A Bible Lesson on Psalm 95

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a most familiar Psalm, a wonderful call to worship. We post-moderns like the first 6.5 verses best, and some liberal commentators even go so far as to want to separate them from the last 4.5. But it is the last 4.5 that are commented on extensively in Hebrews 3 and 4. We’ll do well to hear the Psalm as a whole and heed all of it.

Psalm 95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

The Psalmist invites us to sing to the I AM, the self-existent and self-revealing One. He invites joyful noise on the basis that this I AM is also the Provider and Guarantor of our salvation, both in time and in eternity.

2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Real worship will include expression of thanksgiving: thanksgiving for our very existence, thanksgiving for a great salvation that has set us right with the very Ground of Being. Real thanksgiving will be accompanied by joy in the person of God and praise to Him. Genuine praise is of necessity built on an accurate Biblical understanding of who He is, what He has done, and how we are to relate to Him. Otherwise, it’s not His presence we enter, but rather that of an imaginary and unreal “god.”

3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

Who is the I AM? He is a “great” God and absolute Sovereign over all that is. It seems the ESV translators hear the first phrase of this verse to speak of majesty of His person. He is the most honored and worthy person imaginable. And truly, while there really is no other “god” in the universe, all pretenders (or ones we would treat as “gods”) are not close to being in His class. He is the exalted King over/above all He has created. He is the absolute Monarch of the universe. Who else could claim to be King of everything?

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

The entirety of all that exists is His. Our notions of vastness fail in capturing the extent of His rule and reign, the extent of His sustaining power. Every inch of all that is, the natural world that we hold to be wondrous, vast and even forbidding are but things that He made, sustains, and figuratively holds in His hand. They are nothing in comparison to their Maker.

5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Sea and dry ground, every bit of earth’s surface were called into being by Him. They have the form they have because He made them and sustains them. He made and is the rightful Owner of all. Of course He’s King! All we see is His to begin with. In light of that:

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

This is a call for humanity to prostrate ourselves before the I AM, our Owner and King. Our English meaning of “worship” is first “attributing worth” to one. Apparently the Hebrew (and Greek) meaning is much less abstract and far more focused on making a concrete public act of grateful intimate homage to our God who has so graciously saved. It’s really “bow down.” It really is “kneel.” In light of what really is, if we feel that such would be too much to ask, a bit too hard on our pride, then we don’t get it. Humans will bow before “important” people. Someone far bigger than a mere human is here. This is the I AM.

7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice,

This is the One who made and owns us. We are no more independent of Him than are sheep of a shepherd. We are completely dependent on Him and his good will and gracious protection. Shepherds direct and care for their sheep. So it is absolutely appropriate and natural that hearing what God says and obeying Him is essential to real worship. Post-moderns don’t really like this so much. We like things on our own terms, not His. But this Psalm makes clear that all real worship will be on God’s terms. Without obedience, there is none. And if there is to be obedience we’ve got to hear His voice.

8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Meribah and Massah are literally “Dispute” and “Testing.” These places represent humans going their own way, presuming to have a better way than God. That, in light of what has been said about God, was simple insanity. Really? I’ve got a better idea than the I AM? I dare to ignore His revealed Word?

9 when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

Biblical religion is a religion built on a history of revelation and the acts of God. The history of the Israelites is that they had been shown God’s great deliverance from bondage … and presumed to have a better idea. The writer of Hebrews points at this Psalm and essentially says “Like your ancestors, you’ve experienced the great salvation of Christ, and now you have a better idea?” This is truly dangerous stuff, and not some light thing. It’s not light here and it’s not light in Hebrews 3 and 4.

10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Kidner says that exactly the right tone of what the ESV renders as “loathed” is “was disgusted with.” He says “It is deeply personal, but has no suggestion of caprice, only an outraged sense of what is fitting and what is shameful.” The point is that in light of what has been said in the first 6.5 verses, to be indifferent and disobedient to His Word would be just outrageous. To be disobedient is to not really know Him.

11 Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”

There was no promised land for the rebellious Israelites. Even Moses paid the price for the nation’s rebellion. The writer of Hebrews says the same of Christians that would turn back and decide that they have a better idea. God has revealed Himself and acted to save us in Christ. To ignore His Word means that is being ignored and there is no real worship. And in that case, there is no good end, no Gospel rest.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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