Theme: “Today, if you hear his voice…”
In this week’s lessons, we learn how and why to worship God, and also see the need to respond rightly to the gospel while there is still time.
Scripture: Psalm 95:1-11
There is one more thing we need to notice before ending our study of this psalm today. And that is that there is an inspired commentary on it in the New Testament, in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. These two chapters of Hebrews quote Psalm 95 no less than four times, beginning with an extensive citing of the entire last stanza (Heb. 3:7-11). In other words, Psalm 95:7-11 is introduced as a text to be expounded, just as I usually print out the words of a Bible text at the start of one of my sermons or Bible studies. After this, verses 7 and 8 are cited again in Hebrews 3:15, verse 11 in Hebrews 4:3, and verses 7 and 8 for a final time in Hebrews 4:7. This is probably the most thorough citing of an Old Testament passage in the New Testament.
There are several things to note.
1. The verses are applied to salvation through faith in Christ. In their Old Testament context they have to do with entering the Promised Land, and under normal circumstances we would have no warrant for applying them to anything else, except perhaps as an illustration of some spiritual truth. But here we have an inspired New Testament commentary on the psalm which tells us that the meaning of the psalm is not exhausted by the entry of the people into Canaan, or by their failing to enter, but is to be seen in the far more important matter of entering the promised rest of God which is in heaven. Derek Kidner says that Hebrews “forbids us to confine the psalm’s thrust to Israel. The ‘Today’ of which it speaks is this very moment; the ‘you’ is none other than ourselves, and the promised ‘rest’ is not Canaan but salvation.”1
Hebrews says, “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” This means that the psalm, which came later than the conquest, would not have been written; but it was written because the rest about which it speaks is more than the rest the people had after occupying Canaan and defeating its inhabitants.
2. The warning is for those who have heard the gospel and who seem to have responded to it. Others should be warned too, of course. But the uniqueness of Hebrews is that it is written to those who have heard the gospel, have even seemed to respond to it by attending Christian worship services, but who have never actually surrendered to Jesus Christ and are in danger of falling away from Christ entirely. The author of Hebrews traces this to unbelief, just as the psalm traces the rebellion in the desert to “testing” and “quarreling.” Hebrews says, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:12, 13).
3. It is important to believe on Jesus Christ now, while it is still “today.” The psalm says, “Today, if you hear his voice…” (v. 7), and Hebrews repeats “today” no less than five times (once each in Heb. 3:7, 13 and 15, and twice in 4:7). The point is that “today” is the day of gospel invitation, and it is a day that will not last forever. Now is the time to turn from sin. Now is the time to believe and follow Jesus Christ. Have you?
Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 343.
What interpretation does Hebrews make of the exiles and the Promised Land?
What is the equivalent to rest?
What message is conveyed in the passages studied stressing “today”?
How can you encourage one another daily? Do you do it?
Have you trusted Jesus Christ for your salvation?
Prayer: Ask God to draw close to you in corporate worship, and that you would focus on worshipping him and not be distracted by other things going on in your life.
For Further Study: The book of Psalms has much to teach us about worship. Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume study of the Psalms, and take 25% off the regular price.