Sacred Texts  Christianity  Calvin  Index  Previous  Next 

Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at


This psalm has a great resemblance to the ninety-sixth, not only in matter, but language. The great scope of it is to show that the glory of God would be illustriously displayed in the spread of the knowledge of his name throughout the world, both from the more ample fulfillment which would be given upon the manifestation of the Savior, to the promises made to the posterity of Abraham, and from the sudden extension of salvation to all parts of the earth. He calls upon men to magnify the name of God on this account.

Psalm 98:1-3

1. Sing unto Jehovah a new song, for he hath done marvelous things: his own right hand, and the arm of his holiness, hath gotten him the victory.  106 2. Jehovah hath made known his salvation: his righteousness he hath revealed in the sight of the heathen. 3. He hath remembered his goodness and truth towards the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.  107


1 Sing unto Jehovah a new song I have already remarked, that the expression here used denotes an extraordinary, not a common, ascription of praise. This appears from the reason assigned for it, That God had manifested his salvation in a singular and incredible manner. For having spoken of marvelous things, he represents this as the sum of all, that God had procured salvation with his own right hand;  108 that is, not by human means, or in an ordinary way, but delivering his Church in an unprecedented manner. Isaiah enlarges upon this miracle of God’s power:

“The Lord looked if there were any to help, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his own arm brought salvation, and his righteousness sustained him,”
(Isa 59:16)

In both passages the arm of God stands opposed to ordinary means, which although when employed they derogate nothing from the glory of God, yet prevent us from so fully discovering his presence as we might otherwise do. The language of the Psalmist amounts to a declaration that God would not save the world by means of an ordinary kind, but would come forth himself and show that he was the author of a salvation in every respect so singular. He reasonably infers that mercy of such a wonderful, and, to us, incomprehensible kind, should be celebrated by no ordinary measures of praise. This is brought out still more clearly in the verse which follows, where it is said that his salvation and righteousness are shown to the nations What could have been less looked for than that light should have arisen upon these dark and benighted places, and that righteousness should have appeared in the habitations of desperate wickedness? Salvation is mentioned first, although it is, properly speaking, the effect of righteousness. Such an inversion of the natural order is often observed in stating divine benefits; nor is it surprising that what is the means, and should be mentioned first, is sometimes set last, and follows by way of explanation. I may add, that the righteousness of God, which is the source of salvation, does not consist in his recompensing men according to their works, but is just the illustration of his mercy, grace, and faithfulness.

3 He hath remembered his goodness Having spoken of the general manifestation of his salvation, he now celebrates his goodness more particularly to his own chosen people. God exhibited himself as a Father to Gentiles as well as Jews; but to the Jews first, who were, so to speak, the first-born.  109 The glory of the Gentiles lay in their being adopted and in-grafted into the holy family of Abraham, and the salvation of the whole world sprung from the promise made to Abraham, as Christ said, “Salvation is of the Jews,” (Joh 4:22) The Psalmist therefore very properly observes, that God in redeeming the world remembered his truth, which he had given to Israel his people — language, too, which implies that he was influenced by no other motive than that of faithfully performing what he had himself promised.  110 The more clearly to show that the promise was not grounded at all on the merit or righteousness of man, he mentions the goodness of God first, and afterwards his faithfulness, which stood connected with it. The cause, in short, was not to be found out of God himself, (to use a common expression,) but in his mere good pleasure, which had been testified long before to Abraham and his posterity. The word remembered is used in accommodation to man’s apprehension; for what has been long suspended seems to have been forgotten. Upwards of two thousand years elapsed from the time of giving the promise to the appearance of Christ, and as the people of God were subjected to many afflictions and calamities, we need not wonder that they should have sighed, and given way to ominous fears regarding the fulfillment of this redemption. When it is added, all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of God, this is not merely commendatory of the greatness of the salvation, meaning that it should be so illustrious that the report of it would reach the ends of the earth; but it signifies that the nations formerly immersed in delusions and superstitions would participate in it.

Psalm 98:4-9

4. Exult before Jehovah all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5. Sing to Jehovah upon the harp, upon the harp, and with the voice of a psalm.  111 6. With trumpets, and sound of the cornet, sing before Jehovah the King. 7. Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof; the world, and those who dwell therein.  112 8. Let the floods clap their hands:  113 let the hills be joyful together, 9. Before Jehovah: for he cometh to judge the earth; with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with uprightness.


4 Exult before Jehovah all the earth Here he repeats the exhortation with which he had begun, and by addressing it to the nations at large, he indicates that when God should break down the middle wall of partition all would be gathered to the common faith, and one Church formed throughout the whole world. When he speaks of musical instruments the allusion is evidently to the practice of the Church at that time, without any intention of binding down the Gentiles to the observance of the ceremonies of the law. The repetition made use of is emphatical, and implies that the most ardent attempts men might make to celebrate the great work of the world’s redemption would fall short of the riches of the grace of God. This is brought out still more forcibly in what follows, where feeling is ascribed to things inanimate. The whole passage has been elsewhere expounded, and it is unnecessary to insist further upon it.



The last clause is “literally, have wrought deliverance for him, i e., not deliverance of him, as if God had been himself in danger or distress; but that is done for any one, which is done agreeably to his wishes and intentions, and at his instigation. The original, therefore, expresses, that the deliverance wrought was originally designed and decreed by God, and that his immediate power effected the thing intended without any other aid.” — Horsley Street translates, “hath wrought salvation for us.” He thinks that instead of לו, for him, we should read לנו, for us


The last part of this verse is in the same words with Isa 52:10.


Car apres avoir parle des miracles, il les restreint specialement a une somme, ascavoir, que Dieu sest acquis salut par sa propre vertu.” — Fr.


Afin qu’ils fussent comme les aisnez.” — Fr.


Qu’il n’a point este induit par autre raison, sinon afin que fidelement il accomplist ce qu’il avoit promis.” — Fr.


Horsley reads —

“Chant unto Jehovah to the harp,
To the harp, and the sound of the zimrah.”

זמרה here,” he remarks, “as in Ps 81:2, is certainly the name of some musical instrument. But what the particular instrument might be, which went by that name, is quite uncertain. I therefore retain the Hebrew word.”


Street is of opinion that the nominative cases of the concluding part of this verse do not belong to the verb of the preceding clause, but to the verb in the subsequent verse. “Roar let the globe,” says he, “‘and those that inhabit it,’ is not so proper an expression as ‘Let the globe and those that inhabit it clap the hand.’”


“Let the floods clap their hands,” is a most beautiful prosopopoeia, a figure for which the Hebrew poets are remarkable, and which they manage with equal elegance and boldness. Horsley renders, “Let the floods sound applause;” observing, that it is literally “clap their hands.” “The verb רנן,” he adds, “expresses the vibratory motion, either of a dancer’s feet, or of a singer’s lip. Therefore, when applied figuratively to an inanimate thing that can neither dance nor sing, it is better to render its general sense than to confine it to either particular image. Our language has no word, which, like the Hebrew, may express dancing or singing indiscriminately.” The propriety of deviating from the literal rendering may, however, be questioned. This ode is highly animated; it is a burst of joy in God raised to the highest pitch; and it is the property of this emotion, when felt in a high degree, to express itself in the most daring and unusual figures. It may be added, that the whole of the seventh and eighth verses furnish a beautiful specimen of personification. With a sublimity of sentiment and an energy of language which cannot be surpassed, all nature, animate and inanimate, is summoned to unite in the song of joy, and to contend with eager rivalry in celebrating the praises of its Creator.

Next: Psalm 99