Wednesday of Pentecost 21 – Psalm 96:1-13

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

In the early 5th century BC, shortly after the Jewish exiles were allowed to go home, the Persian Empire was expanding to the west, into Greece. A small contingent of Greek soldiers stood in their way at a narrow point between the sea and a mountain. The spot was called Thermopylae. The Spartan king, Leonidas, was told that the Persians were so numerous that when they shot their arrows the sun was darkened. Leonidas’ reply was, “Good, we will fight in the shade!”

The psalmist today seems to have a similar attitude about impending doom. God comes to judge the world in equity and he is organizing a grand celebration. Shouldn’t he be running around in circles, pulling his hair out at the thought of such a judgment. He acknowledges the Lord’s power in verses 4-6 and in the next verses tells the whole world to tremble before Him. But he is planning a party!?

Leonidas of Sparta could see something larger than himself when he fearlessly faced the entire Persian army with a tiny force of his own. He knew that he would die, but he was buying time for the Greeks in the cities behind to get organized. Eventually they won great battles at Salamis and Platea, the Persian threat was turned back. The Persian Emperor, Xerxes, sometimes called Ahasuerus, fled back to Susa, his capital. There he consoled himself after his defeat with a new bride, a young Jewish woman named Esther.

The psalmist likewise knows something which makes his joy reasonable of a sort. He knows that the One who comes to judge is also the One who comes to save, filled with grace, mercy, and love. God does judge this world with equity and perfect justice, but His wrath falls upon His Son, Jesus and we are spared. So let the whole world rejoice. The Word who was with God, who is God, by whom all things were made, has been born in Bethlehem’s stable and died on Golgotha’s cross. Raised in glory, we rejoice to see our judge has wounds in His hands and feet where he paid our sin’s price.

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