Psalm 95
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
It has been thus called in Christian Liturgies throughout Christendom, and chiefly because of its fervent invitation to praise. But it is also an equally earnest invitation to hearken and to believe. Let us take that which stands at the beginning, and consider -

I. THE INVITATION TO PRAISE. In this is shown:

1. To whom the praise is to be rendered. It is to Jehovah, the Rock of our salvation.

2. Think of the many ministries which the word "rock reminds us of. Shade: for God was to his people as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land;" and he is so still. Defence: "Thou art my Rock and my Fortress." Strength: "Thou hast set my feet upon a rock." Supply: "He smote the rock," etc. (Psalm 78:20; Psalm 81:16). Dwelling place: we read both in Isaiah and Jeremiah of "the inhabitants of the rock." Such were the ideas that gathered round this name of the Lord which the psalm summons men to praise.

3. The manner of the praise. It was to be by joyful song and resonant shout, with thanksgiving and with psalms. So hearty, so jubilant, so universal, so emphatic, was to be the praise of the Lord. But in ver. 6 there is the call to yet more profound adoration and worship, since yet higher manifestations of God's grace are to be commemorated. Therefore note:

4. The reasons for all this worship. And

(1) because of what God is - supreme over all the gods of the heathen;

(2) because of his rule over the whole earth - its depths, its heights, the sea, and the land;

(3) because - and here comes the summons to the higher praise spoken of - of what God is to his people - their Maker, their God, the Giver of their peace and rest (cf. Psalm 23., "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures"); so his people are "the people of his pasture." He is also their Guide, Defender, Ruler - "the sheep of his hand." Such are the grounds - and surely they are adequate - for this reverent and yet exultant worship. And they all remain still.

II. THE CALL TO HEAR GOD'S VOICE. (Ver. 8.) For as the former verses had told of the rich and lofty privileges of the people of God, so these tell of their great peril - the peril of unbelief. This had been their ruin in days gone by, in all that weary forty years. Nothing else could harm them; but this wrought all their woo (cf. Hebrews 4:6-9). And what was true of old and of Israel, is true today and of ourselves. The righteous live by faith; no unbeliever can enter into God's rest.

III. THE CALL TO FAITH. For this is the condition of our obtaining the prize of our high calling. The rest of God is God's reward to his faithful people - a rest not alone in heaven hereafter, but here and now, whilst in this world, which Christ promises to give, and does give. Saints of old knew it; saints today enter into it. Christ dwelt in it, and so may we - if we believe. - S.C.

The call to offer God joyful thanksgiving is made to everybody, without qualification or limitation. It may be that certain forms of Divine worship are properly reserved for those who are in certain states of mind, or have voluntarily entered into certain relations; but the common duties of thanksgiving rest on all humanity - the claims of the God of providence and mercy should be felt, and should be responded to, by every man made in the Divine image. A strange notion has been allowed to gain some acceptance, that praise and thanksgiving from the unconverted can never be acceptable to God. The Scriptures give no countenance whatever to such a notion. Every man is invited to praise God as well as he can. What God resists is insincerity. It does not matter how imperfect the praise may be, if it is but sincere. The terms of the text imply the union of music and song in God's worship. The psalmist invites to a full burst of instrumental and vocal music, which will use up all kinds of human talents. Being a general call, it is a call to worship God with thanksgiving, which every man may be expected to feel; not with penitence, which only a few may feel.


1. God the Creator. Open out the idea that what God could say of his daily handiwork, "Behold, it is very good," man, observing the further workings, the operations, of what God has made, can repeat after him. Explain that, in a large way, man could always, by observation, see the goodness of God in creation; in minute detail man's science sees it still.

2. God the Provider. "Giving to all their meat in due season." Here show that the extraordinary, such as provision of manna, only illustrates the ordinary, God giving all their daily bread.

3. God the Saviour. In the lower sense of Preserver, Defender, Deliverer, from the common ills and perils of life. Apart, then, from all theological distinctions, all men should praise God.


1. Some men have special personal experiences of God's dealings.

2. Some men know God as their Saviour from sin. - R.T.


1. Thanksgiving and praise. (Vers. 1, 2.) We need special seasons for thinking over our privileges and cultivating gratitude, and the utterance of the spirit of praise.

2. Adoration and prayer. (Ver. 6.) God's love thus a cause for our cleansing. Christ's promises and grace inexhaustible. Who can drink the river of his love dry? Confession and supplication.

3. Listening to the voice of God. (Ver. 7.) In his spoken Word and in our own hearts. Hearing what God speaks to us is as much worship as our speaking to God.


1. God's supremacy. (Vers. 3-5.) Here is the theme of the loftiest praise; a reason for the largest prayers; and an argument for submission to his perfect will.

2. God's tender guardianship. "He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." intimate relationship to him: "our God." Living upon his bounty: "people of his pasture." We are being guided by him: "sheep of his hand."

3. God's oath against those who are hardened. "Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest."

4. He is the Rock of our salvation. (Ver. 1.) The eternal Foundation and Shelter of the soul. - S.

There is a remarkable diversity in the psalms. Some express the struggling of earnest souls with the moral difficulties and mysteries of life (see Asaph's psalms). Some express the varieties of experience characterizing individual religious experience (see Psalm 42.). The psalm now before us is one that expresses the influences of the varied aspects of nature upon the culture of religions life and feeling (see also Psalm 19., 104., 147.). These poetical nature psalms are as true to humanity, as necessary and as helpful, as those whose influence seems more direct. Man's Bible is poetical. It should be, because the poetical is one of man's faculties. It is the side of his nature on which he is set in harmony with the suggestive in material creation. By the poetical faculty we need not mean the power of making poetry. It is the power to receive and respond to the impressions made on us by God's handiwork. Nothing quickens and nourishes the faculty as religion does. Faith and hope are nearly allied to imagination; and they cannot fail to culture it. In this psalm it is evident that the beautiful and sublime in nature is impressing the psalmist, filling him with reverence, leading him to personal devotion, and inciting him to call upon others to share with him in worship.

I. THE GREAT THINGS OF NATURE IMPRESS ALL MEN. Many of us may seem to be under grave disadvantage, because we live in a crowded city, a man-made city, an unaesthetic city. But even cities cannot wholly shut out the changing moods of nature. Smoke cannot hide the firmament, the sunshine, or the stars. Business cannot make us unmindful of the seasons, the winds, and the rains. Men's buildings cannot alter the conformation of the ground that makes the landscapes. And the very disabilities of city people only make them more open to nature influences when they can get away into the country. The beautiful and sublime will not always produce their due impression on us. Poets are not always equally sensitive. So much depends on our circumstances and on our moods. And therefore how important is the spirit in which we go into the country; the kind of society we seek there; and especially the quietness, the loneliness, we gain in which we may listen to nature's voice! Crowded trains, crowded piers, crowded seashores, crowded lodgings, too easily crowd men out of their spirituality. Can we recall times when nature has borne upon us with all its holiest force? At such times we were our real selves, our noblest selves; God touched us with his nature hand, and we felt the touch. Illustrate by the impressions of moor, mountain, seashore, sunset, or tempest. Upon David the voice of nature fell often, and found an exquisite sensitiveness that was partly his disposition, and partly his piety. Believe, then, in kinness between yourself and the grand in creation; and learn to expect that nature messages will come to you.

II. THE GREAT THINGS OF NATURE CALL TRUE-HEARTED MEN TO DEVOTION AND WORSHIP. To many men, warped and biassed by education and association, the great things of hills and seas and skies speak only of a higher power. If man is simple, true-hearted, they speak of the personal being of God. "The sea is his. The psalmist does not merely assert a fact; he asserts a man's feeling concerning the fact. We can have no reverence, no devotion, for the vague thing - a power. Reverence and devotion can only be felt m relation to a living being. So we must guard our faith in God, the living God. If open-hearted, nature makes us feel the kinness of man with creation in its daily dependence on God. He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." Our minds, receiving impressions of glory from earth and sky, transfer them to God. If this his handiwork be so glorious and so gracious, what must he himself be? And if all things depend on him, how should we bow before him, and worship? "Oh how I fear thee, living God!" But a further impression comes. That which fills us with reverence and worship is God's voice to humanity, and it reaches the whole brotherhood of men. So we become dissatisfied with lonely worship, and want to say, with the psalmist, "Come, let us worship and bow down." Search, then, and see what is the influence of the holiday times of life upon us. Have they made us more reverent, more devout, more earnest in our religious life and service? Do they give us a worthier sense of the value of common worship; and fill us with a holier determination "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is"? - R.T.

In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land. The material universe suggests -

I. THE PROFOUND MYSTERY OF SELF-EXISTENCE. Is it eternal, self-existent; or has it come from God in the way of direct creation or evolution? Self-existence an impossible conception, whether of the universe or of God; but it is also impossible to avoid it and find a substitute; only impossible to conceive of two self-existences.

II. IF THE UNIVERSE IS EVOLVED FROM GOD, THEN IT MUST BE A REVELATION OF PART OF HIS NATURE. Shows that God takes delight in material strength and beauty as well as in spiritual. The infinite variety of conceptions embodied. The infinite skill in the construction of the infinitely little and the infinitely great. But this only of a part of his nature, and that not the highest.

III. MANIFESTATION OF POWER. "Who by his strength setteth fast the mountains, being girded with power." Seas and mountains only functional examples of his power. The vastness of the universe. The child that Augustine saw ladling the sea into a hole in the sand. "Not more impossible than for you to empty the universe into your intellect."

IV. THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE GENERATES IN US THE SENSE OF WEAKNESS AND INSIGNIFICANCE. But mind, conscience, heart, are the only things that are eternally great. Mountains will melt, and seas dry up. "He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves." We are his children. - S.

1. In meeting together for public prayer, we follow the impulses of our own hearts, as well as obey the commands of our God. Prayer and worship are connected with our whole relation to God. God is in direct relation to the spirits that we are. We feel this, and therefore we must pray for spiritual blessings. God is in direct relation to the bodies that we have. They are his making, the care of his providence. They are subject to weariness and disease; they are the mediums of our virtue and of our vice. Out of the sense of the relation of our bodies to God, we are impelled to pray for temporal blessings. And God is also in close relation to our associations with one another - to our associations as families, as Churches, as fellow worshippers, and as citizens. Our best welfare, in all these relations, depends on him who is Lord of all natural laws, Lord of storms, Lord of harvests, Lord of sunshine, Lord of the wrath of men, and Lord too of their wealth. Let any man feel this, as every true man, every thinking man, must feel it, and that man will be impelled by his own spirit to meet with others, and say to others, "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." God deals with us collectively here on earth. We may not think of separate Churches in heaven; of organized families in heaven. There are no towns, with distinct town interests, in heaven; no nations, with national qualities and national interests, in heaven. It is peculiar to our present human scenes that God deals with us collectively. This need not relieve our sense of individual responsibility. We do but show what a basis is laid for collective prayer, for public worship, in this fact, that God deals collectively with us. He can punish individuals in another world for their individual wrongdoings. He can only punish nations, as nations, for their national wrong doings, in this sphere. Collectively, God regards us; then collectively we should pray, collectively we should worship, collectively we should live for God. The man that refuses to join in public worship is breaking away from his humanity; and denying the gracious conditions and responsibilities under which God has placed him. It is a more familiar truth, that sharing in public worship is the direct command of our God.

2. What are the reasons which keep men from the performance at all, or from the due performance of this duty of public worship? To put our reasons out into the full blaze of the light is often sufficient to wither them up, and to make us altogether ashamed of them. Perhaps some persuade themselves to say, "Your worship is not really intended for us: it is for Christians, and we do not want to intrude." It is a mistake. God's worship is for men, all men, all God-made men, whether they fit in with our idea of what God would have them be or not. Some stay from public worship because they cannot arrange their domestic affairs so as conveniently to attend it. Be sure that you have really tried and failed, before you rest in this excuse. Most stay away from sheer indifference, from the carelessness which settles down over souls that willingly live to self and sin. Some men are indisposed to worship; and it is this indisposition with which we have to deal.

3. Under the terms, "associated, and public worship," three forms may be indicated.

(1) Family prayer. When the devoted Richard Baxter lived in Kidderminster, it is said there was not a house in which the evensong of praise might not be heard, and the uplifted prayer of earnest hearts. The rush of modern business life has swept away much family prayer.

(2) Social prayer. Times when two or three meet together, to plead the promise made to two of the disciples who agree to ask. The smaller meetings are specially fruitful in spiritual blessings.

(3) Public prayer. The services of the sanctuaries. The spiritual antitypes of the old temple worship at Jerusalem, "whither the tribes go up." Public worship sustains, as nothing else can do, our dependence on God, the Creator, the Provider, the Redeemer. "He made us, and not we ourselves;" "He redeemeth our life from destruction." He "sent his Son into the world, that we might live through him." Then surely we ought "to worship and bow down." - R.T.

People of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Some writers try to amend this sentence, because the poetical figure seems complicated. It is much better to leave it in its poetical suggestiveness. It indicates familiarity with Eastern shepherding. The shepherd lives with his flock day and night; feels for them a personal affection; tends them in all their times of need with his own hands. So the Eastern sheep and shepherd figures, for God and his people, are stronger and more suggestive than we can realize if we keep ourselves to Western shepherd associations. In so carefully putting people into one sentence, and sheep into the other, the psalmist reminds us that God's sheep are moral beings, and the mere physical relations of shepherds to their sheep do but represent and illustrate the moral relations in which God stands to his people as moral beings. So we rise into a sphere in which we need the help of another figure - that of the father and his family. The "Lord our Maker" here brings God before us as the Universal Creator; and as the Founder of the Israelite nation.

I. OUR MORAL RELATIONS WITH GOD INCLUDE OUR CHARACTERS. Illustrate from the shepherd's estimate of each sheep. But the end at which the shepherd aims is health, fatness. The end at which God aims is cultured, developed, perfected character. And this is the Divine aim forevery man, and the Divine work in every man. If we can see the issue more plainly reached in some men than in others, this need not dim our confidence that the work is going on in all.

II. OUR MORAL RELATIONS WITH GOD INCLUDE OUR MOODS. For no man can study human nature without observing that men are constantly acting, on occasion, out of harmony with their characters. The difficulty of dealing wisely with children lies in their occasional strange lapses and oddities. God bears shepherd-like relation to the odd moods of his moral beings.

III. OUR MORAL RELATIONS WITH GOD INCLUDE OUR SINS. This brings us into a very familiar field, and opens to view the redeeming and sanctifying work of God. These moral relations of God to us are the real reason why we should "worship and bow down." - R.T.

The psalmist assumes that they wish to hear God's voice, and yet there is danger of their hardening their heart. That double feeling is constantly to be found in men. They are forever putting stumbling blocks in their own way. The head will often hinder the heart, and the heart will often hinder the head. Man is a single being, and he is his own true self only when all the forces of his nature act in harmony together. But man can make himself into a dual being, and start a strife within himself that will prove morally destructive. Illustrate by the devil possessed in the time of Christ. There was strife in the men. Their will pulled one way, the mastering will that was upon them pulled the other. Or take the modern case of delirium tremens. Here in our text we have the power which lies in man to hinder himself. He may "harden his heart," and so silence every high and noble desire he may feel. This hardening of the heart is always a man's own act to begin with, and God's act to finish with. A man sets himself upon resisting right impressions and persuasions; he finds it easier a second time and a third; he is hardening so that the persuasions have little effect, and God at last puts his seal on the hardening, and the persuasions roll off altogether.

I. WHEN A MAN WANTS TO WORSHIP GOD, HE CAN HARDEN HIS HEART BY ENCOURAGING DOUBTS. Some one is ever ready to whisper, "Is there a God at all? If there is, is he really a good God? If he is good, might he not have done a great deal more for you?" Give room to such doubts, and all interest in worship will soon take to itself wings and flee away.

II. WHEN A MAN WANTS TO WORSHIP GOD, HE CAN HARDEN HIS HEART BY MURMURINGS. Illustrate from the historical allusion to Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). If anybody wants to murmur, he can easily find something to murmur about. There is a sunny side and a dark side to almost everything; and, if a man chooses, he can see only the dark side; and, if he does, he will surely spoil all desire for worship, all grounds for thanksgiving. - R.T.

Tempting God is putting him to the test, as if you did not feel quite sure of him, and could not fully trust him. The idea of the word is "assay," "test," as the refiner does metals, or as the chemist or analyst may do to substances submitted to him. It is always implied that the man who proves the thing either does not know what it is or is uncertain about it. It is just that ignorance and uncertainty which God's people never should have concerning him. It is that doubting God which makes all attempts to test and prove him altogether wrong. Take the case of Israel at Meribah, and show that, in view of the Divine deliverances, guidings, providings, and defendings, any attempt to prove whether God really cared for them, and could help them, was absolutely unworthy; it amounted, indeed, to an insult offered to their covenant King.

I. PUTTING GOD TO THE PROOF MAY BE PERMISSIBLE. But the conditions are very clear. If a man wants to believe, and wants encouragement to faith, God will permit him to put him to the proof. This is illustrated, in a very different way, by the sign of the fleece asked by Gideon. The rightness or wrongness of asking the sign depended entirely on the state of Gideon's mind and feeling. He wanted help to belief, so he may put God to the test. Circumstances may arise now which may allow of our proving God; but that work should never be attempted save at the utmost strain.

II. PUTTING GOD TO THE PROOF IS GENERALLY UNPERMISSIBLE. Because generally it implies doubt of God's power, or faithfulness, or mercy. See the mood of the Israelites; and see the spirit in which the scribes and Pharisees came, putting Jesus to the test. They did not want to believe in him. They wanted to get something which would encourage their unbelief. So Jesus refused, saying, "There shall no sign be given unto them." Keep right attitudes and moods of mind, and right relations with God, and then it will never come into our minds to attempt to put him to the test. - R.T.

They should not enter into my rest. As the reference is clearly to the murmurings of the Israelites at Meribah, the "rest" referred to can only be the anticipated rest of settlement in the promised land of Canaan. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews finds a further meaning, or rather suggestion, in the word; but we may seek for the first and direct teaching of the passage.

1. Notice that God is said to have been grieved with the effort made to test or tempt him; but his grief is not to be thought of as distress, it is rather that he was "moved with indignation," and therefore found an immediate and severe judgment necessary.

2. Notice that the basis of all the wrong in Israel is recognized as unbelief; but that is not here an intellectual sin, it is a heart sin; it is not "inability to believe," it is "untrustfulness," and untrustfulness when God had laid down such abundant grounds for their trust.

3. Notice that the judgment fell upon the generation, and not upon the race. In all God's judgments that recognize personal failings, we may find personal suffering and loss, but no frustration of the Divine purposes. The untrustful generation died in the wilderness; but the race, in good time, entered and possessed the "rest" of Canaan.

4. Notice that our own human feelings enable us to understand the Divine indignation. All good men love to be trusted. You can never so sorely try a good man as by failing to trust him. This applies even more strongly to those who are in close, loving, family relations with us. The supreme indignity, to our humble view, is a son failing to trust a good mother. Work out the various relations in which God, the infinitely Good One, stood to Israel, and stands to us; and so bring to view the shame of our untrustfulness, and the reasonableness of our coming under disciplining Divine judgments. - R.T.

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