Usually, when we think of judgment, we don’t consider the word favorably. We fear, we cower, we wonder what we did wrong and if we will be found out. Yet, in Psalm 96 the psalmist encourages us to rejoice in the coming of God’s judgment! How can that be, especially since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)? Our rejoicing is about the coming of God’s righteousness on the land. Jesus Himself encouraged us to seek first God’s righteousness (Luke 12:31).
This psalm is sung by David in 1 Chronicles 16 when the Ark of the Covenant is returned to the temple and he throws a big country-wide party. Even though this psalm encourages worship and gladness, why exactly would David choose a song that refers to judgment on the earth? Some commentaries suggest the “judgment” wasn’t necessarily in reference to Israel, but the surrounding nations which had been giving Israel a hard time in those days. By looking through the scriptures, we even see a growing disdain for the nations because they were pagan idolaters (even though Israel had its fair share of idolatry as well). I offer a different point of view, however.
What if, instead of praising God for His judgment on others, we praise Him for His righteous judgment upon us? Consider for a moment the implications of His presence in our lives. Using the example of the Ark returning to the temple, it represented God’s presence among His people. We know that being in God’s presence reveals our iniquity. Isaiah experienced it when he had a vision and fell to his face saying, “I am a man of unclean lips, I am undone!” Peter recognized it after Jesus calmed the storm on the sea when he said, “go away from me Lord, for I am not worthy of you!” We see it in various other examples when angels appear before men, reflecting the light and glory of the Lord and it overpowers sinful man so they fall on their faces and immediately want to worship. The angels call them to their feet for they simply reflect God’s glory, they aren’t the source of it.
So while God’s presence brings the revelation of our sinfulness, it also brings the revelation of His goodness and mercy and love into our lives! Ultimately, the revelation of our sinfulness is a good thing, as it can no longer be hidden and ignored. Rather, we can finally recognize its existence in our lives, surrender it to God, and be rid of it once and for all! As Paul wrote in Romans 7:
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This is why we should glory in God’s judgment in our lives. We should seek His judgment and righteousness in our lives so we can be cleansed, whole, and ultimately united with Him. Jesus spoke to His disciples about being “one with the Father,” and then encouraged them (and us) to work towards the same end. Sin simply impedes that process and negatively affects the quality of our connection with Him. So, let God’s judgment come, here on earth as it is in heaven!