Psalm 95 clearly fits into the category of those psalms that are a “call to worship.” John Stott writes, “True worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”1 This is clearly the privilege being enjoined here.
Though the setting is unknown, this psalm fits in this fourth book of the Psalms emphasising the reign of the Yahweh. Most probably it was written, like Psalm 94, after the years of Babylonian exile. The promise of Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope”—was not something for their T-shirts and tattoos but was rather becoming their historical experience. The Lord proved faithful (of course!) to His Word and now they were back in the land. Perhaps at this point they were once again worshipping at the rebuilt temple.
As the day of worship approached, the herald cried out, “O come, all ye faithful! Come with your hearts, minds and wills—and be sure to bring your voices!” As VanGemeren puts it, “The praise consists of a popular outburst of joy using all the available means of expressing love and loyalty to the Lord, their Redeemer.”2
God’s people are here being summonsed to celebration, adoration and restoration. And what was so necessary for them has not changed one bit for us under the new covenant. We too need to come and worship. But, as in this psalm, the only ones who can truly answer this call are the faithful.
May our study of this psalm equip us to faithfully answer this call to worship.
The psalm can be simply divided into two sections:
The Call to Worship
In vv. 1–7 we find a call to worship. It is a call to celebration (vv. 1–5) and adoration (vv. 6–7).
A Call to Celebration
The psalmist calls his readers, in the first place, to celebration. He writes,
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.
We see, in vv. 1–2, that the call was a call to passionate rejoicing: “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” Though we don’t know anything specific about this author, he evidently was not a Baptist. He certainly was not a Reformed Baptist!
This stanza rings with rejoicing. You would have to be deaf to miss that! It is a call to vocally, loudly and heartily, because lovingly, bring praise to God. As Kirkpatrick summarises, this call says, “Let us greet our God, Whose power has been manifested in the deliverance of His people, with the anthems and acclamations which befit a victorious King.”3
The psalmist writes of singing to Yahweh, of shouting joyfully, of coming with thanksgiving and of shouting joyfully. Boice notes, “It is right and natural to use every musical means to extol God.”4
This is a loud assembly. “The verb that is used involves the idea of a ringing cry. The second verb suggests loud shouts. Tepid praise defeats its own purpose.”5
It is rather, noisy yet it is an orderly noise. It is purposeful: The focus is “to the LORD.” It is not a mindless gathering.
It is public: This is not a private, and certainly not a quiet, time for individual worshippers. It is corporate (see above). It is profound: Praise is given to “the Rock of our salvation.” No wonder there is such joyful celebration!
In sum, this call to worship involves the heart; it is a loving response to God. Kidner helpfully summarises the proper response to such a great God:
To come singing into God’s presence is not the only way … but it is the way that best expresses love…. We greet Him here with unashamed enthusiasm as our refuge and rescuer…. We address one another, to make sure that we rise to the occasion, not drifting into His courts preoccupied and apathetic.6
When we come to worship God, we must beware the danger of simply going through the motions. Our celebration is motivated by our salvation; that is, we really do have something to celebrate (see Ephesians 1:1–3)! We should hear and heed the call to “come and celebrate.”
Sometimes we need these reminders. Sometimes we need others to call us to the celebration—and when they do we should not be annoyed. It is assumed that, if Yahweh is the Rock of your salvation, you will want to hear and heed the call. In a world filled with noises, which tend to dull our appreciation of the gospel, we need others to call us to come and worship. We need the reminder that we have something to sing about.
Note also that our worship should be vocal, and all the faithful are called to participate. Ephesians 5:18–21 portrays an instance of new covenant worship, and it is a vocal scene. When we refuse to heed the call then we have a more serious problem than we may realise.
Plenty of Reasons
Verse 3 begins with the word “for,” and vv. 3–5 highlight a number of reasons that we should lovingly and loudly praise the Lord. “Weigh these things well, and a new conception of the greatness of God will be the result.”7 Let’s notice some of the reasons given here.
First, we should come to worship because Yahweh is the only God: “For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods” (v. 3). The point is not that there are other legitimate gods below Yahweh but that He is the only God. But of course foolish people (and whole nations in that day) believed otherwise. “This is the language of hymnic praise, in which the ‘gods’ are contemptible fictions of the imaginations of man.”8
This was the whole purpose of the exodus: to display Yahweh’s supreme power over the gods so-called of the Egyptians. Moses summarises it in Numbers 33:4 when he writes, “Also on their gods the LORD had executed judgements.”
Under the new covenant we know Jesus as the King of kings and this leads to joyful praise.
The word “king” is found 1,852 times in Bible and “kings” a further 355 times. But Yahweh is King above all other kings. The book of Revelation particularly portrays Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords (see 1:5; 19:16). The King and His kingdom are a major theme in the Revelation. This “King” and “kingdom” theme should be prevalent in our praise. We need the reminder that God is establishing His kingdom; we need the reminder that He is King.
Second, we should come to worship Yahweh because He is our Provider and Sustainer: “In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also” (v. 4).
Yahweh owns and controls it all. He is a big God. God is a big deal. The contemplation of God’s magnificence produces heartfelt celebration. Jesus, for example, said that, as we contemplate God’s absolute providence, we have no need to worry (Matthew 6:25–34). Our tomorrow is in His hands.
Yes, He is indescribable. He is Lord of the valleys (“deep places”) as well as of the mountaintops.
Third, we should worship Yahweh because He is the Creator: “The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (v. 5).
Again, He owns it all. He created it and He controls it. The plagues in Egypt proved God’s control. We need this reminder. This is why we know that He is the “Rock.”
Cosmology is a wonderful introduction to theology, for “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1–6).
Don’t ignore God’s first “book” of revelation.
A Call to Adoration
In vv. 6–7 we find a call to adoration: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice …”
We must worship God with proper reverence: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” The contemplation of God as Creator and Sustainer (and Saviour, v.1) leads the writer to call the congregation to reverent adoration of this great God. But he also introduces another element into the call to worship: the Lord as the Maker of a unique people.
Boice helpfully notes, “The Hebrew text uses the verbs in direct sequence of one another so that the text literally reads, ‘Come, let us prostrate ourselves, let us bow down, let us kneel.’”9
The word translated “worship” means, literally, to bow. It speaks of exercising obeisance and obedience. The main emphasis here is probably not primarily posture of body but rather the posture of will. Yet “a public act of homage is urged on us here as part of the service we owe to God, accepting our own place and acknowledging His.”10
Perhaps the greatest example of this (outside of Jesus Christ) is the example of Abraham as recorded in Genesis 22. This chapter records the first instance in the English Bible of the word “worship.” Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to Him. He obeyed unquestioningly. As he, Isaac and his servants drew close to the place where the altar would be built, Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). This is what worship ultimately looks like: unquestioning obedience.
The psalmist speaks of God as “our Maker.” In the light of what follows, this most likely refers to God, not as Creator, but as making them a nation, a peculiar people for Himself (see Psalm 149:2; Isaiah 54:5; etc.). In other words, whereas vv. 1–5 call us to worship in response to God as Creator, here the call to worship is rooted in the reality of God as our Redeemer. We worship God because, as the songwriter put it:
And You loved me before I knew You,
And You knew me for all time;
I’ve been created in Your image, O Lord.
Let’s pause here to make a few observations.
God’s people are to be characterised by reverence. Solomon urged, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day” (Proverbs 23:17). And the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
God’s people are privileged to worship Him (1 Peter 2:1–10). Our gatherings should be marked by reverent rejoicing—not a plastic put on kind of reverence, but a real reverence. We should be submissive in our attitudes, our actions toward one another, and our participation in worship.
Again, as with the above, we need reminders; we need to hear and to heed the call to such reverence.
Verse 7, it would seem, supports the argument that v. 6 is referencing the Lord as Maker of His people: “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” The reason we are privileged to worship the Lord is because, in a personal, redemptive and grace-given way, “He is our God.” Therefore, as the “people of His pasture” and as “the sheep of His hand,” with adoration, we join in the celebration.
This is a privilege reserved for those who are His, who hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27). It is the privilege reserved for those who can say, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Apart from this, there will be no heartfelt celebration and no truly humble adoration.
Is this why some do not sing? Is this why some do not serve? Is this why some do not supplicate? Is this why some sleep?
Note again that this is a corporate concern and a corporate call.
The closing phrase—“Today, if you will hear His voice”—straddles the two main sections of the psalm. It brings to a fitting close the first stanza by stressing the privileged and urgent invitation to heed the call to worship, while also introducing us to the next important stanza, where we are warned about the danger of not taking such urgency seriously.
The phrase “if you will hear” connotes heeding as in obeying. Worship is a privilege and a responsibility; it is not a right. It is possible only because of God’s work of creation and redemption. Don’t neglect this invitation.
The Call of Warning
The tone of the psalm changes somewhat dramatically in its second major section (vv. 8–11). Yet it still has everything to do with the call to worship. It is indeed one unit (despite higher criticism to the contrary). In fact I would argue that this is a very necessary component to the call to worship. For as Leupold notes, “To be a witness of the mighty acts of God and not to be drawn into closer allegiance to Him must result in an experience of hardening which progressively dulls all finer spiritual perception.”11
The psalmist writes,
Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, “It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways.” So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”
Remembering that the call to worship is an immense privilege offered and proffered by the grace of God, we dare not neglect such an invitation. In fact, there is an urgency to such an invitation—as is illustrated by the children of Israel in the wilderness.
The call is, “Oh come, all ye faithful.” For only the faithful can do so. This last stanza makes this very point. The children of Israel, having been redeemed out of Egypt, and having been made “the people of His pasture” (v. 7), sadly hardened their hearts as they both rebelled and challenged the Lord in the places of Meribah (“rebellion,” see Exodus 17) and Massah (“trial,” see Exodus 20). Kidner observes that these are “two place-names which sum up the sour, sceptical spirit of Israel on their desert journey.”12
Verse 10 makes it clear that “the people repeatedly proved that they did not love (‘know’) the ways of God.”13 God said that, even though they had seen His work, they refused the call to bow to Him and rejected the call to worship. The appeal is that they not be guilty of the same hardened and restless response.
In a very real sense, though the language here is hard (the word “grieved” literally means “loathed” or “disgusted”), nevertheless this stanza is a warning for the purpose of winning them over. The Lord is calling them to restoration. The word “rest” is significant.
Sometimes hard words are necessary. As Solomon wrote, “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart” (Proverbs 20:30).
This rest, in the original context, concerned the Israelites entering the Promised Land, where they could enjoy the rest of being God’s people who have inherited a place free from bondage. If it is the case that this psalm was written after the Babylonian exile, then this exhortation is quite relevant, for they were pretty much in the same situation. They had seen God’s “works” in restoring them to Jerusalem by a remarkable turn of events. God had faithfully kept His Word to them; would they now be faithful to Him?
Kidner is right to the point: “If this is a psalm about worship, it could give no blunter indication that the heart of the matter is severely practical.”14
It is no guarantee that a person will serve and worship the Lord in response to God’s kindness. We could point to multitudes who have been recipients of God’s kindness and who had heard the gospel who have nevertheless rejected Christ.
Has God heard your prayer? Has He not done some wonderful things in your life? Are you now hearing His voice and responding in faithful worship? Or have you turned a deaf ear now that the troubles have passed? Beware, the invitation may not come to you again.
But, of course, ultimately this rest pointed to the rest of forgiveness as secured in the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:7–4:10). And this is how we must apply it.
Those who hear and heed the call to come and worship the Lord faithfully will find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28–30). Those who hear and heed both the call to worship and the call of warning will experience restoration (see Hebrews 4:9; Mark 2:23–28). Biblical worship will always restore our souls. So hear and heed this call, and do so “today.”
- John R. W. Stott, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 2:774. ↩
- Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 5:617. ↩
- A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge: Scripture Truth, n.d.), 572. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:775. ↩
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 676. ↩
- Derek Kidner, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 2 vols. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 2:344. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 677. ↩
- VanGemeren, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5:617. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:778. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 2:345. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 678. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 2:345–46. ↩
- VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5:619. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 2:346. ↩