Joy in the Reign of God – Some thoughts on Psalm 96

“Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad” Psalm 96:10-11 (ESV)

I had a conversation with my wife Sarah recently where she told me she had been inspired to pray for joy in the mundane tasks of the week like preparing meals, cleaning or organizing things. She told me about how she has been applying her understanding of God’s reigning (His sovereignty, His rule and power) over everything in the universe, not just to things we tend to easily think He has control over, but to things in which we tend to doubt His control: our will and emotions.

Sarah said she finds it easier every day to believe she can pray for joy because she believes God can simply grant it. This is because the bigger our understanding of God, the more we trust He can actually answer any prayer. It’s possible for God to make us happy in the mundane because He reigns over everything in the universe, including our hearts. This is not to say we will never experience joylessness, but praying for joy is something God can and does answer.

Psalm 96 is actually one of six Psalms in a group, starting with Psalm 93, whose very first verse starts out with a shout, “The Lord Reigns!” (Psalm 93:1) all the way to to Psalm 99 where this word reign is used. In Hebrew it’s pronounced “malach” which is similar to the word king, pronounced “melech.”

It’s important how many times reign is mentioned because sometimes we hear of God’s sovereignty so much that we get tired of hearing it. We say, “Yes, yes; we know, we know! God is sovereign,” but it doesn’t bring us any joy. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect. We look at our circumstances and we wish God would use some of that sovereignty to actually do something for us instead of seemingly bragging about how big and powerful He is.

But this is not the attitude of the Psalmist, who is delighted to talk about how our God reigns. For some context, this Psalm was written by David, and is a copy of the song recorded in 1 Chronicles 16 where David celebrates the capturing of the ark from the Philistines, and God is blessing them while the ark is with them. David is shouting for joy at the reign of God. Notice also we’re not talking about a future time where God “will reign.” God, present tense “reigns” (now) over everything.

Additionally, it’s not as though the Psalmist is unfamiliar with the state of our tumultuous world. The Psalms are filled with sobering thoughts on the evil in the world “Who will rise up for me against the wicked” (Psalm 94:16)? The Psalmist acknowledges not everything is the way it should be, but one thing is for sure, the Lord reigns right now and we can trust his goodness. Jesus sits on the throne today. And this is something not only for us to celebrate, but celebrate frequently.

For many years I honestly did not enjoy thinking of God’s reign because it was discouraging to me. I discovered this was only because I doubted how a God so powerful could actually love his creatures. His sovereignty felt like tyranny. If God can do whatever he wants, will he eventually decide he doesn’t want us around anymore? However, instead of avoiding the Biblical repetitiousness of God’s sovereignty, I found that the answer was instead to equally remember that God took on flesh in Jesus, uniting himself to humanity forever, which is not something God can undo. And why would God do that to himself unless he truly loved us? He cannot forsake us because he cannot forsake himself! What an amazing God we have.

A couple interesting side notes I want to make about Psalm 96:

1. “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3). This verse and several others in this psalm are all about declaring God’s glory not just to Israel, but all nations, and all peoples. It’s easy to think that it wasn’t until Jesus that God began showing love to the whole world, but we see very early on that it was never God’s intention to simply be the God of the Hebrews but the whole world was to hear of His glory, and enjoy it.

2. Secondly, that word “declare” literally means “to publish.” That is really fitting for any writers or artists out there, who publish their works, but also for all of us who work. The greek text translates this “evangelion” which is where we get our word evangelism. So before we write, or produce anything, we can pray through Psalm 96 that, through our work, we would publish God’s glory in Jesus Christ, not just to our Christian friends, but that it would reach the whole world.

A prayer:

Father, you reign! And we want to frequently say, as David said, “The Lord reigns!” doing so with joy. We also ask that you give us joy even for things we have to do, because we know you can answer that prayer, because you rule over the human heart. We thank you for the encouragement you give for all of this in Psalm 96. Give us great joy today in the difficult and mundane. In Jesus’ name, amen.


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