Psalm 95 — A Message of Urgency
Though the superscription of the Old Testament text does not assign it to a particular author, the New Testament attributes Psalm 95 to David (cf. Heb. 4:7). And while it dates three millennia ago, it contains exhortation as valuable for us today as for the generation of the shepherd king.
Psalm 95 rather easily divides into three sections. First, there is an exhortation to worship Jehovah (1-2). Second, reasons for the validity of that activity are set forth (3-7). Third, there is a warning against becoming “hardened” to the truth (8-11).
In this study, we wish to focus upon but one phrase in this beautiful song — “Today, oh that you would hear his voice.”
The “Voice” of God
God is a Being of communication. He wants the human family, fashioned in his very image (Gen. 1:26-27), to know of his existence and his purpose on its behalf. He has wonderfully “declared” his existence in the glories of the created universe (Psa. 19:1ff; Rom. 1:20).
In ages past he spoke to great leaders via dreams, visions, and even “face-to-face” (cf. Gen. 20:1-7; Acts 16:9; Dt. 34:10; Heb. 1:1). But these were special forms of divine communication, and were never intended to be experiences for everyone throughout the whole of history.
It was the ultimate will of the Creator that his “mind” (will) for man be revealed in a series of sacred documents which would constitute an objective body of truth, verifiable on the basis of evidence. This was accomplished in that corpus of literature known as the Scriptures.
“Every scripture is inspired of God and also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Today, to hear the words of inspired scripture, is to hear the voice of God; conversely, to reject the testimony of scripture is to reject its Source (cf. Lk. 10:16). It is a serious thing — a fatal mistake — to shun the message of the Bible.
But David urges, “Oh that you would hear.” But what does it mean to “hear” the Lord?
Actually, in biblical parlance, “hearing” is frequently the equivalent of “obeying.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the term for obey is shama, which ultimately means to “hear.”
The people of Israel, for instance, are told by the Lord, “if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be mine own possession” (Ex. 19:5). If one is not obeying, he simply is not listening to God.
Similarly, a common term for obey in the Greek New Testament is akouo, “to hear.” A kindred form of this word is even more dramatic. It is hupakuo, literally, “to hear under.”
The idea suggested is that of one who places himself “under” another (a teacher) and “hears” with a view to practicing what he is taught. Hence, Paul could speak of those who became “obedient” (from hupakuo) from the heart to that form of teaching (the gospel) to which we have been delivered (Rom. 6:17).
Then there is the matter of that “today.” The term is not employed literally, of course; rather, it denotes that period of time when salvation is still being offered (cf. J. H. Thayer, Greek Lexicon, p. 574). There is a suggestion that on the “tomorrow,” there will be no opportunity provided.
Obviously, there is a certain urgency in the plea. The importance of hearing (obeying) God “today” is paramount because:
#The longer one yields to unrestrained sin, the more inclined he is to be hardened therein. “Exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
- Life is so uncertain. The rich fool, who had plans for “many years” (Lk. 12:19), did not have even 24 hours remaining on the clock of his life.
- Even at best, life is fleeting. Our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6); they are as a vapor that appears but for a little while, and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).
- There is no opportunity for obedience after death. Following death, there awaits only the judgment (Heb. 9:27). The vain promises associated with purgatory, baptism-for-the-dead, a second chance, reincarnation, etc., are illusory. There is no provision for preparation following the body’s final “slumber” (Mt. 25:1ff).
Psalm 95, and echoes thereof in the New Testament, speak eloquently to the man and woman of today. Those who “have ears to hear,” should do so with great dispatch. Are you listening to God’s voice?