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Psalm 95

Lesson Focus: If we worship yet fail to listen and be obedient, our worship becomes meaningless.

Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson students should:

  1. Answer the call to worship.

  2. Be encouraged to see the connection between worship and obedience.

  3. Be encouraged to listen and obey in the midst of their worship.

Catch Up on the Story: Psalm 95 is what Old Testament scholars call an enthronement psalm. In fact, it is one of 8 such psalms, the others being Psalms 29, 93, 96-99 (Richter, 250). An enthronement psalm celebrates, not the kings of Israel, such as David and Solomon, but the one true king of Israel, the Lord God.

It is also likely that this psalm was used routinely during one of Israel’s yearly religious festivals. As an enthronement psalm, this text calls Israel together to celebrate the goodness and glory of their divine King. It is for Israel, and for us too, a call to worship. Psalm 95 celebrates God’s rule, not just over Israel, but over all of creation.

The Text: Psalm 95 can be split into two major sections, verses 1-7a and 7b-11. The first section can be split into two sections, verses 1-5 and 6-7a. The first major section functions as a call to worship, gathering the believing community together in praise. The second section offers a call to obedience and a warning. We will look at each section in turn.

The Call to Worship: Psalm 95:1-7a The first section of this psalm is a call to worship. Each of its two subsections contains similar elements: a summons to worship and a reason for doing so. This is a standard doxological pattern among similar texts in the Old Testament (Brueggemann and Bellinger, Jr, 410).

Summons #1: Let us… Verses 1-2 comprise the first summons to worship. The “O come” of verse 1 is a corporate invitation for the community to begin a physical journey to a gathering place to begin in worship of their God. Following the initial invitation is a string of “let us” commands. These commands express the strong desire for the gathered community to engage in worship.

Reason #1: For the Lord is a Great God… Verse 3 pivots to the reason the community is being encouraged to gather to give praise, namely the greatness of God. In the ancient near east gods were usually local deities, whose power and influence only extend to the boundaries of the people who worshiped them. In the second half of verse 3, we find the confession that affirms that Israel’s God sits enthroned as God over all other would-be gods.

Verses 4 and 5 then elaborate on this confession. God is above all other gods because he holds the very depth of the earth and the heights of the mountains in his hands. Furthermore, the seas are his and so is the dry land. Quite literally, there is nothing that exists that the God of Israel does not rule. For a people so vulnerable to the changing environment around them, the confession that their God rules all of creation was a powerful reason to enter into praise.

Summons #2: Bow down… Summons #2 is an echo of the first summons, only the focus of the worship has shifted slightly. Whereas in the first summons Israel is invited to engage in enthusiastic worship, in the second summons Israel is called to bow down and kneel before this great God.

Bowing down and kneeling are physical signs of a person’s trust and commitment to be obedient. In the prone position of being bowed down, an individual is weak and defenseless. It is a sign of worship and service to the one who has made them.

Reason #2: We are Sheep… In this second summons, Israel confesses again that God is their maker. Now, in the response, they confess that he is also their redeemer. Domesticated sheep are vulnerable and dim-witted animals who are prone to wandering off. Israel confesses that they are like sheep who would be lost and susceptible to danger without the guiding hand of the shepherd. The shepherd has and will continue to protect and save the sheep from any danger that might present itself. The memory and promise of protection is a powerful motivator for praise.

The Call to Obedience: Psalm 95:7b-11 In this section, the voice changes from the one who invites Israel to engage in worship, to the prophet. The prophetic voice will bring to us the words of God in the first person before the psalm concludes.

First, however, the voice in verse 7b issues a challenge to listen. It is hard to tell, from the rest of the psalm, if the voice carries a lamenting tone or a tone of hopeful exhortation. Perhaps the difference, which is hard to communicate in writing, is between a parent who is talking to their child or a teacher to a student who has repeatedly not listened, “Oh, I wish that you would really listen to me for once!,” or that of a hopeful counselor giving advice to a newly married couple about how they should relate to one another, “Oh, I hope that you listen to what I have to say to you!” The difference is between exasperated admonishment and hopeful guidance. Either way, the call is to listen and to act upon what the voice of God says.

As we move forward into verse 8 the psalmist reminds us of the incident that happened at Meribah, which can be found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13. Israel is on the move from Mt. Sinai toward the Promised Land. They have already begun to eat the manna that God provided for