Make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King. — Psalm 98:5–6
At first glance, Psalm 98 sounds just like Psalm 96. Both psalms summon the nations of the world to join together in joyful praise of God. Both call for “a new song” to be sung to the Creator, and both depict all of God’s creations living in harmony. So how are the two psalms different? What did the psalmist want to add in this psalm that he hadn’t already mentioned?
The answer is that Psalm 96 is set in the Holy Temple while Psalm 98 speaks to us wherever we may be. Psalm 96 encourages us to “bring an offering and come into his courts” (Psalm 96:8). We are asked to praise God by bringing the special offerings that were brought in during the age of the Temple.
But Psalm 98 calls upon us to praise God in any way that we can, wherever we are. Psalm 98 mentions a variety of instruments — the harp, the trumpet, the ram’s horn, and even our voices. The message in this psalm is that we can always find a way to make music to the Lord; we just need to use whatever instruments are available.
The two psalms also describe two very different situations in life. In Psalm 96, we are living our ideal life, or a very close version of it. We are able to praise God and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We have the means at our disposal to contribute to God’s purposes. We have plenty of money to share with those lacking, an abundance of food to feed the hungry, and enough time and energy on our hands to volunteer for any worthwhile cause.
Like the Holy Temple that once existed, and will be rebuilt in messianic times, this perfect life is an extraordinary blessing. But it is also hard to come by. For most of us, it is something we strive for, but not something that we have yet realized.
So Psalm 98 is offered to us as an encouraging message: You don’t need to be in the Holy Temple, you don’t need to be living with perfect conditions, in order to praise God and contribute to His cause. You can make music to God with whatever instrument you have in your hands.
Are you funny? Bring people joy with your humor. Are you a talented graphic artist? Share your talents with your church or another worthy institution. Can you teach God’s Word? Can you share a few dollars with love? Everyone has some kind of instrument to play, even if it’s simply an ear that listens, or a hug that comforts.
Find your instrument, play it well, and praise your God!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President