By Sam E. Stone
Psalm 95 begins with a call to sing praises to the Lord. The invitation to come is found three times in today’s text. The messianic implication in these verses is confirmed by the usage of this psalm in the New Testament. It is quoted in Hebrews 3 and 4, where it is attributed to David.
Leslie S. M’Caw observed, “The anthem begins with an expression of Israel’s worship in which the knowledge of God is shown to be inseparable from the imprint of his action upon them at the Red Sea and in the wilderness.”
Exhortation to Sing
In these verses people are called to unite in worshipping Yahweh. James E. Smith explained, “The Lord should be greeted with loud shouts, with the acclamations which befit a victorious king. Worshipers should present themselves before him in his temple, bringing with them the sacrifices of thanksgiving.”
Exuberant and enthusiastic singing of praise is often seen in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Samuel 18:7). The worshippers freely acknowledged that their salvation came from God. He is the mighty one, the rock of salvation (Psalm 89:26).
He is above all gods. No corner of the universe lies beyond the reach of his hand. The pagans worshipped many deities, as John H. Stek explained: “The ancient pagan world had different gods for different peoples, different geographical areas, different cosmic regions (Heaven, earth, netherworld) and different aspects of life (see war, fertility, crafts).” Not so with the one living God! He is different!
All pagan gods are inadequate. None can compare with the Almighty, the one true and living God (Psalm 96:4; 97:9; 135:5). The true God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. His miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage demonstrated his power (Exodus 12:12). God is always present, wherever one may go, wherever one may look—the depths of the earth, the mountain peaks, the sea, the dry land. All places were made by him and all are under his rule.
God deserves all praise. Without him we can accomplish nothing. The apostle Paul reminded us to put our complete confidence in God as we trust and obey his will: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
In some psalms the heading refers to a specific event that prompted the song (Psalm 18; 51). Other psalms (such as this one) are of a more general nature, calling for praise that would be appropriate on many different occasions (also Psalm 33; 100).
Exhortation to Worship
Psalm 95:6, 7a
The call to come together and worship God is followed by a picture of how such worship may be expressed. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
H. C. Leupold explained, “In this summons a new feature of praise is stressed, namely, the humility with which it should be offered (because), ‘We are his people.’ But the people that confess this, be it Israel of old or His New Testament church, are always unworthy and undeserving of so high an honor. The situation in which Israel finds itself is described in a more colorful way by likening the nation to a flock which the Lord tends and leads out to pasture. What people deserve such favors?”
Our response in worship provides a way for God’s children to affirm what is in our hearts. True worship is indicated by the attitude of the heart, not the posture of the body. If one’s heart is right before God, then the worshipper may express praise or petition from various positions (standing, sitting, kneeling, and so on). Falling before God, as the psalmist directed here, is also described in Scripture (Revelation 4:10; 19:4, 5). It is good and proper for the Lord’s people to make a joyful noise when they come to worship him!
The closing verses of Psalm 95 (not in our printed text) offer a warning. “Israel must not repeat the sins of obstinacy and unbelief by which their ancestors provoked him. . . . At these sites the Israelites tempted and tried God by faithless doubts of his goodness,” wrote James E. Smith. Verses 7b-11 are quoted in Hebrews 3:7-11. They warn Christians about the danger of unbelief, lest they too should fail to reach the promised rest.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.