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  • Writer's picturePastor Mike

October 01 2023

“Joy to the World”

Psalm 98:1-9

A Psalm

1 Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.

2 The LORD has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.

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.

4 Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.

5 Sing to the LORD with the harp, With the harp and the sound of a Psalm,

6 With trumpets and the sound of a horn; Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King.

7 Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell in it;

8 Let the rivers clap their hands; Let the hills be joyful together before the LORD,

9 For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98 is a part of a selection of psalms that have no title which might give us a clue as to who the human writer was. Psalm 98 is simply entitled, “A Psalm”. There is speculation by many commentators that Isaiah the Prophet might have written this psalm. But Spurgeon is a pretty strong believer that David wrote it years earlier and it was put in this particular set of psalms to celebrate the victory that the nation of Israel experienced when they were delivered out of captivity in Babylon and set free to go back to the Promise Land.

When you read through Psalm 98 you might also recognize a similarity to a song that was sung by Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. In Luke 1, Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Messiah and that her cousin Elizabeth in Jerusalem was also five months pregnant with a child. Mary goes to Jerusalem to share this good news and is eager to get Elizabeth’s reaction. No sooner does Elizabeth hear the news than she bursts into song, and Mary joins her. That wonderful song of hers, recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55, is called the Magnificat. If we read Psalm 98, then we read Mary's magnificent hymn, we can trace all the way through her song the underlying themes of this psalm. It is as though Mary had been meditating on this psalm all the way up to Jerusalem. Elizabeth's song invoked Mary's new song, one right out of this old song which had been in the Hebrew hymnbook for approximately five hundred years.

Something else about Psalm 98 that most people don’t realize is that it is the inspiration for one of our favorite hymns at Christmas time. “Joy to the World” is perhaps an unlikely popular Christmas hymn. This favorite Christmas hymn draws its initial inspiration not from the Christmas narrative in Luke 2, but from Psalm 98. Isaac Watts is the author of “Joy to the World”. He lived between 1674 and 1748. He was a clergyman, a poet, and a prolific writer of hymns. He paraphrased the entire Psalm 98 in two parts.

“Joy to the world” was taken from the second part of the paraphrase (Psalm 98:4-9), entitled “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” Watts, commenting on his paraphrase of the psalm, notes: “In these two hymns I have formed out of the 98th Psalm I have fully exprest what I esteem to be the first and chief Sense of the Holy Scriptures . . ..”

Originally, "Joy to the World," rather than being a “Christmas hymn”, would more accurately identified as a "kingdom hymn." Watts was actually describing Christ's second advent and not His first, the Messianic kingdom and not the manger.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let Earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room; And Heaven and nature sing; And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns; Let all their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy; Repeat the sounding joy.

He rules the world with truth and grace; And makes the nations prove; The glories of His righteousness; And wonders of His love; And wonders of His love.

Now whenever you sing “Joy to the World”, always remember Psalm 98.

God bless!

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