A superscription in the Septuagint, which is absent in the Masoretic Text, ascribes this composition to David. Additionally, the superscription reads, “When the house was built after the captivity.” Psalm 96, with some exceptions in wording, is part of a composition contained in 1 Chronicles (16:23-33). The entire composition in the Chronicles account is linked to David. (1 Chronicles 16:7)
Psalm 96 starts with the imperative to sing a new song to YHWH. This suggests that a remarkable act of divine deliverance provided the occasion for this song. The expression “all the earth” may designate the entire land inhabited by the Israelites, as they would be the ones called upon to make known YHWH’s glory, his marvelous activity, and his kingship to peoples of other nations. (96:3, 10)
Besides being invited to sing, all are directed to “bless his name” and, “from day to day,” to tell of “his salvation.” To bless God’s name would mean to praise or speak well of the Most High, the one bearing the name. “His salvation” or the deliverance he effected for his people deserved to be made known repeatedly, “from day to day,” so as not to fade from memory.
People of other nations should hear about God’s “glory” and his “marvelous deeds.” The deeds that prompt wonderment could include both his acts of deliverance and his creative works. All the things he has done bring “glory” to or add dignity to his name.
As the Supreme Sovereign, YHWH is great and deserving of the greatest praise. He alone should be accorded reverential fear, as he is above all gods.
All the gods of the peoples were only idols, representations fashioned by men. According to the Septuagint, these gods were “demons.” In 1 Chronicles 16:26, the parallel passage, the Septuagint reads, “idols.” Unlike the images human hands produced, YHWH is the one who made the heavens.
“Honor and majesty” are before his face, indicating that his presence is always accompanied by unparalleled dignity and splendor. In his sanctuary, “strength and beauty” reside. He is the one who strengthens his faithful worshipers and makes them beautiful by acknowledging them as his own.
People should ascribe “glory and strength” to YHWH, acknowledging his excelling magnificence and might. To ascribe to him the glory his name deserves would signify having the highest regard for him and to openly acknowledge this. In the time of the psalmist, appreciative worshipers of YHWH would enter the courts of the sanctuary, bringing a gift or offering to be presented as a sacrifice.
There, in the courts, they were to prostrate themselves before YHWH “in holy adornment.” In attire, they should appear in a manner befitting worshipers in the sacred courts. The expression “holy adornment” or “holy splendor” has also been rendered as applying to God (not the worshipers). “Bow down to the LORD majestic in holiness.” (Tanakh) “Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” (NIV) “Bow down to the LORD, splendid in holiness.” (NAB) The Septuagint reads, “Worship [Prostrate yourselves] to the Lord in his holy court.”
To “tremble” before YHWH’s face would signify having a reverential fear or regard for him. “All the earth” could denote the inhabitants of the land of Israel and may include people of other nations.
Among the nations, the news that YHWH reigns should be made known. Under his rule, the habitable land is firmly established or stable, not subject to being moved.
He will judge peoples equitably. Because his judgment will be fair in the absolute sense, all creation is called upon to rejoice before the “face of YHWH” or in his presence. The heavens are to be glad, the earth or the inhabitants of the land are to rejoice, the sea and all that fills it should resound with a mighty roar, the field and everything in it should exult, and the trees of the forest should sing joyously.
The reason for expressing unbounded joy is YHWH’s coming to judge the earth or the inhabitants of the land, doing so with uprightness and truth. Being with truth, the judgment would be according to the actual state of affairs, not outward appearances. The judgment would prove to be according to the highest standard of justice.
Note: Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.