Psalm 95 – God Worthy of Our Humble and Obedient Worship
This wonderful psalm is quoted and analyzed in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. There (Hebrews 4:7) it is said to be “in David.” This may indicate that David the Son of Jesse was the unattributed author, but it is also possible that the author of Hebrews simply referred to the Book of Psalms as “David’s Book.”
James Montgomery Boice observed regarding the commentary on Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-4:13: “This is probably the most thorough citing of an Old Testament passage in the New Testament.”
A. The how and Whom of worship.
1. (1-2) Worship in many forms.
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
a. Let us sing to the LORD: The psalmist first mentions honoring God with song and doing so in community. Singing is not the only way to give honor and worship to God, but it is a chief and important way. Also, importantly, the exhortation is let us sing – that it should be done with the community of God’s people.
i. “The invocation to praise in Psalm 95:1-2, gives a striking picture of the joyful tumult of the Temple worship. Shrill cries of gladness, loud shouts of praise, songs with musical accompaniments, rang simultaneously through the courts.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Singing expresses human thought emotionally, and Christianity is a feeling religion. More particularly, singing expresses joy, and the Bible’s religion at its heart is joyful.” (Boice)
iii. Yet we are to sing to the LORD. “It is to be feared that very much even of religious singing is not unto the Lord, but unto the ear of the congregation. Above all things we must in our service of song take care that all we offer is with the heart’s sincerest and most fervent intent directed towards the Lord himself.” (Spurgeon)
b. Let us shout joyfully: God should be honored with a happy, enthusiastic heart. There is a place for a somber, reflective mood in worship, but it should not be the dominant tone. God’s people have much to shout joyfully about.
i. “Before making ourselves small before him (as we must, Psalm 95:6f.), we greet him here with unashamed enthusiasm as our refuge and rescuer (Psalm 95:1).” (Kidner)
ii. “It is a part of Christian duty, and certainly of Christian wisdom, to try to catch that tone of joy in worship which rings in this psalm.” (Maclaren)
c. To the Rock of our salvation: This is a title for God with both experiential and theological meaning. It points to a genuine depth of both thought and experience. Worship should not be simply saying things about God, but with thought and with a connection to what we have experienced or need to experience from Him.
d. Let us come before His presence: This means that worship should be done with a conscious sense of God’s presence. God’s people don’t sing into empty space; He is in their presence and they are in His presence. There is – or should be – a true connection between God and His people in worship.
i. His presence doesn’t mean God in the holy of holies, symbolized at the ark of the covenant. There could be no invitation to the community to come before His presence there. Even when they had the tabernacle and the temple, the Jewish people rightly understood the spiritual presence of God.
e. With thanksgiving: Our worship should express a heart of thanksgiving to our God, who has done so much for us.
i. “We are permitted to bring our petitions, and therefore we are in honour bound to bring our thanksgivings.” (Spurgeon)
f. Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms: This is what the psalmist himself intended with this psalm. We can also surmise that he turned the attention of God’s people to the broader collection of psalms as a source of inspiration for their worship.
2. (3-5) The greatness of the God to be worshipped.
For the LORD is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.
a. For the LORD is the great God: Understanding the greatness of God helps us to properly worship Him. Most everyone has some sense of awe or appreciation of greatness when in the presence of someone the culture regards as great. This is natural; it is even more natural and appropriate for us to deeply regard Yahweh as the great God and the great King above all gods.
i. “No doubt the surrounding nations imagined Jehovah to be a merely local deity, the god of a small nation, and therefore one of the inferior deities; the Psalmist utterly repudiates such an idea.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Adam Clarke observed regarding verse 3: “The Supreme Being has three names here: EL, JEHOVAH, ELOHIM, and we should apply none of them to false gods. The first implies his strength; the second his being and essence; the third, his covenant relation to mankind.”
b. In His hand are the deep places of the earth: One way God’s greatness is illustrated is by His mastery over creation. From the lowest valley to the highest hills, from the sea to the dry land, God’s hands formed them.
c. The sea is His, for He made it: The oceans and seas of this world belong to God. Whatever nation may make claim on the seas, or the concept of international waters may intend, the psalmist made a specific declaration that the sea is God’s.
i. “To the heathen, incidentally, the sea might represent a power even older than the gods, not conquered without a bitter struggle. It is a far cry from this to the simplicity of The sea is his, for he made it.” (Kidner)
ii. John Trapp thought of the contrast between the power of God and the old legend of King Canute of England, who commanded the tide of the sea to stop – but of course, it did not. “Canute confuted his flatterers (who told him that all things in his dominions were at his beck and check) by laying his command on the sea to come up no higher into his land, but it obeyed him not.”
iii. “If God owns the sea because he made it, he owns you, because he made you too. You are his creature, and by all the rights of creatorship you belong to him. He claims you; will you dispute the claim?” (Spurgeon)
3. (6-7a) Invitation to humble worship.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.
a. Oh come: There is a sweet sense of emphasis in these words. There is a gentle plea here: exhorting the readers to do what is right before God – which is also good for them.
b. Let us worship and bow down: The ideas of community (let us) and worship are repeated from earlier in the psalm, with an added sense of humility (bow down). The idea behind the Hebrew word worship is essentially to bow down; the thought is emphasized and given more intensity through repetition.
i. “In His presence, man must bow down before Him, man must kneel in the attitude of complete submission and obeisance. This is a truth of which we need to remind ourselves.” (Morgan)
ii. “It is not always easy to unite enthusiasm with reverence, and it is a frequent fault to destroy one of these qualities while straining after the other.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Worship and bow down: “Not before a crucifix, not before a rotten image, not before a fair picture of a foul saint: these are not our makers; we made them, they made not us. Our God, unto whom we must sing, in whom we must rejoice, before whom we must worship, ‘is a great King above all gods’: he is no god of lead, no god of bread, no brazen god, no wooden god; we must not fall down and worship our Lady, but our Lord; not any martyr, but our Maker; not any saint, but our Saviour.” (Boils, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker: In the previous verses the psalmist spoke of God’s mastery over all creation. Now he includes humanity itself among God’s creation. We owe humble worship to God because He made us. Worship is an obligation that the creature owes to the Creator.
i. The three main verbs in verse 6 are all connected with the idea of getting low and being humble. “Three distinct words are used here to express three different acts of adoration: 1. Let us worship, nishtachaveh, let us prostrate ourselves; the highest act of adoration by which the supremacy of God is acknowledged. 2. Let us bow down, nichraah, let us crouch or cower down, bending the legs under, as a dog in the presence of his master, which solicitously waits to receive his commands. 3. Let us kneel, nibrachah, let us put our knees to the ground, and thus put ourselves in the posture of those who supplicate.” (Clarke)
ii. The redeemed have at least two great reasons to humbly worship God. He is both their Maker and their Redeemer. They belong to Him twice over, in both creation and redemption.
iii. “We have the right to come before God with great gladness, but never without a sense of His majesty, and what is due to it.” (Morgan)
d. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture: Yahweh is also worthy of our humble worship because He is our God. The ancient Hebrew had something of a choice of gods, and it was a deliberate act of allegiance to say, “Yahweh is my God. I belong to Him and He belongs to me – I am like the sheep of His hand.”
i. “The sheep of his hand; which are under his special care and conduct, or government; which is oft expressed by the hand, as Numbers 4:28, 31:49, Judges 9:29.” (Poole)
ii. “The repeated reference to the ‘hand’ of Jehovah is striking. In it are held the deeps: it is…‘forming’ the land, as a potter fashioning his clay: it is a shepherd’s hand, protecting and feeding his flock (Psalm 95:7).” (Maclaren)
iii. “The familiar metaphors of verse 7 express his commitment, which is constant (our God), and his care, which is all-sufficing (his pasture) and personal (his hand). He is no hireling.” (Kidner)
B. Warning to those who reject worship.
1. (7b-9) Exhortation to the people of God.
Today, if you will hear His voice:
“Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion,
As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
When your fathers tested Me;
They tried Me, though they saw My work.”
a. Today, if you will hear His voice: The psalmist once again exhorts us to act, to hear the voice of God in the midst of their worship. God spoke to His people and He gave them and gave us a word of warning.
i. “If you want to worship God, make sure you do not harden your heart against God’s Word, or quarrel with him or test him, as the ancients did.” (Boice)
ii. This word of warning is important enough to be referenced three times in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:7, 3:15, and 4:7). In Hebrews 4:7 the emphasis is on the word today, indicating the urgency of listening to God with a soft heart today.
iii. “This is the uniform time and tense of the Holy Ghost’s exhortations. He saith nothing about tomorrow, except to forbid our boasting of it, since we know not what a day shall bring forth. All his instructions are set to the time and tune of ‘Today, today, today.’” (Spurgeon)
iv. When the writer to the Hebrews quoted this passage in Hebrews 3:7, he specifically attributed it to the Holy Spirit: Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says. He was certain that the words of Psalm 95 were inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit was Yahweh.
b. Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion: The rebellion and the day of trial refer primarily to the trial at Meribah (Numbers 20:1-13). But more generally, they speak of Israel’s refusal to trust and enter the Promised Land during the Exodus (Numbers 13:30-14:10). God did not accept their unbelief and condemned that generation of unbelief to die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:22-23 and 14:28-32).
i. The appeal do not harden your hearts means there is some aspect of the will involved when it comes to the hardness (or softness) of heart. Many regard a hard or soft heart as something that just happens to someone and is beyond his ability to control. Here the Holy Spirit indicates differently.
ii. The strong words in the second half of this psalm are connected to the sweet, stirring words of the first half. Humble worship of Yahweh and the recognition of Him as Creator and God should lead to a listening ear and a soft, surrendered heart toward Him. There is something wrong when the worshipper does not obey and trust God.
iii. Charles Spurgeon suggested several ways that we may harden our hearts.
· Some harden their hearts by resolving not to demonstrate emotion in regard to spiritual things.
· Some harden their hearts by delaying a real relationship with God.
· Some harden their hearts by pretending doubts and foolish criticism.
· Some harden their hearts by getting into evil company.
· Some harden their hearts by focusing on silly amusements “all intended to kill time and prevent thought upon divine things.”
· Some harden their hearts by indulging in a favorite sin.
c. When your fathers tested Me: We test God by our unbelief. Israel saw the work of God, yet would not trust Him at Meribah or in the wilderness in general. We are warned not to do the same.
i. To reject God’s invitation today surely means to test Him. “Is God to wait as a lackey upon you? You deserve his wrath, will you slight his love? He speaks in amazing tenderness, will you exhibit astounding hardness?” (Spurgeon)
ii. Though they saw My work means that God gives us reason to trust Him. To ignore those reasons is to provoke and to test God.
iii. “Every one comes in the Christian life, once at least, to Kadesh-barnea [Numbers 13:26]. On the one hand the land of rest and victory; on the other the desert wastes. The balance, quivering between the two, is turned this way by faith; that by unbelief. Trust God, and rest. Mistrust Him, and the door closes on rest, to open to wanderings, failure, and defeat.” (Meyer)
2. (10-11) Warning the people of God.
“For forty years I was grieved with that generation,
And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts,
And they do not know My ways.’
So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
a. For forty years I was grieved: God offered the generation that came out of Egypt the opportunity to take the Promised Land by faith. Their unbelieving rejection of God’s offer grieved Him for forty years. It was evidence that they went astray in their hearts, away from humble confidence in Him as Creator and Redeemer.
i. “The desert wanderings were but a symbol, as they were a consequence, of their wanderings in heart. They did not know His ways; therefore they chose their own.” (Maclaren)
ii. “O the desperate presumption of man, that he should offend his Maker ‘forty years!’ O the patience and long suffering of his Maker, that he should allow him forty years to offend in!” (Horne)
iii. Astray in their hearts: “Their heart was obstinately and constantly at fault; it was not their head which erred, but their very heart was perverse.” (Spurgeon)
b. They do not know My ways: To know God is to trust Him. Unbelief is evidence of small or faulty knowledge of God.
i. “My ways; either, 1. My laws or statutes, which are frequently called God’s ways. Or rather, 2. My works, as it is expressed, Psalm 95:9, which also are commonly so called. They did not know nor consider and remember those great things which I had wrought for them and among them.” (Poole)
c. So I swore in My wrath: God did not honor the unbelief of His people. It was an insult to Him, and prompted a solemn, angry declaration from Him.
i. “Be not wilfully, wantonly, repeatedly, obstinately rebellious. Let the example of that unhappy generation serve as a beacon to you; do not repeat the offences which have already more than enough provoked the Lord.” (Spurgeon)
d. They shall not enter My rest: God condemned Israel’s generation of unbelievers to die in the wilderness, so that a generation of faithful believers could inherit the Promised Land, His appointed place of rest for His people.
i. “There can be no rest to an unbelieving heart. If manna and miracles could not satisfy Israel, neither would they have been content with the land which flowed with milk and honey.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “By ending on this note the psalm sacrifices literary grace to moral urgency. If this is a psalm about worship, it could give no blunter indication that the heart of the matter is severely practical: nothing less than a bending of wills and a renewal of pilgrimage.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org