16 Oct 2021

Sing a New Song: the Chronicler’s New Psalm

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Chronicles, Exegesis, Grace, King David, Mission, Music, Psalms, Worship
Psalm 96 Made New in 1 Chronicles 16

O SING to the LORD a new song” (Psalm 96.1)

Chronicles and God’s Fresh Word of Grace

First and Second Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Some scholars have referred to this book as the first commentary on the Bible. It is Holy Spirit interpretation of the whole history of Israel. As Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible it says to us: this is the point, please don’t miss it.

Sadly, however, Chronicles is among the least known books of the Bible. And we often miss the point. Central to the Spirit guided message of Chronicles is the Temple and the worship of Israel. The Temple and Israel’s worship provide the key to the burning question of the Chronicler’s day: Will Yahweh take us back after our horrific sin? Will Yahweh still dwell among us, a people proven to be unfaithful? The “Last Word” of the Hebrew Bible (Chronicles) is that Yahweh not only will but does keep God’s people, does dwell among them in grace, and calls them to mission yet.” Grace is the Last Word of the Hebrew Bible. See my article Grace the Last Word: Two Stories, One People or Why the Bible tells the Story of Israel not only Twice but Differently.

Chronicles is a fascinating work but many never make it past the geologies to find out. However the Chronicler was an interpreter of earlier Scripture. The author uses, and quotes, large portions of what we would call the “Bible” today. Among the texts used by Chronicler is the Book of Psalms. The Chronicler sometimes combines several older Psalms to make a new one. Artists to this day are often inspired by and mine the work of previous masters in order to produce fresh and powerful contemporary works of art in music, literature, movies and paintings.

A classic case is found in 1 Chronicles 16 after David has brought the Ark to Jerusalem. David assumes the priestly role of leading Israel in worship through offering sacrifice (16.2) and song. He arranges the instruments for “sacred song” (16.4-6, 42) as well. What follows in 16.8-36 is three psalms made into one.

1 Chronicles 16.8-22 is Psalm 105.1-15 nearly verbatim

1 Chronicles 16.23-30 is Psalm 96.1-10 nearly verbatim

1 Chronicles 16.31-35 is Psalm 106.1, 47-48

New Song: Verse One

All of these Psalms come near the end of Book IV of the Psalter. Psalm 105 and 106 are long theological reflections on the story of Israel. Psalm 105 tells of Yahweh’s gracious HESED and never ending faithfulness to Israel. Psalm 106 is a stark contrast from Ps 105 telling the equally sad tale of Israel’s never ending faithlessness to Yahweh’s Covenant of Love. (The use of these psalms also shows that the at least a large portion of the book of Psalms was in use in the fifth century BC.).

The Chronicler skillfully, and subtly, edits one or two lines of text to create a new Psalm that speaks appropriately for David’s day but even more so for his own day. Most commentators on Chronicles do not even attempt to deal with the new psalm. They say just read the Psalm commentaries. But the Chronicler has made a new psalm (interestingly enough Ps 96, begins with “Sing to the LORD a new song” which is omitted by the Chronicler and he begins his quote with “Sing to the LORD all the earth” the second line of v.1) with a fresh message in its own narrative context. The new song has a meaning in Chronicles and explicates the unique Spirit message for that day and ours.

The new psalm can be outlined as follows …

I. Israel is called to praise and remember Yahweh’s works (16.8-22)

II. The Nations are called to worship Yahweh (16.23-30)

III. The Cosmos is called to worship Yahweh (16.31-36)

Israel. The Nations. The Cosmos. This is all creation is called to fall before Yahweh’s throne (in the temple) and gather in worship before the Creator, the God of Israel.

David calls Israel to “seek” Yahweh, to “seek his face regularly” (vv. 10-11). They are called to “remember his marvelous deeds” and that his “judgements are in all the earth.” To God’s people, who had been exiled, these are powerful words. Even in Babylon it is Yahweh who calls the shots and remembering his salvific rescue out of Egypt is the paradigm for hope. For the Chonicler’s day the message is, even in the “grave” of Exile, Yahweh’s Hesed is greater than Babylonian gods and … and … greater than our sin.

In verse 18-19 the Chronicler subtly changes one word, but the NRSV/NIV ignore this. It is after all a subtle change. The text reads,

To give you [Abraham] I give the land …
When YOU were few in number …”

The Chronicler’s text, Psalm 96, reads “they” (which is what the NIV/NRSV also read for 1 Chronicles 16.19). But the Chronicler changes it to a third person plural. That is from “they” to “you.” This rather subtle move places the Chronicler’s little band of believers in David’s audience. David is thus addressing “us” now and not just the ancestors centuries ago. What happened seven hundred years ago is a message for “us” is the point. David’s is not just an ancient word but a contemporary word to God’s people in a new and desperate situation. They (the Chronicler’s audience) surely are “few in number” and they clearly have been sojourners in the land (Babylon and perhaps even in their new Persian province). Israel is then called, by David, the anointed ones, the prophets (16.22). The small post-exilic community is a band of prophets!

New Song: Verse Two

In part 2 the nations are called to worship. Israel can never escape her identity, even through exile. Yahweh created them as a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6) or as David calls them here, “my prophets.” Priests and prophets bring the message of Israel’s God. Israel has that function, even as an insignificant entity.

So in 16.23-30 “all peoples,” “the nations,” “O families of the earth” are exhorted to acknowledge Yahweh. In the ancient world this would have been heard as outrageous and pompous. It was assumed that a nations status was tied to the power of its god. Since Israel was absurdly tiny this would imply Yahweh was less than relevant both in David’s day and the Chronicler’s. Yet the nations gods are simply “idols.” Yahweh is ironically fulfilling the mission of Israel through exile because she must still call the nations to worship the Lord.

Also, no less scandalously, the nations, the nations who have tortured Israel, the nations who have been the enemies of God’s people, the nations who have been the enemies of Yahweh (!), Israel is called to

declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is Yahweh,
and greatly to be praised.

Assyrians. Babylonians. Persians. All nations are to hear the good news of Yahweh and to come and worship the God of Israel. Even after Exile, Israel is still to be a light to the nations. Israel is to bless those who persecute her! Israel was created for such a purpose and her sin has not unhitched her from God’s commission in the Exodus.

New Song: Verse Three

The final section of the psalm which draws on Psalm 106 calls the cosmos to join Israel and the nations in worship of the Creator God, the God of Israel.

Let the heavens rejoice,
let the earth be glad,
let them say among the nations,
Let the sea roar and its fullness …
For he comes to judge the world

The heavens and the earth is called to worship in praise (cf. Psalms 104, 148, 149, 150, etc) of Yahweh. The salvation of Israel and the nations is good news for creation itself. Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel is not thwarted by her perfidious track record of covenant keeping. The idolatry of the nations has not kept Yahweh from loving them and calling them to join Israel before the throne and live joyfully in God’s life-giving Presence.

What is the reason for Creation’s praise. Yahweh is coming to judge! To those schooled in typical modern Protestant theology judging is a fearful notion. Coming to judge is a very misunderstood concept in modern times. It does not signify primarily coming to destroy or punish. It sometimes may include that but that is not the basic idea when the Bible speaks of it. The sea is not exhorted to roar because Armageddon is about to be unleashed. Destruction of the nations is not why the “seas roar.”

When Yahweh comes to judge means that justice will finally cover the earth like the waters of the sea. To come and judge means that the wrongs of this world will be made right. To judge means to make the world right, to put it back together again. To come and judge means to heal the world. This is something to burst out in praise for. This is why creation bursts out in praise because Yahweh has shocked Israel and the nations with Grace and healed the world. And this is a message that is desperately needed by God’s people existing constantly on the precipice of disaster.

In verse 35 the Chronicler adds the words to Psalm 106.47, “And say” or “say also.”

Who is to “say?”
What is to be said?

The “who” are the people in the Chronicler’s own day. The people gathered in worship in the Chronicler’s day are invited to join the prayer “And say.” Say what?

SAVE US, O GOD of our salvation,
Gather us and deliver us from the nations
to thank your holy name,
and glory in your praise

The Chronicler conflates the centuries between David and post-exilic Judah and suddenly makes them one. They are together standing before the King. But not just them … us.

Then all the people had a fantastic dinner. Worship culminates in eating, communion, with the gracious God of Israel, Yahweh. All Israel, even over space and time, one by the grace of God and is blessed in God’s presence.

The Chronicler’s message is a powerful one.

What a great new song.

2 Responses to “Sing a New Song: the Chronicler’s New Psalm”

  1. Randall Says:

    Great post Bobby. Does God’s hesed still hold Israel today?

  2. Jerry Starling Says:

    I love your exposition of the Psalms, even those that are not in the Book of Psalms. For sometime now I have been following your example of reading the Book of Psalms each month. It is refreshing!

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