Treasury of David
This Psalm has no title, and all we know of its authorship is that Paul quotes it as "saying in David." (Heb 4:7.) It is true that this may merely signify that it is to be found in the collection known as David's Psalms; but if such were the Apostle's meaning it would have been more natural for him to have written, "saying in the Psalms;" we therefore incline to the belief that David was the actual author of this poem. It is in its original a truly Hebrew song, directed both in its exhortation and warning to the Jewish people—but we have the warrant of the Holy Spirit in the epistle to the Hebrews for using its appeals and entreaties when pleading with Gentile believers.
It is a psalm of invitation to worship. It has about it a ring like that or church bells, and like the bells it sounds both merrily and solemnly, at first ringing out a lively peal, and then dropping into a funeral knell as if tolling at the funeral of the generation which perished in the wilderness. We will call it THE PSALM OF THE PROVOCATION.
DIVISION. It would be correct as to the sense to divide this psalm into an invitation and a warning, so as to commence the second part with the last clause of verse 7.
Verse 1. O come, let us sing unto the LORD.
Other nations sing unto their gods, let us sing unto Jehovah. We love him, we admire him, we reverence him, let us express our feelings with the choicest sounds, using our noblest faculty for its noblest end. It is well thus to urge others to magnify the Lord—but we must be careful to set a worthy example ourselves, so that we may be able not only to cry "Come"—but also to add "let us sing", because we are singing ourselves.
It is to be feared that very much even of religious singing is not unto the Lord, but unto the ear of the congregation. Above all things we must in our service of song take care that all we offer is with the heart's sincerest and most fervent intent directed toward the Lord himself.
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
With holy enthusiasm let us sing, making a sound which shall indicate our earnestness; with abounding joy let us lift up our voices, actuated by that happy and peaceful spirit which trustful love is sure to foster.
As the children of Israel sang for joy when the smitten rock poured forth its cooling streams, so let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
The author of this song had in his mind's eye the rock, the tabernacle, the Red Sea, and the mountains of Sinai, and he alludes to them all in this first part of his hymn. God is our abiding, immutable, and mighty rock, and in him we find deliverance and safety, therefore it befits us to praise him with heart and with voice from day to day; and especially should we delight to do this when we assemble as his people for public worship.
Verse 2. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving.
Here is probably a reference to the peculiar presence of God in the Holy of Holies above the mercy seat, and also to the glory which shone forth out of the cloud which rested above the tabernacle. Everywhere God is present—but there is a peculiar presence of grace and glory into which men should never come without the profoundest reverence. We may make bold to come before the immediate presence of the Lord—for the voice of the Holy Spirit in this psalm invites us, and when we do draw near to him we should remember his great goodness to us and cheerfully confess it.
Our worship should have reference to the past as well as to the future; if we do not bless the Lord for what we have already received, how can we reasonably look for more. We are permitted to bring our petitions, and therefore we are in honor bound to bring our thanksgivings.
And make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
We should shout as exultingly as those do who triumph in war, and as solemnly as those whose utterance is a psalm. It is not always easy to unite enthusiasm with reverence, and it is a frequent fault to destroy one of these qualities while straining after the other. The perfection of singing is that which unites joy with gravity, exultation with humility, fervency with sobriety.
The invitation given in the first verse (Psalm 95:1) is thus repeated in the second (Psalm 95:2) with the addition of directions, which indicate more fully the intent of the writer.
One can imagine David in earnest tones persuading his people to go up with him to the worship of Jehovah with sound of harp and hymn, and holy delight. The happiness of his exhortation is noteworthy, the noise is to be joyful; this quality he insists upon twice. It is to be feared that this is too much overlooked in ordinary services, people are so impressed with the idea that they ought to be serious that they put on the aspect of misery, and quite forget that joy is as much a characteristic of true worship as solemnity itself.
Verse 3. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
No doubt the surrounding nations imagined Jehovah to be a merely local deity, the God of a small nation, and therefore one of the inferior deities; the psalmist utterly repudiates such an idea. Idolaters tolerated gods many, and lords many, giving to each a certain measure of respect.
The monotheism of the Jews was not content with this concession, it rightly claimed for Jehovah the chief place, and the supreme power. He is great, for he is all in all. He is a great King above all other powers and dignitaries, whether angels or princes, for they owe their existence to him. As for the idol gods, they are not worthy to be mentioned. This verse and the following supply some of the reasons for worship, drawn from the being, greatness, and sovereign dominion of the Lord.
Verse 4. In his hand are the deep places of the earth.
He is the God of the valleys and the hills, the caverns, and the peaks. Far down where the miners sink their shafts, deeper yet where lie the secret oceans by which springs are fed, and deepest of all in the unknown abyss where the huge central fires of earth rage and flame—there Jehovah's power is felt, and all things are under the dominion of his hand.
As princes hold the model globe in their hands, so does the Lord in very deed hold the earth. When Israel drank of the crystal fount which welled up from the great deep, below the smitten rock, the people knew that in the Lord's hands were the deep places of the earth.
The strength of the mountains is his also.
When Sinai was altogether on smoke the tribes learned that Jehovah was God of the hills as well as of the valleys. Everywhere and at all times is this true; the Lord rules upon the high places of the earth in solemn majesty. The vast foundations, the gigantic mountains, the incalculable masses, the untrodden heights of the mountains are all the Lord's. These are his treasure houses, where he stores the tempest and the rain; whence also he pours the ice torrents and looses the avalanches. The granite peaks and adamantine pinnacles of rock are his.
Strength is the main thought which strikes the mind when gazing on those vast ramparts of cliff which front the raging sea, or peer into the azure sky, piercing the clouds—but it is to the devout mind the strength of God. Hints of Omnipotence are given by those stern rocks which brave the fury of the elements, and like walls of brass defy the assaults of nature in her wildest rage.
Verse 5. The sea is his.
This was seen to be true at the Red Sea when the waters saw their God, and obediently stood aside to open a pathway for his people. It was not Edom's sea though it was red, nor Egypt's sea though it washed her shores. The Lord on high reigned supreme over the flood, as King far ever and ever. So is it with the broad ocean, whether known as Atlantic or Pacific, Mediterranean or Arctic; no man can map it out and say "It is mine."
The illimitable acreage of waters knows no other lord but God alone. Jehovah rules the waves. Far down in vast abysses, where no eye of man has gazed, or foot of diver has descended, he is sole proprietor. Every rolling billow and foaming wave owns him for monarch; Neptune is but a phantom, the Lord is God of ocean.
And he made it.
Hence his right and sovereignty. He scooped the unfathomed channel and poured forth the overflowing flood; seas were not fashioned by chance, nor their shores marked out by the imaginary finger of fate. God made the main, and every creek, and bay, and current, and far sounding tide—owns the great Maker's hand. All hail, Creator and Controller of the sea, let those who fly in the swift ships across the wonder realm of waters worship you alone!
And his hands formed the dry land.
Whether fertile field or sandy waste, he made all that men called terra firma, lifting it from the floods and fencing it from the overflowing waters. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." He bade the islands upraise their heads, he leveled the vast plains, upreared the table lands, cast up the undulating hills, and piled the massive Alps. As the potter molds his clay, so did Jehovah with his hands fashion the whole the earth. Come you, then, who dwell on this fair world, and worship him who is conspicuous wherever you tread! Count it all as the floor of a temple where the footprints of the present Deity are visible before your eyes, if you do but care to see. The argument is overpowering if the heart be right; the command to adore is alike the inference of reason and the impulse of faith.
Verse 6. O come, let us worship and bow down.
Here the exhortation to worship is renewed and backed with a motive which, to Israel of old and to Christians now, is especially powerful; for both the Israel after the flesh and the Israel of faith may be described as the people of his pasture, and by both he is called "our God."
The adoration is to be humble. The "joyful noise" is to be accompanied with lowliest reverence. We are to worship in such style that the bowing down shall indicate that we count ourselves to be as nothing in the presence of the all glorious Lord.
Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
As suppliants must we come; joyful—but not presumptuous; familiar as children before a father—yet reverential as creatures before their maker. Posture is not everything—yet is it something; prayer is heard when knees cannot bend—but it is fitting that an adoring heart should show its awe by prostrating the body, and bending the knee.
Verse 7. For he is our God.
Here is the master reason for worship. Jehovah has entered into covenant with us, and from all the world beside has chosen us to be his own elect. If others refuse him homage, we at least will render it cheerfully. He is ours, and our God; ours, therefore will we love him; our God, therefore will we worship him. Happy is that man who can sincerely believe that this sentence is true in reference to himself.
And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
As he belongs to us, so do we belong to him. "My Beloved is mine, and I am his." And we are his as the people whom he daily feeds and protects. Our pastures are not ours—but his; we draw all our supplies from his stores. We are his, even as sheep belong to the shepherd, and his hand is our rule, our guidance, our government, our support, our source of supply.
Israel was led through the desert, and we are led through this life by "that great Shepherd of the sheep." The hand which cleft the sea and brought water from the rock is still with us, working equal wonders. Can we refuse to "worship and bow down" when we clearly see that "this God is our God forever and ever, and will be our guide, even unto death"?
But what is this warning which follows? Alas, it was sorrowfully needed by the Lord's ancient people, and is not one whit the less required by ourselves. The favored nation grew deaf to their Lord's command, and proved not to be truly his sheep, of whom it is written, "My sheep hear my voice": will this turn out to be our character also? God forbid.
Today if you will hear his voice.
Dreadful "if." Many would not hear, they put off the claims of love, and provoked their God. "Today," is the hour of grace, in the day of mercy, we are tried as to whether we have an ear for the voice of our Creator. Nothing is said of tomorrow, "he limits a certain day," he presses for immediate attention, for our own sakes he asks instantaneous obedience. Shall we yield it? The Holy Spirit says "Today," will we grieve him by delay?
Verse 8. Harden not your heart.
If you will hear, learn to fear also. The sea and the land obey him, do not prove more obstinate than they!
We cannot soften our hearts—but we can harden them, and the consequences will be fatal. Today is too good a day to be profaned by the hardening of our hearts against our own mercies. While mercy reigns let not obduracy rebel.
As in the provocations, and as in the day of testing in the wilderness.
Or, "like Meribah, like the day of Massah in the wilderness". Be not willfully, wantonly, repeatedly, obstinately rebellious. Let the example of that unhappy generation serve as a beacon to you; do not repeat the offences which have already more than enough provoked the Lord. God remembers men's sins, and the more memorably so when they are committed by a favored people, against frequent warnings, in defiance of terrible judgments, and in the midst of superlative mercies; such sins write their record in marble. Reader, this verse is for you, for you even if you can say, "He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture." Do not seek to turn aside the edge of the warning—you have good need of it, give good heed to it.
Verse 9. When your fathers tempted me.
As far as they could do so, they tempted God to change his usual way, and to do their sinful bidding, and though he cannot be tempted of evil, and will never yield to wicked requests—yet their intent was the same, and their guilt was none the less.
God's way is perfect, and when we would have him alter it to please us, we are guilty of tempting him; and the fact that we do so in vain, while it magnifies the Lord's holiness, by no means excuses our guilt. We are in most danger of this sin in times of need, for then it is that we are apt to fall into unbelief, and to demand a change in those arrangements of providence which are the transcript of perfect holiness and infinite wisdom.
Not to acquiesce in the will of God is virtually to tempt him to alter his plans to suit our imperfect views of how the universe should be governed.
They put the Lord to needless tests, demanding new miracles, fresh interpositions, and renewed tokens of his presence. Do not we also peevishly require frequent signs of the Lord's love other than those which every hour supplies? Are we not prone to demand special treatments, with the alternative secretly offered in our hearts, that if they do not come at our bidding we will disbelieve? True, the Lord is very condescending, and frequently grants us marvelous evidences of his power—but we ought not to require them.
Steady faith is due to one who is so constantly kind. After so many proofs of his love, we are ungrateful to wish to prove him again, unless it be in those ways of his own appointing, in which he has said, "Prove me now."
If we were forever testing the love of our wife or husband, and remained unconvinced after years of faithfulness, we would wear out the utmost human patience. Friendship only flourishes in the atmosphere of confidence, suspicion is deadly to it: shall the Lord God, true and immutable, be day after day suspected by his own people? Will not this provoke him to anger?
And saw my work.
They tested him again and again, through out forty years, though each time his work was conclusive evidence of his faithfulness. Nothing could convince them for long.
"They saw his wonders wrought,
And then his praise they sung;
But soon his works of power forgot,
And murmured with their tongue."
"Now they believe his word,
While rocks with rivers flow;
Now with their lusts provoke the Lord,
And he reduced them low."
Fickleness is bound up in the heart of man, unbelief is our besetting sin; we must forever be seeing, or we waver in our believing. This is no mean offence, and will bring with it no small punishment.
Verse 10. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation.
The impression upon the divine mind is most vivid; he sees them before him now, and calls them "this generation." He does not leave his prophets to upbraid the sin—but himself utters the complaint and declares that he was grieved, nauseated, and disgusted. It is no small thing which can grieve our long suffering God to the extent which the Hebrew word here indicates, and if we reflect a moment we shall see the abundant provocation given; for no one who values his veracity can endure to be suspected, mistrusted, and belied, when there is no ground for it—but on the contrary the most overwhelming reason for confidence.
To such base treatment was the tender Shepherd of Israel exposed, not for a day or a month—but for forty years at a stretch, and that not by here and there an unbeliever—but by a whole nation, in which only two men were found so thoroughly believing as to be exempted from the doom which at last was pronounced upon all the rest.
Which shall we most wonder at, the cruel insolence of man—or the tender patience of the Lord? Which shall leave the deepest impression on our minds, the sin or the punishment? Unbelief, or the barring of the gates of Jehovah's rest against the unbelievers?
And said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways.
Their heart was obstinately and constantly at fault. It was not their head which erred—but their very heart was perverse. Love, which appealed to their affections, could not convert them. The heart is the main spring of the man, and if it is not in order, the entire nature is thrown out of gear. If sin were only skin deep, it might be a slight matter; but since it has defiled the soul, the case is bad indeed.
Taught as they were by Jehovah himself in lessons illustrated by miracles, which came to them daily in the manna from Heaven, and the water from the flinty rock—they ought to have learned something. It was a foul shame that they remained obstinately ignorant, and would not know the ways of God. Wanderers in body, they were also wanderers in heart, and the plain providential goodness of their God remained to their blinded minds as great a maze as those twisting paths by which he led them through the wilderness.
Are we better than they? Are we not quite as apt to misinterpret the dealings of the Lord? Have we suffered and enjoyed so many things in vain? With many it is even so. Forty years of providential wisdom, yes, and even a longer period of experience, have failed to teach them serenity of assurance, and firmness of reliance. There is ground for much searching of heart concerning this.
Many treat unbelief as a minor fault, they even regard it rather as an infirmity than a sin—but the Lord thinks not so. Faith is Jehovah's due, especially from those who claim to be the people of his pasture, and yet more emphatically from those whose long life has been crowded with evidences of his goodness. Unbelief insults one of the dearest attributes of Deity, it does so needlessly and without the slightest ground and in defiance of all sufficient arguments, weighty with the eloquence of love. Let us in reading this psalm examine ourselves, and lay these things to heart.
Verse 11. Unto whom I swore in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.
There can be no rest to an unbelieving heart. If manna and miracles could not satisfy Israel, neither would they have been content with the land which flowed with milk and honey. Canaan was to be the typical resting place of God, where his ark should abide, and the ordinances of true religion should be established. The Lord had for forty years borne with the ill manners of the generation which came out of Egypt, and it was but right that he should resolve to have no more of them. Was it not enough that they had revolted all along that marvelous wilderness march? Should they be allowed to make new Massahs and Meribahs in the Promised Land itself? Jehovah would not have it so.
He not only said but swore that into his rest they should not come, and that oath excluded every one of them; their carcasses fell in the wilderness. Solemn warning to all who leave the way of faith for paths of petulant murmuring and mistrust. The rebels of old could not enter in because of unbelief, "let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should even seem to come short of it."
One blessed inference from this psalm must not be forgotten. It is clear that there is a rest of God, and that some must enter into it: but "they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief, there remains therefore a rest to the people of God." The unbelievers could not enter—but "we who have believed do enter into rest." Let us enjoy it, and praise the Lord for it forever. Ours is the true Sabbatic rest, it is ours to rest from out own works as God did from his. While we do so, let us "come into his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms."