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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 95

Psalms 95

The Psalmist exhorts the church of the Lord to praise with full heart God who alone is God, the Lord of the whole earth, Psalms 95:1-5, devoutly to fall down before him, Psalms 95:6, not to harden the heart, which ought to be obedient to him, as their fathers did once in the wilderness, and thereby shut themselves out from the land of promise, Psalms 95:7-11.

The whole is complete in ten, which is divided by the five. In the middle there is an intercalary verse, which forms as it were the beating heart of the Psalm, contains the result gathered out of the first half, and forms the point of transition to the second.

A false division has often been occasioned by laying too great stress on the fact that the Lord is introduced speaking in Psalms 95:8-11. This is really a matter of no importance; and there is hence no sufficient reason for violently applying this change to regulate the formal division.

The emphatic allusion to the example of the fathers, who, by their hardness of heart, shut themselves out from the land of promise, and especially the fact that the Psalm terminates with this allusion, have long ago given rise to the idea that the Psalm must have been composed in circumstances similar to those of the Israelites in the wilderness, in view of a glorious manifestation of the salvation of the Lord. This view is confirmed by the fact that this expectation is peculiar to the chain of Psalms, of which the Psalm before us forms one link, comp. at Psalms 94:1. All doubt disappears on comparing Psalms 96, which is bound up with our Psalm so as to form one pair; comp. the introduction to that Psalm. The reference also to the Messianic salvation was clearly and profoundly acknowledged by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews: whose λέ?γων ἐ?ν Δαβὶ?δ , however, is not to be viewed as a testimony for the special Davidic origin of the Psalm, but only as a designation of the whole taken from the author of the greater part.

We have therefore here before us an Old Testament “Rejoice ye pious.” Behind the darkness of the approaching Chaldean catastrophe the Prophets perceived the approach, and the Psalmists led on by them excited the expectation of a clear light; and hence took occasion to address earnest admonitions to the people to seek, by unreservedly giving themselves to the Lord, participation in this light, which is accompanied side by side with a consuming fire for the rebellious. As formerly in the wilderness, so here also the people appear on the way to their rest. For the great body who did not follow the admonition of the Psalmist, and did not know the time of their visitation, the Psalm is really an awfully fulfilled prophecy.

The Psalm has its full significance for the Christian Church, inasmuch as we stand in the same relation to the second coming of the Lord, of whose time and hour we know nothing, Matthew 24:36, and which shall come on us as a thief in the night and as travail upon a woman with child, as the people of the Old Testament did to the first. The Psalm; moreover, has a peculiar significance for our times, in which there is so much to call up the thought that we are on the eve of some great catastrophe, and are about to meet the coming of the Lord with steps of majesty, “To day, if ye will hear his voice,” sounds with peculiarly impressive tones in our ears.

Verses 1-5

Ver. 1. Come, let us rejoice to the Lord, let us shout with joy to the rock of our salvation. Ver. 2. Let us anticipate his presence with songs of praise, let us shout to him with songs. Ver. 3. For a great God is the Lord, and a great King over all gods. Ver. 4. In whose hands are the foundations of the earth, and his are the heights of the mountains. Ver. 5. His is the sea, and he has made it, and his hands have spread out the dry land.

That the exhortation to praise God in Psalms 95:1-2 does not refer to a mere outward act of worship, but demands the surrender of the heart, which is the fountain equally of true love to God and of obedience to his commandments, is evident from the negative of the second corresponding to the positive of the first part of the Psalm: harden not your heart, &c. God is called the Rock of salvation as being its unchangeable foundation and faithful author; comp. at Psalms 18:2, Psalms 62:7, Ps. 92:16, Psalms 94:22,

In reference to the קדם to anticipate, in Psalms 95:2 (Vulg. praeoccupemus faciem ejus) comp. Psalms 21:3, Psalms 79:8, Psalms 88:13, “in the morning my prayer shall anticipate thee,” and on the whole phrase קדם פנים , also Psalms 17:13, Psalms 89:14. Calvin: “He demands haste in order that he may testify to believers that they should fulfil their duty with pleasure and zeal. This exhortation presupposes that indolence which is natural to us when God calls us to render thanks.” Psalms 57:8, for example, is really parallel, where the Psalmist promises that he shall always awaken the morning with his thanks and praise. The common translation, “let us come before thy face,” is a mistake, and cannot be defended etymologically.

That Psalms 95:3 does not lead to the supposition of the real existence of the heathen deities is evident from Psalms 96:4-5, where the corresponding expression, “for great is the Lord and very glorious, dreadful above all gods,” is followed by, “for all the Gods of the nations are nothing, but the Lord has made the heavens.” The words are to be explained from the contrast intended to be drawn to the way of the world, which grants to Jehovah only the importance of a small God, and places him far beneath its own gods. In like manner, in Psalms 95:4-5, they are denied not only the place of supremacy, but even existence itself. For the Lord has every thing, they therefore have nothing; and a God who has nothing has no existence. Finally, what is here said as to what God is, is said in reference to the approaching glorious manifestation of this his being; because as shall be the case speedily through the unveiling of the glory of the Lord, his wonder and his salvation, Psalms 96:2-3, shall come to light, &c.

That the Psalmist in Psalms 95:4-5 brings forward only the dominion of the Lord over the earth is clear from Psalms 96:5, where as a supplementary idea heaven is spoken of. In reference to the earth, the deepest depths and the highest heights are first placed in opposition in Psalms 95:4, and after that in Psalms 95:5, the sea and the dry land. מחקר is what is sought for, the concealed deep, in opposition to what meets the eye; comp. חקר תהום , the searching of the flood, the innermost bottom of the sea, in Job 38 and Jeremiah 31:37, “when the heavens above were measured, and the foundations of the earth were searched (or explored).” “On תועפה , a noun formed from the 3 fem. fut. in Hiph., properly “that which makes weary,” “exertion,” comp. the author’s treatise on Balaam in Numbers 23:22, “The exertion of the mountains” in parallel with “the searchings of the earth,” is a poetical expression for the highest summits of the mountains, which can be reached only by an exertion. However deep man may penetrate into the depths, or however high be may ascend into the heights, he is still within the dominion of God—he cannot go beyond his boundaries.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Come, let us worship and fall done, let us kneel before the Lord our Creator. We have here before us the culminating point of the Psalm, the festive moment of devotion “when the bells ring in curia regis.” This joy where the heart is full of it seeks also its bodily expression. [Note: Calvin: “This also is to be observed, that the Psalmist not only treats of the gratitude of the heart, but also demands an outward profession of piety. For it is expressed in these words that the faithful do not perform their duty unless they offer themselves up as a sacrifice to God openly, by kneeling and other signs.”] Still even this is only desired as the expression of what fills the heart. This is manifest from what follows, where as the consequences of kneeling and falling down, it appears that the worshipper listens to the voice of God and does not harden his heart. Hence in the shell of the kneeling there must be contained. the kernel of unreserved surrender, which manifests itself in willing obedience. God is called the Creator of Israel as the author of his being, in every respect generally human, and specially Israelitish comp. in reference to the latter the fundamental passage, Deuteronomy 32:6, and the ( Psalms 95:7) 7th verse of this Psalm. The ( Psalms 95:5) 5th verse shows that the former is not to be excluded.

Verses 7-11

Ver. 7. For he is our God, and we the people of his pasture, and sheep of his hand. To-day, if ye will listen to his voice! Ver. 8. Harden not your heart like Meribah, like the day of Massa in the wilderness. Ver. 9. When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and still saw my doing. Ver. 10. Forty years was I disgusted with this people and said: they are people of erring heart, and they know not my ways. Ver. 11. So that I swore in my wrath: they shall not come to my rest.—in reference to the people of his pasture in Psalms 95:7, comp. at Psalms 80:12, Psalms 74:1. Sheep of his hand are such as he guides and protects with his hand, comp. Psalms 23:3-4, Psalms 100:3. The “to-day” stands emphatically foremost, intimating that the present is a time of great decision. As the אם is always a conditional, and never an optative particle (comp. at Psalms 81:8), we cannot translate “would that you heard,” but must rather, as also with the אם in Psalms 95:11, supply the proposition, “thus shall he bless you his people.” The אם occurs not unfrequently in this way, for example, Psalms 81:8, “Hear, O my people, and let me testify to thee, O Israel, if thou will hearken unto me,” where we must supply, “it will go well with you.” In Zechariah 6:15, “and it happens, if ye listen to the voice of the Lord your God,” there must be supplied, “ye shall share in all these good things, and Messiah will take away your sins as your high priest, and give you prosperity as your King,” compare the Christol. on the passage. But the fundamental passage, Exodus 23:21-22, is much more worth comparing, where the clause wanting is added: “beware of him (the angel whom the Lord will send before you, and who will lead you to Canaan), and listen to his voice . . . for if thou shalt listen to his voice, I will do all that I say, and I will become an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thy adversaries.” This earnest voice which went forth on a former occasion, goes forth now again at a new critical moment to Israel, on the eve of a new leading through the wilderness into Canaan, through suffering to salvation. Would that they now laid it better to heart! Against connecting the clause with what follows (Luther: to-day, if you will hear his voice, you will not harden your hearts), we have besides that fundamental passage and the parallel passage, Psalms 81:8, the accents, the change of person and the שמע with ב , which can never mean “to hear something,” but “to listen to something.” The whole verse has in reality a hortatory character: listen to-day to his voice, that thus his blessing may be imparted to you, in harmony with what follows, and in parallel with the “come, let us rejoice” of the first part, and as the more full development of this, “come, let us worship” of the ( Psalms 95:6) 6th verse—not only our verse but the whole paragraph, Psalms 95:7-11, is pointed out as such by the “for:” for, inasmuch as he is our God, &c., listen to his voice, that thus it may go well with you, harden not your heart, &c., and thus render to him the worship which he desires, which consists not only in a mere bending of the knee, which even the irrational beasts can render, but in an unqualified surrender of the heart.

In Psalms 95:8, “as Meribah, as the day of Massah,” stands concisely for “as it happened at Meribah and on the day of Massah.” Allusion is made to Exodus 17:1, ss.; not however to Numbers 20:1, ss. For it is only in the former passage that the place has the name Massah and Meribah, comp. Beitr. 3., p. 379. Israel’s offence at that place was neither their first nor their most remarkable offence. That it is selected from the number of all the rest and made to stand as representative of them, is to be explained alone from the quality of the two names which are monuments of their striving with the Lord and of their tempting him. In reference to אשר in the sense of where, Psalms 95:9, comp. at 84:3. That the last words of the verse are not, with many expositors, to be referred to the punishment, of which mention is first made in Psalms 95:11, but that they are intended to heighten the guilt, to bring the criminality more into view, is evident from the fundamental passage, Numbers 14:22, “for all the men who saw my glory and my signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and still tempted me these ten times, and did not hearken to my voice.” The גם , also, points to the aggravating circumstances connected with the proving. The more manifestly God makes himself known, so much the more disgraceful is it, when we are in trouble, to put him first to the proof: as if he must first show himself beyond his true Godhead.

The expression, “I was disgusted,” in Psalms 95:10, does not denote the punishment, but points to the greatness of the sin. For whole forty years the Israelites acted in such a manner [Note: Calvin: The circumstance that God struggled so long with their wickedness without effect aggravates its guilt. For it sometimes happens that petulance will boil up for a little and immediately afterwards subside.] that their God could only look upon them with displeasure and aversion. By the דור , race, is meant here the whole generation, in opposition to separate corrupt individuals, comp. Deuteronomy 1:35, “There shall not one of these men of this evil generation see the good land,” &c., Deuteronomy 2:14, “till the whole generation of the men of war be dead. By the want of the article, this contrast is rendered more prominent. The second clause serves the same object as “still they saw my work,” in Psalms 95:9. The conduct of Israel was thus inexcusable, inasmuch as they had the ways of God, that is, his glorious conduct, before their eyes, from which they might have learned better; but they perceived this only with their bodily eyes, and did not lay it to heart. The fundamental passage serves for illustration, Deuteronomy 29:3, “And the Lord did not give you an heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, till this day;” before this the discourse had been of the great wonders and signs of the Lord on behalf of his people, and of his gracious guidance, corresponding to “his ways” here.

On the אשר , so that, in Psalms 95:11, comp. Ew. § 327. The oath here spoken of went forth, when, after the sending forth of the spies, the rebelliousness of the Israelites rose to formal revolt. The אם is taken from the fundamental passage, Numbers 14:23, “if they shall see the land which I sware unto their fathers,” Numbers 14:30, “If ye shall come into the land for which I have lifted up my hand to make you dwell in it,” Deuteronomy 1:35, “ if one of these men, this wicked generation, shall see the good land,” &c. The מנוחה , a place of rest, and their rest, comp. at Psalms 23:2, must, according to the fundamental passage, where the land corresponds to it, and according to Deuteronomy 12:9, “For ye are not yet come to the place of rest, and to the inheritance which the Lord thy God gives thee,” have the former sense. The close of the Psalm is serious and gloomy. The Psalmist anticipates that the melancholy example of the past will be repeated in the future yet once more, that Israel will yet another time fail to know the time of his visitation.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 95". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.