Summary: March 3, 2002 -- THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. (Ps. 95:1) Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42 Psalm 95 Title: “Preparing for a consciousness of God.”
March 3, 2002 -- THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. (Ps. 95:1)
Title: “Preparing for a consciousness of God.”
This psalm would have been appropriately sung as pilgrim worshipers approached the Temple for a festival. Which festival, Tabernacles, maybe, is uncertain. It is fitting for any of them. When the Temple no longer existed this psalm came to be used in the synagogue as an opening of the service, a call to worship. Even now it opens the Morning Prayer of the Catholic Church and is called the “Invitatory Psalm.”
Some scholars think that there was an annual celebration, perhaps during the New Year’s Festival, when Yahweh was symbolically enthroned as king, reminding the people of his sovereignty and that this would be one of the psalms sung. Since there is no real evidence for that, it is best to view the psalm in the broader context of a more or less typical “entrance liturgy.” As such the people would process from outside the Temple, through the courts of the Gentiles and Women up to the entrance of the Priestly Court wherein was contained the altar of sacrifice and the Holy of Holies. It is best to think of a recurring cultic-liturgical observance as the setting. The psalm, whose date of composition cannot be fixed, lends itself quite well to “psychological entrance,” into God’s presence as a beginning for all prayer, formal and informal, even if originally it was one of the great festival psalms.
It divides into two parts. The first part has two strophes: Verses one to five, is an extended call to worship God as creator and king of creation and verses six and seven, repeats the call in terms of God as shepherd and king of Israel. The second part, verses seven “b” to eleven, is a prophetic warning that entrance into God’s presence or Temple requires obedience to his word.
In verse one, Come…sing joyfully: The verb, r-w-`, in the hiphil form, “make a joyful noise,” indicates exuberant, noisy shouting such as a human king would receive upon entering a city.
“The rock of our salvation,” “Rock” is a title of honor for God, recalling the sacred, saving rock of the desert providing water for the people. The altar of sacrifice would also be a rock and remind them of God’s presence, reliably strong, stable yet capable of moving with his people.
In verse three, for: This important word, ki in Hebrew, always follows calls to praise or thank. It introduces the reasons, more or less concrete, present and past, for praising or thanking God.
“The great king over all gods,” going back to Melchizedek in Genius 14: 18-20 God, Yahweh, was equated with the Canaanite “Most High God.” As such he was honored as creator of the world, sustainer, and Lord of any and all other gods.
In verses four and five, earth…sea: As creator, the extent of his power is limitless. “The depths of the earth,” the domains of the powers of death, and “the tops of the mountains,” the dwelling places of the deities of life, are subject to him.
Verse six, enter…bow down in worship: If an earthly king receives homage, is prostrated before and genuflected to, how much more appropriate should such body language be for God. Practically speaking, this posture kneeling would give more people a chance to see and hear what was going on.
Verse seven, God’s well-tended flock: God is “our God,” the God not only of the universe but also, specifically, of Israel, his special people. This special relationship is described in shepherd imagery common in the Near East to express a king’s proper role vis-à-vis his people.
“That today you would hear his voice”: The mood changes abruptly. A prophetic message is heard. Perhaps a priest or a cultic prophet or some Temple official speaks a warning that entrance into the presence and Temple of God involves extra-Temple behavior consistent with what God has revealed. “Hearing his voice,” does not merely mean listening to words. It means obeying them. Both in Hebrew and Greek the words for “hear, listen” also mean “obey.”
Today: This is the “liturgical or spiritual” present, reminiscent of Deut 4:40; 5:3; et al. The community is to make no essential distinction between God’s activity in the past and in the present. The word of God declared today makes that word present, no matter how long ago it was first uttered or written. “Today,” means now, the time for decision, the avoidance of procrastination.
Verse eight, do not harden your hearts: The wilderness generation is an example of the attitude of “hardened hearts.” They grumbled against God because they were not happy with their circumstances (Ex 17:1ff; Num20: 1ff). That generation beheld God’s works as does the present one, but they remained hardened.