Entering the Whole Journey of the Psalms: Psalm 95

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Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 95 (NIV)

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
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.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

The book of Psalms is a worship book that God placed at the center of the Bible. These songs should not be read or approached the same way you read the book of Romans. Rather, when you approach the Psalms, you should see them as 150 different journeys of faith that God has divinely placed in his Word. The 150 journeys are quite varied. Some engage us in explosive acts of praise, like Psalm 150. Others bring us through a painful path of repentance (like Psalm 51). The Psalms are filled with celebration, teaching, reflection, historical memory, lament, repentance, and worship, to name a few. Each of the 150 trips has its own internal integrity, and we miss out if we simply pluck verses out of their context or end the journey before its completion. Psalm 95 is a classic place to learn this basic lesson.

The psalm opens with one of the most well-known and loved Scriptures used in calls to worship all over the world: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (vv. 1–2). The psalm opens on a joyful, celebratory note to come and hear God’s Word and to worship him with song. It continues with great exuberance, extolling God’s majesty in creation, and then issues another call to worship: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (v. 6).

However, at this point, the psalm goes on to warn us about what a solemn and awesome thing it is to come into God’s presence: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (vv. 7–8). This verse and those that follow are quoted extensively in the New Testament (see Hebrews 3 and 4) as a reminder of the connection between worship and Word; between coming into his presence and leaving his presence with our faces set toward obedience. Psalm 95 brings us through the whole journey, using a historical lesson from Israel’s history. To pluck verses out, or to cherry-pick verses out of the Psalms is to rob us of a very important part of the journey.

In this case, the people of God had been ushered into God’s presence and heard the wonderful law of God expounded through Moses at Mount Sinai. But in the end, they hardened their hearts to God’s Word, and what was intended to be a triumphant passage to the Promised Land became an agonizing wandering in the wilderness. Psalm 95 enshrines both the joyful call to worship and the sober warning in the worship book of God’s people. It was given to us that we might not repeat the history of Israel, but live into the more vibrant and faith-filled life that God intends for us. Be sure to take the whole journey!

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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