“The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other, is by music. When I would form in my mind an idea of a society in the highest degree happy, I think of them as expressing their love, their joy, and the inward concord and harmony and spiritual beauty of their souls by sweetly singing to each other.” (Jonathan Edwards)
“If worshipers leave a service with no thought of becoming more godly in their lives, then the purpose of worship has not been achieved. If they walk away from an assembly without a conviction that they need to conform their lives to Holy Scripture, even if it means changing their lifestyle, then worship has been perverted somewhere…The clear teaching of Scripture is that genuine worship is life changing.”
(Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory)
“Praise the LORD! I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1).
The English word “hallelujah” is a transliteration of 2 Hebrew words, hallelu and Jah. The 1st word, hallelu, is the 2nd person imperative of “praise.” The 2nd word, Jah, is the short form of Yahweh – God’s name. So, when we say, “Hallelujah!” we are exhorting everyone to join us in praising Yahweh.
To shout, “hallelujah” is like standing in front of all false gods and boldly saying, “Not you, Molech!” “Not you, Baal!” “Not you, Dagon!” “Not you, Artemis!” “Not you, Zeus!” “But to Jah, and Jah alone, I give praise.”
So, the next time you sing “Hallelujah” pause for a split second between hallelu and Jah and say it like a name. We praise you . . . Jah! You are above all gods Jah! Join me, all you heavenly hosts, and praise Jah!
The psalmist teaches us to hold back nothing when we sing.
Are your praises whole-hearted? What good is half-hearted praise? Half-hearted devotion is no devotion; half-hearted worship is no worship This is why John Calvin translated the phrase “whole heart” as “sincere heart.” It is not just 100% of the heart but the heart of integrity. There should be no divisions in one’s heart.
And just when you might suspect, this is a declaration of private praise as he refers to his own “heart,” the psalmist reminds all his readers that his praise is for “the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.” His whole worship is best served in the confines of the assembled body.
What a reminder for us! Corporate praise is better than individual praise. Public praise trumps private praise. Why? Let me give you 2 reasons.
First, corporate praise is better than individual praise because God set up the church. If God thought our private praise was a better use of our time, He wouldn’t not have set up an assembled group of saints and called it the church and commanded them to assemble for the purpose of worship (Hebrews 10:24-25). If none of that was necessary, He would have left it all up to us to praise Him on our own time. But he did not leave us as Lone Rangers. We are corporate worshippers.
Second, corporate praise is better than individual praise because that is what heaven is all about. That really is heaven’s activity (Revelation 5). Sure, we will do other things, but we will all be doing it for the purpose of glorifying Him. Corporate praise is better because that is what we see people doing in heaven.
The psalmist doesn’t want His praise to be only between him and God; he wants it public. It is much better to praise God in the company of the like-minded. That is the psalmist’s declaration. He is assuming the role of a worship pastor and calling everyone to praise God.
“Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.” (Psalm 98:4).
This type of shouting sometimes refers to celebratory shouts at a king’s coronation (e.g., “Long live King Solomon” in I Kings 1:39-40 or “Long live the king” in II Kings 11:12-14 or “Hosanna” in Matthew 21:4-9); it could also be that type of shouting that is like a war cry. In this context, it would be celebrating the coming of a King.
To “break forth in song” refers to an exuberant outburst that someone cannot repress. It is an eruption of praise. It is the same word Isaiah uses in Isaiah 55:12 – “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall BREAK FORTH into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” It is as if the praise is constant and unstoppable. It is too great to be contained.
You cannot be too hearty when it comes to singing. You can’t sing too loud or be too passionate when you open your lips to sing about God.
The noise in the Temple was legendary. It was borderline rambunctious. Let me give you an example of this from Ezra. Following the captivity in Babylon, the Temple was restored, and the walls were rebuilt. In Ezra 3, we see the formal, communal worship being restored and this is no light moment. We read,
“10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off” (Ezra 3:10-13).
This was worship with gusto. Reformed theologian and late pastor James Boice gives us this exhortation:
“Should the worship of God’s people be any less exuberant today? Should we be quiet when we have come to know him who is the great King above all kings and the great Lord above all lords? Shame on us for all lackluster worship and all halfhearted praise.”
Don’t waste your singing. If you need to close your eyes, close your eyes. If you need to sit up close during the service, sit on the front row. If you need to learn the songs, spend some time learning them. Do whatever is necessary but don’t waste your singing.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do the Psalms (and the Bible for that matter) emphasize singing as a form of worship? There are a lot of ways to glorify God. Why is there such an emphasis on music in the Psalms?”
First, singing is a required form of worship towards God. Consider a few of the commands in the N.T. Ephesians 5:19 – “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (e.g.., songs of personal testimony), singing and making melod yin your heart to the Lord.” So, singing is both a public (“speaking to one another”) and private (“in your heart to the Lord”) form of worship.
Colossians 3:16-17 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another (correcting each other) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
James 5:13 – “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”
Who could forget Paul and Silas stuck in a prison cell singing their hearts out at midnight while their fellow prisoners listened? (Acts 16:25) Or who could forget many of the scenes we see in eternity to come of worship from the Book of Revelation?
Second, songs are a means of teaching truth in a concise format (e.g., the Book of Psalms). The right type of Christian music combines good theology and good music. Good Christian music takes profound ideas and states them briefly.
Third, songs are memorable. Ever get caught singing a song you sang as a teenager or hadn’t heard in years? The mnemonic devices of songs are remarkable and God is wise enough to know that. He commands us to express ourselves in a manner that our minds can quickly recall truth.
Fourth, music is timeless. The oldest hymn in most hymnals is “Be Thou My Vision” which is several hundred years old. Psalm 98 is thousands of years old and we are giving it our undivided attention today.
Martin Luther understood much of this and helped the church understand the importance of essentially congregational singing. In fact, he re-introduced it to the church in the 16th century. He once said,
“Anyone who doesn’t view music as a gift from God must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs. I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Next after theology, I give music the highest place and the greatest honor.”
Singing is important and what you sing becomes even the more critical. Show me a church’s songs and I will should you it’s theology. Jonathan Edwards wrote,
“The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other, is by music. When I would form in my mind an idea of a society in the highest degree happy, I think of them as expressing their love, their joy, and the inward concord and harmony and spiritual beauty of their souls by sweetly singing to each other.”
In other words, singing is not optional. It is what God expects and it is what God deserves as we see next.
“Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalm 96:1).
Even though this was penned at a specific time for the people of Israel, it’s audience is more broad – as evidenced by the phrase “all the earth.” In fact, this “global application” is referenced throughout Psalm 96: “all the earth” (vs. 1), “among the nations” (vs. 3), “among all peoples” (vs. 3), “families of the peoples” (vs. 7), “all the earth” (vs. 9, 11), “the nations” (vs. 10), and “the world” (vs. 10, 13).
God is so great in His person and works that He demands a universal audience. Steve Lawson helpfully observes about this universal praise in his commentary.
“How could any heart consider God’s supreme authority and remain apathetic? Such silence is sinful, completely incongruent with the majesty of God. The unrivaled, worldwide rule of God demands the praise of all people everywhere. If the Lord were a mere regional deity, possessing only a limited dominion, then he should be adored only by the few who live under his localized government. But there is no restriction to his global dominion. The Lord is King over all the nations of the earth. Thus, he must be worshipped by every person. It is too small a thing, the psalmist argues, that he should be praised only by the remnant of Israel. Such would be far too small a congregation to declare God’s true greatness. Because his sovereignty is extended over all nations, his praise must come from all peoples” (Psalm 76-150, pg. 116)
It is a universal psalm for a universal audience.
The word “sing” repeats 3x in vs. 1. This repetition is what grammarians call “to the superlative degree.” In other words, “Sing, keep singing, sing louder, etc.” This is a command for non-stop singing.
And the song is to be “a new song.” How is it “new?” What the psalmist is suggesting is a song about fresh experiences of God’s care and salvation. In other words, it is singing a song as a result of a new or fresh perspective of the Creator. Charles Spurgeon explains, “Let us not present old worn-out praise, but put life, and soul, and heart, into every song, since we have new mercies every day, and see new beauties in the work and word of our Lord.” (The Treasury of David, pg. 105)
It is not a newly composed psalm, but a psalm celebrating fresh experiences of divine action or being struck anew by the amazing glory of God’s person or deeds (e.g., God’s faithfulness new every day from Lamentations 3:22-23).
So next time you are singing to the Lord, sing like you have never sung the song before