Psalm 96, like so many psalms, is a call to worship. Repeatedly, its verses call upon Israel and all of creation to sing the praises of Yahweh. Specifically, this new song of praise is to proclaim the good news of God's salvation, to tell of God's glory, and to speak of God's wonderful deeds. All of creation is called upon to worship the Lord because of his unspeakable and unmatchable greatness. Yahweh is proclaimed as the one true God while all other so called gods are nothing but empty idols, "old rags" by one commentators translation. According to Psalm 96, Yahweh is so great that splendor and majesty are not only adjectives used to describe God; they "are before him" (v. 6) as if splendor and majesty were themselves servants of God, preparing the way before him.
This new song of praise is due to God not only because of God's own greatness and majesty but also because of his reign. V. 10 reads "Say among the nations "The Lord reigns; indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity." It seems that the Psalmist sees Yahweh's reign as being connected with the very stability of the creation as well as the upholding of justice. The last verses of the Psalm then call upon specific parts of creation to sing praise to the Lord because God "will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness." This Psalm boldly proclaims the establishment of justice and equality in accordance with God's righteousness and faithfulness as a foundational piece of what it means for God to reign.
This psalm also appears in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33 as a part of a larger psalm of thanksgiving. In that context, the psalm serves to give thanks for the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. The Ark had been a symbol of God's continuing presence with Israel and now David had brought the Ark to Jerusalem as a sign of God's presence in David's capital city. Therefore, in the context of 1 Chronicles, this psalm is connecting, at least to some extent, the reign of God with David's reign as king. Although David and all of Israel would have continued to affirm God's reign in all the world apart from David's kingship, the establishment of David's reign in Jerusalem was in some very real ways the manifestation of God's reign. It was up to David to continue to seek God and to seek God's justice and equality in the land of Israel. It was through David's just and equitable reign that God's reign of righteousness and faithfulness would become a reality. That is largely the role of the Messiah, God's annointed, which David was; to bring God's peace and justice to earth.
This Psalm, especially as it relates to David, is once again significant as we think about Jesus. Similar to last week's Psalm, we can see how this Psalm and others like it could have served to shape Jesus' understanding of his own life and mission as well as the early church's understanding of who Jesus was. I am not suggesting that the author of psalm 96 or Asaph (in 1 Chronicles) were setting out to write about Jesus, a future messiah, in some kind of prescriptive way. Asaph does not at all seem to be concerned about a messiah that would come hundred of years later since God's anointed one is already standing before him in the person of David. Instead, I imagine that Jesus, being made aware by the Holy Spirit that he was on a messianic mission, would have found insight into his own mission by reading Psalms like this one. Just as David's reign was seen as the manifestation of God's reign on earth, so also Jesus would come to see his own mission as the manifestation of the kingdom of God. This is, in fact, precisely how Matthew and Mark sum up Jesus' proclamation "Repent, for the kingdom of God (just another way of saying God's reign) is near." Jesus' life and ministry and especially his death did not at all appear as kingly as David's reign did but like David Jesus' presence is the manifestation of God's reign on earth. This reality is indeed worthy of a new song of praise.