In Psalm 96, David emphasized, through various poetic devices, the necessity of singing confidently about the Lord’s reign, even though it is not yet a present reality. He wants us to sing this way because in so doing, it shapes our hearts. A recognition and acknowledgment of the realities of Christ’s future reign causes us to sing a new song.
And this brings us full circle, right back to the opening line of the psalm: Oh sing to the Lord a new song. What is this new song? This new song is directly connected to the central purpose and message of the psalm.
This phrase “new song” appears five other times in the psalms and another time in Isaiah, and each one is a similar kind of expression as we see here: a call to sing to the Lord a new song
But the phrase also appears two times in the New Testament, both in the book of Revelation, when Jesus the Lord comes to judge the earth.
The first is in Revelation 5. This is John’s vision of heavenly worship when the Lord comes. Chapter 4 describes angels surrounding the throne of God, and it relates two songs that those angels are singing to God day and night. The first is “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” and the second is “Worthy are you, our Lord and God.” But then in Chapter 5 John sees “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of Jesse,” a “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” John sees the Son of God, Jesus Christ, proclaimed as the only one worthy of opening the scroll that would establish his right to rule the Kingdom of God. And in response to this revelation, verse 9 tells us that the angels and the elders sing “a new song,” saying:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
You see, this new song is a song in direct response to the finished work of Christ on the cross and his worthiness to rule after he comes again; it is a song of the redeemed. In fact, when this song appears again in Revelation 14, it says in verse 3 that “no one could learn that song except [those] who had been redeemed from the earth.”
A new song is a song that rises out of the heart of one who has experienced the Lord’s salvation, who has experienced the goodness and greatness of God, and even more specifically, one who sings, who responds, who worships as if the Lord reigns already; as if he has come already to judge the world; as if all the families of the people are already ascribing him the glory due his name; as if the very heavens and earth and seas and fields and trees are singing for joy to him.
It is a song that expresses right affection toward God in response to who he is and what he has done; it is a song that blesses his name; it is a song that tells of his salvation from day to day, that declares his glory among the nations; It is a song that shapes and forms us, molding our minds and our hearts such that we cannot help but believe and affirm and adore and sing, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”