Joy to (a Very Needy) World

“Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
For He has done marvelous things; . . .
The LORD has made known His salvation; . . .
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; . . .
Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King.”
(Psalm 98:1–6, NKJV)

An unknown prophet and poet wrote the words of Psalm 98 during the period of Israel’s first temple.

In these words this ancient poet celebrated an event that would not take place in his own lifetime, but would be realized at the end of the age—the coming of the King of kings to rule with justice and equity over the nations of a most troubled earth. This is a “new song” for a new event in world history, the consummation of the ages in the rule of Messiah the King.

More than two millennia had passed when the song was revisited by Isaac Watts, the “father of English hymnody.” Watts, as was his practice, recast the ancient words of the Psalm, creating what may be the most famous Christmas carol among English speaking (and singing) peoples, “Joy to the World.” First published in 1719, this carol is nearing three hundred years of use!

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King.

As we sing this song we associate with it the picture of heaven’s Child with blessed Mary, set in an incongruous stable in a cave in Bethlehem. But the carol has more in mind than baby and manger; it celebrates the joy that will come to a most needy world in the coming reign of King Jesus. That is when the song will be new.

For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:9)