Psalm 94 Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly

Psalm 94 is well know to many of us through its use in the hymn that begins with “Come praise the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!”

The psalm has two sections: firstly, the call to worship in verses 1-7a and then a serious warning in the rest of the psalm. 

The original setting for the psalm seems to be a song for a solemn procession into the Temple. There are three calls to worship, suggesting a movement through three gates. The first call, in verse one, is a strong one: it means, “Come on now: let’s get moving!” The second call in verse 2 says “Let us SHOUT to God. Come on and raise the roof!” Then we have a third invitation in verse 6 which invites a physical action: “Come, let us   down, bow down and kneel before the Lord our Maker and Shepherd!”

Now that the congregation has settled in God’s presence the second half of the psalm gives a shocking serious warning. It begins with the voice of God using the word “Today!” This is an urgent appeal by the Lord.  The second important word is “Listen!” Stop pouring out your words and listen! Don’t just go through the motions of this ritual. “Do not harden your hearts!” Take things seriously, and don’t come to me with a weak doubting faith as they did in desert long ago when they complained to Moses at their lack of water, saying, “Is the Lord really with us or not!” Exod. 17.7. Verse 10 puts the picture clearly, “They were people with straying hearts, so I swore ‘They will not enter my rest’”.

That’s a tough ending to this psalm. There’s a warning and the people are left on their knees wondering.

For us today some commentators would say that our worship can be too nice, too friendly, too forgiving, lacking a sense of the immensity of the Creator of our thirty trillion galaxies. Yet this awe-inspiring Presence has reached out to us in a particular way through the womb of a village girl in Nazareth.  This psalm leaves us still on our knees in wonder and gratitude. 

We can truly respond with this daily morning prayer which the church has used over the centuries, “Come, praise the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!”

Two words stick with me from Psalm 94: these are “Today” and “Listen”. That’s plenty to be getting on with!

Come and sing with joy to God!  Hail the rock who saves us!
Come before him giving thanks,  praise the God who made us.
Listen to the voice of God.  Harden not your hearts.

Come, adore on bended knee, praise the God who made us!
Praise the shepherd of our flock, praise the hand that leads us.
Listen to the voice of God.  Harden not your hearts.

“Do not put me to the test, doubting like your fathers
In the desert long ago, when they tried my patience!”
Listen to the voice of God.  Harden not your hearts.

Psalm 94 : Words and music  Noel Donnelly (c) Kevin Mayhew. Recorded by Grace Buckley.