Let Us Sing a New Song:
A Lenten Meditation on Psalm 96
Rev. David R. Sincerbox
One of several Lenten disciplines is that of fasting in which we give up something. We might give up eating a whole day’s meals once a week during Lent, or a single meal a day such as dinner, or perhaps chocolate, or sweets, or television, among various things we might forgo. The purpose of fasting, however, is not simply to give up something. It is to give up something in order to replace a lesser something with a greater something. In the case of giving up food, one should replace this with feeding upon the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3, quoted by Jesus when he was tempted by Satan).
I would suggest that Psalm 96:1 suggests a different type of fast that we all should try, a fast involving our prayers. I am not suggesting we give up praying. Quite the contrary. But more on this in a moment.
The Greek translation of the Psalms in the Septuagint complied about 200 years before the birth of Jesus attributes the authorship of this psalm to David. There is no attribution in the Hebrew Masoretic text. There is, however, an almost exact rendering of Psalm 96 in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33; David composed that psalm to celebrate the Ark of the Covenant being placed in the Tabernacle. It seems safe to say that David is the author of Psalm 96. The psalm’s form is that of an extended praise.
Psalm 96:1 begins, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song” (all Scripture references taken from the English Standard Version). This is the theme of this psalm. The phrase “a new song” appears six times in the book of Psalms (33:3; 40:3; here in 96:1; 98:1; and twice in 144 in verses 1 and 9). Since this is the case, perhaps the Lord is suggesting to us what he considers to be important in the way he wants us to approach him in prayer. I would suggest that this repeated phrase tells us that we should fast from lesser anemic, unimaginative and rote prayers, and replace these type prayers with the greater prayers of imagination, creativity and freshness. Such prayers should stretch because they force us as to dig deep into the very depths of our being as we communicate with God. We can begin singing a new song by following certain praise-patterns found in Psalm 96. And, as with any discipline, the more we practice singing new songs employing these guidelines, the more adept and inventive our prayers will become.
Singing a new song can literally mean singing, but in relation to prayer, it means our prayers should contain the elements of song: they should be lyrical in expression; they should be compelling; they should even be emotional. As we express them, they should come from the soul.
As stated earlier, the theme of this psalm is that of “a new song.” “New” in Hebrew also means “fresh.” The idea of something “new” is that of something that wasn’t there before, that has not existed until it appears; it is like a newborn babe or fresh, spring, dew-bright grass. Unless it is an honest expression of loss, or fear, or uncertainty, this new song should, in the main, be something that is pleasing, tasty and refreshing such as a crisp, green-garden salad. It is the antithesis of wilted and tasteless. Even the Sons of Korah’s most deeply expressed psalm of depression and loss, Psalm 88, is fresh, honest, and vital in its honest, heart-wrenching lament.
The first praise-pattern we can extract from Psalm 96 in singing a new song is that our prayers must have a proper purpose; verse 2 tells us that this purpose is “to bless his [God’s] name,” which means that we are to praise him. We are to seek new and fresh ways of expressing our praise. Verse 2 also tells us that we are to “tell of his salvation from day to day.” We are to remind ourselves of the many ways his salvation has nourished our lives and the lives of others. We can do this by painting word pictures. Maybe at first you can only use finger paints like little children, but as you mature in creative prayer, you should be able to move from finger paints to oils and acrylics. Verse 3 therefore gives us this instruction: “Declare his glory among the nations…” The purpose for singing a new song is thus to bless and express.
The second praise-pattern we can extract from Psalm 96 in singing a new song is that we must actively consider the reasons for blessing and expressing. This is given in the two “for” statements of verses 4 and 5: “For great is the Lord…For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols…” The Hebrew word translated “great” refers to being immense in size and/or in importance. It can also refer to growth. One of the side benefits of learning how to sing a new song is that as we do so, our understanding of God’s greatness grows. He is so immense and so great, our ever-growing understanding of his greatness can never outgrow his totality of being. Only God in his greatness has true worth because he is the creator of all things (verse 5b). As the creator and the king, “splendor and majesty” and “strength and beauty” are intrinsic components of his greatness; he is so filled with radiance, glory and honor, he is so beautiful and vigorous and dynamic, we could never exhaust our vocabularies (or the palettes we use for our word pictures) in seeking ever bright and scintillating ways of glorifying him.
The third praise-pattern we can extract from Psalm 96 in how we are to sing a new song is seen in specific responses that arise from our blessing and expressing. We see this in the three “ascribes” of verses 7 and 8; the verb “ascribe” in the Hebrew is in the imperative mood, thus it is a command, and it means “to give,” or “to attribute.” We are to ascribe to him “glory and strength” through specific acts: one is through bringing him offerings (verse 8), and another is through genuine worship (verse 9) which is so enamored of the “splendor of holiness” that is him, it shakes us to the very core of our being (or, as verse 9 puts it, we are to “tremble before him.”) Yet another way we are to ascribe to him “glory and strength” is to proclaim him among the nations (verse 10) by crying aloud, “The Lord reigns!” (See Psalms 47:8; 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1.) Because he reigns, he has made ready, or fixed, or “established” his creation, and he will judge the “peoples with equity.”
The fourth praise-pattern we can extract from Psalm 96 in how we are to sing a new song is seen in the fact that the whole created order joins in harmonious joy and pleasure in its God (verses 11-12), especially as he has redeemed us (as well as his creation) in his Son who died on the cross and who now reigns with him at his right hand in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).
The fifth and final praise-pattern we can extract from Psalm 96 is that Jesus will come again (verse 13) to “judge the earth.”
Do we want to be found lethargic in our prayers before Christ’s comes again? Or do we want to be found awake, alive and alert? Shouldn’t we be resolved, this Lenten season, to fast from anorexic prayers and instead fill our minds, mouths and whole bodies with a full feast of praise?
Image by Philippe LeRoyer (used by permission via Creative Commons).