If you have grown up in the church, Psalm 100 may be a well-known Psalm to you. It’s possible, depending on the denomination you grew up in that you read it (or potentially sung it) many times before. It has been used in the Presbyterian Church for many years as their processional Psalm. The fact that it is so commonplace in the church makes us run the risk of passing over it without giving it due time and process.
At the heart of Psalm 100, there is a message about the nature of our relationship with God that I believe is important for us to hear.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Ps. 100
The Psalmist calls “all the earth” to praise the Lord. Isn’t it amazing how the psalmist understood that the request to make praise to God is not merely a call for Israel, just as it is not only for the Church today? God’s intention and desire is for all humanity to join in making joyful noises to him. If this is God’s intent, then it would seem imperative to hear a warning in these words. We would bring decay to these words if we, the church, saw ourselves as separate from the world. God desires all to make a joyful noise. Too often the people of God have responded to these types of declarations in scripture as a way of seeing ourselves separate or better than the world. Instead, I hear these words and realize that I should be convicted to pursue the rest of God’s creation to turn and worship him as he desires. This desire of God that the psalmist captures should be a catapult into joining God in his mission to reconcile the world back to himself.
After the psalmist addresses the world, calling us all to shout to YHWH, he instructs us to respond in service. In their original context these words “serve the LORD” would have invoked thoughts of the Exodus for Israel. In the exodus, they were called to leave the rule of Pharaoh and head into the wilderness to serve YHWH, and this is still the call today. A call to serve under a new King and rightful ruler and to no longer be a slave to what has enslaved you. It was a call to freedom, and it is a reminder to us that service to God means living a life that is free from service to all created things. Idolatry cannot be a part of those who are in service to YHWH.
Upon receiving this invitation to serve YWHW, we are called to assemble in the midst of His presence to worship. Notice that psalmist draws a connection between shouting praises to God throughout the world, which is mission, the putting aside of all things that rule us to serve him and the coming together to worship. He is demonstrating for us attributes of the heart of God. His desire for all mankind, his unwillingness to share us with created things and his intimate love for all those that come to him in worship. It is out of God’s heart for us that the psalmist asks us to act in these ways. Then out of those three imperatives of shout, serve and come there is a command to know Him.
The Psalmist is not commanding you to learn something cognitively the statement is about reception. The psalmist is saying that you will recognize who God is through shouting, serving and assembling. This is not self-generated but is received. The knowing is dependent on the initiation of God rather than the emotional or spiritual output of the people who are assembling. God initiates in such a way that he reveals to humanity who he is along with what they are to do.
Each of these topics; crying a missional shout of joy among the nations, calling them to God; serving God by putting away all that we have allowed to rule us in order to worship him sincerely; to assemble in the presence of God with all of creation to worship and to know God not through study but through reception are all beautiful and important things for us to understand. If this were a lecture series where we could dig even more deeply into the text, I would have loved to expound upon each of these subjects, and although each point is beautiful if we were to focus on each imperative could cause us to miss the point of the 100th Psalm. To see that we must notice the presence of one thing and the absence of another.
As I read this psalm, I imagine the psalmist walking out to the front steps of the temple calling out to anyone that would hear. At the same time, I imagine him being unable to take his eyes away from what lies inside the temple. Almost as if he cries out with one eye fixed on the holy place. It seems that he speaks as one that is transfixed on God himself. The reason I imagine this picture is because of the use of YHWH in these first four verses. It would seem that its consistency is meant to show us that even though all humanity is being addressed, it is YHWH that is given the central role.
Helping us see this, is the use of YHWH through the first four verses. God is not identified with his attributes or given a role he’s accomplishing, as the psalmists usually do in the Psalms. YHWH is not given an attribute that he is using but is explained as a being, the being, the I AM, the God of heaven and earth. This is the point of the 100th psalm. All humanity is called to shout, serve, assemble for and know the personal and relational YHWH. He is being distinguished from all gods, deeds, traits, and attributes. Humanity is called to him because of who he is not because of what he does.
The psalmist has painted a picture of a personal God, calling to all people of the earth to serve him, come to him and worship him so that they may know him. The psalmist knows and see’s that God cannot be separated from his attributes and accomplishments and so he adds these in verse 5, but the break of the traditional hymnal structure tells us that psalmist is trying to stress God, not what God can do. He is trying to emphasize the centrality and totality of God. God calls to you, and he is worthy of your shouts of praise, worthy of your service, worthy of your worship, worthy of your time and every other part of you, not because of what he does for you but because of who he is. He is worthy because he is God.
The next time you go to into a worship service, when you sit down to study the scriptures, or you go to the table to partake of the bread and wine, take a second to think about Psalm 100. Reflect on the fact that you are not only offered attributes of God, but you are offered God himself. He has drawn near to you and calls you to draw near to him.