The Lord is a great King – Psalm 95

The 4th book of Psalms

I am familiar with this psalm. It is one of the canticles in the service of Morning Prayer in the Church of England, and is called the Venite, exultemus Domino or simply the Venite, which is the beginning of the psalm in Latin. It is used as a call to worship God.

Chess men: The black king stands upright above other chess men on their side, including the white king.
Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.

The layout is like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 1 – 41: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 1 – 41: God is among us.

Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.

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!
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.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

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.
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.”

Psalm 95 ESV UK

This, so I was informed when I started mapping out this series, is the first of a set of congregational praise songs that run from Psalm s 95 to 100. On looking deeper I found that some put the start at Psalm 93 and call them the Royal Psalms because they talk of God as king. The anomaly is that Psalm 94 does not speak of God as king. It just goes to show that if you put two theologians in a room you end up with three opinions.

This psalm may be from an earlier time than the time of the return from the Babylonian exile. I say this because of the example of not listening to God goes back to the Exodus, and the psalmist could have used the exile as evidence. On the other hand they could be making a point that the people were already rebellious, even before they got to the promised land. Either way round this song is relevant to the situation of the returning exiles.

At the time of the return, the Biblical writers were already talking about God being the only god, and that the gods of the other nations were false gods. Here we go back to an earlier belief, God is the head god of a council of gods, the greatest of the gods. A great king is the head of a number of local kings — God is the High King over the Gods.

The psalm has two distinct parts:

  • The first is a call to praise God as king of all the universe, even the seas, often seen as a place of darkness and chaos.
  • The second part changes to the voice of God giving a warning to the people of the perils of disobedience.

I used to dislike this song for its negative ending. It starts out in praise to God, but ends up with a warning to avoid God’s wrath. But it says something to these former exiles. The Jews never got to the land that God promised to Moses. They never made it to the promised land. They did not get there because they did not listen to God.

I am not saying that the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges are wrong. My interpretation is that the Promised Land was reached physically, they got to the geographical location, but they did not get the rest that they were promised. They continued to be a restless people even when in the land, rebelling again and again, rejecting God and wanting a king so they could be like everyone else. Eventually the age of Jewish kings was put to an end in the exile.

The problem was not that the people did not worship God but that they did not expect that among all the words they made in their worship to God, they did not expect God to reply. In this psalm God interrupts the praise to give a warning. There have been times when I have been enjoying worship too much, if God had interrupted I would have been miffed, I had to learn not to worship a liturgical form or style of worship music, even though I have wide eclectic tastes, but the centre of our worship is God alone. Everything else may help us to focus on God but it is secondary and disposable.

But this leaves a question: Is their room in your liturgy? (I am counting every form of worship which follows a usual form as liturgy, both traditional and contemporary). Is there room in your liturgy for God to speak?


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