“Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”
Psalm 100 is an extended command to worship the Lord, giving specific instructions to follow. The first three commands in Psalm 100:1–2 are directly related to cultivating a spirit of joy. The next four call for our response to the Lord’s identity and character. We’ll examine the first two of these commands.
Know that the LORD Himself is God (Psalm 100:3). At first glance, this seems like an odd command. A close examination of the Hebrew terms will help clarify what the psalmist intends.
The Hebrew word rendered “know” is yada. When used in reference to a person, it denotes a personal, experiential knowledge, not mere recognition. It’s the same term biblical writers used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse (see Genesis 4:1; 19:8; Numbers 31:17, 35; Judges 11:39; 21:11; 1 Kings 1:4; 1 Samuel 1:19). Our knowledge of God should be personal and experiential, not merely theological.
The word “LORD” translates God’s personal name, represented in Hebrew by the four consonants YHWH, and considered too holy to pronounce audibly. You may recall it’s based on the verb “to be,” identifying Him as the deity who actually exists. The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer called Him “the God who is there” (as opposed to all the gods who are not!).
“Himself ” serves to single out YHWH as the subject of the verb, emphasizing that no other name qualifies for this distinction. The sentence might just as well be rendered, “Know that YHWH, He is God” or “He alone is God.” I like the additional qualification tacked on by one contemporary songwriter: “He is God (and I am not!)”
The English word “God” at the end of the verse translates the Hebrew term elohim, which emphasizes the grandeur of God, much like calling a king “His Royal Highness.” So, when you put the entire command together, it could be paraphrased, “Know by personal experience that YHWH alone is the sovereign God of all.”
I see two implications of practical importance here. First, God is sovereign over each of us, individually. He’s not merely the ruler of the universe, having dominion over galaxies and able to command the forces of nature. He’s my sovereign. He’s your king. He’s the boss; we answer to Him. When we surrender to that fact, life becomes much easier to understand and joy takes the place of frustration.
Second, our knowledge of God as our sovereign Lord must be gained through personal experience. That implies a personal relationship in which He leads and we follow. And through that ongoing interchange, the decision to trust Him becomes a settled, unshakable confidence. Confident people are joyful people.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise (Psalm 100:4). What was in the psalmist’s mind? To what do the “gates” and “courts” refer? There are two possibilities. First, it could refer to the stronghold of a ruler, where he holds court, deciding cases and granting favors. If so, the invitation is to enter the great hall with praises and thanksgiving rather than seeking something from the Ruler.
The second possibility is a reference to the temple, the place where the people of God approached the Lord. In the Old Testament, the otherworldly glow of His glory-called the shekinah by the Hebrews-filled the Most Holy Place in the temple (2 Chronicles 5:14 and 1 Kings 8:10–11). The temple had gates and courts, both of which gave access to the presence of God.
Because Jesus Christ satisfied all the requirements of the temple rituals, we no longer go to a specific place to meet God. Today, we worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). So, how do we enter His gates and His courts? What is our access to His presence today? The answer is prayer. Hebrews 4:16 invites us to “draw near” to God’s throne. Through prayer we come into the very presence of God. This psalm tells us to approach the Lord with thanksgiving and praise. Sometimes it’s good to save our petitions and requests for another time and seek an audience for the sole purpose of praise.