Worship for the Heart
By Christopher Raley
Psalm 95 is central to chapter’s 3 and 4 of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews spends a lot of time expositing this psalm that occurs more or less in the middle of a series of enthronement psalms in Book 4 of the Psalter.
Books 2 and 3 respond to a series of increasingly violent episodes with increasingly distraught psalms. In Psalm 42 the psalmist writes of the enemies that surround him: “As with a deadly wound in my bones my adversaries taunt me, while they say all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” Further on, in Psalm 79, we read of the temple and Jerusalem in ruins as wild animals make a feast of the dead. In the last psalm of Book 3, the psalmist asks, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old?”
With no where else to go but up, it’s perhaps not surprising that Book 4 is the psalter’s equivalent of catching one’s breath. The enthronement psalms are a reminder and encouragement that God reigns. In Psalm 95, the psalmist gives three separate calls to worship in the first seven verses. It is imperative that God’s people “kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
But unlike the other psalms in this mini-series, 95 shifts tone abruptly in verse 8 to deliver a stiff warning, picking up another theme that runs through Books 2 and 3: Israel’s hard heart. “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the days at Massah in the wilderness when your fathers put me to the test . . . though they had seen my work.” (As a side note, don’t confuse this theme with the material quoted above, which has been given to us as a godly way to express grief and despair).
Though scholars struggle with why there should be such a stark internal shift in the psalm, its meaning could not be more clear to the writer of Hebrews: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
It’s impossible to hear the word “exhort” and not think of the insistent summons in Psalm 95 to come together and worship our Sovereign God. This worship is the bulwark of our faith against ingratitude for what God has done and it encourages us to wait for God to move again.