Psalm 98 vs “Shout to the Lord”

Moses Parts the Red Sea by Christoffer Eckersberg (1783–1853)Contemporary evangelical music was the highlight of last Wednesday’s “American Idol Gives Back” show when contestants sang the first line of “Shout to the Lord” as “My shepherd, my savior,” instead of “My Jesus, my Savior.” To pacify critical evangelical viewers, Idol contestants sang the song again the next show, this time using the original first line.

It is said that the inspiration of the song was Psalm 92-96, but I think Psalm 98 is a good summary of these other psalms. As I read Psalm 98 and the lyrics of “Shout to the Lord,” I couldn’t help but notice several obvious differences:

Sing a New Song to the Lord

Psalm 98 – 1650 Scottish Psalter

1 O sing a new song to the Lord,
for wonders he hath done:
His right hand and his holy arm
him victory hath won.
2 The Lord God his salvation
hath caused to be known;
His justice in the heathen’s sight
he openly hath shown.
3 He mindful of his grace and truth
to Isr’el’s house hath been;
And the salvation of our God
all ends of th’ earth have seen.

4 Let all the earth unto the Lord
send forth a joyful noise;
Lift up your voice aloud to him,
sing praises, and rejoice.
5 With harp, with harp, and voice of psalms,
unto Jehovah sing:
6 With trumpets, cornets, gladly sound
before the Lord the King.

7 Let seas and all their fullness roar;
the world, and dwellers there;
8 Let floods clap hands, and let the hills
together joy declare
9 Before the Lord; because he comes,
to judge the earth comes he:
He’ll judge the world with righteousness,
his folk with equity.

Shout to the Lord

by Darlene Zschech (1994)

My Jesus, My Savior
Lord there is none like You
All of my days, I want to praise
The wonders of Your mighty love
My Comfort, My Shelter
Tower of refuge and strength
Let every breath, all that I am
Never cease to worship You

Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing.
Power and majesty, praise to the King.
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands
Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand
Nothing compares to the promise I have in

Let the earth sing
I declare your great name
All of my life I will
With all of my breath
I will praise you
Lift it up, life it up

First, “Shout to the Lord,” like many contemporary evangelical choruses, repeats the same words over and over again to the same tune, prompting others to call them “7-11” songs – 7 words repeated 11 times over. Compare this with the three stanzas (and three main themes below) of Psalm 98.

Second, there’s no reason given in praising God in “Shout to the Lord” other than the repetitious theme of his love and an unnamed “work of Your hands.” Psalm 98:1, on the other hand, opens with “O sing a new song to the Lord,” and then immediately follows the line with “for,” signifying that the rest of the psalm is a list of reasons why we are to praise him.

Third, notice the self-centeredness of the song in the profuse use of “I” (9) and “my” (7) (multiply these by the number of repetitions) in contrast to the absolute God-centeredness of the psalm.

Fourth, compare the romanticism and sentimentalism of “Shout to the Lord” – a common characteristic of contemporary evangelical music – with the themes of Psalm 98: God’s salvation (1-3), kingship (4-6), and judgment (7-9). No effeminate love song to Jesus here.

Fifth and last, this television event exemplifies the evangelical idea of mixing the sacred and the secular in doctrine and worship. The distinction between what must be done in the worship service in contrast to what the world does in stadiums, concert halls, Hollywood, and MTV is blurred. If I were watching “Idol” and didn’t know I was watching a TV show, I might have guessed that I was watching an evangelical “worship” team if I saw those “Idol” contestants singing “Shout to the Lord.”

An outline of a sermon on Psalm 98 would be something like this:
Theme: “Praise God: Our Gracious Savior, Mighty Warrior-King, and Righteous Judge”

I. He Saved His People with Mighty Works
II. He is the King of Creation
III. He is Coming in Judgment

Psalm 98 is a psalm of praise extolling the God who redeemed his people Israel from Egypt by “his right hand and his holy arm.” By this Warrior-King’s mighty deeds in Egypt, “his justice in the heathen’s sight he openly hath shown,” that even the people of Canaan heard and were fearful of them (Joshua 9). He is not only the Mighty Redeemer, he is also the King of the earth, and as such, all peoples praise him. But not only of the earth, he is also the King of all creation, that even the waters clap their hands and the hills declare their joy. Why? Because this Redeemer and King is coming to judge the whole earth in righteousness and equity.

Sing praise to God! Sing Psalm 98 to the tune of “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”


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8 thoughts on “Psalm 98 vs “Shout to the Lord””

  1. “notice the self-centeredness of the song in the profuse use of “I” (9) and “my” (7) in contrast to the absolute God-centeredness of the psalm.”

    That is a very astute and accurate description of not only this song but many contemporary praise music. Much of this music comes out of what I call the “Self-help” Christianity. It’s the Christianity where we use God to serve our ends and improve ourselves. Thus, much of the praise music centers on ourselves, and not the Glory of God.

  2. I saw that idol performance and it FLOPPED.  And in the middle of it I realized something was missing.  The Holy Spirit was not in them.  They were performing and not praising.  Except for one or two they were not worthy of the song.  But Dolly Parton was different when she sung about Jesus to Simon Cowell and some non-believers.  Jesus! she shouted and you can feel the Spirit,  thank you.

  3. This pop song is kind of a generic praise song, but yes, the “tower of refuge and strength” and the roaring seas can be from Psalm 46 and some other psalms.

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