>Split Personality, Psalm 95

>At first glance, Psalm 95 appears to suffer from a split personality.

This familiar psalm begins with a rousing call to worship:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
(verses 1-2)


The next three verses give reasons why God is worthy of adoration:

For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land
(3-5).


God is the Most High; he created all things and he continues to sustain all things. Even the sea (often a biblical synonym for rebellious peoples) is his; he made it and it remains under his control.

The Psalmist again calls us to worship:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
(6)


The first three lines of verse 7 again give reasons for adoration, but they are more personal this time:

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.


Not only is God the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, but he is also the Great Shepherd who cares for his sheep. He is our God. We find refuge and refreshment in his pasture. We are the “sheep of his hand,” which conveys that he made us and he cares for us. Notice, please, that we are his sheep. He isn’t a hired hand who doesn’t really care about the sheep. No, we belong to him.

But the last line of verse 7 signals a sudden shift. Adoration is replaced by admonition. What begins as a warning from the psalmist transforms into the very voice of God:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
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.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest”
(7b-11).


What are we to make of this psalm’s apparent split personality?

Certainly these final few verses are a warning about hardening one’s heart against the work of the Holy Spirit. They warn us against unbelief in the face of God’s amazing love and provision. They warn us to guard our hearts and to study God’s Word. God clearly indicates that rebellious and sinful people will never enter his rest.

But how do all those warnings fit with the first part of the psalm?

I believe it is helpful to remember that biblical teaching associates rest with worship. This brings to mind Q & A 103 of the Heidelberg Catechism (recently mentioned on this blog):

103 Q. WHAT IS GOD’S WILL FOR US
IN THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT?
A. First,
that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained,
and that, especially on the festive day of rest,
I regularly attend the
assembly of God’s people
to learn what God’s Word teaches,
to participate in the sacraments,
to pray to God publicly,
and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

Second,
that every day of my life
I rest from my evil ways,
let the Lord work in me through his Spirit,
and so begin already in this life
the eternal Sabbath.

God calls us to corporate worship on “the festive day of rest.” And he calls us each day to “rest” from our evil ways. We are not “resting” from sin when we harden our hearts to the Spirit’s leading, or when we doubt God in the face of his amazing provision, or when our hearts wander and our feet stray. In these case, we actively pursue sin.

God will not grant his rest to those who do not rest from sin. If we want to enter God’s rest in worship and adoration, we must recognize our sin and repent from it.


Recall that 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousnss.”

God does not promise to cleanse us from “our trivial sins” or “some of our sins,” but “all unrighteousness.”

No sin, no matter how heinous in its actions or how far reaching in its consequences, is beyond God’s forgiveness. The only sin that cannot be forgiven is blantant rejection of the Holy Spirit.

Do you find this difficult to believe? Do you feel as if God can’t possibly forgive you and your particular sin?

Please note the placement of God’s promise to cleanse you from “all unrighteousness”: it is smack in the middle of two important verses. The verse directly before emphasizes the importance of recognizing sin:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

Pride tops the nonexistent lists of pious people who fail to recognize their sins.

The verse following God’s promise to forgive all our sins is a stark warning:

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:10).

Any hypocrite who doesn’t really recognize and repent is a horrible sinner who actually calls God a liar! But, guess what? If you don’t believe God can forgive your sin, you’re calling him a liar, too!

The placement of that promise in between those two important verses is not coincidental. And the apparent sudden shift in Psalm 95 does not evidence a split personality. The construction of God’s Word is never coincidental or contradictory.

God calls us to worship him. He alone is worthy of worship. He commands us to soften our hearts and turn from our sin. And then he assures us that he forgives even our worst sins. Repentent sinners will enter his rest.

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