In Psalm 98:4, God’s people are called to crank up the volume of congregational praise:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
Break forth into joyous song and sing praises! (ESV).
I’d like to offer a brief exposition of the key terms employed, followed by some practical observations.
The Psalmist employs three expressions in verse 4 that call for exuberant praise.
“Make a joyful noise”
The sole verb of the first stich (line) is the Hebrew רוע (rua’) which is in the Hiphil stem. It’s used elsewhere to refer to sounding an alarm or a battle cry (Num 10:9, 10; 1 Sam 17:20, 52; 2 Chron 13:12, 15; Joel 2:1). It’s used to depict the “shout” made by Israel that brought down the walls of Jericho (Josh 6:5, 10, 16, 20). Later in Judges, the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the army of Israel, prompting the Israelites to “shout for joy” and resulting in the ground literally shaking (1 Sam 4:5). The volume of the shout must have been loud and intense as the opposing army took notice (4:6-7). In Job, it’s used to refer to the loud alarm one would sound as he witnessed a thief trying to escape with goods (Job 30:5). The Psalmist frequently employs this verb to enjoin praise (47:2; 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 100:1). Sometimes the “joyful shout” is to be accompanied by hand clapping and resounding trumpets (47:1; 81:1-3; 98:4-6). Indeed, in this very psalm the “joyful noise” is to be made both with the mouth presumably (98:4) and also with “trumpets and the sound of the horn” (98:6). Considering its usage in other contexts (common and cultic), it’s likely the Psalmist desired to invoke a kind of celebrative praise that was marked by exuberance and “ground-shaking” volume.
“Break forth into joyous song”
There are three verbs in the second stich (line). The ESV and some other English versions treat the first two verbs as a verbal hendiadys. This is a literary device in which two verbs are used together to convey one basic idea; usually the first verb modifies the second in an adverbial sense. In this case, the first verb is Qal of the Hebrew פצח (patsach). In every other occasion where the Qal form of the verb is used, it complements a verb or noun that denotes praise or singing (Isa 14:7; 44:23; 49:13; 52:9; 55:12). And in every case, the term פצח modifies is the verb רנן (ranan) or its cognate noun רנה (rannah) which usually denote loud singing (see Job 38:7 [used in parallel with the verb רוע above] ; Psa 5:12; 20:6; 32:11; 35:27; 51:14; 65:8; 81:2; etc.). The idea conveyed by the combination of these two verbs seems to denote a sudden movement from silence or relative subduedness to an abruptly loud and forceful singing. In musical parlance, this phenomenon belongs to “dynamics” and is marked by the Italian notation sforzando (combination of subito = sudden + forzando = forcing; i.e., sudden change). The idea is not that of a slow and gradual crescendo from pianissimo (quietness) to fortissimo (loudness). Rather, the idea seems to be that of sforzando, a sudden increase in volume and exuberance. “Burst into jubilant song” accurately captures the idea (see NIV).1
The final verb is the Hebrew זמר (zamar), which here occurs in the Piel stem. It denotes singing (Psa. 47:7, 8; 57:7, 9; 108:1, 3; 147:1), and often the singing is done with music accompaniment, viz., “with the lyre” (Psa 71:22; 98:5; 147:7), “with the tambourine and lyre” (149:3), or “with the ten-stringed harp” (33:2; 144:9).
God Loves to Hear Us Sing
Lyrical music should have a vital place in the corporate gatherings of God’s people. As Martin Luther poignantly expressed it,
Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…. Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God…. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.2
It’s Okay to Turn Up the Volume
There should be frequent occasions for celebrative song that is enthusiastic, exuberant, and sonorous. There are, of course, times for silence and quiet reflection in corporate worship (Job 40:4-5; Isa 6:5; Hab 2:20; Zeph 1:7; Zech 2:13). But there are also times when shouting praise is appropriate. Pastor Ted Christman aptly observes,
There is something HUMAN about shouting for joy which transcends ethnicity and time. Watch and listen to sports fans when their hero hits the game winning three-pointer one millisecond before the buzzer goes off. It’s VERY American to shout for joy, except in the ONE arena that’s most appropriate—WORSHIP.3
But according to our text (and many others in the psalms) our public praise and singing should be marked by emotive dynamic. And often, that dynamic will include gradual or, in this case, sudden changes in volume and tempo in order to connote such emotions as enthusiasm, exuberance, excitement, and ecstasy. In this respect, our corporate praise should sometimes resemble the kind of high-volume celebrative sound that one would encounter at a sporting event or music concert. Granted, the decibels at some rock concerts may be damaging to the human eardrum and may hinder the intelligibility of the lyrics. On the other hand, God apparently likes musical praise that can literally cause the ground to vibrate. To use some common idioms, there are times in worship where the praise of God’s people ought to “raise the roof” of the sanctuary. There are times when we need to “turn it up” and “rock the house.” As John Wesley urged his people,
Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.4
In Praise of Musical Accompaniment
Such heartfelt, exuberant, and loud praise is often enhanced by musical accompaniment. Throughout the Psalms, the sonorous singing commended here is often expressed in conjunction with instruments like the lyre, harp, tambourine, trumpet, and horn (see 98:5, 6). Indeed, one encounters a spectrum of stringed, percussion, and brass or wind instruments throughout the psalms. Accordingly, when someone asks me to articulate my position on the place of musical instrumentation in corporate worship, I simply tell them to read Psalm 150:5
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
Praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
Praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD! (ESV)
So if we want our congregational praise to be fully biblical, there will be times when we’ll need to crank up the volume and “rock God’s house” (metaphorically speaking). Apparently, God doesn’t merely enjoy musical praise. Sometimes, he likes it loud!
2 From Luther’s Forward to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae, a collection of chorale motets published in 1538.
3 Unfortunately, Ted’s blog article from which I lifted this quote is no longer available.
4 Cited in C. H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, 2:212. Spurgeon himself had this to say when commenting on verses 6-8 of Psalm 98: “Let every form of exultation be used, every kind of music pressed into the service till the accumulated praise causes the skies to echo the joyful tumult…. Loud let our hearts ring out the honours of our conquering Saviour; with might let us extol the Lord who has vanquished all our enemies, and led our captivity captive…. God’s worship should be heartily loud. The far sounding trump and horn well symbolize the power which should be put forth in praise.” Ibid., 2:212-13.
5 Some in the Reformed tradition view such musical accompaniment as appropriate for OT worship but not for NT worship. In their opinion, musical instruments appeal to the sensual part of humans and may have been necessary for God’s people in the stage of “childhood” under the Old Covenant. But now that God’s people have reached “adulthood” status under the New Covenant, such “shadows” are no longer necessary. Indeed, they’ve been abolished along with the Temple, priesthood, and sacrifices. Some even argue that the appeal of musical instruments to man’s physical constitution is intrinsically distracting from praising God with the inner being. Accordingly, proponents of the anti-instrument view argue that the melody of New Covenant praise should be made exclusively with the heart and vocal chords. The following rejoinder may be offered toward this “no-instruments-in-worship” position: (1) This position is based more on a Platonic than on a biblical worldview. There’s nothing intrinsically evil or inferior about the physical constitution of humanity. God not only created us with taste buds so that we can physically enjoy the food he provides, but he also created us with the physical hardware and aesthetic sense to ascertain and appreciate pleasing sounds. Moving from spiritual “childhood” to “adulthood” certainly does not entail an ascetic renunciation of anything and everything that appeals to our physical nature. Indeed, such asceticism often signifies a movement away from spiritual maturity. Moreover, one may gather from the use of musical instruments in the psalms as well as from the various physical gestures and actions (e.g.s., lifting hands, clapping hands, dancing) that God’s people are to worship him both with the heart and with the body (Rom 12:1). (2) Musical instruments are never identified as ceremonial “shadows” or “types” in the NT, whereas the Temple, priesthood, and sacrifices are identified as provisional and obsolete (John 4; Hebrews). Even if one holds the view that the musical accompaniment associated with Temple worship belongs in the category of “elements” under the Old Covenant, he’s not forced to conclude that musical accompaniment as a circumstance of New Covenant worship is forbidden. By way of illustration, circumcision may have played an “elemental” role under the Old Covenant that Paul forbade under the New Covenant (Gal 2:3, 4; 5:1-4, 12; Phil 3:2, 3). Yet, the same Paul who vigorously denied circumcision an elemental role under the New Covenant had no problem according it a circumstantial role (Acts 16:3). Consequently, while musical instruments are not sine qua nons of New Covenant worship and while God may be praised a cappella, musical instruments may be employed to “enhance” and “adorn” our praise much like it did in the Psalms.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.