Psalm 100: Songs to be Sung

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
   Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100

Psalm 100 is the epitome of a praise song. Along with Psalm 23 – ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ – it probably jostles for the title of the most sung worship song ever. The psalm, so wonderfully paraphrased by William Kethe and set to the tune of the ‘Old One Hundredth’ by Louis Bourgeois, could probably be called the anthem of the Reformed Church.

Along with Psalm 98 it is a reminder that these psalms were to be sung, to quote John Wesley, ‘lustily and with good courage’. Who by? The opening line declares that all people, the whole earth is to join together in one great swelling chorus of praise. Whoever we are, whatever our gender, whatever our social status, whatever our nationality, whatever we’ve done, we are called to praise this God.

And we are to sing joyfully and with gladness (v. 1). St Paul identifies joy as one of the foremost fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22). That doesn’t mean that we don’t go through rough times, it doesn’t mean that we’re spared anxiety, it doesn’t mean that we’ll never be sad. Joy – as it has often been pointed out – is not the same as happiness. Happiness depends on what happens. Joy is something deeper: throughout the Bible it is found in knowing God who is the source of all joy.  

Like a good praise song, there is not just a call to worship but a reason for why we worship. We worship because God is our creator (v. 3), the very life that we have is due to him. We may well differ about how God created us, but we agree that God did create us. We agree that we are not ‘the outcome of an accidental collocations of atoms’ (Bertrand Russell) but we are women and men made in the image of our creator and therefore each person is of inestimable worth.

Not only is God our creator but he is our shepherd (v. 3). The image of creator need not – but could – be interpreted in distant terms, as an absentee father, but the image of God as shepherd speaks of an ongoing relationship.  The shepherd is the one who provides pasture for the sheep and protects them from predators, so YHWH is the one who cares for us and protects us from all that would ultimately harm us.

Verse 4 repeats the invitation to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving. The reference is to the temple courts in Jerusalem where God had made his home on earth. We are invited into God’s home, to be in his presence, to experience his blessing. The New Testament makes it clear how that happens – it is not something we should take for granted but is accomplished through Christ’s sacrificial life which culminated in his sacrificial death upon the cross (Hebrews 10:1–22), and it is in Christ, the image of the invisible God, in whom we find the embodiment of YHWH’s goodness and enduring love.

It’s obviously not in the original psalm, but the final verse of Kethe’s paraphrase is a fitting climax:

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heav’n and earth adore,
From us and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.