Psalm 95

The movement of Psalm 95 is interesting in the sense that it moves from a mood of exuberant praise to one of solemn warning. The first part of the psalm is a call to reverent joyful worship. Reverence is a key factor here since what is being highlighted is the greatness of God. The appeal to the grandeur of nature to elicit a sense of awe (vs.3-5) before God the creator is a common point of reflection in the psalms. Many psalms refer to God as the creator of the mountains and the sea particularly, both of these being amongst the more impressive features of nature. In the psalm it is pointed out that this mighty transcendent God who created the world in all its grandeur is the very same God who is our shepherd. This highlights a characteristic element of biblical spirituality and it defines the idea of reverence. The experience of reverence is essentially an intimate experience of the transcendence of God. It is the combination of intimacy with a God who is infinitely beyond our capacity to grasp.

The call to worship leads naturally to the exhortation in verse 8 to listen to God: “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts.” The connection between the solemn exhortation of verses 8-11 and the exuberant call to worship of the first part of the psalms is this: The true worshipper is the one whose heart is open to God. To draw near to God in a spiritual sense means opening our hearts to God’s voice and being willing to trust him. If we are unwilling to listen to God and trust him then we express rebellion rather than worship. This rebellion was exemplified by the Israelites in the desert period after the exodus at Meribah and Massah (Exodus 15:22-17:7; Numbers 20). This account is the classic expression of rebellion and is often referred to in the rest of the Bible as an example of apostasy. The problem here was that the Israelites were simply unwilling to embrace the life of faith. They repeatedly expressed their preference to be back in slavery in Egypt rather than be on their journey with God. Hence they rejected God. As a result they were made to wander restlessly in the desert for the rest of their lives until a new generation came forth who would inherit God’s promised land. The Psalmist, as he sounds his call to worship, is thus calling for his worshippers to be genuine. It is possible to make outward gestures of worship while inwardly being in rebellion against God.

The use of the biblical narrative here sheds light on how the psalms are intended to be used. There is an important sense of prophetic exhortation in the psalms ‘ such that is given to us to be sung and repeated for generation after generation. The events of biblical history are given to us to teach us and here this instruction, as in many other psalms, is made to be a part of the corporate worship experience.

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