St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Thursday, June 18
By: Edgar Twedt
Psalm 100 (nrsv)
1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
This beautiful psalm is an example of Hebrew poetry called parallelism, each stanza written in two lines (distich) or three lines (tristich). Each stanza in Psalm 100 is obviously a tristich. So verses one and two are a stanza, and verses three, four, and five are each separate stanzas. In each stanza (tristich) the second and third lines are more than mere repetition of words from preceding lines, or what one might call a paraphrase. The second and third lines intensify or compliment the thought of the first line. You can see this in each of the four stanzas in this Psalm. Stanzas one and three admonish us to worship (serve) God, and stanzas two and four tell us something about the God we are to worship. They are, in effect, the foundation on which stanzas one and three are built.
But there’s something strange going on here. Verse two begins with the word “worship” in the nrsv, as it does in the niv, and the revised English Bible, all of which are twentieth century translations. In the kjv, the nkjv, the asv, and even the rsv, the word “serve” is used. And the Hebrew word used here is unambiguously “serve.” In the Septuagint, a very old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Greek word is clearly “serve.” In fact the word “worship” doesn’t appear anywhere else in this psalm. Far be it from me to argue with the scholars who translated these twentieth century versions of the Bible, but I think there is an explanation, and one that helps us understand the major thrust of this Psalm. It is easy to think of worship as something done in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings as we sing and pray and repeat the various litanies of the worship service. Worship and service are closely related in the Bible. For example Luke 4:8 reads, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” We worship when or as we serve. But how is it that we serve God? What is it that we can bring to God that adds to what God already is or has? The answer is that when we serve others we serve God. In his book, God is the Good We Do, Michael Benedikt suggests that when we see people doing good we are seeing God at work. On a more personal basis I’d suggest when we see Woodlanders preparing lunches for the needy (or many other deeds of kindness) we’re seeing God at work, AND we’re seeing worship at work, so that worship becomes an active verb in the little ordinary things of life. Wordsworth captured it so well in his famous line, “That best portion of a good person’s life; those little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” As I read this psalm it strikes me that the most central line is verse two. All the rest of the psalm supports the idea of service. First, the psalmist calls for all the earth to make a joyful noise, and then calls for service with gladness, singing, praising and blessing God’s name. Thus all of our acts of service are to be done with joy and a heart filled with rejoicing as we worship God in the act of serving others.