In this psalm the author celebrates a great deliverance given to Israel by the Lord. The deliverance was accomplished by him without help from anyone else. This rescue was the consequence of his faithfulness to his promises about delivering his people and it was done in such a way that all other nations could see it (vv. 1-3). An historical event that fulfils these details is the deliverance of Israel from Babylon (although another suitable event would be their rescue from Egypt at the Exodus). God had promised to deliver his people from their bondage, and here the psalmist praises the Lord for doing so.
Of course, we can think of a far greater event to which these details should now apply. The rescue accomplished by Jesus on the cross was the outcome of divine promises contained in the Old Testament and also made before the universe was created. They resulted in a saving work that is made known today throughout the world.
In verses 4-6, the psalmist calls on the nations to join Israel and worship the Lord at his temple in Jerusalem (the references to musical instruments point to the temple liturgy). Since several decades passed before the temple was rebuilt by the restored nation, it may be that this psalm was composed during or after the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah. Or the psalm could be a call, given as a prophecy, to the nations to come there once the temple was rebuilt.
In a similar but grander way, the Christian church invites the nations to join her in celebrating the Lord Jesus’ victory achieved by his work on the cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension. In doing so, she gladly confesses that Jesus is her King as well as being the universal Ruler of all things.
The victory given to God’s people causes the psalmist to turn his focus on to an even greater occasion when the Lord’s power will be revealed when he appears in the future as the universal judge (vv. 7-9). Perhaps the psalmist saw in the judgement of Israel’s enemies a foretaste of God’s judgement on all his enemies. His role on that day will be appreciated even by the inanimate creation and the psalmist depicts the seas, rivers and hills rejoicing when it happens. He even includes the inhabitants of the seas, which could be a reference to those living on far-off islands.
The Christian church knows that the One who will function as the future judge is Jesus. Believers also know that his coming then will bring about the deliverance of his creation from bondage. But it is their desire that those currently living in the world would be prepared for that occasion when the world will be judged. Their express their desire by telling others that the only way of escape is by depending on Jesus and his work on the cross two thousand years ago.
As we sing this psalm, we should be reminded of our obligation to call others to join us in worshipping the Lord. We should also sing joyfully as we reflect on our current experience of salvation and as we anticipate our future participation in God’s ultimate deliverance of his people.