Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate, 60% Cacao
Today’s Passage: Psalm 95. Aw jeah, fam, we back in the Psalms.
This psalm is a call to worship. In the span of the first two verses, the psalmist uses the phrase “Let us shout joyfully,” with God on the receiving end of the people’s shouts of praise. I was tempted to look up the Hebrew word for “shout,” and perhaps there’s some hidden nuance in the original Hebrew language here. But today I’m gonna take the translator of the NASB at his word. It’s reasonable to expect that “shout” means “shout.” The psalmist is inviting the people to go loud.
When my dad comes back in town, it’s not uncommon for him to complain about the worship music volume at our home church. This psalm is a reminder that there’s nothing inherently wrong with loud worship, and in fact there are times when it’s appropriate to (shout! shout! shout!) shout at the Lord as an expression of your joy. But my church’s worship music is loud because of the volume level on the speakers; the worship band and singers on stage are the loudest ones by virtue of technology. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, either. But all said, I think my dad’s got a point, and I like the egalitarianism of Psalm 95’s summons to praise. “Let’s all get amped and sing to the Lord,” says the psalmist. “Let’s all make some noise to the the rock of our salvation” (95:1, Contemporary Jackson Ferrell Version).
Some Sunday mornings, I walk into the sanctuary and ask: “Why? Why should I sing? What’s the point?” But the psalmist has anticipated people like me, and he’s got answers. Right in the song, he tells us, “For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods” (95:3). In your usual bronze-age pantheon, you’ve got your god of the sea, your god of the earth, your god of fertility, and so on. Nope, says the psalmist, hitting all the usual domains of the so-called “gods.” He declares: “The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land” (95:5). One God created the earth and the sea, and they belong to him. Poseidon didn’t make the sea. Enki didn’t make the earth. Have you ever made a sea? How about mountains? No? It’s pretty impressive to make seas and mountains, so worship the God who did.
The second half of the psalm continues the invitation by encouraging the people to open their hearts to God. If you’re interested in seeing what a New Testament author has to say about this psalm, Hebrews 4 analyzes this section at length, but here let’s focus on the final lines of the psalm itself. It ends with God declaring:
For forty years I loathed that generation,
And said they are a people who err in their heart,
And they do not know My ways.
Therefore I swore in My anger,
Truly they shall not enter into My rest. (95:10-11)
Imagine ending a contemporary worship song with a line from Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“–perhaps something like “There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” Psalm 95’s last verses are about the Israelites’ disobedience after they left Egypt, and God’s wrath therefore consigning them to wander in the wilderness for an entire generation without entering the Promised Land. It’s as jarring as a dissonant note, a minor-chord cadence in a major-key piece, a raging Beethoven pounding the keys–and I’ll leave us all to contemplate what purpose such a disquieting move, conspicuously absent from our modern worship music, might serve in a song of praise.