering God’s presence in Bible study and prayer and meditation, we should be spending time soaking in the Lord’s creation in order to fill ourselves with praise for him. All of creation testifies to the goodness of our God. And so it is that the trees sing for joy at the righteous judge of all the world.
I hope this week we will get a good mixture of praise, meditation, evangelism, and soaking in the beauty of God’s creation.
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