The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 98 (97 in LXX and Vulgate)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 1, 2012


LIKE the preceding, this psalm, is largely taken up with the End-period, the Messianic age. It is more closely connected in thought with Ps 96 than with Ps 97. Here, as in Ps 96, there is question of a “new song.” The occasion of the poem is here also obscure, but the predominance of Messianic imagery is just as marked in this as in the preceding psalms. Hence if the psalm was intended to commemorate some victorious intervention of God on behalf of Israel, that intervention is viewed as a phase, or foreshadowing, of Messianic rule. The presence of ideas and literary forms resembling closely those found in Isaiah 42-44 is characteristic of this psalm, as of the preceding, so that the ascription of the psalm to David must be understood in the same way as in Ps 97. Indeed, the peculiarly close connection of verses 1-3 with Isa 52:10 and Isa 59:16; Isa 63:5, suggests that this psalm is more completely a product of the period of Deutero-Isaias than even Ps 97. It is more exact, therefore, to speak of this psalm simply as “Davidic,” than to ascribe it to David as author.

The structure of the psalm is clear. In verses 1-3 we have the “new song.” The psalmist calls for the new song to celebrate the establishment of the unquestioned rule of Yahweh over the nations. By the might of His arm the Lord has compelled the nations to acknowledge His rule. This the psalmist regards as the bringing of salvation to Israel, so that the overthrow of God’s foes is represented as an act of divine favour towards Israel—as the giving to Israel its rights against the nations. Thus it is here implied that the accession of Yahweh to the Messianic throne has been preceded by a victory over, and humiliation of, the heathen peoples. But when God’s purposes in the punishment of the heathen have been attained, then the heathen also share in the general salvation. Thus, the universality of grace is made to depend on Judgment—the world-judgment which we meet with so often elsewhere.

After His victory Yahweh takes His seat as King. As an earthly King is applauded when he comes to his throne, so all the world acclaims Yahweh (vv. 4-6). The heathens turn away from their gods and join with Israel in welcoming the Lord as King and Saviour of the world. The ceremonial of welcome and joyous acclamation is thought of after the manner of 2 Kings 11-12. Cf. Numbers 23:21, and Ps 43.

The poet now passes on to describe (in vv. 7-9) how all nature joins in the chorus of applause and jubilation which greets Yahweh’s accession. The ocean thunders its joy; the rivers clap hands, and the mountains burst forth into shouts of rejoicing—”before the Lord who cometh to judge the earth.”

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