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Psalm 95 is a song of thanksgiving. In it the people of Israel are prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus. This song of thanksgiving has its origin in the eternal power and Divine nature of God seen from His works of creation with understanding (Rom 1:20). At the same time, the warning sounds that the people can only enter God’s rest, the realm of peace, by faith. The history of the people’s disobedience in the wilderness is like a warning sign, warning of the danger of unbelief, which is an obstacle to be able to enter.
After this we find a series of psalms with songs of thanksgiving related to the glory of the realm of peace.
The LORD Is a Great God
Here we find the shining forth of the LORD (Psa 94:1) to take possession of the earth and the sea. In Psalm 95 we find a call to the earth or land – the Hebrew word eretz means both ‘earth’ and ‘land’ – Israel and in Psalm 96 we find a call to the sea, i.e. the nations. In both cases the call is to bow the knee before Him (Isa 45:23; Phil 2:9-11). It is painted this way in Revelation 10: “I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, … He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land” (Rev 10:1a; 2b).
The call in Psa 95:1-2 is to magnify the LORD. The reasons are:
1. He is greater than all idols, gods and powers (Psa 95:3).
2. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Psa 95:4-5).
3. He is the Shepherd of His people (Psa 95:6-7).
It begins with the call to sing joyfully “to the LORD” (Psa 95:1). Shouts of joy are to be given “to the rock of our salvation”. “Sing for joy” and “shout joyfully” are expressions of a heart that is full of gratitude for Who the LORD is and what He has done. Here the psalmist does not do this individually, but urges the whole people to do so.
The LORD is here the unshakable rock of the people’s salvation. The psalmist does not speak of ‘my salvation’, but of “our salvation”. The rock of salvation (Psa 18:2) is the struck rock (Exo 17:5-6). We know that the rock is Christ and the rock “followed” the people, that is, was present with them from the beginning to the end (1Cor 10:4).
The whole people are a redeemed people. The people have been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, from the dangers of the wilderness, from the enemies who oppressed and threatened them in the land. That He is the rock means that salvation is inviolable and eternally certain.
The singing and rejoicing is not to be done personally nor just anywhere, but “before His presence” (Psa 95:2). There they are “with thanksgiving”, that is, with words in which they express their gratitude to Him. There they are “with psalms”. In the psalms that they sing to Him with joy, they praise Him.
The word “for” with which Psa 95:3 begins indicates the reason that follows for the call made in the previous verses. There appear to be several reasons. First, “the LORD is a great God”. He towers above everything and encompasses everything. There is also no comparison to anyone or anything (Isa 46:9). He is great.
“A great King” is He “above all gods”. That He is a great King means that He is the King of kings. That He is above all gods He has shown in the past by defeating the gods of Egypt (Exo 15:11). There are some who are called gods (1Cor 8:5). These are dead idols behind which are demonic powers. They are not rivals of Him, but His subjects. God rules over them as “a great King”. He sits on the throne and everyone is subordinate to Him. We do not see this now, but in faith we see Him to Whom all things are subject (Heb 2:8b).
Connected to this is a subsequent exaltation of Him that gives cause to rejoice before Him and to sing psalms. The dead idols are local gods, but God is the God of all creation (Psa 95:4; cf. Isa 40:26). Everything in the universe is His possession. No one else can lay claim to it. His right to it is absolute and total.
Just as copyright law provides that the creator of a particular work has a right to the ups and downs of that work, so God as Creator of heaven and earth has a right to His creation (Rev 4:11). For unbelievers, they must get ready to meet their God (Amos 4:12). Every human being is called to remember his Creator already in his youth (Ecc 12:1).
This applies to “the depths of the earth” and “the peaks of mountains”. The deepest known place of the earth is the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean with a depth of about eleven kilometers. It is a place of deep darkness, where there has never been any sunlight, but to God it is as light there as it is on earth. Not only can He descend to such deep places, but they are also in His “hand”. That is, He has authority over them, He controls and governs all that is in them.
What is true of the deepest places is also true of the highest places, of “the peaks of the mountains”. These “are His”. He made the mountains; they belong to Him. Their height and power reflect His exaltedness above what is exalted on earth. If the deepest depths and the highest heights are in His hand, everything in between is also in His hand.
“The sea” is also “His, for it was He who made it” (Psa 95:5). Man has idolized the creation, such as trees and stones, and the creatures, such as animals and even man. The psalmist makes it clear that creation was made and created by God and therefore we must never equate it with God. In the same way, the fourth book of Psalms begins by stating in Psalm 90 that the eternal God brought forth this creation (Psa 90:2).
Because He, emphatically, He and no one else, made the sea, it is His inalienable property. The same is true of “the dry land”. His hands formed it. There is no question of a development, an ‘evolutionary process’, which would have given the dry land the form it has today after billions of years. No, the dry land is a piece of art that the Creator has formed by His own hands.
The Sheep of His Hand
In Psa 95:6, the psalmist calls upon the faithful remnant to “worship and bow down” before the LORD and “kneel” before Him. This is a repetition and deepening of what we saw in Psa 95:1-2. It is deepening because it is not just about creation, but about the fact that the LORD formed them as a people (Psa 95:6) and cared for them as a Shepherd (Psa 95:7).
Worshiping, bowing down, and kneeling are three postures of deep reverence and awe, where the worshiper makes himself as little as possible before God. True worship is not making a lot of noise, where the heart can be empty, but an attitude that is appropriate toward Him, “our Maker”.
For us, members of God’s heavenly people, the church, it is true that He has acquired the church by the blood of His own [Son] (Acts 20:28). When we are impressed by Him, we are not pushed over, nor do we remain standing, but fall down before Him (Rev 5:14b).
Again there follows a “for” after which the reason is given for taking this attitude of deep reverence and awe (Psa 95:7). Now it is not because He is the Creator and sovereign Ruler of all the earth, as in the preceding verses, but because He is the Shepherd of His people (Eze 34:15-16). He is in a special relationship with them.
They call themselves “the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (cf. Psa 79:13; Psa 100:3). By this they indicate that they depend on Him like sheep depend on the shepherd. He ensures that they find pasture, that they get food. Thereby He also leads them by His hand. Even more, the expression “sheep of His hand”, or sheep of His caring hand, means that He protects them with His hand. They are secure in His hand (cf. Jn 10:28-29).
In the last line of Psa 95:7, the LORD, Yahweh, speaks. He does so “today”. He says that here, in the time of the psalmist. He says that to the Hebrews hundreds of years later (Heb 3:7). He says that to us, too. Each time He speaks, that He lets His people hear His voice, it is “today”. Again and again He makes His people hear His voice. “Today” refers to those to whom the Word comes at the time He speaks and they hear it in person, while they live. The question is what they do when they hear His voice. ‘Today’ allows no delay to later. It is important to respond to God’s voice immediately in obedience.
God Himself makes clear in the next verse by an example from their history how they responded to His voice in the past. This example contains a serious warning. It presents them with a choice. It also presents us with a choice, because the ‘today’ applies to us now! God also speaks to us ‘today’ and does so through His Word. The Lord Jesus did so, too, when He said to the people: “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!” (Lk 19:42).
Warning of Hardening
The warning is: if they hear His voice, they must not harden their hearts (Psa 95:8). Here God is speaking. Their fathers did harden their hearts in the past, namely “at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness”. Meribah – meaning ‘contention’ (about water) or ‘bitterness’ – is a place near Kadesh (Num 20:1). It is there that Moses brings forth water from the rock at the end of the forty-year wilderness wanderings (Num 20:10-13).
This wilderness place Meribah near Kadesh at the end of the wilderness journey must be distinguished from the place Massah and Meribah in Rafidim (Exo 17:1). There the murmuring people received water from the rock at the beginning of the wilderness journey. This place is given the double name of Massah and Meribah, meaning ‘temptation’ and ‘strife’ or ‘bitterness’ (Exo 17:7). Both meanings are echoed in the quotation of this verse in the letter to the Hebrews: “Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked [Meribah] Me, as in the day of trial [Massah] in the wilderness” (Heb 3:8).
The people tested God in the wilderness, tried Him or tempted Him (Psa 95:9). To test Him is to taunt Him, as a whining child does, to see how far they could go in their unbelief. They tested Him, challenged Him, to show whether He is in their midst or not (Exo 17:7). Such a test can be compared to asking the sun to prove that it is shining, while at the same time we are standing in the full sun. Such a question shows irrefutably that such a person is blind. This is also the case with the people that is testing or trying God. This is evident from the reproach God makes to the people when He says: “They tried Me, though they had seen My work.”
He has ceaselessly proven His presence in their midst. His work is undeniable. They have seen His deliverance from Egypt, they have seen Him make a path through the Red Sea and drown the Egyptians in it. Each day they have seen His care through the manna that was ready for them each morning. It is pure unbelief to challenge God after seeing so many works to show that He is in their midst.
Therefore, the warning to the believing remnant is: Take to heart the warning of your own history. As for man, history teaches that man learns nothing from history. With the believing remnant it must be different, they must not harden their hearts, but put their trust in the LORD.
This attitude of Israel, unfortunately, is not an incident, but has characterized the people throughout their journey through the wilderness. We hear this in God’s words: “For forty years I loathed [that] generation” (Psa 95:10). For forty years He showed His care for them (Deu 4:32-35). He has delivered them, led them and cared for them and yet they went right against Him (cf. Deu 6:16; Deu 9:22; Deu 33:8). This strong expression of disgust does indicate how much they dishonored God with their attitude.
We can make the big mistake of thinking that we are better than they are. It is therefore important that we too take this warning to heart (1Cor 10:11; Heb 3:14-19; Heb 4:1-7). We will do so if we remember that He, Who did not spare even His own Son, but gave Him up for us, will with Him also give us all things (Rom 8:32).
If this is how the people responded to all of God’s care, it is not surprising that He became angry toward this generation. God also indicates the deep cause: to err in their sinful heart. Because their heart has always strayed from God, they have not known His ways. They have understood nothing of His actions, whether He has dealt with them in blessing or in judgment.
Moses did know God’s ways, for God Himself made them known to him (Psa 103:7) because he feared and loved Him. To know God’s ways it is necessary that we give Him our heart. That is what He asks for (Pro 23:26). When we give Him our heart, we are giving Him our whole life, that He may govern it. Then we walk in His way that ends in glory.
It is impossible for God to allow His people, who so err in their heart, to enter into His rest (Psa 95:11; Num 14:21-23). Because they so wander with their heart and are so ignorant of His ways, He cannot but swear in His anger that He will never receive them in His rest. “My rest” is God’s rest. It is the rest He has when He will dwell in the midst of His people. That is the promised land, where the people will live in peace and security, without fear of enemies. This rest will only be experienced in the realm of peace of the Messiah, the great Son of David.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 95". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26