Psalm 96: Sing a New Old Song

Whenever unsure about what song to write, musicians frequently look to old songs and do remakes. Remakes of old songs are often sure hits. Sometimes they surpass the popularity of the original. Sometimes the original is forgotten entirely. We are surprised to learn a song we love was originally created by another artist.

Who doesn’t love the remake of the Monkey’s hit, “I’m a Believer,” for the first Shrek movie? It appeals to baby boomers who recall their first crush on Davy Jones, and appeals to a new generation with ogres and other classic cartoon characters. And then there’s Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. What’s not to love?

Other times we hear notes that sound strangely familiar attached to an unfamiliar or new song. Hence the copyright infringement lawsuits that surface as song writers are accused of plagiarizing another song writer’s music. With only a limited amount of notes available, it’s no surprise that some songs sound familiar.

There were no such concerns over copyright in the Old Testament. There weren’t millions of dollars in royalties at stake. People re-used favorite lines with no concern over who said it first. This is especially the case in the Psalms where we hear frequent repetition. So if Psalm 96 sounds like you’ve heard it before, you have. Not only did the writer borrow from other psalms (verse 1 is found in 33:3, 40:3, 98:1; verse 3 in 9:11, 105:1; verse 4 in 48:1, 95:3; verses 7-9 in 29:1-2 and verse 13 in 9:8 and 98:9), the psalm is found in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33, almost in its entirety.

When you have something good, it bears repeating!

Psalm 96 is a hymn of praise, written in 3 parts most likely as part of a procession to the Temple. In verses 1-6, the worshipers call upon all to worship the God of creation; “O 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 . . . For all the gods of people are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” (1-2, 5-6)

The tribes of the nations are called to join in proclaiming God: “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 court.” (7-8) In verses 10-13, the culmination of the procession, God has come to rule the earth. “The Lord reigns!” they exclaim. All of creation rejoices at our God: Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy!” (11-12)

How can this song be new? It brings a new light to an old theme.

It’s been said in writing there are only a handful of plots, and yet every day thousands of new books are written. They follow a basic plot structure, yet are variations on a familiar theme. Each human being is composed of the same elements yet put together in a way that is unique.

The story of Jesus is told and retold by every generation. Each time it is new to that generation. And so let us enjoy this remake. Let us once again sing a new song to our God, using the unique variation that is our life.

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