The Stepwise Psalter
It is increasingly becoming apparent that, all other things being equal, reading Psalms in sequence is a deeply enriching and spiritually nourishing experience.
Positioning Psalm 95
One example may help to persuade the sceptic that hidden gems are missed if we make no allowance for the Spirit-inspired final Psalter compilation sequence.
I've always thought that Psalm 95, with its upbeat note, plus an added solemn threat, seemed a little out of place, alongside Psalms 91-99.
When you see Psalm couplets, like "soul-blessing" paired hymns 103-104, or "historical twins" 105-106, I ask should Ezra not have welded 95 to "old 100th"?
In both of these songs, all Yahweh's chosen lambs, are called to bleat praise out to the Creator of the Church for His regenerating work. So why does 95 follow 90-94?
When content and context is taken into account, and given due weight, I would, evidently be mistaken to assume Psalter misalignment or Psalm 95 misstep!
Placement in Book IV
Book 4 of the Psalter turns traumatized hearts of Second Temple worshippers back to the God of Moses - Ezra calms hearts, in light of dynastic collapse and Temple wreck, that despite the crisis with which Book 3 concludes (Psalm 89), the future is bright in the hands of the LORD of the Covenant.
It is a striking fact to note that the only Psalm attributed to Moses is found in Book 4. And while Mosaic content appears at other points, only once outside Book 4 is Jochebed's boy mentioned explicitly by name (Ps. 77:20; 90:1; 99:6; 103:7; 105:26; 106:16, 23, 32). In relative terms, the background drumbeat of Book 4, is a perfect seven-fold chant of Moses, Moses, Moses, Moses, Moses, Moses, Moses.
It looks like Psalm 90 was written in sight of Canaan, before Moses climbed the slopes of Pisgah, on the Plains of Moab. For 40 years, since God laid bare his arm, and the "sky signpost" appeared, the cloud of death-in-wrath had hung over Israel's camp. If lessons could be learned, God would establish future generations handiwork.
The thrust of the sequence of Psalm 91-4 seems to be this: if His chosen servant Israel would prove faithful to his call, and hide in Yahweh's wings, then the God of Moses, who did great things at first, would now also grant them conquest (Psalm 91). All the evil, both inside and outside, would be put out of the church and erased from the earth - God's seed would triumph by trampling Serpent sin under Israel's foot at length (Psalm 92-94), in His sovereign might: later Psalms in Book 4 (101-103) add the further thought that this long-awaited result comes about for saints focused on God's House with the future in-residence Davidic Prince (as Psalm 92:6-11, 12-15 hint).
Psalm 95 in Sequence
Where, then, you might ask, does Psalm 95 fit in? This Psalm resounds with gratitude to God for regenerating the Church. Just as at first seas were formed and hills were framed, so the Spirit breathed to force Egyptian waters back - dry ground appeared and Israel was saved. The upshot of this work after the Giving of the Law at Sinai, entering into Covenant, passage through the Wilderness, and crossing the River Jordan, was conquest under Joshua, the Period of the Judges, with the Kingdom being established, centralized and sworn under David.
But, of course, schism rapidly split the "model" prototype of God's definitive fulfilled Kingdom work, into bastard North and authentic South - after serial ups and downs, often teetering on the brink, theocratic Israel was finally torn down. God's wrecking ball of wrath smashed both Palace and Temple to the earth. Kingless, rudderless, Israel and Judah, was sent back-packing to Assyria and Babylon to serve its prison term.
When originally penned, Psalm 95, was written to warn "model" kingdom citizens, as the product of Exodus, not to despise God's grace, in light of desert-wanderings death. Those who had heard of the Judges, and fondly remembered Samuel, were taught in the First Temple to be fully committed to David and the very precious Kingdom promises bound inextricably to his bloodline. It was failure to heed this threat, brought by prophet after prophet, and to prefer Zion ground to Zion's God, that led to Jerusalemite demise and deportation that ensued.
By the days of Ezra, and the time of the final compilation of the Psalter, the "model Kingdom" had been smashed, and the promised, chosen, remnant nation had served their time and, eventually, as pledged, come back.
By careful placement of Psalm 95 after the sequence of 91-94, future cosmic bliss, global joy and kingdom peace, celebrated in Psalm 100, is tied into heeding God's threat. Those who returned must not ignore the warning of neglecting God's greater, final, redemption for which return is preparation.
Psalm 95 in Hebrews
In light, then, of the Messianic events associated with the conception, birth, growth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, it is not hard to understand why Psalm 95 becomes so intensely solemn and serious in the Book of Hebrews.
As Book 4 promised, and Book 5 celebrated, the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth, by blood, as Lord and Christ, had now secured the ultimate, eternal, divinely-covenanted realm. Believers in Jesus had found, by faith, redemptive relief and rest.
This now means that if signs and wonders of the "Crown Rights" of King Jesus and His Apostles are neglected or ignored, by those who saw, witnessed and received them, then salvation has been trampled and the Spirit of Grace blasphemed.
It is one thing to be entirely heedless of water-parting, Law-giving, covenant-making, pillar-leading, rock-streaming, quail and manna, and other jaw-dropping signs and judgments. It is off-the-scale spiritual block-headedness to be insensitively and callously blind and deaf to Christ - this is an ignorance and neglect that the Lord will not overlook, and from which there is no escape. How we ought to cherish all the privileges, responsibilities and duties of God's House's Gospel "Means of grace" in Mediator Jesus the True Melchizedek!
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will - Heb. 2:1-4
Nor should we let slip welcoming travelling messengers, doing good or sharing goods, which are needful duties of saints-on-saints:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God - Heb. 13:2, 16
What is the reason for such stubborn, dull, neglect? Being hardened to and heedless of, the greatness of Gospel grace, finalized in Christ and placarded at the Cross.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.' As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'" Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief - Heb. 3:7-19
It really does make you ask if it is not pastorally and spiritually dangerous in the extreme, to sing the brimming jubilation of the first half of Psalm 95:1-6 without proceeding to the booming conclusion of the second half of Psalm 95:7-11?
Does it not seem to strangely to miss the point of the threat of the Psalmist, Psalter and The Holy Spirit of God? Brevity of worship, at this point, is not expedient. There is nothing more disastrous that to despise God's ultimate grace which has been manifest in God's Christ.
This was a lesson and stress that Ezra, the priest charged by Persia with re-ordering Jewish religion, under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, intended Second Temple worshippers to pick up on, as they awaited the Coming Messiah. Nor did the point of the message escape the writer of the Book of Hebrews whose spiritual antennae seem to pick up the Spirit-intended "read-in-order" emphasis.
What is the message of Psalm 95 to us? Believe the Gospel! Repent of heedlessness! Cling to Grace! Cleave to Christ! Heed the Threat! Then, and only then, will you be able to sing Psalm 96-99 confidently with the Church through the coming wrath to the Kingdom Consummation that awaits. Then. and only then, can we harmonize happily with angel hosts and glorified sheep raising Psalm 100 in God's House. Then, and only then, will we sing holy final hallelujahs of Psalm 145-15o in the everlasting age to come.