Joy to the World, Part 2

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
DR Christmas 04

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

Psalm 98:4-6

"Joy to the World" may be my very favorite Christmas carol. I love its exuberant proclamation and inspiring melody. Of course, like most classic hymns and Christmas songs, "Joy to the World" was not originally sung to the music we know and love. The connection of music and lyrics was made in 1848, over a century after Isaac Watts first published the song we know as "Joy to the World" in 1719.

But, stranger still, we have no reason to believe that Watts associated his lyrics with Christmas. He did not call "Joy to the World" something like "Hymn for Christmas Day." In fact, it was actually the second part of a poetic restatement of Psalm 98 as seen from a Christian perspective. Watts published a whole series of hymns of this nature in a collection called The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. The rest of his lyrical efforts have been long forgotten. But his second restatement of Psalm 98 has become an unexpected Christmas classic.

Psalm 98 calls us to "Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth" (v. 4). Here we have "Joy to the world." The reason for our rejoicing is the future coming of the Lord (v. 9). "He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity." As Watts puts it, God "makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness." If you put the lyrics of "Joy to the World" alongside the text of Psalm 98, you'll see even more parallels.

The main difference between the original psalm and Watts' paraphrase is the timing of the Lord's coming. The psalmist is looking forward to the Lord's coming. Watts, writing as a Christian, proclaims the fact that the Lord has already come and has already begun to rule over the earth. The joyful celebration of his coming is what ties this song to Christmas.

Reading Psalm 98 from a Christian perspective also brings a new understanding of the Lord's judgment. Yes, Christ did come to judge the world, and the world was found guilty. But Christ took the guilt of the world upon himself, offering salvation. Thus, the opening lines of Psalm 98 take on new meaning: "Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him...[A]ll the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God" (vv. 1, 3).

All the ends of the earth–including you and I–have seen the salvation of our God in Jesus Christ. This is, indeed, abundant reason to rejoice!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How have you experienced God's salvation through Jesus Christ? What helps you to rejoice over this salvation?


Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove,
The glories of His righteousness.
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love. Amen.

"Joy to the World" by Isaac Watts (1719).

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