98 Rivers Clap Hands
TEXT (Hebrew text at end)
1. A psalm.1
Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has worked marvels; His right hand, His holy arm, has given Him deliverance2.
2. The LORD has made His deliverance2 known; in sight of the nations, He has revealed His righteousness2.
3. He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of
; all the ends of the earth have seen the deliverance2 of our God. Israel
4. Shout aloud to the LORD, all the earth; open wide, and sing joyously, and sing praise!
5. Sing praise to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of song of praise.
6. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make loud music3 before the king, the LORD.
7. Let the sea and all within it roar, the world and its inhabitants;
8. let the rivers4 clap hands, let the mountains sing joyously together
9. before the LORD, for He comes to govern the earth; He will govern the world with righteousness, and peoples with equity.
- This term is same root as "sing (song of) praise" in verses 4 and 5.
- Terms can imply "victory."
- Same term as "shout aloud," verse 4.
- Can mean "oceans."
Some psalms hint at conflict and tension below the surface. A few psalms hint at harmony where one might expect conflict, and such is Psalm 98.
Psalm 98, related to Psalm 96 (see the nearly identical openings and closings, and many shared terms, even though the two psalms have different emphases) suggests joyous celebration. Dominated by references to song and music, the poem describes, as it were, two overlapping harmonic structures: a three-part harmony and a two-part harmony.
Three Voices in Harmony
Psalm 98, though a brief "song," presents itself in three musical movements: a song of deliverance (vv. 1 – 3, opening with the repetition of "song," shir, and dominated by three uses of "deliverance," root y-sh-');a chorale, loud music with shouted song (vv. 4 – 6, dominated by "sing... praise"); and finally nature's musical chorus (vv. 7 – 9, enclosed by the term "world," tevel). The progression is incremental. This is, quite simply, a crescendo of celebration.
Two Voices in Harmony
There is a second possible division of Psalm 98, indicated not by word repetition but by parallel structure. Twice there is a call to celebrate followed by a justification. In the first case the call is brief (verse 1a), with a longer justification (through v. 3); in the second case, the emphasis is reversed as there is a longer call (vv. 4–8) and a short justification (v. 9).
In this case, the two sections are complementary. The first seems to emphasize the deliverance of the people
, and the celebration is only in song. The second seems to be on a much wider scale. In terms of the music, this section gets louder and broader stage by stage. It begins with song, adds musical accompaniment of strings, moves on to add trumpets and horns, expands to the sea and dry land, and finally includes even the highest mountain peaks making music together with the oceans. The puzzling aspect of this celebration, of course, is that through verse 8 it seems to be in appreciation of Israel 's victory! Israel
This huge celebration, however, leads into verse 9, welcoming God who is coming. The surprise of this justification for praise is that God's arrival is focused neither on grandeur nor might, but on just governance, albeit on a worldwide scale. Once again, a final verse in a psalm redefines that which preceded it. With the knowledge that the nations are celebrating God's governance, one newly appreciates the terminology used for God's actions in the first section, which terms have an overtone of military victories (see note 2). In retrospect, the terms seem to have been chosen primarily for their root meanings of "deliverance" and "righteousness." The emphasis, as the end of the psalm clarifies, is on underlying purpose, not the military.
The two sections thus blend beautifully. The smaller scale applies to the people
, the larger to the universal celebration. The emphasis is on God's justice, and ultimately, Psalm 98 finds no conflict between the God of Israel and the God of the world. Israel
Turns of Phrase
Included in all parts of the three-section division is the term "earth," yet another factor binding the psalm.
Verse 8 includes the striking metaphor "let the rivers [that is, oceans] clap their hands." Clapping hands as a celebration is noted in Psalm 47:2, and we elsewhere find (Isa. 57:12) the metaphor of trees clapping hands. Here we have the broadest metaphor, possibly related to the sounds of breaking waves, but in any case certainly apt for a worldwide celebration.
There is a punned inclusio to Psalm 98, verse 1's "sing…song" (shiru…shir) echoed by verse 9's "equity" (meisharim). The pun is particularly forceful, for the latter term has a plural ending, and reads almost as if it were a plural word built on the root of "song." (It is in fact not, "song" being from the root sh-y-r, and "equity" from the root y-sh-r.) An inclusio often encourages one to look at the middle verse (5), which here also has an unusual structure, approximately "sing praise – LORD – lyre // lyre – voice - sing praise." When all is said and done, it is this firm call to celebrate which remains the heart of the psalm.
(א) מִזְמוֹר שִׁירוּ לַיהֹוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ כִּי נִפְלָאוֹת עָשָׂה הוֹשִׁיעָה לּוֹ יְמִינוֹ וּזְרוֹעַ קָדְשׁוֹ:
(ב) הוֹדִיעַ יְהֹוָה יְשׁוּעָתוֹ לְעֵינֵי הַגּוֹיִם גִּלָּה צִדְקָתוֹ:
(ג) זָכַר חַסְדּוֹ וֶאֶמוּנָתוֹ לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל רָאוּ כָל אַפְסֵי אָרֶץ אֵת יְשׁוּעַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ:
(ד) הָרִיעוּ לַיהֹוָה כָּל הָאָרֶץ פִּצְחוּ וְרַנְּנוּ וְזַמֵּרוּ:
(ה) זַמְּרוּ לַיהֹוָה בְּכִנּוֹר בְּכִנּוֹר וְקוֹל זִמְרָה:
(ו) בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהֹוָה:
(ז) יִרְעַם הַיָּם וּמְלֹאוֹ תֵּבֵל וְיֹשְׁבֵי בָּהּ:
(ח) נְהָרוֹת יִמְחֲאוּ כָף יַחַד הָרִים יְרַנֵּנוּ:
(ט) לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה כִּי בָא לִשְׁפֹּט הָאָרֶץ יִשְׁפֹּט תֵּבֵל בְּצֶדֶק וְעַמִּים בְּמֵישָׁרִים: