2 To Dos and 1 Warning
The 95th Psalm is credited to David and is one of several psalms (Psalm 93-100) the Israelites sang together as they went up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. This psalm is instructional and it gives us two “to dos” and one “warning.”
Psalm 95: 1-2 “1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol (glorify) him with music and song.” This gives us our first “to do” which is We are to PRAISE GOD.
Notice that in Verse 1 it starts out with “Come, let us sing.” David doesn’t write “let me sing” but refers to “us” meaning that this is a group effort and should involve everyone. It also refers to God as our “Rock.” This word is used to let us know that the Lord is our strength to draw from; He is the rock upon which we can rest. So our primary motivation for singing thanksgiving and praise is that we know from whom we are given our strength.
But why are we to praise God? As we continue on in the psalm, we find the reasons for our thanksgiving and praise are because we are created by God along with everything else in our universe. He is our maker and creator, the author of all living things. Verse 3-5 tells us the reasons we are to give God praise: Psalm 95: 3-5 “3 For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
David is giving us the basic reasons we should all praise God. These reasons not only apply to believers but to everyone. We should all praise God because we are all His creation. Paul gives us a glimpse of how God feels when people do not acknowledge Him as worthy of praise in Romans 1: 21 when he writes: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” We sometimes foolishly think that we are independent beings making our own way through life. While God has provided us the ability to make our own decisions (free will) everything required to sustain life is provided by God. We see people around us boast of being “self-made” and act as though there is no one but themselves that needs to be recognized for what they accomplish.
Praise is not based on how we feel or what our attitude towards God may be at that moment. It is based on the fact that we are dependent on His love and grace and the least we can do is give praise to Him as our Creator. Psalm 96: 8 says “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;” God is worthy of our praise and it is not something we do when we feel like it, or when its convenient, or when we are only around people that won’t think its uncool to praise God. God is always worthy of our praise and we should give Him the glory His name deserves.
There are two things David calls our attention to in this relationship with God. First, he tells us “For the Lord is the great God, The great King above all gods.” David is not telling us there are other gods but that man believes that there are. Throughout the history of mankind, man has created idols or images to worship. Even those that proclaim there is no god have those things that they worship and give their loyalty. Wealth, fame, athletic ability, pornography are just a few of the many things that can become a god in peoples lives. Men are by their very nature worshipping beings. What David is saying is that no matter what our idea of a god may be, the true God is greater than any and all of these. Even Satan and his demons are under the power and authority of God. We do not have a “good god” versus an “evil god” battle going on; even Satan is under the authority of God. God’s word tells us that Satan has power in this world but ultimately we have the ability to defeat him by our relationship with God’s only son Jesus Christ.
The second thing that David is drawing our attention to is the fact that the things in life we view as challenging, or mysterious, or exciting or adventurous are all created and provided by God. He has planned them and put them here. We should thank God not only because he controls all the things necessary to sustain our lives but we should praise Him because he is also the creator of the mystery, the adventure, the excitement of life, the things that make it fun and worth living. God is worthy of praise for these things as well.
Psalm 95: 6-7 “6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” This gives us our second to do which is: We are to WORSHIP GOD. The psalm now shifts its focus from God our Creator to God our Redeemer. God is now portrayed as our Shepherd. We have now entered into a personal relationship with Him and our response should be one of amazement and humility. There isn’t a single one of us who has not run from God and tried to resist His continual efforts to reconcile our hearts with His. He loves us when we are unlovable and He promises to change us even when we cannot see the possibilities for change in ourselves. For this reason, we have no reason to worship ourselves but we owe all to Him. We have done nothing to make ourselves worthy of salvation yet God has made it readily available to all who will receive it. We are all like selfish, stubborn, stupid sheep who want to go our own way. Isaiah very appropriately states “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;” (Isaiah 53: 6). Despite our stupid, stubborn, selfish desires, God pursues us and tries to bring us back into a relationship with Him. Because of what He has done, we owe it to worship Him and thank Him for His tremendous love for us.
In the latter part of verse 7 we move from David speaking to God speaking: Psalm 95: 7b “Today, if you hear his voice, “ God is telling us what He wants from us. He wants us to come together and listen to Him. While some believe they should be commended for just showing up, worship should be focused on listening to the Word of God, to the voice of God. True worship is listening to the voice of God and allowing His word to correct our attitudes and our behaviors. When I have the opportunity to speak in a service, I am often amused by the fact that there are those attending that want to look like they are hanging on every word that I say but in reality, they are totally somewhere else in their minds. Some are thinking about what happened before the service began and some are thinking about what they will be doing after the service is over. Some are thinking about events that occurred days ago and some are thinking about events that will take place at some point in the future. God’s desire is that no matter what else may happen in a worship service, when His word is being spoken that we listen. Not only listen, but obey! That means we must do something with what we are hearing.
Psalm 95: 8-9 “8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, 9 where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.” This gives us our one warning which is: DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEART. God is reminding us of how the Israelites behaved as they were being brought out of exile from Egypt. The seventeenth chapter of Exodus describes the events that took place shortly after the Israelites had escaped Pharaohs army at the Red Sea. They had observed the power of God by the parting of the waters yet when they became thirsty, they went to Moses and questioned God’s love and whether He would truly provide and care for them. These people had the audacity to challenge God to prove His love and care. God provided them water and continued to protect them and meet their needs yet they always fell back into whining and complaining. They had observed the tremendous power of God yet they continued to find fault with their condition. This is what God means by “hardening our hearts.” God’s desire is that worship will strengthen us, give us answers to life’s issues and provides us with solutions so that we are constantly seeking God rather than falling back into disbelief.
God is frustrated by the fact that people can come week after week after week and hear how He is moving in mighty ways in others lives, they can see the freedom and release from sinful bondage He is providing so many and yet the minute something goes wrong in their lives they begin to whine and complain about God failing them.
Psalm 95: 10 “For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” The opening of Verse 10 tells us “For forty years I was angry with that generation;” Isn’t it great to know that God has such tremendous patience! He continued to work in the lives of the Israelites for 40 years. Yet they continued to question and challenge the power and authority of God. This greatly disappointed God because they never seem to get it. God diagnosed their problem in two ways.
The first issue was their hearts were set on the wrong things. They weren’t concerned with the really important things. If you read the account you will see that they were only concerned with their bellies and God says they were wrong in their hearts. Colossians tells us “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3: 1-2) This does not mean that we go around thinking of heaven all the time. “Set your hearts on things above” means we are focused on the important things in life such as truth, honor and justice; setting an example of patience, tolerance and grace towards those we come into contact with.
God defines their second problem as “they have not known my ways.” In other words, they did not understand how God works. It is important for us to understand how God works because God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s ways are higher than our ways just as the heavens are higher than the earth. For this reason God does not always behave the way we expect Him to.
That leads us to God’s conclusion for those that harden their hearts in verse 11 which says: Psalm 95: 11 “So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.” One of the purposes of worship is to teach us how to “rest” in God. This means that we rely on God’s efforts rather than our own. Hebrews tells us “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4: 10) He wants us to live our lives relying upon Him for all that we face. This is why worship plays such an important role in providing instruction as to how we can achieve “rest.” If we are unwilling to listen to God through His word and His voice, we can worship for 40 years and still harden our hearts to the point that God says to us “you shall not enter my rest.” There is no other way to obtain God’s rest. There is no drug you can take, no book you can read or ritual you can practice that will give you the true rest that God wants us to have. If we are unwilling to listen and obey God’s word, we cannot enter His rest. That is why it is so important that when we come together to worship; we must enter with an open heart and a willingness to listen to God’s word and God’s voice. We must allow it to penetrate our hearts, convict us where needed, so that we can change and by doing so, bring glory and honor to God.