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An Exegesis of Joy to the World

An Exegesis of "Joy to the World"

In 1719, Isaac Watts published a book of poems, each of which was based on a Psalm of the Bible. In his published works were the words of Joy to the World. Watts wrote these lyrics based off of Psalm 98. The purpose behind the original writing of this poem was a celebration of the second coming of our Lord and Savior.

When you look at Psalm 98, you will see that the Psalm is broken up into 3 parts:
1 ~ The King reigns in the past (vs 1-3)
2 ~ The King reigns in the present (vs 4-6)
3 ~ The King will forever reign (vs 7-9)
What we are going to see is that the Christmas Hymn “Joy to the World” is a poem written about the third stanza in this Psalm.

Watts original intent was the focus of the joy that is brought to the hearts of the people to meet their King when He returns to reign forever. It actually was not until 88 years after Watts died that this poem was set to the music that we know today and made into a Christmas Hymn.

Something that we need to remember is that this poem that is written by Isaac Watts is not inspired by God. Psalm 98 is inspired by God. This poem, which became the Christmas song “Joy to the World!” is not inspired by God. It is simply one man’s poetic take on a Psalm. We must be very careful not to fall in love with Christmas songs and forget to fall in love with Christ. We often spend more energy worshiping a song than we do worshiping our Savior. We need to remember that it is not the rhythm of the music and the warm and fuzzy feeling about Christmas time that worships our King! We worship Christ in what we are singing! So we need to understand what we are singing and saying.

Psalm 98
1 Oh 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.
2  The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
9 before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Now let’s look at some of these lyrics and understand how we are to worship our Savior through this song.

Verse 1
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Notice the similarities coming off of the second stanza of Psalm 98. This is where we get the word “Joy!” from. The call of the Psalmist is that all of those who love their Lord are to make a joyful and a loud noise to the Lord! The Psalmist calls for the believer to use instruments to praise their Lord their God. The idea is to not keep the supremacy of the reigning King a secret.

Honestly, most American Christians will make more of a joyful noise about your American “King” than you do your Eternal King! If the President of the United States comes to town, there is a parade thrown in his honor. When we hold a church service, you may contemplate whether or not you are too tired to get to the meeting place with your fellow believers. We, as true believers in Christ, are to make a joyful noise because our Lord is King of all the earth!!

We see the phrase here: “Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing…” Judging from most of Watts’ other hymns and poems, I would conclude that his call to “Let every heart prepare him room” is a call for all the world to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord of All! Remember, you do not “make Jesus Lord of your life.” He IS Lord! You are to submit to His Lordship! Let every heart submit to His Lordship! That is the call. That is our hope! And that is why we sing with joy! If we sing with misery, then who in the world would want to submit to Christ as Lord? No!! We are to sing with joy because Christ has made us alive! Let heaven and nature sing! Let the angels sing! Let the rocks proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Verse 2
Joy to the earth! 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, repeat the sounding joy.

This is the call of the Psalmist in verse 8 of Psalm 98. The cry is that the entire earth — all of nature — would praise our King! We sing similar lyrics in the amazing hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” That the sun would proclaim glory to God. That the moon would recognize His Lordship. That the stars would cry out “Glory to God in the Highest!”

The cry and the focus of this verse is on the second phrase. “The Savior Reigns!” This should be where we shout as we sing this song! “Let there be joy to the earth because the Savior reigns!!”

Verse 3
No more let sins 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.

This is the most evident stanza, which shows us that this poem was written for the second coming of Christ and not Christmas. Now, one thing we can understand is that the Promised Messiah has come, and therefore, we have assurance that He will come again. But right now, today, before the second coming of Christ, we are still dealing with sin – and we are still dealing with the Genesis 3 curse that God placed on man.

Psalm 98 does not record anything about this specific stanza. Watts was writing in his own understanding of Christ’s return. He understands the Glorification that is coming for the believer at the return of Christ.

Verse 4
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.

This has become my favorite verse in studying this hymn. “He rules the world!” That is the celebration. That is why we are to be joyful! Our Lord reigns!! Sing with joy before the Lord of all the earth!!

Note that Watts says here that the Lord rules with “Truth and Grace.” This is from the last line in Psalm 98. “He will judge the people with equity.” This does not mean that we will be judged with tolerance. This does not mean that we will be judged with “acceptance.” We will be judged with truth and grace — or equity.

God will look at each of us, and those who are covered with the righteousness of Christ will receive Grace. Those who are not covered with the righteousness of Christ will receive Truth. Both of these are fair and just. Both of these outcomes are equitable. Both of these are righteous according to God’s Holiness.

Then the phrase says, “and makes the nations prove.” This is the judgment that Watts is referring to from Psalm 98 verse 9. We will all stand before God in judgment. But the most amazing piece of this is for the believer to understand His love. That we deserve death. We deserve eternal wrath. But we are saved from the wrath of God, by the grace of God because of the love of God!

And because of that we are to sing: JOY TO THE WORLD!
Joy to the World! The Lord is Come! The Savior Reigns! And He rules the World!
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