Let the sky rejoice, and the earth be happy! Let the sea and everything in it shout! – Psalm 96:11 (NET)
Let the sky rejoice? Let the earth be happy? Let the sea and everything in it shout? We could probably agree that this is rather odd language. Is it hyperbole? Of course it is, but it is also points to God’s eternal plan, and is an interesting contrast to what we read in the eighth chapter of Romans. There, we are given a glimpse into a situation in which the sky is not rejoicing, the earth is not happy, and the sea is not shouting. We read “For we know that whole creation groans and suffers together until now” (8:22).
Why does the creation groan? It groans because “it was subjected to futility---not willingly but because of God who subjected it” (8:20). God subjected it because God gave dominion over creation to the being that He created in His image. That being, man, by not trusting God, brought the curse of death and decay upon his race, and also upon the creation. The creation was subjected to futility. It was cursed with thorns and thistles. So it groans “in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:20b-21).
What is the glorious freedom of God’s children? The glorious freedom is the eternal life that is finally consummated in our being resurrected from the dead in the same way that Christ was resurrected from the dead. The glorious freedom is a glorified body that experiences the Resurrection power of God, just like Christ, here in the midst of God’s creation (just like Christ), in which we are free from death and decay---free from sorrows, pain, and suffering. The creation itself hopes for that freedom, in the same way that we “who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). We eagerly await our adoption and redemption, when we will also finally be declared to be the sons of God, with this declaration becoming final when we fully experience the power that raised up Christ from the dead and gave Him a new, glorified body.
When will this take place? It will take place when our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of the world, finally consummates His kingdom and its renewal of God’s good creation that was inaugurated when He burst forth from the grave. It will take place when it is truly and finally said among all nations, “The Lord reigns! The world is established, it cannot be moved. He judges the nations fairly” (Psalm 96:10). It is then that the sky is encouraged to rejoice, and the earth to be happy, and the sea and everything in it to shout. When this time of renewed creation takes hold, under the eternal Lordship of our God and Christ, which will be plain for all to see as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, we will say along with the Psalmist, “Let the fields and everything in them celebrate” (96:12a), for they will have been freed from their subjection, their thorns and their thistles.
We will say, “let the trees of the forest shout with joy before the Lord, for He comes!” (96:12b-13a) Why does He come? Not only does He come to finally bring in the glorious freedom of God’s children, but “He comes to judge the earth!” (96:13b). The Lord’s act of judging is not merely a casting down in condemnation, for the Lord also judges with liberation! The Lord judged Israel and delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. The Lord sent forth His judges in Israel to deliver them from their bondage. The Lord poured out the judgment of His wrath upon Jesus as He hung on the cross, so as to deliver us from the inescapable bondage of death. Yes, when the Lord judges the earth, it is the final consummation of the judgment against death that was delivered through His crucifixion and Resurrection. In that judgment, His children and His creation will be finally liberated from their long, dark night.
Along with Paul, the Psalmist saw this clearly, as he would go on to write, “Let the sea and everything in it shout, along with the world and those who live in it! Let the rivers clap their hands! Let the mountains sing in unison before the Lord! For He comes to judge the earth!” (98:7-9a) If we have eyes to see, the message of God’s restoration and renewal of creation, because of His judgment, is written large upon the pages of His Word.