Psalm 100 is one of the absolute classics of the psalter. There is a reason that the tune to which this psalm is most often sung (at least in the English-speaking contexts of which I am aware) is called “OLD HUNDREDTH.” Like other titles of endeared familiarity—like “Old Ironsides” or “Old Glory”—it evokes a sense of stability, dependability, and close acquaintance. Even folks who are not in psalm-singing or exclusive psalmody traditions have likely sung the hymn (which is really just Psalm 100) “All People that on Earth Do Dwell,” or utilized the OLD HUNDREDTH tune to sing the “Doxology.”
Classical music aficionados are likely aware of the stirring hymn arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which he arranged for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. They might also be aware of Vaughan Williams’ companion arrangement, “The Hundredth Psalm” (O be joyful in the Lord).
But what about the marvelous psalm text that is often paired with these splendid musical settings? Psalm 100 is, in fact, doxology at its finest. A text like Psalm 100 reminds us of what we were meant to do as a people—what we were created for.
For me, this psalm will always occupy a special place in my memories among the people of God. In our previous congregation, the first one I served as an ordained elder, we sang this psalm together as a congregation after a season where we had been providentially hindered from being together. I had the best seat in the house standing behind the pulpit, looking out at the faces of the whole congregation as we sang this psalm together. It was such a wonderful sight and sound when, in those first few weeks back, our congregation sang Psalm 100 loudly and full-throated. There was a sincerity behind those words and sung praises which I will not soon forget. Additionally, this was the final song of praise we sang together during my farewell service at that congregation, as we prepared to move on to a new call. For these reasons and more (including what it says in the text), Psalm 100 is among my most favorite chapters in all of Holy Scripture.
Dear Reader, you and I were created to worship God. We were made, designed, and intended to worship God. We see this at the very dawn of creation: Adam and Eve in the Garden, communing with the Lord, delighting to fellowship with him. We see this at the end of all time, when Christ returns and finally renders all things well and complete. Revelation 21:3 says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
From beginning to end, the constant refrain of Scripture is that mankind is made for worship.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, famously, like this in Question 1:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
More than anything else, that is our ultimate created purpose: to glorify and enjoy God. On this side of heaven, the primary way we do that (not the only way, but the primary way), according to the New Testament, is gathering together to worship God.
Our souls need this. We were created for it. That is why we sense such a void when we are unable to join in the assembly of God’s people for a season—be it because of our own health or injuries, or any number of providential hinderings.
So here is our basic thesis: You and I were made for worship; worship is God’s right; worship is good for us. The more we know the lovingkindness of God in Christ, the more worship will become our chief delight.
How do we know this? Let us look to Psalm 100.
If you are reading it in the English Standard Version, you will see that it is broken into four stanzas, since it is a song. It is rendered into five Bible verses, but four musical stanzas in this translation:
- Stanza 1: Worship God
- Stanza 2: Know this about God
- Stanza 3: Worship God (again)
- Stanza 4: Why we ought to worship God
And so we will use these four broad points as we consider the majestic 100th Psalm over the next few weeks in our Saturday Psalm Series.
Let us begin by considering the first stanza of this song of praise, starting at verse 1:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Or as some translations render it,
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come before Him with singing!
Come into his presence with joyful singing!
Let us think about that phrase, “make a joyful noise.” You should know that this is not just an encouragement for the tone-deaf among us. The word for “joyfully shout” actually is more like the worship equivalent of the homage-shout or fanfare given to a king.
For the Anglophiles among us, imagine something like a scene from the coronation of Charles III back in May of this year: the monarch appears at the western doors of Westminster Abbey in London. He processes down the aisle with regal pomp, wearing full royal regalia, and all the people in the congregation lift their voices together and cry out, “God save the King! Long live the King!” That is an homage shout, the joyful acclamation that we render when in the presence of royalty. Transpose that notion up, then, to the heavenly reality—how much more fitting for us to do so in the presence of the great King of heaven?
Incidentally, the Hebrew word for serve in this verse is the same that appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, and many times it is translated as worship. Serve or worship; both are legitimate translations. The great Old Testament commentator Derek Kidner says this: “In Hebrew as in English, worship or service is indivisible; it is a word which leaves no gap or choice between worship and work.”1
In the economy of Scripture and before God, to worship is to serve; to worship is to work. This is why the word liturgy literally means the “work of the people.” Liturgy, an order of worship, comes from the Greek words λήϊτος and ἔργον (leitos and ergon) becoming λειτουργία (leitourgia): work of the people2 Interestingly, the Greek word leitourgia is employed six times in the New Testament, including in Luke 1:23 in reference to Zechariah’s priestly service, and in Philippians 2:30 where Paul speaks of the saints’ labors to help him.3
A question that gets thrown around a lot, especially in the current, wider evangelical culture, is, “How can I serve the Lord?” or “How should I serve the Lord?” And, of course, many times we hear folks say, “Serve the Lord by going into missions,” or “Serve the Lord by becoming a minister.” Both of which are fine things.
One can serve the Lord and worship the Lord in feeding the hungry, in welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, or being a witness to Christ at the workplace. We can show our devotion to the Lord by the way we love one another (John 13:35), by the way we serve one another (Matthew 20:25–28), and by the way we love and serve our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). All true things.
But fundamentally, undergirding all those good and right labors and expressions of godly service, God’s people serve the Lord in praising him.
Do you see the posture, the attitude, the disposition the psalmist calls on God’s people to have? You see here in verse 1: praise, exultation. Shout joyfully! Serve with gladness! Come with joyful singing! Scripture makes it clear that the Lord wants his people to come into his presence not with some onerous sense of a wretched burden (“Ugh. . . church again. . .” ), but with a sense of, “You couldn’t keep me away from God’s house!”
I remember when my wife and I were in Mississippi, watching a ruling elder ordination exam, one of the current elders asked the candidate, “Are you committed to attending Sunday morning and Sunday evening worship?” He answered: “Let me tell you, I need to be in worship Sunday morning and Sunday evening because I am a sinner, and I need God’s gospel and God’s grace, and I need to be with God’s people.”
Oh, if that would be the posture of our souls. Texts like Psalm 100, and others like Psalm 84, make it clear that the souls of God’s people should be longing for God, for the house of God. Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere! We need to worship God, to meet with God, more than life itself. It ought to be that there is no place on earth that we would rather be than with the assembly of God’s people, in God’s house (whether that is in a building or even out in a field), together on God’s day, singing God’s praises.
But, we do not merely praise God with a spontaneous outburst of emotion, that is not quite what the Scripture is calling for. It is calling for worship that is fueled by truth; worship that is informed with knowledge of glorious truth indeed.
So, that brings us to our second broad point by which to study this passage, which we will take up in our next installment of the Saturday Psalm Series.
- Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 389.
- Strathmann, H., & Meyer, R. “λειτουργέω, λειτουργία, λειτουργός, λειτουργικός” In G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament Vol. 4, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 216.
- Luke 1:23; 2 Cor 9:12; Phil 2:17; Phil 2:30; Heb 8:6; Heb 9:21.
©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.
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