A Desire to Please and a Fear to Offend – Psalm 95

A Desire to Please and a Fear to Offend – Psalm 95

Matthew Henry, in commenting on Psalm 95 says that “[t]his psalm must be sung with a holy reverence of God’s majesty and a dread of his justice, with a desire to please him and a fear to offend him.” I’m wondering just how that was derived from this Psalm.

I don’t doubt that there we should desire to please and fear to offend God, if for no other reason than that I believe God commands us to do merely what is best for us in any case. But in this Psalm we have a description of approaching God, and it doesn’t seem to match this solemnity. Working from God’s Word (GW), the first couple of verses refer to shouting, using adverbs like “joyfully” and “happily.”

Now I don’t think reverence and happiness are incompatible. I don’t think shouting and reverence are incompatible. But I know plenty of congregations where they would be seen as such. A person who approached the song service by shouting joyfully would be very unwelcome. I won’t accuse Matthew Henry of making such a mistake. I don’t know precisely what his approach to worship would be.

At the same time we turn to fearing to offend. Again, a joyous response doesn’t seem to involve a fear to offend, but rather points to a situation in which perfect love has cast fear out (1 John 4:18). And no, I don’t think I’m confusing the awe/fear of reverence with fear as in terror. The one fear the Psalm calls for is a fear of being stubborn and closed off to God’s direction, a fear of testing God.

I may have been unfair to Matthew Henry here, but his entry on this Psalm doesn’t seem to match the spirit of the work.

2 thoughts on “A Desire to Please and a Fear to Offend – Psalm 95

  1. Henry, I wonder if you are making the mistake which many Anglican churches make of reading (or singing) only the first part of this psalm. The first seven verses indeed do not justify Matthew Henry’s comment. But the remaining verses are sterner stuff which justify Henry’s references to “a dread of his justice … a fear to offend him”. Of course there is some tension here with a simplistic “Jesus makes everything wonderful” Christianity. But the way these verses are quoted and used in Hebrews 3-4 shows that those who call themselves Christians but offend God by refusing to hear and obey his voice should indeed fear his justice.

  2. Peter, If I am doing that, it is not because I failed to read the rest of the Psalm. In fact, I have been reading it daily for over a week now on the way to two weeks. The problem, as I see it, is that it seems to me that the Psalm suggests the joyful coming before the Lord as the precise opposite of the rebellion. That doesn’t mean that the warning is not solemn or of none effect; it does mean that the point is not that one needs to be alert lest one offend God.

    I do not think that I advocate any form of “Jesus makes everything wonderful” Christianity. But in this case I do see a tension between “avoiding offense” and the joyful worship that is called for in the early part of the Psalm. At Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7), which I have also been reading daily, the problem was grumbling. There was, of course, no concern about offending God. Yet the prescription here is positive–be joyful, not negative–stop complaining.

    Perhaps that will clarify my objection to Matthew Henry’s comment a little better.

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