Psalm 96 was placed by the editors of the psalms in a series that are unified by a common poetic genre and theme. Psalms 93–100 are often referred to as “Enthronement Psalms,” since their central message is affirmation of God’s kingly reign over all things.
This psalm in particular is an Enthronement Psalm directly connected to corporate worship. It was originally written by King David on the occasion of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the Tabernacle in Jerusalem. You’ll recall that the Philistines had captured the Ark years earlier, and it was only now during David’s reign that he successfully returned it to its proper place in the Tabernacle. First Chronicles 16 records the service of dedication that Israel held in honor of the event. David appointed musicians to play and sing during the service, and verse 7 says, “Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.” Then verses 8–36 records the song. After this dedication service, David apparently took the song he had written and rearranged it into a couple different songs that Israel then regularly used in its worship. Portions of the song in 1 Chronicles 16 appear, almost verbatim, in Psalms 105 and 106, and verses 23–33 of 1 Chronicles 16 are almost exactly Psalm 96.
What’s also very interesting and instructive about this psalm is that the Greek translation of the psalm indicates that this psalm was also used at the dedication of the rebuilt temple after the Hebrews returned from Babylonian exile.
Now think about the context of those two events, the dedication of David’s tabernacle after the ark had been returned to Jerusalem, and the dedication of the Second Temple after return from exile. In both cases, it makes sense that this psalm would be used as an expression of praise to God and affirmation of the sovereign reign of God over all thing, particular over the pagan nations and their gods.
In terms of genre, Psalm 96 would be classified as a hymn. A hymn is a song of praise in response to the nature and works of God, and you can clearly see this in the structure of the psalm. Verses 1-3 are calls to worship the Lord, and verses 4-6 describe the reasons for worship. That marks the first stanza of this hymn. A similar pattern is followed in the second stanza beginning in verse 7, and in the third stanza beginning in verse 11. In each case, this song is an expression of worship in response to understanding truth about God.