Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Thought for the day on the verse of the day: Psalm 95:6-7

The source of today’s Bible Gateway verse of the day, Psalm 95, will be familiar to older members of the Church of England as the Venite, from the Latin version of its opening exhortation: “Come!”
It continues in praise to God, the creator and saviour:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. 3 For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
So far, so positive, and then come the further words which form today’s verses:
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Ps 95:6-7, NIV)
What an encouragement it is, to realize that we are God’s people — the sheep of the Good Shepherd. But of course, the Psalm does not stop there, and neither should we! For v 7 continues into vv 8-9:
Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, 9 where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.
Thus exhortation and encouragement become admonition and warning — and warning turns finally into denunciation:
For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”
Indeed, so unpalatable does the message become by this stage, that later versions of Anglican liturgies have made vv 10-11 optional, as if we ought to block our ears or stop our mouths when God speaks words of judgement!
On the contrary, we absolutely must hear these words, for the writer of Hebrews picks them up in Hebrews 3:7-11, declaring that they are the words of the Holy Spirit and apply directly to us, especially the word ‘today’ in v 7: “Today if you hear his voice ...”
Hebrews continues with more words of warning, spoken to the church:
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Heb 3:12)
For the message of Psalm 95, according to Hebrews, is to treat ‘today’ as the day when God calls us to press on towards another ‘day’, which is the Sabbath rest of the people of God. Psalm 95 is indeed an encouraging word, but it is an encouragement to persevere in faith, rather than to fall away in unbelief, just as Hebrews says,
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
John Richardson
31 August 2010
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1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the problem with verses 10 and 11 is that it seems to show God passing judgement on the living (not in itself the problem), but then apparently excluding the possibility of reconciliation when he says, "They shall never enter my rest."

    Of course, the whole free will/foresight issue comes into play here, and we have to assume that God knows through foresight that the condemned generation will never, of their own free will, seek reconciliation, and since he wouldn't compel them to seek that reconciliation, he is in a position to say that they will never enjoy eternal life with him.

    But I can see the potential for people to end up getting the wrong impression by those verses and so I can see the reasoning behind cutting the canticle short after verse 7, particularly when there's no opportunity in the service to give an explanation of those verses.

    In our parish, we don't tend to go in for that kind of biblical censorship, and I have on several occasions discussed "confusing" bible readings with our priest or reader after a service. But I am mindful of the fact that many people wouldn't feel able to do that and may have gone home with an inaccurate understanding of what they've heard.