Today if you will listen to his voice

At the end of verse 7, Psalm 95 changes gear[1].  The final section of the psalm makes it unique in the psalter.  95.1-7a is a beautiful hymn of praise but like many others in the Psalms (see Psalm 100).  The final four verses take us deeper into what it means to worship not only with our lips but with our lives.  They are the reason that the Psalm has been used to introduce Christian worship since the time of Benedict.

Commentators remind us of the sense of development and contrast between the first part of the psalm and the second.  We begin with praise and processession, with loud cries of joy and shouts of thanksgiving.  We move on to prostration: to peace and stillness before God.  We have remembered that God is creator and redeemer.  We are now in a place where we are able to listen: to hear the still small voice of God speaking to us.  We are reminded of Isaiah in the temple in Isaiah 6 where loud praise gives way to a call of God.  We are reminded of Elijah on the mountaintop in I Kings 20 where God is not in the earthquake, wind or fire but the still small voice of calm.

The first part of the Psalm summons us to joy and to speak aloud our praise.  But the second part summons us to listen.  The first part looks back to the past as we remember God our Rock and our salvation and the stories of the Exodus and the history of God’s people. The second part looks to the present and the future:  how will we live when we leave this time and place of worship.

The Psalms and prophets of the Old Testament wrestle with the tension between the worship of God’s people and the daily life of God’s people.  Israel is called to worship the one true God, the king above all gods.  But that worship is not simply about singing the right songs and attending the temple on the right days.  The LORD is a holy God.  Worship is meant to transform our lives and the life of our community. Therefore an essential part of coming with joy to the LORD is to listen and to understand and to obey God’s word to us today.

Today if you will listen to his voice

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year

[1] Most English translations move the final part of verse 7 into verse 8 to emphasise the change of mood

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