Bible Studies for Life Sunday School Lessons for November 21

By James Riley Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament, Samford University

GIVE THANKS TO GOD

Psalm 100

Today we interrupt our series on Abraham and Sarah for a Thanksgiving lesson.

The Psalms express the full range of human responses to God for the contingencies of life. We learn our ancestors in the faith thought both sweet thanksgiving and bitter grief are acceptable to God in their seasons. As the pandemic appears to wane, we remember the trials of 2020 and 2021, yet we acknowledge God is worthy of thanksgiving and praise.

Although it does not mention God as King, Psalm 100 shares much with the kingship of Psalms 93 and 95–99, including the royal shepherd reference and the city and palace/temple references. Hence, it may have concluded the kingship collection.

Serve the Lord with gladness. (1–2)

The superscription “A psalm of thanksgiving” suggests this psalm was read in conjunction with the thanksgiving sacrifice, one type of well-being sacrifice (Lev. 7:12–15).

The psalmist begins by enjoining “all the earth” to “make a joyful noise to Yahweh.” The whole creation is called to praise God (see Pss. 98 and 148).

The first word of verse 2 is the imperative “serve” (CSB, KJV, ESV), but it can be understood as “worship” (NIV), because in the Bible, right worship is service to God. “Liturgy” comes from a Greek verb that means to serve, and we still say “worship service.”

The psalmist and the prophets also will remind us that right worship is empty if our deeds are unjust (Ps. 99). Doing justice, then, becomes our right worship.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God. (3)

Verse 3 opens with the central Israelite (and Jewish) profession of faith: Yahweh alone is God (Deut. 6:4).

The imperative “Know” (“Acknowledge” in the NIV; compare “Hear” in Deuteronomy) makes this imperative a reminder. We have resolved the issue of monotheism, but we easily slip into idolatry, don’t we? After all, anything, not just a false god, can take primary place in our lives.

Yahweh, the only God, made us, says the psalmist. We neither created ourselves nor made ourselves into God’s people.

Both our existence and our adoption are God’s doing.

The allusion to God’s flock recalls Psalm 23 with its assurance that God supplies our needs.

Give thanks to Him and bless His name. (4–5)

Verse 4 opens with the image of entering God’s temple in Jerusalem.

The psalmist writes as if thanksgiving springs of its own accord from God’s people. In a way, the congregation is singing to itself, taking joy in its spontaneous praise of the Creator.

Verse 5 is important for the Israelites and for us for two reasons. First, the final sentence recalls what we have been seeing in the saga of Abraham and Sarah: It is God who is faithful, even when their trust fails, and God’s faithfulness extends beyond them to their promised descendants.

Second, God’s love does not wax and wane with our circumstances.

God was with us before the pandemic, God has been with us through the darkness of isolation and loss and God is still with us as we emerge cautiously yet gladly into the light.

This Thanksgiving, as many extended families and friends sit around tables shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time in months, let us remember, as the psalmist said in Psalm 30, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Weeping will return and the day will come again. In both night and the light of dawn, God will be with us.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving indeed.

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