Read the Passage: Psalm 95
Call to Worship (95:1–2)
Psalm 95 is technically anonymous, as it contains no superscription. From the book of Hebrews, however, we learn that David wrote Psalm 95, for the author of Hebrews quotes Ps. 95:7–8 at Heb. 4:7 and attributes the citation to David. Interestingly, Ps. 95:7–11 is quoted verbatim earlier in the book of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 3:7–11) and the writer of Hebrews identifies the Holy Spirit as the author of this psalm, as he exhorts the church to be sure of their salvation. It is clear, then, that while Psalm 95 was originally used by the Jewish nation in corporate worship, its contents are equally relevant and applicable to the modern church. Note that many scholars believe David penned this liturgical psalm about the year 1045 BC and that it was a special psalm to be used during the annual Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) when the people of Israel dwelt in tents to commemorate the exodus event.
As we will see, one-third of this psalm presents an historical warning to Israel, reminding them of their forebears’ disobedience and rebellion during the exodus. The specific instance in view here seems to be one of the occasions on which the Israel grumbled before Moses and God about the lack of water in the wilderness (cf. Exod. 17:1–7; Num. 20:1–13). On these occasions, God graciously provided water from a rock. We later learn that the “spiritual Rock that followed [them]. . . was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). It is not coincidental, then, that David opens this psalm referring to God as “the rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1). God is referred to as the Rock of salvation elsewhere in the Psalms, too (cf. Ps. 18:2, 46; 62:2, 6–7; 89:26). A rock communicates the idea of permanence and protection. Note David’s measured balance of enthusiasm and reverence in the beginning of this psalm.
Reason for Praise (95:3–7)
In the opening verses of this psalm David summons God’s people to worship, specifically calling for thanksgiving to be given to God. In Ps. 95:3–5 David gives several specific and related reasons why God’s people ought to thank and to praise Him. First, David notes that God alone is God, indeed being “the great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3). In other words, God is not a local or regional deity, but is the universal ruler of the created order, which He made (cf. Isa. 46:9; 55:8–9). Second, believers should praise God for His sovereignty over all things, as His dominion extends from the lowest valleys to the highest heights. At Matt. 6:25–30; 10:29–30 Jesus taught that God’s sovereign control extends even to the life and death of plants and wildlife (cf. Ps. 50:10–12). Third, David teaches that God’s people ought to praise Him for He is the Creator, Sustainer, and ultimate Owner of all that exists (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:15–18).
Ps. 95:6–7 is very similar in content to Ps. 95:1–2, as here David again calls God’s people to worship. While David calls Israel to “bow down” and to “kneel” (Ps. 95:6), we ought not to attach any spiritual merit to one’s physical posture in prayer. In using these terms David is not prescribing a bodily position as much as he is describing an attitude of humble dependence as believers enter into God’s presence. Indeed, in the Bible we see individuals praying while standing (Gen. 24:12–14), lifting hands (1 Tim. 2:8), sitting (Judg. 20:26), kneeling (Mark 1:40), looking upward (John 17:1), bowing down (Exod. 34:8), placing the head between the knees (1 Kings 18:42), and pounding on the breast (Luke 18:13), among other postures. As had been done in Ps. 23:1–4; 79:13; 80:1, so at Ps. 95:7 David appeals to the shepherd/sheep analogy to depict mankind’s dependence upon God.
Warning about Sin (95:8–11)
As was noted above, this liturgical psalm is unique in that after a call to worship, it contains a warning about sin. From the use of the terms “rebellion” and “tested” in Ps. 95:8–9, we can discern that the specific instance of sin in view in this passage is the Israelites’ complaint about the lack of water in the wilderness at Exod. 17:1–7; Num. 20:1–13 (cf. Deut. 32:51; 33:8; Ps. 81:7). The word translated “rebellion” is meribah and the term “tested” is massah, which are the names attached to the locations of Israel’s above mentioned sin. From the citation of this passage in Heb. 3:7–11 it is clear that David’s warning in this psalm is that a failure to worship God may be an indicator that one’s relationship with God is merely external and thus not authentic. David teaches here that such surface-level or false knowledge of God will result in a failure to enter into God’s promised rest.
- What is a formal call to worship? What does a call to worship imply? Why do we need to be called to worship?
- Do you desire to worship God with His people? What types of things infringe upon or even prevent you from worshiping God?
- Do you find it hard to balance enthusiasm and reverence in worship? Are you ever tempted to center your worship more upon your emotions than upon God’s Being?
- Is there a proper physical posture to use when praying? What things ought to characterize believers as they enter into God’s presence?
- What place do good works, including the worship of God, have in the life of a believer? What might a failure to desire to worship God indicate?