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The Lord Reigns

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Psalms 96–99

Jesus Christ is our Savior, the one who has redeemed us through His substitutionary death. And in this we rejoice. But we can rejoice, too, that our Savior is also our King, our Master, the holy God, and we will one day participate in His righteous reign over the earth.


The Lord Reigns

Psalm 96–99


In today’s Wisdom Journey, we are studying four psalms that are sometimes referred to as “Yahweh Malak” psalms. Yahweh malak means “the Lord reigns.” You might need to repeat that several times as you go through your day: “Yahweh malak”—the Lord is in control; the Lord reigns.

And as far as the psalmist is concerned, this is a lot to think about, and it will give us plenty to sing about as we go through our day. In fact, Psalm 96 opens with an invitation in verses 1-2: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song . . . tell of his salvation from day to day.”

The Hebrew word for “tell” in “tell of his salvation” refers to delivering good news. This word was often used in a military context, when a runner was dispatched to bring news of a great victory.[1]

Today we have an Olympic race called the marathon. The origin of this race goes back some 500 years before the birth of Christ to a battle between Greece and Persia. Legend has it that a Greek messenger named Pheidippides ran some 26 miles, from Marathon to Athens, to deliver the news that Greece had won the battle. After making his announcement in Athens, the exhausted soldier collapsed and died. Today, the Olympic marathon race, of around 26 miles, honors the legend of that heroic messenger.

This is our great privilege today—to deliver good news, the news of the Lord’s salvation. In fact, the Greek translation of the Old Testament translates this Hebrew word for “tell” with the word euanggelizō, or “evangelize.” And is that not what evangelism is today? We have our running shoes on, so to speak; we are messengers delivering to our world the gospel of salvation—the good news of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death.

There is more for the messenger to do, by the way. Here in verse 3, we are told, “Declare his glory among the nations.” To “declare” means to recount or number.[2] It is like keeping a scorecard; and beloved, if you are keeping score, it might not look at times like God’s side is winning. But take a closer look at that scorecard because the final number has already been printed at the bottom; the final score is already determined: Jesus Christ wins.

Now with that, Psalm 97 follows nicely here, because it leads us to celebrate our victorious King. The opening words here in verse 1 are, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad.”

The “coastlands” here refers to faraway islands. Isaiah used this term seventeen times to describe the most remote places on earth. What the psalmist is trying to convey is that even the remotest places on the planet are under the reign of our King.

In verse 2 the King’s court is described: “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” The Hebrew text indicates that these dark clouds are actually descending. They picture the King descending to execute justice on a sinful world.

The imagery of dark clouds in verse 2, fire in verse 3, and lightning and earthquakes in verse 4 speaks to the terrible wrath of God, who is coming one day in judgment.

Nothing is going to stop the Lord from holding court and executing justice. Puny little arrogant man, who shakes his fist at God and thinks he can get away with it, will be no match for the Lord’s power. Verse 9 tells us that God is “most high over all the earth.” That means God will have the last word when He sits on His throne in judgment.

In the face of coming judgment, the only hope you and I have today is God’s promise here in verse 10, that He “preserve the lives of his saints.”

Maybe you think, “Well, that doesn’t help me at all, because I’m not a saint.” The word saint doesn’t mean you have to be perfect in order to avoid the judgment of God. Saint is used throughout Scripture, not for people who died and had some church council decide they had lived a good enough life to get them out of purgatory a little earlier.

There is not a verse in the Bible that supports that kind of man-made religion. The word saint simply refers to someone who has been saved. Over and over again in the Bible, you will find the word used for someone who is still alive, someone who belongs to God through faith in the Messiah King, Jesus Christ Himself.

Now as we sail into Psalm 98, we are again encouraged by the role of the King. Three times here in verses 1 to 3 the word salvation appears. The Lord Himself has worked out His plan of salvation. His right hand has worked out your salvation. You don’t need to add your good deeds to what He has already accomplished on your behalf.

That’s why the Bible refers to salvation as a free gift. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s a free gift. You don’t pay for it; in fact, you never could, which is why Jesus had to come and die for your sins. He alone could pay the price for your salvation. And since He paid for it, He can now offer it to you as a free gift.

When Christmastime rolls around, your children don’t pay you for their Christmas gifts, even though they probably should. But they don’t, do they? And that is because you paid for them. All they have to do is open them.

Salvation is like a Christmas gift. Your Savior, the Lord Jesus paid for it. All you have to do is open it. The question is this: Have you? Have you received His gift of forgiveness and salvation? Have you opened it for yourself?

You can do that right where you are, right now. “Lord Jesus, thank You for paying the price for my salvation in your suffering and death. I receive from You now the free gift of salvation. I claim You right now as my Savior. I will follow You today as my Lord and King.”

If you prayed that prayer just now, would you find a way to let us know? We will send you some material to help you take the next steps in your new walk with Christ.

In Psalm 99 we have the promise that our King is coming back to reign one day in His glorious kingdom on earth. This psalm gives us the prophetic picture. Verse 1 opens with “The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble [or, be in awe of Him]”! Then verse 2 says, “The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.”

Zion, you remember, is Jerusalem in general, where the Lord Jesus is going to reign one day in His coming kingdom. We will talk more about this as we go along on our Wisdom Journey.

What kind of King is He? Well, we are told twice in this psalm that He is holy. That truth is built into the lyrics of this inspired psalm. More than likely, one part of the choir was singing the verses here while another section of the choir responded by repeating this phrase, “Holy is he” (verse 3); Holy is he” (verse 5); and “the Lord our God is holy” (verse 9).

He is our victorious King in battle; He is our Redeeming Savior; He is our holy God.

That is a lot to think about, and it’s certainly enough to sing about as you walk with Him today and remember Yahweh malak, the Lord reigns.

[1] John N. Oswalt, “Basar” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Moody, 1980), 291-92.

[2] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Clarendon, 1978), 707-8.


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