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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 98

Psalms 98

In the first strophe, Psalms 98:1-3, after a short exhortation to praise the Lord, the object of the praise is given,—the Lord has redeemed his people in a wonderful manner. The second strophe, Psalms 98:4-6, shows how this praise is to be rendered: all means which, in every place, are within reach, ought to be employed for this purpose. The third stanza says by whom the praise should be given: by the whole earth.

The Psalm is the only one which is entitled מזמור , a Psalm without any addition. This struck several of the old translators; the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac added “by David,” the Chaldee, “a prophetical Psalm.” This common name of all the Psalms manifestly cannot be employed here in its general, it must be used in a peculiarly modified sense. Such a sense is to be obtained only in one way. Our Psalm stands to the preceding one in the same relation that Hab. Habakkuk 3 does to Habakkuk 1 and Habakkuk 2, and as Isaiah 42:10-12 does to Isaiah 42:13-17, with this difference that the arrangement there is the reverse of that here: the Psalm before us is the lyric accompaniment to the more decidedly prophetical Psalm which precedes. As the Psalm in the Psalm, therefore, it bears the name of מזמור , the originality of which is attested by the doubled זמרו and the זמרה in Psalms 98:5-6: it is manifestly with reference to the title that such strong prominence is given to the זמר . In favour of this view we may urge first, the contents of the two Psalms, second, the analogy of the title of Psalms 100, which is related to Psalms 99, exactly as ours is to Psalms 97, and third, the formal arrangement which exhibits our Psalm as making up one whole with the preceding one. Both Psalms fall into strophes of three verses. Of these strophes there are in all seven, of which, according to the usual division of the seven, four belong to the prophetical, three to the pre-eminently lyrical part.

The doctrinal contents of the Psalm, according to what has been said, must be confined to those of the preceding Psalm: it sets forth like it the appearance of the Lord in his kingdom, in so far as it shall bring salvation directly to the house of Israel, and only towards the conclusion points, as an addition, to Psalms 96, to salvation for the whole earth as closely bound up with this.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1-3. The object of the praise of the Lord.

Ver. 1. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he does wonders, his right hand and his holy arm helped him. Ver. 2. The Lord makes known his salvation, before the eyes of the heathen he unveils his righteousness. Ver. 3. He has remembered his mercy and his faithfulness to the house of Israel, all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

The point of view in the whole Psalm is an ideal one, the time of the already-appeared salvation, of the already-begun kingdom of the Lord. The new song ought to be sung for first time after those wonders which form the object of it have actually happened. The beginning, “Sing to the Lord a new song,” is from Psalms 96. The exhortation here also is directed not to Israel, but to the whole earth, which is expressly named. This is manifest from the last strophe, which is devoted to the more immediate object of the Psalmist, while the “sing” here is only preliminary, as an introduction to the mention of the object. What the wonders are that are treated of is evident partly from the reference to the fundamental passages of Isaiah already quoted, partly from the prophetic part, and partly from Psalms 98:3. The circumstance that the object there is so exactly defined once more, shows that we have before us not an arbitrarily rent whole—in this case the exact defining of the object would have been left entirely to Psalms 97—but a pair of Psalms, the second member of which is intended to have as sure and independent a standing of its own as the first. “His right hand helped him,” is from Isaiah 59:16: “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor, then his own right hand helped him, and his righteousness upheld him,” and Isaiah 63:5: “And I looked and there was none to help, and I wondered that there was no assistance, then mine own arm helped me, and my wrath upheld me.” This verbal reference, at the very beginning, shows that we have before us, as in Psalms 97, the lyrical echo of the prophetic announcements of the second part of Isaiah. Here, as in the fundamental passage, the arm of the Lord, with which he helps himself in bringing salvation to Sion, stands opposed to the use of the ordinary means of help in the church of God. [Note: “In both passages, the arm of God is opposed to ordinary means, which, although they do not derogate from the power of God, in some measure, like a veil, hide his face.”] The expression is very consolatory, because it shows us that we need not despair, even though these means of help be sealed up, even though everywhere there meet us nothing but weakness and feebleness, though a glance at the cut-down trunk of Jesse is enough to make us quite spiritless. Comp. Judges 7:2, where the Lord says to Gideon: “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, and say, Mine own hand hath saved me.” “His holy arm” is from Isaiah 52:10: “And the Lord has made bare his holy arm” (in the deliverance of Sion) comp. Isaiah 40:10, Isaiah 51:9. The “ holy” is awful, infinitely removed above every creature, comp. at Psalms 22:3.

Psalms 98:2-3 depend upon Isaiah 52:10: “The Lord has made bare his holy arm before the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God.” The references to this passage run through the three verses which mark out the object of the song of praise, and the whole strophe must manifestly be regarded as an expansion of that fundamental prophetical passage. His righteousness: comp. Psalms 97:6. For the people of the Lord, salvation is the expression of his righteousness, which gives to every one his own: he has promised them salvation; comp. “his faithfulness,” in Psalms 98:3 and Romans 15:8-9.

The first half of Psalms 98:3 alludes to Isaiah 63:7. Mercy and faithfulness: comp. Psalms 92:3. The salvation which all the ends of the earth see is, in the first instance, the salvation of Sion. For the discourse is of this in Psalms 97 and also in the fundamental passage. The heathen, however, shall be admitted into participation of this salvation.

Verses 4-6

Ver. 4-6. As in the preceding strophe we had why, so here we have how we should praise the Lord.

Ver. 4. Shout unto the Lord, all the earth, break out and rejoice and sing. Ver. 5. Sing to the Lord with the guitar, with the guitar and the voice of song. Ver. 6. With trumpets and the voice of the clarionet, rejoice before the Lord the King.

The first half of Psalms 98:4 is literally from Psalms 66:1 of Psalms 66, a Psalm which belongs to the time of Hezekiah, only that לאלהים is there; comp. also Psalms 47:1: “rejoice with hands, all nations shout unto God with jubilee-voice,” and the observations made at that verse on the exhortations addressed to the whole world to rejoice over the salvation of Israel. “To break out in joy,” פצח רנה is peculiar to Isaiah, comp. Isaiah 14:7, Isaiah 44:23: “break out, ye mountains, in joy” (the material fundamental passage), Isaiah 49:13, Isaiah 54:1; still more so, however, is the “break out and rejoice,” comp. Isaiah 52:9: “break out and rejoice together, ye ruins of Jerusalem,”—the formal fundamental passage. On זמרו comp. Psalms 47:6.

The קול זמרה is from. Isaiah 51:3.

On “before the Lord the King, comp. Isaiah 6:5. It looks back to the expression, “the Lord reigneth,” מלך , in Psalms 97:1, and is equivalent to “before the Lord who has now set up his kingdom, and brought the whole earth under his subjection.”

Verses 7-9

In the last strophe, Psalms 98:7-9, who should rejoice: in the preceding one the intensity, here the extent of the joy.

Ver. 7. Let the sea roar and its fulness, the world, and them who dwell upon it. Ver. 8. Let the streams clap their hands, and the mountains rejoice together, Ver. 9. Before the Lord, because he comes to judge the earth, he will judge the earth in righteousness, and the nations in uprightness.

The first clause of Psalms 98:7 is from Psalms 96:11. The roaring suits the fulness of the sea as well as the sea itself: it is used, Job 39:25, of the loud shout of the human voice. In so far as it is applied to the sea it denotes its solemn roar, The second clause is literally from Psalms 24:1.

The clapping of the hands is an expression of joy, comp. for example Psalms 47:1, and was employed as such especially at the commencement of the reign of earthly kings, comp. 2 Kings 11:12: “and they clapped the hands, and said long live the king.” The fundamental passage is Isaiah 55:12,—the only one, moreover, where, by a bold poetical figure, the clapping of hands is ascribed to inanimate objects: “the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Instead of the streams here, the trees are there; the mountains which follow here are named there immediately before.

The reason why the whole earth should rejoice is given in Psalms 98:9: he comes to judge the whole earth, and to bring it by his righteous government from a state of sorrow into a state of salvation and joy. Comp. at Psalms 96:13.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 98". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-98.html.