We come to the second installment of our devotional series considering the 100th Psalm. In the English Standard Version, the psalm 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
Thus, we have opted to use these four broad categories to study the majestic 100th Psalm in our Saturday Psalms series.
Previously, we considered the first part of this outline of Psalm 100: Worship. Today, we consider the second and third parts: Know, and Worship (again!).
Let us look at that second stanza of this song; verse 3 in our Bibles:
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Know something! Note the transition between verses 2 and 3: “Come before Him with singing”—and then it is immediately followed with the command to know. In other words, if you are going to shout joyfully, if you are going to serve with gladness, know something upon which to base your jubilation. Joyful singing is based upon truthful knowing.
Alistair Begg tells the story of how years ago, traveling out of town, he went to a church near his hotel one Sunday. The service began with the song leader walking on stage and calling to the congregation, “Hey! How do you all feel today?”
And Alistair (in quintessential Scottish curmudgeonly spirit) thought to himself: “That is it?! How do I feel? It is 8 o’clock in the morning! I spilled coffee down my shirt coming in. I kicked the cat on the way out the door (I do not even own a cat!). I did not read my Bible. I am a miserable wretch . . . How do I feel? I feel rotten! What do you got for me?!”
He continued, “[You want to prompt my worship], do not ask me how I feel, ask me what I know. Ask me what I know about God, what I know about his Word; ask what I know to be a verity, that can deal with my soul.”
Begg is absolutely right. It is the verities of Scripture that fuel our hearts and emotions and lead us to God-reveling worship.
Hence, the psalm before us today (in its classical metrical rendering):
All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice
Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell
Come ye before Him and rejoice
Rejoice with mirth, based on what? Why rejoice before the Lord with mirth?
We are told three reasons in this third verse: 1) The Lord is our God, 2) He made us, 3) We are his people, like sheep in the pastures of a shepherd.
1. The Lord is God
Notice that the word “LORD” is in all caps in our English Bibles. That is an editorial tradition, that when the name “YHWH” appears in the Hebrew, it is often rendered LORD (at least in English Bible translation tradition). The name YHWH is what is behind that LORD and it refers to the specific covenant-keeping God who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and was faithful to them through the centuries and who promised the Messiah. In other words, verse 3 says, YHWH is the one true God. There are no true gods besides him. He is absolute over all powers and authorities in the cosmos. If we are to worship God, we must know this: He is God and there is none like him. And that alone makes him worthy of our worship.
2. He made us
But (as the gameshow hosts might say), there is more! Not only must we know that the Lord is God and is worthy of our adoration; we must also know that, in addition to his being the sovereign King over all the cosmos, he is the one who created us. We did not make ourselves. He is the creator; we are the creatures. He is the potter; we are the clay. He molded and fashioned us; made us and brought us into being. Therefore, we owe him our fealty and homage, and yes even our worship.
That is quite the jarring admonishment for our postmodern age—an age drowning in delusions of self-determination and autonomy. We are not our own. We are not self-determinative or self-existent. We are dependent on God for our very existence.
But then, you see, the implication the psalmist draws out is not that we are vulnerable so much as we are cared for.
3. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture
In other words, the psalmist declares that since he made us, we belong to him. And the way God relates to us is as a shepherd relates to his sheep.
Now, on the surface, this might seem odd. When I engage in a moment of self-reflection, I usually think of myself by default as a husband, a father, a son, a friend to so-and-so, or a minister. I do not intuitively perceive myself as a sheep, though I grasp the metaphor. Then I am reminded that what the psalmist is doing here is not so much an exercise in psychological self-conception, but rather he is doing the same thing as David does in Psalm 23. That is, in this ancient Near Eastern culture, it was very common for rulers, for kings, to describe themselves in relation to their people in terms of shepherding. The Mesopotamian kings would often describe themselves as shepherds over their subjects, the people of their nation. To invoke such language meant: I, the king, will protect you and guard you from enemies. I will watch over you; I will provide you with the food and sustenance that you need. In other words, the shepherd-king would protect and care for the sheep-subjects.
And so, David grabs hold of that common cultural imagery and says “Yes, I have a shepherd who will protect, provide, and care for me. And you know what, Israel? Instead of me telling you I am your shepherd like all these other kings, I will say this: the LORD is my shepherd . . . ”
Now there is a word for our deluded age. Our world teems and rages with all sorts of competing and conflicting ideas when it comes to provision and security. You might well ask yourself, what is my source of provision or protection? In whom—or in what—do you find your sense of reliance and stability? Yourself? Your family? Your job? In my mutual fund do I trust? The State?
No. Ultimately the psalmist has the answer for the Christian: The LORD is my shepherd . . . We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
To borrow that imagery from Psalm 23, the Lord provides green pasture, pleasant fertile fields in which to dwell and lie down and rest—plenty of green grass to eat. He leads me to still water—not raging rapids where I must risk my life in order to drink. He brings me to cool, refreshing streams where the water is abundant and pleasantly accessible. His rod and staff offer me protection from enemies. Moreover, I know my shepherd. Because I am a sheep, I do not really think for myself, but I instinctively follow his voice. And if he walks through valleys, that is fine. I will follow him right through even the most terrifying of trenches because he is inherently trustworthy, and I will implicitly follow him.
Dear readers, no man or woman is that trustworthy. I defy any of us to find anyone, even among our most cherished heroes, whom we would follow that unquestioningly. But Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 say that we are like sheep, but here is our shepherd: The great Jehovah, strong and mighty, full of grace and truth, steadfast, and full lovingkindness. He is the one who made you. And you are in his pasture. He is the one responsible for you. What could be better?
As Heidelberg Catechism puts it, God, through his Son our faithful Savior Jesus Christ preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.
Knowing the reality of your own “sheepness” and the reality of his Almighty Shepherd-care—that is part of why you should praise him.
Parents and Sunday school teachers, many of you might be instructing your children with the Children’s Catechism. Question #5 of that delightful catechism goes like this:
5. Why ought you to glorify God?
A: Because he made me and takes care of me.
The short, simple catechism question gets it absolutely correct. So simple, yet so profound. And the theology of that catechism question comes right out of Psalm 100. And in order to worship God gladly, we must know these truths about God.
And so, knowing these things, we are brought to the third broad point of our Psalm 100 study.
Stanza three of this psalm, verse 4 in our Bibles, tells us this:
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
Here is another summons to worship, not unlike verse 1. Enter with thanksgiving! With praise! Give thanks! Bless his name!
This A, B, A, B structure is not uncommon in Hebrew poetry. In Psalm 100, we see it as A (Worship God); B (Praise him this way); A (Worship God); B (Praise this other way, too).
Here, the psalmist is conjuring up the imagery of the temple in Jerusalem, the great house of worship at the capital of Israel. He is summoning the people to the temple, in a great assembly, to come praise their great God.
So, there is this first exhortation to worship God. And if the follower of the Lord is going to worship God, he is going to need to know these things about God which are outlined in the second section—they will serve to spur on his worship. And then, the disciple is exhorted to worship again, using different imagery this time, and it serves to heighten the mood, to really drive the reader through the psalm as we are brought to the grand, concluding crescendo at the end: Worship Him! Worship Him! Why?
In our next Saturday Psalm installment, we will consider the concluding section of Psalm 100 and give thought as to why the Lord is so worthy of our adoration and praise.
©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.
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