Meditation on Psalm 96

 

In this Psalm, all of creation, even that which we would consider inanimate, is called on to praise God:

Let the heavens rejoice

Let the earth be glad

Let the sea roar

Let the field be joyful

And all that is therein

Then shall all of the trees of the wood rejoice

This is not the only place in the Bible where inanimate creation is seen as expressing praise.  Isaiah talks about trees “clapping their hands,” and our Lord tells the Pharisees that if he would silence his disciples, “the very stones would cry out.”

But every time we hear of such marvels, they are expressions of ecstasy.  The heavens rejoice and the trees clap their hands because they are bursting with joy.  It’s almost like they know that singing and clapping would be terribly out of character and thus impertinent for them, but, given the circumstances, they just can’t hold it in.

And the circumstance – at least in the Psalms and the prophets – that the rocks and trees, the skies and seas – anticipate is “judgement.”  How can this be so?  Do we think of the rocks and trees as angry about something or other (heh – maybe mountaintop removal mining) and thus bursting with joy when they see that the bad guys are about to get their comeuppance?

No.  I don’t think that’s the idea at all.  And the teacher who helped me with this – as has so often been the case in my life – was C. S. Lewis.  In his book, Reflections on The Psalms, he explains that when we moderns read the Bible, we tend to think of “judgement” as being like a sentence pronounced against a defendant in a criminal case.  He says that this view of it may be consistent with the way the term is used in the New Testament.  But in the Old Testament, it is usually the case that the judgement that is anticipated is more like judgement for a plaintiff in a civil case where the emphasis is not so much on punishment but on recompense – on being made whole.  Look at Psalm 103, verse 6, where God “executeth righteousness and judgement for all that are oppressed.”  It is judgment “for” and and not “against.”  It’s the kind of judgement that the Psalmist writes about in Psalm 37, where he says of that man who waits on the Lord:

He [God] will bring forth thy righteousness as the light

And thy judgement as the noonday . . .

This is the judgement for which all of creation groans.

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