Shiur #04: Psalms 95-100 – Six Psalms of Praise

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

* Contemporary Biblical commentators and scholars have pointed to the striking connections among Psalms 95 to 100, all of which fall into the category of psalms of praise in the book of Tehillim.[1] Prof. Yaakov Licht devoted a short but rich article to this set of psalms: "Kevutza shel Mizmorim Le-Khevod Malkhut Hashem." [2]

At the beginning of his article, Licht writes as follows:

We are accustomed in our study to deal with the isolated psalms of the book of Tehillim, without paying special attention to sets or collections of psalms that were included in the book of Tehillim that is before us. At first glance, this practice is justified, for in most of these sets and collections the psalms were joined together in a mechanical manner or according to superficial criteria (e.g., by way of association). There is, however, no rule without an exception to the rule…

Below I will try to point to one set in the book of Tehillim, which is not a collection of psalms void of an inner connection, but rather a sort of literary work in its own right. This is a work that is indeed comprised of independent parts, but nevertheless unites those parts, both in content and in form, and in their combined state bestows upon them additional meaning and new significance.

Psalms 95-100 join together to form a separate group, by virtue of three common features: 1) a unified theme; 2) several repeated expressions; 3) parallelism in structure (of the entire unit of six psalms) and conceptual connection.

I. Three Pairs of Psalms Integrated With Each Other

Later in his presentation, Licht notes that the six psalms are divisible into three pairs of psalms, with striking parallels between the two psalms of each pair. The three pairs are:

  1. The opening psalm (95) and the closing psalm (100);
  2. The second psalm (96) and the fourth psalm (98);
  3. The third psalm (98) and the fifth psalm (99).

Thus, the structure of the set is as follows:

I(95)    II(96)   III(97)  II1(98)  III1(99) I1(100)

Regarding the structure of the collection, Licht writes:

What is important here is that we do not find the partner of any psalm in our group adjacent to it… Were there three consecutive pairs of psalms (I-I1; II-II1; III-III1), this would merely reflect the editor's desire to juxtapose similar psalms. Integrating the pairs into each other attests to the objective of the combination and preserves the unity of the group. The format of the combination [of the three pairs] distinguishes between a frame (I-I1) and the body of the group (II-III; II1-III1). A detailed analysis of the psalms must be done in pairs.

In this context, we will not bring Licht's detailed analysis of the three pairs of psalms. We will only present a partial set of parallels between the psalms of each pair, and we will do this in the order followed by Licht. In the parallels that we will present below, we will make use of Licht's work, but we will also add insights of our own.

II. Psalms 96 and 98           

The second and fourth psalms are both psalms of praise of the type that we described in section I of our study of Psalm 100 (which is also of that type). These psalms contain a "praise framework," which consists of an appeal to those who are present to praise God and a rationale for that appeal beginning with the word ki, "for, because." In both of these psalms, this framework appears twice, and thereby determines the structure of each psalm:

First half: First praise framework:

 

Psalm 96

Psalm 98[3]

The appeal:

1-3

O sing to the Lord a new song…

11

O sing to the Lord a new song[4]

The rationale:

4-6

For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised

12-3

For He has done marvelous              things…[5]

 

Second half: Second praise framework:

 

Psalm 96

Psalm 98

The appeal:

7-10

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples… Tremble before Him, all the earth. Say among the nations that the Lord reigns…

4-6

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth…

Make a joyful noise before the Lord, the king.[6]

The response:

11-12

[…]

7-8

[…]

The rationale:

13

Before the Lord: for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth: He shall judge the world in righteousness, and the people in His faithfulness.

9

Before the Lord; for He comes to judge the earth: with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity.[7]

 

In each of these two psalms, 96 and 98, an additional component is found in the second half between the "appeal" and the "rationale." This component is a description of nature's response to the appeal made in that half (and in Psalm 98, nature includes also human beings):

Psalm 96 (11-12)

Psalm 98 (7-8)

Let the heavens rejoice, and the earth be glad;

Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof:

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it:

Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy.

Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof;

The world, and they who dwell therein.

Let the rivers clap their hands:

 

Let the mountains sing for joy together.

 

The description of this response "thickens" the second half of each psalm, making it somewhat longer than the previous half. If we disregard this component, and compare only the appeals and rationales in each of the psalms, the two halves of each psalm are (almost) exactly the same in length.[8]

III. Psalms 97 and 99

The parallelism between the third and fifth psalms is much less impressive than the parallelism between the psalms in the other two pairs. Here too, as in the pair discussed above, the two psalms open with the identical words, "The Lord reigns," and the verse that opens each of the psalms is constructed in similar fashion (although they appear to have opposite content):

Psalm 97

Psalm 99

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;

Let the multitude of isles be glad.

The Lord reigns; let the people tremble:

He is enthroned upon the keruvim; let the earth be moved.[9]

 

There is a chiastic relationship between the opening verses of the two psalms: Psalm 97 opens with the response of the earth itself to God's appearance as king (and therefore it speaks of the earth in the feminine; see section II in this study), and closes with the multitude of isles, which appears to refer to the inhabitants of the multitude of isles, as is the case in other verses in Scripture.[10] Psalm 99 opens with the response of the people, and closes with the response of the earth itself.

However, as stated, the opening verses of these two psalms appear to have opposite content. The response in Psalm 97 is one of joy and gladness, while the response in Psalm 99 is one of trembling and movement out of fear and dread. There is, of course, no contradiction. God's appearance as king gives rise to both of these reactions, both with respect to the earth itself and with respect to its inhabitants – human beings. This twofold reaction finds expression in the continuation of each psalm. In Psalm 97, which opens with a response of joy and gladness, we read later in the opening passage about the earth trembling before God, and in Psalm 99, which opens with the nations trembling before God's appearance as king, we read later in the opening passage about a response of thanksgiving to God:

Psalm 97:3-5

Psalm 99 (2-3)

A fire goes before Him, and burns up His enemies round about.

His lightnings lightened the world: the earth saw and trembled.

The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord; at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

The Lord is great in Zion; and He is high above all the peoples.

Let these praise Your great and terrible name, for it is holy.

 

We see, then, that we cannot conclude from the opening verses of each of the two psalms that the psalms are opposite in content. Both of them describe a twofold reaction to God's appearance in His world, and it is only the order of the responses that reverses itself from one psalm to the next.

We can also point to a similarity between the closing verses of each psalm:

Psalm 97 (12)

Psalm 99 (9)

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous;

 

And give thanks to His holy name.

Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill;

For the Lord our God is holy.

 

In each of these closing verses, a directive is issued to those present to rejoice in God or to exalt Him, and both of them conclude with God's holiness.[11] If so, regarding this pair as well, like the previous pair, we find two psalms in a similar framework.

Even though it is difficult to point to clear linguistic connections between these two psalms or to a structural similarity between them, as we find in the other two pairs in this set of psalms, these two psalms nevertheless comprise a distinct pair within the set by virtue of several features that distinguish them from the other four psalms:

1. Psalms 97 and 99 are both psalms of praise to the king of the world – "The Lord reigns" – but they are not psalms of praise of the type that we have discussed at length until now, as are the other four psalms in our set of psalms. They are not built around the familiar format of "a call to those present to praise God – the word ki – a rationale." The format of these psalms is almost the opposite: These psalms open with a description of God's appearance as king (which to a certain degree parallels the "rationale" in the other psalms of praise), and they continue with a description of various audiences, who respond on their own to God's appearance (which to a certain degree parallels the "call to praise God" in the other psalms of praise).

The primary role of the psalmist in these psalms is not to mediate between the audience and God by calling upon the former to praise the latter, but rather to describe the spontaneous response on the part of various audiences to God's greatness and kingdom that become revealed to them. This role allows him to describe different audiences at the same time, including audiences that are not comfortable with God's appearance, and regarding whom an appeal to praise God would not have been heard.

2. Nevertheless, the psalmist in these psalms does not completely surrender his active role as one who calls upon a particular audience to respond to the appearance of God's kingdom in the world.

            In Psalm 97, this finds expression at the end of the psalm, in an appeal to the audience alluded to in the opening verse – that part of human society that rejoices in God's kingdom: "Let the multitude of isles be glad." He addresses them in the second person in the closing verses:

10: You that love the Lord, hate evil…

12: Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to His holy name.

In Psalm 99, this finds expression in the repeating refrain, which contains in an exceedingly brief form the "praise framework" that we encountered in previous psalms of praise:

9: Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill (a call to praise)

for (ki) the Lord our God is holy (the rationale).

The psalmist's flexible role in this pair of psalms allows him, on the one hand, to describe processes as a bystander, while on the other hand, to take an active part in the drama that he describes. He turns to the human audience present before him to respond in appropriate manner to the event that he describes in his poem.

3. Another common denominator between these two psalms, which distinguishes them from the other four psalms, is that the psalmist's flexible role in the two psalms brings him to turn also to God in the second person, something that we do not find in the other four psalms of praise in the set:

Psalm 97

Psalm 99

8: …Because of Your judgments O Lord.

9: For You, Lord, are high above all the earth: You are exalted far above all gods.

3: Let them praise Your great and terrible name…

4: …You have established equity; you execute justice and righteousness in Yaakov.

8: You answered them, O Lord our God: a forgiving God was You to them.

 

4. Finally, there is a substantive motif common to both psalms. In both psalms, God's kingdom is connected to the justice and righteousness that He will execute in the world:

Psalm 97

Psalm 99

2: …Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His throne…

6: The heavens declared His righteousness…

8: Zion heard and was glad… because of Your judgments O Lord.

4: O mighty king, who loves justice

You have executed equity

You execute justice and righteousness in Yaakov.

 

The two psalms are alike not only in their use of the terms "righteousness" and "judgment," but also in their description of God's governance of His world in accordance with these principles.[12]

We can conclude by saying that while there are only a few linguistic and substance connections between Psalms 97 and 99, these two psalms stand out in that they alone among all the psalms in the larger set fall into a different category of psalms of praise, whose members do not have the format characteristic of the other four psalms. The different format of these two psalms allows for a broader and more varied description of the end of days, when God will appear as king of all the earth,[13] and allows also for greater flexibility regarding the role of the psalmist.

IV. psalms 95 and 100

Like the pair of psalms 96 and 98, which was the subject of our first comparison, the psalms which comprise the frame of our set of psalms – the first psalm (95) and the last psalm (100) – are two psalms of praise that contain the characteristic "praise framework," this framework appearing twice in each psalm.

In Psalm 100, this repetition determines the structure of the psalm, as we demonstrated in section VI of our study of that psalm, but this is not the case in Psalm 95, in which the two praise frameworks extend over slightly more than the first half of the psalm, whereas the second half contains a reproach directed at the people of Israel.

First, let us compare the parallel parts of the psalms:

The First Praise Framework:

 

Psalm 95

Psalm 100

The appeal:

(1) O come, let us sing to the Lord

Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation

(2) Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving[14]

(1) Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

(2) Serve the Lord with gladness:

Come before His presence with singing.

The rationale:

(3) For the Lord is a great God,

And a great king above all gods.

(4) In His hand are the deep places of the earth;

The mountain peaks are His also.

(5) The sea is His, and He made it:

And His hands formed the dry land.

(3) Know that the Lord He is God:

It is He who made us; and we belong to Him.

 

Psalm 95 opens its appeal with the words, "O come, let us sing," and ends it with the words, "and let us make a joyful noise to Him," while Psalm 100 reverses the order. It opens its appeal with the words, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord," and ends it with the words, "come before His presence with singing."[15]

The rationale in Psalm 95 is much longer than the one in Psalm 100, and also slightly different from it. Nevertheless, there is great similarity between the two rationales. Both of them open with the word ki, which is followed by a description of God's greatness or His exclusive lordship.[16] The continuation of the rationale in the two psalms is the fact that God is the Creator, and that all created beings belong to their Creator. Both rationales are universal in nature, but Psalm 95 speaks of the creation of the land and the sea,[17] whereas Psalm 100 speaks of the creation of all of mankind. The fact that the created belong to their Creator is expressed in similar terms in both psalms, and once again, in reverse order:

95:5: The sea is His,            and He made it.

100:3: It is He who made us,      and we belong to Him.[18]

The Second Praise Framework

 

Psalm 95

Psalm 100

The appeal:

(6) Come (bo'u) let us worship and bow down:

Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.[19]

(32) His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

(4) Enter  (bo'u) into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise:

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

The rationale:

(7) For He is our God;

And we are the people of His pasture, and the flock of His hand.

(5) For the Lord is good;

His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.

 

Even though both appeals open with the directive "bo'u," and the two rationales open with the word ki, contents-wise they are very different. The appeal in Psalm 95 means: Come let us accept God's yoke upon us. This is the meaning of the three verbs, "let us worship," "let us bow down," and "let us kneel," which express submission and giving honor to the ruler. The rationale for this lies in the fundamental relationship between God and us – the people of Israel: He is our God and we are His people whom He tends – the flock of His hand. This relationship between the people and their God, which is expressed in both the appeal and the rationale, is the constant and normative relationship that must exist between them at all times.           

This is not the case in Psalm 100. The appeal, "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving," is based on the assumption that God has performed a special kindness to "His people and the flock of His pasture," and therefore they must come to His Temple with a thanksgiving-offering and thank Him for this kindness.[20] The rationale as well alludes to the fact that God was good to His people and kept His covenant with them, and we already explained at the end of section XI that the reference here is to the fact that God redeemed His people, and that these words are directed to the future.

Despite the difference between the contents of the second praise framework of each psalm, they are alike in a fundamental and striking way. In both psalms, the call and the rationale are explicitly directed at the people of Israel. In Psalm 95 this follows with certainty from the wording of the rationale: "And we are the people of His pasture, and the flock of His hand," and in Psalm 100 this follows from the words of address at the beginning of the framework, in the almost identical words: "His people, and the flock of His pasture."[21]

Furthermore, in the two psalms, the second rationale, which is connected specifically to the people of Israel, stands out against the backdrop of the universal rationale in the first praise framework. There the rationale for the appeal lay in the fact that God created the world, whereas here it lies in the relationship between Him and the people of Israel.

(To be continued next week.)

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

 

* The two parts of this study stand on their own, but at the same time can be viewed as yet another appendix to our study of Psalm 100.

[1] Regarding this category of psalms, see section I of our study of Psalm 100.

[2] In: Pirsumei ha-Chevra le-Cheker ha-Mikra be-Yisrael, I, ed. by Dr. A. Biram, Jerusalem 5715, pp. 157-166.

[3] At the beginning of Psalm 98, we find a one-word heading: Mizmor, "A psalm" (this is the only instance of such a heading in the book of Tehillim). All the other psalms in the set of psalms under discussion lack headings, with the exception of Psalm 100, whose heading reads: "A psalm of thanksgiving."

[4] Both appeals open with the same words, but there is a clear difference between them: The appeal in Psalm 96 extends over three verses, and also spells out to whom the appeal is addressed (continuation of verse 1): "Sing to the Lord, all the earth," that is, all the inhabitants of the earth (see section II of our study). The appeal in Psalm 98 consists exclusively of the words cited above, and thus does not clarify who the addressee is. It seems, however, that this appeal as well is directed at all of humanity. This follows from the rationale for this appeal (see next note), and also from the second appeal, in the second half of Psalm 98, in verse 4: "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth."

[5] The rationales in the two psalms are almost equal in length, but very different in content. In Psalm 96, the rationale is universal: God's greatness and His being the world's Creator: "But the Lord made the heavens" (v. 5). In Psalm 98, the rationale is connected to God's actions in history: "For He has done marvelous things" – in that He delivered the house of Israel in the sight of the nations. The root yod-shin-ayin is found in the rationale three times: "His right hand have gained him the victory (hoshi'a)" (v. 1); "The Lord has made known His salvation (yeshu'ato)" (v. 2); "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of (yeshu'at) our God" (v. 3). And the salvation lies in the fact that "He has remembered His love and His truth (= His covenant; see section VIII in our study) towards the house of Israel." We already wrote in section IV in our study of Psalm 100 that this is one of the psalms that call upon the nations to praise God for having delivered Israel.

It should be noted that despite what has been said in this note, there is a linguistic connection between the rationale in Psalm 98 and the appeal in Psalm 96:

Psalm 96 – the appeal

Psalm 98 – the rationale

(2) Annnounce His salvation from day to day

(3) His wonders among all the peoples.

(2) The Lord has made known His salvation

(12) For He has done marvelous things.

 

[6] The two appeals are alike in that they are explicitly directed to all the peoples (the same is true of the appeals in the first half of these psalms, but this is not explicit in Psalm 98; see note 4). The striking difference between the two appeals is that the appeal in Psalm 96 calls upon the nations to engage in verbal praise – "Acribe to the Lord glory and strength"; "Say among the nations…," and also praise by way of a physical act – "O worship the Lord…." The appeal in Psalm 98, in contrast, calls upon the nations to engage exclusively in musical praise – "Make a joyful noise… make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing to the Lord with the lyre; with the lyre, and the voice of psalm. With trumpets and sound of a shofar make a joyful noise…"

[7] Both of the rationales contain the word ki, and the linguistic and substantive correspondence between them is almost absolute. In this way, the framework of these two psalms – both of them opening with the words, "O sing to the Lord a new song," and the identical conclusion with the rationales cited above – create a great correspondence between the two psalms, which strengthens the argument that they comprise a pair.

[8] Psalm 98: First half – 46 words; second half (without the description of nature's response) – 49 words. Psalm 98: First half – 31 words; second half (without the description of nature's response) – 31 words.

[9] The parallelism in this verse is deficient, and the second clause should be completed with the addition of the word "reigns" from the first clause. This is the only instance of the word tanut in Scripture, and it may be understood that the letter nun replaces the letter mem: tanut = tamut = titmotet, collapse; or that the letter tet replaces the letter dalet: tanut = tanud = titnoded, move.

[10] For example, Yeshayahu 41:5-6; 49:1; 66:19; Yirmeyahu 31:9.

[11] This similarity is not as clear as the similarity between the opening verses of the two psalms. Attention should also be paid to the fact that the closing verse in Psalm 99 serves as a refrain. It appears also at the end of the first half of the psalm, in verse 5: "Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool; for He is holy."

[12] In Psalm 97: "A fire goes before Him, and burns up His enemies round about" (3); as opposed to: "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart" (11). And in even stronger fashion: "He preserves the souls of His pious ones; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked" (13). In Psalm 99, God answers Moshe, Aharon, and Shemuel who call upon Him, and speaks to them in the cloudy pillar, by virtue of the fact that "they kept His testimonies, and the ordinance that He gave them" (7).

[13] Like Psalm 99, the four psalms that we have discussed thus far – Psalms 96, 98, 97, and 99 – are all "eschatological psalms," and everything that we wrote in the appendix to our study of Psalm 99 regarding eschatological psalms is valid with respect to these psalms as well.

[14] The first clause in verse 2, "Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving," is similar to the second appeal in Psalm 100 (verse 4): "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving," but it would appear that the reference is not to the same "thanksgiving." The thanksgiving in Psalm 100 is a thanksgiving offering, with which one should enter the gates of the Temple; the thanksgiving in Psalm 95 is words of thanksgiving, as follows from the parallelism in the verse:

Let us come before His presence       with thanksgiving

And with psalms                       make a joyful noise to him.

[15] This inversion attests to an intentional connection between the two psalms in accordance with the principle identified by Moshe Zeidel, and called by his name (Chikrei Mikra, [Jerusalem, 5738], p. 2): "I wish to point out to the reader an interesting phenomenon that I came across, with God's help, incidentally in the course of my work, namely: chiastic order in parallelism. A prophet who uses the phrases of a verse hovering before his eyes, uses them in reverse order, advancing the later expression in the same verse, and delaying the earlier expression." Below, in the body of the study and in the notes that follow we will bring additional examples of this principle.

[16] Zeidel's principle is evident in this parallel as well:

95:3:  For a great God      is the Lord.

100:3: That the Lord        He is God.

[17] The fact that the different parts of the world belong to their Creator is expressed in two dimensions: The vertical: "the deep places of the earth" and  "the mountain peaks"' and the horizontal: the sea and the dry land.

[18] Here too, we can invoke Zeidel's principle (see note 15) as testimony to the intentional connection between these two verses. The parallelism between the verses reinforces the interpretation of the words "hu asanu" in Psalm 100 as "He created us" – all of mankind, in the primal creation (see section V of our study of Psalm 100). This parallelism also reinforces the interpretation of the verse in Psalm 100 in accordance with the way the word is read: ve-lo (with a vav) anachnu.

[19] "The Lord our maker" in this appeal is, of course, reminiscent of what is stated in the rationale for the first appeal in Psalm 100 (v. 3): "It is He who made us." It is possible that these words mean the same thing in both places: He is our Creator, He created us.

[20] It turns out that the meaning of the directive "bo'u" in Psalm 95 is not the same as its meaning in Psalm 100. In Psalm 95, this directive comes to goad the people (like the imperative "lekhu," come, at the beginning of this psalm); in Psalm 100 the command, "bo'u she'arav," relates to a change in the location of the addressees of this appeal. See section VII of our study of Psalm 100, where we distinguished in similar manner between the words "Come (bo'u) before His presence with singing," in the first half of Psalm 100, and the words, "Enter (bo'u) into His gates with thanksgiving" in the second half.

[21] a. Here too we see signs of the Zeidel principle (see note 15): The same words which close the praise framework in one psalm become the opening words in the parallel framework in the other psalm (or vice versa). So too, the order of the words are reversed from one psalm to the other:

95: The people of His pasture,       and the flock of His hand.

100: His people, and the flock       of His pasture.

b. The location of this formulation accords with the context of the entire psalm. In Psalm 100, the first half is dedicated to the appeal to "all the earth" – to all of mankind, and therefore the words "His people, and the flock of His pasture," appear at the beginning of the second half, in order to indicate a change in the addressee. Psalm 95, in its entirety, is addressed to the people of Israel, a fact that we will discuss later in this study. Therefore, there is no need for special words of address to clarify this, neither in the first praise framework, nor in the second. The novelty in the second praise framework in Psalm 95, is that the mutual relationship between the people and their God serves as a rationale for the call to praise God that precedes it, and therefore the rationale ends with the formulation that defines this mutual relationship.