Psalm 95 teaches us about the countless distinctive traits of God as Lord, king, and maker with an authority that isn’t cowardly or hesitant but bold and direct with no excuses for being so. Our Lord can be seen as independent, free, deserving of gratitude from this Psalm; as well as, determined and not willing to let anything prevent him from doing what he has decided to do as verse 11 demonstrates. The energetic and spirited launching of thanksgiving in this Psalm has more than a solemn forewarning for a conclusion that strikes the conscious with no apologies.
Historical context and genre
The genre is the Psalms of the heavenly king because of the portion of the Psalm where God speaks in the first person in verses 8-11. While there is much evidence to support that this Psalm was written by David as John Gill suggests in his commentary, “This psalm, though without a title, was written by David, as appears from Hebrews 4:7, and to him the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions ascribe it;” we cannot definitively be sure that the Psalm was written by David. In response to David being named the author in Hebrews, although the Psalm itself does not indicate that he is the author, a biblical study of Psalm 95 done by kukis.org, suggests that, “Since David is the human author of so many of these Psalms, the language allows for this to simply reference the psalms in general, rather than to specify him as the author of this particular song,” (page 3-4). Although, he says further, “this is a non-essential of the faith, a matter of speculation, and we are allowed to be less than dogmatic when dealing with these non-essentials,” (page 4). In conclusion, although it is very likely that David is the author, not knowing for certain doesn’t take away from the theology of the Psalm.
Consequently, not knowing for certain whom the author is, there is no way to be sure when the Psalm was written. This presents an obstacle in trying to designate a specific historical context where the performance of the Psalm would have taken place. Hypothetically, if it had been one of David compositions, it would likely have been during his reign as king because of how the Psalm communicates in a corporate way an account of a portion of Israel’s history. We can very easily assume that this Psalm would have fit in with the time period where David was assigning the duties of temple worship, which were carried out by Asaph and his sons in
1 Chronicles 25:1-31.
Major literary features and technical elements
There is the theory that the Psalm is actually two separate songs that were pulled together. “This overall approach divides into two general camps: (1) those who recognize two distinct parts but say that this structure is original to the psalm, and (2) those who say that this two-part structure is a sign that they were originally two distinct songs,” (Enns page 1). This researcher personally supposes the first position, that this structure is original because the composition’s rather blunt concluding tone better presents the unshared authority of God as Lord sovereign, questionless, determined, and independent of a need to negotiate his judgments. Commentary on Psalm 95 says, “This psalm must be sung with a holy reverence of God's majesty and a dread of his justice, with a desire to please him and a fear to offend him,” (Matthew Henry). As a result, it isn’t necessary to suppose that the Psalm was pulled together from two different individuals pieces just because they seem as far apart as east from west. The Psalm is stable ambivalence.
Psalm 95:1-6 advocates giving thanks to God affirming it as an effortless endeavor with the impressiveness of creation as an axis for thanksgiving. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines thanksgiving as “A public celebration of divine goodness; also, a day set apart for religious services, specially to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary dispensation of his bounties.” Or, as a preventative measure as this Psalm would suggest. Paraphrasing from Kuki.org, there is another way the word thanksgiving could have been interpreted as well. The same word used for thanksgiving in Psalm 95 is also used as “to confess,” in Joshua 7:19 (page 11). This adds another dimension to the instruction given to, “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song,” Psalm 95:2 (NIV). The additional use of the original word clarifies that the demonstration of thanksgiving is supposed to be articulated with speech.
The Psalm abruptly changes tone after this warm-up exercise in thanksgiving like the weather changing from sunny to cloudy with a chance of rain very suddenly as the continuing verses deliver stern warning that the author of Hebrews was also acutely aware of. The writer of Hebrews gives a commentary of Psalm 95:7-11 in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. Significant to the epistle’s appeal is the subject of rest. He interprets the resulting sentence of not being able to enter his rest with unbelief in Hebrews 3:19. The writer of Hebrews is wise to make note of the warning that was given to future generations following the time spent in the desert. The permanent nature of this warning is frightening. It was, “A deed that was irreversible for that generation.” (Bullock page 67). It is speculated what the actual definition of “rest,” is. Whether it was the literal rest of settling into the land that was promised from the literal history surrounding the events retold; or, whether it was what the book of Hebrews describes as, “A Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his,” Hebrews 4:9-10 (NIV). It is very likely that it could mean both and the literal settling in the land would have been the same spiritual rest described in Hebrews. The Israelites inhabiting the land would experience rest from the anxieties of pilgrimage and completion of their journey, which would have a spiritual affect similar to the spiritual experience of the Sabbath when God’s work of creation was complete and he rested. Their absence of rest stemmed from the determination of God that their journey remained unfinished sustaining the anxieties associated with it, just as our witness can be compared to a similar sort of unfinished pilgrimage, which anticipates rest and completion as reward.
Contemporary expressions and uses
So, whether rest was intended to mean rest from pilgrimage or an entering into divine rest with God, they were never allowed to enter. The book of Hebrews mention of such a definitive outcome is reason to still heed the psalmist’s warning today. It is bittersweet to think of the upcoming fulfillment of the prophecy written in Revelation. The author of Hebrews wouldn’t have had the same accessibility to the prophecy as we do today to have included a comment in response to what is written in Revelation 14:9-11 (NIV), “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” As difficult as the reality of this is to bear, it is important for us to be assertive with God’s word; and, “At the turn of the millennium, when many people are looking for eschatological signs, the message of eschatological hope in the Psalter is as fresh and as relevant ever,” (Howard 1999).
Psalm 95 is a Psalm that establishes who the true authority it. God wants us to be actively grateful to him for what he has created and able to remain blameless when forewarned of our capacity for rebuke. God’s perspective on things might not always leave us feeling warm and fuzzy, but his vision is seen with a better view than our own and it is important to remember where he stands as king, and where we stand on his footstool.
Bullock, C. Hassell. (2001). Encountering the Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Enns, E. Peter. (1993). Creation and Re-creation: Psalm 95 and its Interpretation in Hebrews 3:1-4:13. Westminster Theological Journal, 55, page one. Retrieved January 24, 2012, from http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/19-Psalms/Text/Articles/Enns-CreationPs95-Heb4-WTJ.pdf
Exegesis Isagogics Categories. (n.d.). Psalm 95. Retrieved on January 24, 2012, from http://kukis.org/Psalms/Psalm095.pdf
Gill, John. (n.d.). Psalm 95. John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. Classic Bible Commentaries. Retrieved on January 24, 2012, from http://www.ewordtoday.com/comments/psalm/gill/psalm95.htm
Henry Matthew. (n.d.) Psalm 95. Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary. Classic Bible Commentaries. Retrieved on January 24, 2012, from http://www.ewordtoday.com/comments/psalm/mh/psalm95.htm
Howard, David M. Jr., Ph.D. (1999). The Psalms. The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches. Retrieved January 24, 2012, from http://people.bethel.edu/~dhoward/articles/FOTSPsalms2.htm
Kidner, D. (2008) Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries Psalms 73-150. Downers Grove. InterVarsity Press.