Psalm 96 has been dubbed the “Missionary Song of the Church” (HSBC). And for good reason—it shows the beautifully and powerfully connected relationship God’s people experience between our witness for God (vs 1-3) and our worship of God (vs. 7-13).
Right in the middle of these two elements is the foundation for both: God’s greatness (vs 4-6)! It’s why we worship and why we witness. Yes, both our worship and our witness rest upon that which is outside of ourselves—the greatness of God.
But what makes God so great? Within this centerpiece of Psalm 96 the songwriter declares four reasons God is great:
1. God is great because of his salvation. (v 2)
Psalm 96 was, more than likely, written as a song of praise in dedication of the rebuilt Temple, so this is a direct reference to his work of deliverance from their captivity in Babylon. Israel knew it was only by God’s grace they were back in their land, “saved” from their enemies.
It could be an indirect reference to their redemption from Egypt as well. God’s salvation is referred to as his “marvelous works” (v 3) as well, and this seems to encompass the multiple times God rescued his people.
In both the Old and New Testament, God’s delivering and rescuing work is his called his salvation. It is his pinnacle and personal act of grace towards his people. This salvation belongs to him (Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10), and is truly one reason he is great.
2. God is great because of his position. (v 4)
God is “above all gods” (v 4). This is not to say the order could change one day, but simply a way to emphasize God’s dominance. Admittedly, there are other supernatural powers working evil in the world in a variety of ways, but the Psalmist is quick to point out these other “gods” are, in reality, just “worthless idols.” In other words, they are nothing compared to the true God who is far and away greater than all of them.
3. God is great because of his creation. (v 5)
This is the root reason God is above all other gods: He is the creator of all! In fact, here creation is seen as the ultimate act of God’s power and authority. The one single act of creation shows his continuing state of preeminence.
This is why idolatry is so illogical. To think that the created could assume power over the Creator is not only ludicrous, but also irrational. God alone is the maker of heaven and earth, and as such rules over it all. That fact shows him to be great.
4. God is great because of his character. (v 6)
The words here seem to be used in a personifying manner, portraying attendants in the presence of God. The point is that God’s essence is one of strength, majesty, glory, and beauty. These traits surround God just because he is. Such a Being is intrinsically great within himself.
Incidentally, the same concept is presented in Psalm 104:1, where God is said to be “clothed with splendor and majesty.” Again, the point is that God’s greatness isn’t simply external to him nor defined only by his powerful actions. It is also internal to him, part of his nature. His character undoubtedly sets him apart as truly great.
Strikingly, these very four aspects are seen in Revelation 4 and 5 as well, echoing for us yet again God’s greatness.
- His great salvation is referenced by “who was slain” and “you ransomed” (Rev. 5:9)
- His great position is referenced by “seated on the throne” and “high and lifted up” (Rev. 4:9, 5:13)
- His great creation is referenced by “created all things” (Rev. 4:11)
- His great character is referenced by “Holy, holy, holy” and other exclamations (Rev. 4:8, 5:12-13).
Oh, how great is our God! Let us, in response, both worship and witness till the nations hear and know the Lord reigns.