IN THE ANGLICAN BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, Psalm 98 is known as the Cantate Domino (“Sing to the Lord”) and is placed between the evening Old Testament reading and its New Testament counterpart. It overflows with exhilarating worship and joy.
The psalm has three stanzas. The first (Ps. 98:1-3) celebrates the “salvation” of God (found in each verse). The word is perhaps more comprehensive than the way it is used today. It includes victory over enemies: this “salvation” or victory was effected by the Lord’s “right hand and his holy arm” (Ps. 98:1). But it also includes what we mean by salvation: God reconciles people to himself and transforms them by his grace. While God “has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel” (Ps. 98:3), the glorious truth is that he “has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations” (Ps. 98:2); “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Ps. 98:3). Small wonder, then, we must sing to the Lord “a new song” (Ps. 98:1). The expression signals not so much a new composition, written for the occasion perhaps, as a fresh response to new mercies showered upon us.
The second stanza (Ps. 98:4-6) responds to the first. The first celebrates God’s coming in power and salvation, the second responds to every act of God in exhilarated worship. Indeed, because the full salvation briefly described awaits the consummation, all our acts of worship are an anticipation of the end. We “shout for joy before the LORD, the King” (Ps. 98:6) as a prelude and an announcement of the consummation of his reign. The instruments listed here were regularly used as part of temple worship (cf. 1 Chron. 16:5-6) or on joyous occasions such as the accession of a new king (e.g., 1 Kings 1:39).
If the praise of the second stanza is carefully put together in orchestrated singing, the praise of the third stanza (Ps. 98:7-9) is inarticulate. But it is no less powerful for being artless. Even now the whole universe declares the glory of God. But if various Old Testament passages anticipate a vast renewing of the created order (Ps. 96:11-13; Isa. 2; 11; 55:11-12), Paul not only anticipates the same but recognizes that the fulfillment depends on the transformation of human beings at the end: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-21).