Sing unto the Lord a New Song

by John Vaughn

Any discussion of praise and worship will be helped by a review of Psalm 96, which begins with the admonition,

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. (vv. 1, 2)

Commentators observe a number of interesting features of this psalm as it appears in the KJV. For example, verse 11 is the central verse in the Bible. That verse contains seven Hebrew words, using only fourteen different letters. Although we must be careful not to base our interpretation on curiosities or a strict numerological approach, we cannot simply dismiss that the first letters of the seven words of verse 11 spell “Jehovah Jehu,” or “The Lord, He is God.” The Great Commission echoes the sentiment of this psalm when it tells us that because the Lord Jesus is the King of the universe, we are to go and disciple the nations—because the Lord, He is God, we are to show forth His salvation.

Another interesting feature of this psalm is the repetition of a different word in each of its three stanzas: “sing, sing, sing” in the first stanza (vv. 1–6); “give, give, give” in the second stanza (vv. 7–9); and “let, let, let, let” in the third stanza (vv. 10–13). More importantly is the clearly discerned message of each stanza that works in harmony to give us a compact philosophy of the believer’s “new song.” Of course, the new song is specifically this psalm itself. Some event had made it necessary for an entirely new hymn to be brought forth that would call on the “all the earth” to “sing unto the Lord a new song.” However, the psalm has long been applied to the personal experience of salvation, and since the proliferation of more worldly styles of praise and worship music, the “new song” has been frequently summoned to appeal for a rejection of those worldly styles.

Any argument on that point must not distract us from the clear basis for a new song: the three elements of the work of the Lord addressed in the three stanzas. The first of these is the glory of God, followed by the gifts of God, and then the government of God. The devotional heart is nurtured by a patient consideration of each of these elements. In the first case, three Biblical applications are drawn from the glory of God. The psalmist tells us what we should sing, where we should sing, and why we should sing the new song. The new song is necessarily a fresh song—a revived response from the heart (v. 1). This new song bursts forth as the believer’s effort to “publish Yeshua” (LXX). The new song is a necessary song unto the Lord about “his salvation” to be sung continually (v. 2).

Having told us what to sing, the psalmist tells us where to sing: both among “the heathen” and among “all people.”

Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. (v. 3)

Some suggest that there is a distinction here between the Gentiles (“heathen”) and the Hebrews (“people”), but those two words more likely indicate repetition for emphasis that this new song is to be sung all the time before everyone (peoples), recounting both His divine glory and His marvelous works, or those things which separate the Creator from His creation. The next three verses list the three motives for singing the new song, telling us why we should sing.

For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (vv. 4–6)

Thus, the first motive given for singing the new song is the fear of the Lord who is exceedingly commended by all who are in awe of Him. The second motive mentioned is simply the fact of the Lord—He alone is God. Men make idols, but God made the heavens! The third motive listed is the fame of the Lord—both the honor and majesty that always accompany His presence on the one hand, and the power to convert sinners, making them more attractive, courteous, and typical of Christ on the other. Just as his honor and majesty are the essence of His presence, “strength and beauty” emanate from his sanctuary. He changes those in whom He dwells, then He changes the world through them.

Just as the glory of God guides us into what, where, and why we must sing the new song in the first case, so too do the gifts of God inform the varied expressions of the new song, which include not only our music but our stewardship and our worship styles, as explained in the next three verses.

Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. (vv. 7–9)

As we give of our wonder, our wealth, and our worship, we acknowledge that our gifts are not ours to give, but are returned to Him as His own. The glory and strength announced in verses above are now actively acknowledged (v. 7). We further acknowledge what is due to Him as we bring a freewill offering from the wealth entrusted to us by Him (v. 8). Then, as we come to see the place of worship as representing the beauty of holiness (His glorious sanctuary), we will worship (bow down) in humility (trembling) before him (v. 9). There need be no debate about carnality or worldliness in the context of this truth.

Thus, the psalm rises into the glorious crescendo of the government of God in the final stanza:

Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. (vv. 10–13)

John Vaughn is the president of the FBFI and former pastor of Faith Baptist Church of Taylors, SC.