Throughout the New Testament, we are given cautions and warnings. We are told repeatedly that we are to take lessons from what happened to our older brothers, the Jews. The things written down in Scripture were written for our edification, which means that we need to learn to read the narrative right. We are not told that the Jews could fall away, but that Christians cannot. Know that these warnings apply to us—not as though the decree of God’s election could be altered—but the warnings about our place in the visible covenant apply because our position is exactly that of the Jews. This will become plainer as we go on. The psalm is from David—although the psalm itself does not attribute it to David, that connection is made in the book of Hebrews (4:7).
“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, And make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, And a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: The strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: And his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, And as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, Proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, And said, It is a people that do err in their heart, And they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath That they should not enter into my rest” (Psalm 95).
Summary of the Text
Biblical faith is a corporate affair. The godly looks around himself, and says to others, “Come” (v. 1). We need many to gather in order to make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. We come before His presence with thanksgiving, and the fact of a joyful noise is mentioned again (v. 2). We make that joyful noise with psalms. Why do we do this? Because the Lord is a great God, a king above all the other gods (v. 3). The deeps are in His hand. The wealth of the deepest mines are His (v. 4). He fashioned the oceans, and His were the hands that formed the dry land (v. 5). So the great invitation is issued again. Worship is corporate. Let us worship. Let us bow down. Let us kneel before our Maker (v. 6). He is our God. We are the people of His pasture. We are the sheep in His flock (v. 7).
Up through the first half of v. 7, the voice is that of one of the Lord’s people, inviting others to gather together in worship. It is a psalm of sheep exhorting sheep. In the turn from v. 7 to v. 8, we see that the voice is now the voice of the Shepherd. Do not harden your heart as you did before (v. 8), as your fathers did before (v. 9). There is ambiguity in v. 10. Did they grieve the Lord for forty years, or did they wander for forty years because they had grieved Him? I take it as the latter. These people err in their hearts (v. 10), and as a consequence God swore in His wrath that they would not enter His rest (v. 11).
These Ten Times
As Israel was fresh out of Egypt, they tempted the Lord because of a lack of water, and the place where they did this had two different names given to it—Massah and Meribah. “And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:7). “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah” (Deut. 6:16; cf. 33:8). Despite their provocation in this, the Lord did not relegate to a generation in the wilderness yet. That came about a year later, after the episode of the return of the unbelieving spies.
“Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it” (Num. 14:22–23).
Because of “these ten times” when they tested the Lord, all within the first year of their time in the wilderness, the Lord sealed them up in that wilderness for forty years.
Entering His Rest
As this psalm is interpreted and applied by Paul in Hebrews, there are multiple layers to the meaning of rest. In the psalm itself, the Lord was angry with that generation, and swore that they would not enter Canaan-rest (Ps. 95:11). There is the antitype of this, in the wilderness generation of Christians preparing to invade the world with the gospel, in what might be called the Great Commission rest (Heb. 3:14). Then there is personal salvation rest (Heb. 4:1-3). Then we have what can be called our corporate weekly-foretaste rest (Heb. 4:9-10). And last, we have what I take as a final heavenly rest (Heb. 4:11).
As we consider these things, remember that God’ elect cannot be taken from His hand. Your regeneration is not reversible. No one can successfully thwart the work of salvation that God has once begun in a sinner’s heart.
At the same time, something can be thwarted. Apostasy is a real sin, committed by real people. It is not a sin that can be committed by any of God’s decretally elect, but it can be committed by individuals who are covenantally connected to Christ.
The New Testament Scriptures never say anything like this: In the Old Testament it was possible to fall away from the covenant, but now in the new covenant this is impossible. Not at all. “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29).
Jesus is the vine, and branches can be cut out of Him (John 15:1-8). Christ is the root of the Abrahamic tree, and Paul tells Christians that they can be cut out of it just as the unbelieving Jews had been (Rom. 11: 18-24), and for the same reasons. And what kind of things were written down for our example (1 Cor. 10:6)?
So the Christ in whom we must believe has always been a present Christ. The Christ in whom we do believe is a Christ who is near to His people, and has always been near to His people. And when this is proclaimed, and the vicarious blood sacrifice that He offered to His Father is preached, there is only one reasonable response to it all. Come, let kneel before the Lord our Maker.