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Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 95’

Sunday school lesson

Review. We have looked at the two parts of Psalm 95. The first calls us to worship God. The second calls us to listen to and obey God’s voice. Now we look at how these two parts fit together, along with how the second part of this Psalm connects to some other key Scriptures.

Read the text. 

“[1] Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! [2] Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! [3] For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. [4] In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. [5] The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. [6] Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! [7a] For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

“[7b] Today, if you hear his voice, [8] do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, [9] when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. [10] For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ [11] Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

How the first and second parts of the Psalm connect. There is such a significant difference between vs. 1-7a and vs. 7b-11 in tone and focus that many have thought they should be seen as separate. Yet there are a number of connections between the two parts. Here are three examples:

Question 1: What name is God called in v. 1 (part one)? What plays a key role in the two stories in part two (Massah and Meribah)? 

Question 2: Near the center point of this Psalm (in terms of words) , God is called “our Maker” (v. 6). How does this name speak to why we should praise God (part one) and why we should listen to God (part two)?

Question 3: What is the image of God in v. 7a (part one)? How does this fit with the call to listen to his voice in 7b (part two)? [hint – John 10:4]

A central connection between the two parts is the progression of worship in the Psalm as a whole, noted before. The people come to the temple with loud praise, they come in to bow down (part one) and then they listen to a message from God (part two). And there is a message in this. Yes, true worship involves thanksgiving and loud praise, as well as bowing down before God (part one). But it also involves listening to and obeying God in faith. The first is relatively easy. The second is not always easy. For instance, in Exodus 15 Israel praised God with song, but in Exodus 17 they did not obey, but tested God at Massah.

The idea of God’s rest is also a connection between the two parts of this Psalm. As we saw last week “God’s rest” can refer beyond just entering the promised land. It can also be a reference to the temple (1 Chronicles 28:2, Psalm 132:14, Isaiah 66:1) and it can look back to when God created the world and then rested (Genesis 2:2-3).

  • If we see also a reference to God’s rest as creational, then this ties part two together with part one’s focus on God creating both the earth and Israel.
  • If we see also a reference to God’s rest as relating to the temple, then this ties part two together with part one’s focus on coming to the temple to worship.

How Psalm 95:7b-11 connects with other Scriptures. It is tied to numerous other Scriptures that reference Massah and Meribah and testing God in the wilderness. We will mention one and look at another.

Psalm 95’s sermon may well be based on Deuteronomy 6, which is itself a sermon based on Israel’s testing of God in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Notice also two key words from Deuteronomy 6 – “hear” (vs. 3, 4) and “today” (v. 6) that are also found in Psalm 95:7b.

If Psalm 95:7b-11 is a sermon based on Deuteronomy 6, Hebrews 3:6-4:11 is a sermon with Psalm 95:7b-11 as its text. Notice the layers here: 1. Massah (Exodus 17:1-7) and Meribah (Numbers 20:2-13); 2. Deuteronomy 6; 3. Psalm 95:7b-11; 4. Hebrews 3:6-4:11.

The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to reflect on Massah and Meribah and to apply it to Christians. Look at the material below and then read Hebrews 3:3-4:11.

  • The situation in Exodus and Numbers: the children of Israel are without water in the wilderness
  • The situation in Hebrews: Christians struggling under hardship and persecution. The “today” of Psalm 95 is applied to this.
  • The failure in Exodus and Numbers: they tested God by not believing and obeying him.
  • The failure in Hebrews: they will test God if the message of the gospel is not held to by faith with obedience.
  • God’s rest in Exodus and Numbers: the promised land is at the forefront.
  • God’s rest: the promised land is combined with the creational rest of God in Genesis to speak of the rest of the coming new creation, the kingdom of God.
  • The result in Exodus and Numbers: they did not enter the land.
  • The result in Hebrews: they will not enter God’s rest, unless they renew their faith.

*According to Hebrews 4:1, 6, 8, 9 – the truest fulfillment of God’s rest has to do with Christians entering the kingdom of God.

Hebrews 3:6-4:11: [6] – And we are his (God’s) house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. [7] Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, [8] do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, [9] where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works [10] for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ [11] As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

[12] Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. [13] 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. [14] For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. [15] As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

[16] For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? [17] And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? [18] And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? [19] So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

[4:1] Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. [2] For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [3] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’ “although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. [4] For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” [5] And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

[6] Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

[8] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. [9] So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, [10] for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. [11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Note: Massah and Meribah are translated not as place names but according to their word meanings, here rendered as “rebellion” (Meribah) and “testing” (Massah). [This is how the Greek Old Testament (LXX) translates Psalm 95. The King James also.]

Question 4: According to the author of Hebrews how does the message of Psalm 95:7b-11 challenge Christians in his day?

Question 5: How should it challenge us today?

Large group discussion of answers.

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Sunday school lesson

Review. Last week we saw how Psalm 95:1-7a calls us to worship the Lord. God is worthy because he is the creator – both of the world (vs. 3-5) and of us his people (v. 7). These acts demonstrate how great God is. But also, simply because God is our creator and we are his, we ought to offer up praise to God. This is the right response. Finally we give thanks because this same God who made all things, “is our God” (v. 7), not some other idol or false god.

We also noted how there is a progression in this Psalm, much like what happens in a worship service: First we are called to sing, give thanks and make a joyful noise (vs. 1-2). Second we are called to bow and kneel (v. 6). Finally, we are called to listen to a message from God.

Read Psalm 95:7b-11.

“[7b] Today, if you hear his voice, [8] do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, [9] when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. [10] For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ [11] Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Commentary. These verses have a structure to them, just like we saw in the first part of Psalm 95. vs. 7b-9 form an inverted outline and vs. 10-11 parallel each other. Take a moment to look at the chart below: 

Our verses today, although brief, have rightly been compared to a sermon. And if they are a sermon they are based on the two stories mentioned in v. 8 – the story of Massah in Exodus 17:1-7 and the story of Meribah in Numbers 20:2-13. These stories are very similar, and in both God provides water for his people from a rock.

The word Massah means “testing.” The word Meribah means “quarreling.” In Exodus 17 Moses names that place both Massah and Meribah, while in Numbers 20 Meribah is mentioned as a place name. We will refer to the first as the Massah story and the second as the Meribah story. 

The tone of this sermon is a real contrast with the first part of Psalm 95 which is upbeat and joyful. It gives a strong warning to avoid the mistakes made by the people of God in these two wilderness stories.

Psalm 95 tells us that in both instances Israel “put me to the test and put me to the proof” (v. 9). They tested God. Read the following Scriptures to see what Israel did:

  • Exodus 17:1-3 “. . . there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
  • Numbers 20:2-5- “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”

Interestingly Psalm 81:7 tells us that God was also testing them. God let them experience these difficulties to see how they would respond to him.

The phrase “for forty years” (v. 10) refers to the time of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. The story of Massah (Exodus 17) would have been near to the beginning of this time. The story of Meribah (Numbers 20) would have been near to the end of this time. That generation of Israelites was known for their fighting with God from beginning to end.

Vs. 10-11 show that the result of such disobedience to God is judgment. “God loathed that generation.” God was angry. God excluded them from the promised land.

V. 11 tells us that God swore an oath in his wrath. The content of this oath was that “they shall not enter my rest.” Deuteronomy 9:22-24 relates the Massah story to the story of the spies in Numbers 14. It is here that God swears that none of that generation would enter the land (Numbers 14:20-35). Failure to obey God’s voice is cited in Numbers 14:22 as the reason for this. Psalm 95:7-8 tells us to listen to God’s voice.

The word wrath is not mentioned in the stories of Massah and Meribah. However, Deuteronomy 9:22-24 speaks of the Lord’s “wrath” in connection to Massah, and Psalm 106:32 speaks of God’s “anger” in connection with Meribah.

God’s rest (v. 11) can refer to several things. It can look back to God’s Sabbath rest after the creation of the world (Genesis 2:2-3). It can also refer to the temple, the place where God rests (1 Chronicles 28:2, Psalm 132:14, Isaiah 66:1). Or it can refer to the land of promise, which was often called God’s rest (Deuteronomy 12:9, Joshua 1:15, 1 Kings 8:56). In the context here, the last one seems to be at the forefront. God does not allow them to come into the rest of the promised land.

Questions:

Question 1: What did Israel do wrong in the stories of Massah and Meribah? How does our Scripture describe what they did wrong (vs. 7b-9)? They quarreled and tested God. Grumbled. Asked, “Why? Why? Why?” Demanding.

Psalm 95 says they hardened their hearts to God so that they didn’t listen; they put God to the test and to the proof.

This is the core issue – they assumed that God could not handle this. Unbelief. No confidence in God. And this showed up in their complaining and quarreling. We’re gonna die!

They took the stance that God had to prove himself to them, which is what it means to test God.

Question 2: What should they have done when confronted with their desperate situation (no water in a desert)?  They should have known that God can take care of them. And if God led them into a place with no water, God had the ability to provide water for them.

They should have trusted God. They should have come to God in confidence – “OK God, how would you like to work through this problem. We know you are able.”

Question 3: How does the end of v. 9 – “though they had seen my work” play into God’s judgment of them? They knew better. They had seen already many great miracles. There was no need for God to prove himself to them. They had no excuse.

Question 4: How do we test God? What are some examples? In our difficulties – instead of trusting God and saying, “OK God, how would you like to work through this problem we know you are able?” we stand back and say God why did you let this happen? We complain. (this is not a discerning “why?” but a complaining “why?”). We assume God isn’t able to take care of us. We demand that God prove himself trustworthy to us. It doesn’t matter what God has done in the past – “Prove yourself again Lord!”

Question 5: V. 7b says, “If you hear his voice.” What do you think God is trying to say? Trust me. Look to me. Keep doing what I have commanded you. Don’t harden your heart to this so that you start to complain, argue, and put me to the test.

Question 6: If we are not allowed to test God (also Deuteronomy 6:16), why is God allowed to test us? God doesn’t need to prove himself. God is able and completely faithful. It is we who need to prove ourselves. Will we be faithful? Will we rely on God? This is very much a question.

God’s motive is also different. God does it for our own good. We want peace and no problems – and complain if we don’t have this. But God wants us to grow and become more faithful. And so he allows us to have problems. So that we can learn. *God loves peace, but loves even more that we learn to trust in him.

Large group discussion of answers.

Final thought: “Today” in v. 7b is a word of grace. Yes, the generation in the wilderness failed. But it is a new day for God’s people “today,” that is, all of us who hear this message from Psalm 95. And we are being invited to get it right. To trust God in our times of testing. To have faith. To move forward in obedience to God even when it is hard.

Jesus, in his wilderness testing (Matthew 4/Luke 4), quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 – “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” This verse is a part of our complex of Scriptures connected to the sermon in Psalm 95. Jesus trusted God. He listened to God. He did not harden his heart. He got it right. And he is our example and can be our help in our times of testing.

How will you respond “today” in your difficult situations?

Handout – Two rock -water stories

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Sunday school lesson

Review. Last week we worked on getting to know Psalm 95. It has two main parts – vs. 1-7a and vs. 7b-11. The first focuses on God and the praise of God. It uses “us” language and is upbeat. The second focuses on us and the need to listen to God. It uses “you” language and is a strong warning. Today we give our attention to the first part and its call to worship God.

Read Psalm 95:1-7a.

“[1] Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! [2] Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! [3] For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. [4] In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. [5] The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. [6] Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! [7a] For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

Commentary and questions. This first part of Psalm 95 has two sections – vs. 1-5 and vs. 6-7a, which are closely parallel to each other. This is a part of its poetic structure. Look over the chart below.


Notice the same pattern – a call to worship (blue), and then the reason why we should worship God (red), with supporting statements about who God is and what  God has done. Also notice the use of similar words – “come,” “face” (orange), the possessive “his” (purple), and the phrase “his hand(s)” (green).  Finally, section one has twice as much material as the second: four calls to worship/two calls; two statements about who God is/one statement; four statements on God as creator/two statements on this.

This psalm names a number of ways of worshipping God – singing, making a joyful (loud) noise, giving thanks, worshipping (literally bowing low), bowing down and kneeling.

Question 1: What are the benefits or possible drawbacks for having a variety of different ways to worship God? For instance – Loud/quiet; different postures; singing, speaking, raising hands.  The benefit – more creative expression, more meaningful worship, more ways of expressing love and honor to God. Does God get bored with our worship? Drawbacks – not everyone is comfortable with some expressions, can create tensions.

Question 2: How important is it that our body (posture) be involved in worship on a scale of one to ten? What is your practice?

If we include the last part of the Psalm, with its focus on listening to God, there is a clear progression of worship from: loud praise and singing – vs. 1-5, to bowing down – vs. 6-7 (perhaps in prayer or quiet worship), and then listening to God’s voice – vs. 7b-11.

Many see a structure for a temple worship service in this Psalm:

  • vs. 1-5 – “Come” – that is, approach the temple with loud praise.
  • vs. 6-7a – “Come in” (so it can be translated) that is, to the temple. Bow down and be quiet.
  • vs. 7b-11 – Listen to God (perhaps a Levitical sermon or a prophetic message)

This progression is similar to how one would approach an ancient near-eastern king. You would come with praise and gifts for the king. Then you would bow down and make your request. And then you would listen for his word. God is called a “great King” in v. 3.

Question 3: In what ways is our worship like coming before a king? We do come before God’s throne, where he sits as king of all – Hebrews 4:26, Isaiah 6; Revelation 4.

Question 4: How do you envision yourself when you worship God? How casual should we be, or formal? Before a king, but also as a king who is my father.

There is a strong emphasis on God as creator in these verses. In section one God’s role as creator of the world is highlighted. The contrasts in vs. 4-5 between the valleys and the tops of the mountains, and the sea and dry land make the point that God created every bit of it. In the second section God’s role as creator of Israel, God’s people is highlighted. This refers to when God brought them out of Egypt and formed them into a new people. In v. 6, near to the center point of the Psalm as a whole, God is called, “our Maker.”

In both sections there is talk of God’s “hand” (green).  For instance, v. 5 says, “his hands formed the dry land.” This poetically pictures God as a craftsman and the earth and Israel as God’s “handiwork.”

vs. 3 and 7 (red) tell us why we should worship God. v. 3 says, “the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” God is better than all the other so-called gods. v. 7 says simply, “he is our God.”

Both of these statements are connected to the theme of God as creator. Why is God greater than all the other gods? Because he created all things. No other god could do this. This is why God is “above all gods.” Why is God Israel’s God? Because he created them as his own people. v. 7 says, “we are the people of his pasture.” v. 6 says, he is “our Maker.”

Recognizing God as the creator of all should lead us to worship for several reasons: 1) God’s power and glory are revealed in his ability to make all that exists. Paul makes this point in Romans 1:20 – God’s “eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” We should worship and be in awe of such a great God. This is also true of God’s creation of Israel, bringing them up out of Egypt. This was an amazing act of power and love.

2) Since God is our creator, God has complete rights to us. Still today we understand that if you make something it is yours. This is why he is our rightful God. The possessive “his” language (purple) makes this point. In the first section we learn that every part of the earth is “his, for he made it” (v. 5). In the second section we are called “the people of his pasture” (v. 7) because he is “our Maker” (v. 6). And so God has a right to our praise and thanksgiving. This is the proper response to accepting that God is our maker and rightful ruler.

3) God’s people are to worship God because this same great God who made all things, is the one who “is our God” (v. 7), the one who protects us and provides for us. We don’t have some second rate god. We have the true God as “our” God.

Question 5: Do you ever give thanks simply for being created or for being alive?

Question 6: What difference does it make to understand that you are owned by God? In general it gives a different perspective on life. We owe God everything we have, including our worship.

Question 7: What are some false gods today? How is our God better than these? Money, social status, career, control, quiet – almost anything can be a false god for us. Only God is the real God and only God can take care of us, show us the right way to live and give us peace.

Question 8: How often do you worship God – not just reading scripture or praying, but praising and honoring God? How often should we worship God?

Large group discussion of answers


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Sunday school lesson

Introduction. We usually cover large portions of Scripture at a time in Sunday School – and often there is not enough time to dig deep. So I want us to be able to do this in the next few weeks. And Psalm 95 is a great Scripture to do this with because: 1) there is a lot to find in it, 2) it has a great message, and 3) it is connected to a number of other Scriptures – both Old and New Testament.

I also want us to do this in a way that helps us sharpen our Bible study skills.

Small group work 

Read it out loud in two or three translations.

What are your questions and observations? This is the key to good Bible study. Write out 10 of these on this Psalm.

Questions & discussion

1. What kind of writing is this (story, poetry, parable, teaching, letter)? This is poetry (structural features, patterns that repeat; parallelism – things beside each other that are similar or opposite). There is teaching at the end.

2. What are the two main parts of the Psalm? This is discernible by a change of content in the verses.

1. vs. 1-7a.

2. vs. 7b-11.

These are very different. Some have thought this must actually be two Psalms put together.

3. Summarize the message of the first section? Praise the Creator

4. Summarize the message of the second section? Listen to God

5. What are some differences between the two sections? The first focuses on God and the praise of God. It uses “us” language. And it is upbeat. The second focuses on us and the need to listen to God. It uses “you” language. And it is a strong warning.

6. Using a concordance find what “Massah” and “Meribah” (v. 8) refer to.

  • Massah: Exodus 17:1-7
  • Meribah: Numbers 20:2-13

Two similar stories about the people complaining to God and water coming from a rock.

The first episode is named Massah and Meribah, the second Meribah. It’s a little confusing. We will call the first Massah and the second Meribah.

Meribah = quarreling; Massah = testing. The KJV translates the words not as place names but as “the provocation” and “the day of temptation.” This is how the Septuagint and Hebrews 3-4 treat the text as well.

There are many other references to Massah and Meribah in Scripture: Numbers 20:24; 27:14 (Meribah); Deuteronomy 9:22 (Massah); 32:51 (Meribah); 33:8 (both); Psalm 78:15-20 (unclear); 81:7 (Meribah); 106:32-33 (Meribah). [Similar to Psalm 95, Psalm 81 mentions the Meribah story and then immediately moves into an exhortation on listening – v. 8, “Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!”]

7. What are some other Scriptures connected to Psalm 95?

– Deuteronomy 6:16 is important. Deuteronomy is a series of sermons, and in this case it is on the rock water story and testing God. Psalm 95:7b-11 is itself a short sermon on the two rock/water stories and testing God, with Deuteronomy 6 as a text (more on this later). So Psalm 95 is a sermon on a sermon on the two stories of water from a rock.

– 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 – a reference to the water from the rock.

– Matthew 4/Luke 4 – Jesus’ testing, where he reenactsIsrael’s testing and quotes Deuteronomy 6:16.

– Hebrews 3:17-4:13 is a sermon based on Psalm 95’s sermon, based on the Deuteronomy 6 sermon – all of which are based on the two rock/water stories.

Large group discussion of answers

Handout: Psalm 95 literary structure

PDF version- Psalm 95 literary structure

[I owe Mark Girard for some of the parallels in the first section, “face” in vs. 2, 6 and the “hand” language in vs. 5 and 7. Theology Digest, v. 30 pages 55-58]

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