Introduction: C.S. Lewis offers a helpful observation on the relationship of our joy in the Lord to the due praise we offer Him:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with …. (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 81)
I think Lewis was right when he spoke about how our delight in the Lord is incomplete until it is expressed. Today we will examine some ways in which such worship – worship which completes the enjoyment of our relationship with God – should be expressed. Such worship should be expressed 1) through rejoicing; 2) through reverence; and 3) through a response of obedience.
I. Worship Should Be Expressed Through Rejoicing (vss. 1-5)
First we will talk about the way we rejoice, and then we will talk about why we rejoice.
1. The Way We Should Rejoice
David speaks about the way we should rejoice in verses 1-2.
NKJ Psalm 95:1-2 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Here David stresses singing and shouting joyfully, and doing so with thanksgiving for God, who has given us salvation.
You know, I have been to ball games with normally reserved believers who I would never imagine shouting. But when you get them excited at a game where their favorite team is playing, then they suddenly shout and cheer. I wonder why we do not feel so easily moved to shout to God and cheer for Him? Is it because we do not delight in His victories in our lives as much as when, say, the Cubs win a ball game? But aren’t the victories God has won for us over sin, death, Satan, and Hell even more worth cheering for? I am not trying to say that we must always shout in order to worship in a Biblical way, for even in the Psalms worship may be expressed in other ways as well, but I do wonder if maybe we are missing something if we do not ever find ourselves desirous of shouting praise and thanksgiving to God. It is certainly something to think about, isn’t it? Although, of course, the really important thing is that our praise and thanksgiving be verbally expressed to the Lord, whether through shouting or not.
2. Why We Should Rejoice
We have already touched upon one reason why we should rejoice in verse 1.
NKJ Psalm 95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
So we should rejoice in the Lord because He, as the “Rock” of our salvation, is the foundation and assurance of our salvation. But David has more to say about why we should rejoice in verses 3-5.
NKJ Psalm 95:3 For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods.
So we should also rejoice in the Lord because He alone is the great God! He alone is the great King who is greater than any gods men may imagine or invent!
NKJ Psalm 95:4 In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also.
God’s greatness is pictured metaphorically as His holding the whole world in His hand. This is what is meant by speaking of both the deepest and highest places of the earth. It is a way of emphasizing that all of the earth is under His sovereign control.
NKJ Psalm 95:5 The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.
Not only does He hold the whole world in His hand, but – metaphorically speaking – His hands have created that world. But here David refers to the whole world by speaking of God as the maker of both the land and the sea.
Thus David teaches us that our worship should be expressed through rejoicing in the fact that we get to know the true sovereign God of the universe who has given us our salvation. He teaches us that we should be thankful that He has made us, that He has saved us, and that He is ultimately in control of all things, for all things are “in His hand.”
II. Worship Should Be Expressed Through Reverence (vss. 6-7a)
Again, first we will look at the way we show reverence, and then we will look at why we show reverence.
1. The Way We Should Show Reverence
David speaks about the way we should show reverence in verse 6.
NKJ Psalm 95:6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Here David uses three terms that describe humbling ourselves before God. He speaks of bowing down and of kneeling, but even the Hebrew word he uses for “worship” means to prostrate oneself. Thus the essence of reverence for God is being humble before Him. The following illustration may help drive home the point:
Noblemen were gathered together in London waiting for the King of Great Britain. They all knew him personally, yet they all honored him as their king. When he entered, they stood solemnly to their feet. “Take your seats, gentlemen,” he said, “I count you as my personal friends.” And then joking he added, “I am not the Lord, you know!” Immediately one of the noblemen, a Christian, said, “No, sir, if you were our Lord, we would not have stood to our feet; we would have fallen to our knees.” (“Greeting the King,” 2000+ Bible Illustrations, e-Sword)
This illustration shows a grasp of the sense of reverence that should characterize our worship, doesn’t it? We should realize when we worship God that we are in the presence of the sovereign King of the universe, and this realization ought to humble us in a way that affects our actions.
2. Why We Should Show Reverence
David speaks about why we should show reverence in the first part of verse 7.
NKJ Psalm 95:7 For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.
First, David emphasizes the powerful truth that the great God of whom he has just spoken (vs. 3) is also “our God.” What a truly humbling realization this is! The God who reigns supreme over all the universe is our God!
Second, David describes us as “the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” Here God is described as a Shepherd who looks after His flock with care. His pasture refers to a place of safety and provision for our needs.
Notice also the repetition of the word hand. In verse 4 David described God as the One who holds the whole world in His hand, and in verse 5 he described God as the One who made the whole world with His hands. Now, he communicates the very humbling thought that God is a Shepherd who holds each one of us in His hand! I am reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus, who used this same imagery in order to assure us of our salvation:
NKJ John 10:27-29 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
This helps us even further to see why we should express our worship through reverence.
III. Worship Should Be Expressed Through a Response of Obedience (vss. 7b-11)
First we will see that we must heed the LORD’s voice, and then we will see that we must not harden our hearts.
1. We Must Heed His Voice
David stresses the importance of heeding the LORD’s voice in the last part of verse 7.
NKJ Psalm 95:7b Today, if you will hear [שָׁמַע, šāma‛] His voice:
David uses these words to introduce the words of the LORD that follow in verses 8-11.
The word translated hear in this verse is šāma‛, which frequently refers to hearing in such a way that we take to heart what we have heard. The word can be translated listen, pay attention to, heed, or even obey. So, if we are really rejoicing in the Lord and showing a humble reverence for Him, won’t we also heed His voice? James Montgomery Boice summarizes well the point which the Psalm is making here and in the following verses when he writes:
Worship begins with listening rather than speaking, still less singing or shouting. It requires listening to God as he speaks to us in his Word. Worship must be based on the preaching of the Word of God. First, we must hear God’s Word. Second, we must obey it. Only then can we praise God joyfully for what we have heard. (Psalms, Vol. 2, p. 778)
But hearing requires an openness to God’s word, which leads to our next point.
2. We Must Not Harden Our Hearts
David teaches that we must not harden our hearts in verses 8-11.
NKJ Psalm 95:8 “Do not harden your hearts [לֵבָב, lēḇāḇ], as in the rebellion [מְרִיבָה, meriyḇāh, strife, contention], as in the day of trial [מַסָּה, massāh, testing] in the wilderness,
This verse may also be translated as in the NASB, which renders two key terms as place names, an approach which I prefer here:
NAU Psalm 95:8 “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness….” [See also the ESV and NIV]
Whichever translation one prefers for this verse, however, it is clear that David is deliberately using two terms that refer to a very well known event in the history of Israel:
NKJ Exodus 17:1-7 Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, “Give us water, that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?” 3 And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 So he called the name of the place Massah [מַסָּה, massāh, testing] and Meribah [מְרִיבָה, meriyḇāh, contention], because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
It is hardheartedness such as this that prevented a whole generation of Israelites from entering into the rest promised for them in the promised land of Canaan. Their faith was tested, and they failed to trust the LORD. Indeed, they sought to test Him! Even so, David knew that the Israelites in his day would have their faith tested as well, so he warned them that cultivating a worshipful heart would help prevent them from having a hard heart. On the other hand, David also made it clear that the one thing that will prevent genuine worship is a hard heart that refuses to heed the voice of God. We simply cannot genuinely worship God and not obey Him!
Remember what Jesus once said to those who made a pretense of worship, but whose hearts were hard:
NKJ Matthew 15:7-9 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me ….” [Citing Isa. 29:13]
Hardhearted people such as these are worthy of God’s judgment, as David reminds us in the next verse.
NKJ Psalm 95:9-11 When your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work. 10 For forty years I was grieved [קוּט, qûṭ, loathed, NIV = was angry; NET = was continually disgusted] with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts [לֵבָב, lēḇāḇ], and they do not know My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’
Where did God make such an oath? A possible answer may be found in the book of Numbers, where we are told of the refusal of the Israelites to trust the LORD and of His reaction to their unbelief:
NKJ Numbers 14:26-30 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: 29 The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. 30 Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in.’”
This is an example of what the LORD was referring to in Psalm 95, in which we have His thoughts about the unbelief of the Israelites as revealed to David.
In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews quotes from verses 7c-11 a total of five times in chapters 3-4, and his application of this passage is very helpful, so let’s read a portion of the passage together and see how important a lesson there is here for Christians:
1) In Hebrews 3:7-11 the author quotes all of Psalm 95:7c-11, and he drives home the point that we must all beware, lest there be in any of us “an evil heart of unbelief” (Heb. 3:12)
2) In Hebrews 3:15 the author quotes verses 7c-8a as he explains why we must each “exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’” (Heb. 3:13).
3) In Hebrews 4:3 the author quotes verse 11, and he reminds us that through faith we must enter the “rest” that remains for us and that was typified by the rest that Israel was promised in the Land of Canaan (Heb. 4:1-3a).
4) In Hebrews 4:5 the author quotes verse 8b as he stresses that we must realize that this “rest” was accomplished for us from the foundation of the world and was symbolized for us by the Sabbath Day (Heb. 4:3b-5).
5) In Hebrews 4:7 the author quotes verses 7c-8a and teaches us that we must realize that the Sabbath rest that we enter is a ceasing from our own works and thus a realization of God’s grace (Heb. 4:8-9).
Conclusion: In all these ways the author of Hebrews uses the words of David in Psalm 95 in order to encourage struggling Christians not to harden their hearts but to trust in the LORD. In doing so, he also reminds us of the importance of worship and thanksgiving in combating a hard heart. I hope we will all do as he says and take to heart the word of God as revealed through David.