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More Than Giving Thanks

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:1-5).

Comparing this passage of scripture to the book’s treatment of the passage reminds me about one of the important rules of Bible interpretation: Follow the text where it leads. To do that we have to examine how certain words in the text were used by the original authors and how the original hearers might have understood their usage. That’s true of this passage’s use of the words: pasture, gates, and courts

This is not a passage about thanksgiving to be used for the Thanksgiving holiday. As we are about to discover, while this is sometimes referred to as a Thanksgiving Psalm, it is a redemptive Psalm; and I’ll show you why.

There are many times in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, where we are urged to be thankful to the Lord. What do you think is the greatest reason to thank the Lord and why?

First, let’s look at the structure of this Psalm. Notice that each section begins with a general statement and follows up with a description of what the first statement means.

Joyful noise = gladness and singing
Know the Lord = he made us; we are his
Thanksgiving and praise = thanks and bless
Good = steadfast love and faithfulness

Now, let’s look at each section of the passage to see where the Psalmist wants to take us in our worship of God.

(V.1) “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!”

Psalm 100 begins with a general call to worship and as the Psalm continues it goes from a general call to a specific call. The general call is to everyone to worship. We know this is a call to worship because of verse 2.

(V.2) “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”

Do you always feel a sense of joy or gladness when you worship? Some people have the idea that worship is a solemn thing. And that can be true. But generally, worship is something to be enjoyed. Notice the language the Psalmist uses: “gladness.” Worship is to be an enjoyable activity. That should be true whether we are singing in a worship service or doing other acts of devotion to the Lord.

(V.3) “Know that the LORD, he is God!”

As the Psalm progresses it gets more specific. Now, instead of calling all to worship he uses the phrase, “Know that the Lord…” The crowds may worship, but not everyone knows God. Only some of a crowd knows the Lord, not all. Then he begins to tell us who God is. First, he says, “He is God.” The writer is singling out Yahweh as the only true God. Then look what he says, “It is he who made us and we are his.”

The Psalmist is telling us who we are in addition to who God is. Then he expands on this theme by saying in verse 3, “We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” The writer uses two words or phrases to identify us: “His people,” and “Sheep.”

By calling us “His people,” we are identified as persons in relationship with the Creator. He made us (he is Creator) and we are his people (we are attached to him in relationship). But then the writer takes an interesting turn when he calls us God’s “Sheep.”  But not just sheep, rather, “Sheep of his pasture.” This is the first hint that something more is going on beyond just being his people.

This phrase, “The sheep of his pasture” is the center of the Psalm and what happens next to the sheep takes us in a specific direction. 

Here it is that we go from a general call to worship to knowing God personally, and to being in his pasture. From the whole earth to his pasture. Where is his pasture? It’s in the countryside. So, we progress from the whole earth to the countryside. But it gets better.

(V.4). Pay close attention to the language used here because the writer’s words are chosen very carefully. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; and his courts with praise!” Let’s define these important words: gates and courts.

Some commentators remark that this is Temple language. The gates and courts of the Temple. However, I don’t think this is entirely the case. If we notice the progression the Psalmist takes, we can see that the reference to gates is a reference to the city, specifically, to Jerusalem. When we think of the word, gates, we think of a backyard fence with a gate. Or perhaps a metal gate into a neighborhood or apartment complex. But the reference to a gate in the Old Testament was to an opening in a wall of a city with a large wooden door, a gate.

Gates were more than open areas for traffic to go through. Gates were also places of authority. Officials would be stationed at the gates to inspect enterers or do official business. When one entered the gates, they entered a transition of authority. Now, notice the progression. We go from all the earth to a countryside pasture, then through a city’s gates. So, what happens next is eye opening. We enter his gates and his “courts” with praise. Where are the courts? The courts are in the Temple of God.

Why did people go to the temple?

To go through the courts was to enter the Temple for the purpose of worship. And worship in the temple begins with sacrifice. Notice what another Psalm says about this: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:8). Go back to verse 3 in Psalm 100 and what do we see? We are the “Sheep of his pasture.” What is the purpose of sheep?

From sheep we get wool for making clothes. From sheep we get meat to eat. But there is a third use of sheep in the ancient world. Sheep are kept for sacrifice, specifically, sacrifice for sin. Now, watch the progression. 

We begin with all the earth, then we narrow it down to the countryside, then we narrow further to the gates of the city, and we enter an even smaller place, the courts of the temple. When we realize where the author is taking us, we begin to understand that Psalm 100 is not simply a Psalm of thankfulness, it is actually a Psalm of redemption through sacrifice. 

You see, if the phrase, “The sheep of his pasture” was not used, then this would be just a Psalm of thanks. But by centering the phrase, “The sheep of his pasture” in the text, the writer sets up the meaning in the context of sacrifice, that is, sacrifice for sin. 

It is only after we get to the courts with our sacrifice that we then understand in verse 5 that, “The Lord is good.” Why is he good? Because he accepts the sacrifice for sin and forgives us of our sin. Look how the writer talks about God.

(V.5) “His steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” 

We experience God’s goodness and love because of the sacrifice of Christ, which is foreshadowed in this Psalm. Jesus is more than just a shepherd. Jesus, as John the Baptist said, is “The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Thus, this is a Psalm of redemption. It is because of redemption that this Psalm expresses thanks. Then the Psalm comes full circle.

(V.5) “…his faithfulness to all generations.” Because of the sacrifice, all generations, including all future generations may experience God’s goodness and love. So, the Psalmist comes full circle back to the world by using the phrase, “All generations.”

So, let’s recap what we’ve learned. First, let’s notice the structure and progression of the Psalm:

It is a progression from the general to the specific. From knowing about him to knowing him personally.

  • First the call goes out to everyone to praise God (the earth).
  • Second, after the call we are told who he is and who we are.
  • Third, we enter his gates (authority) and courts (service) with a sacrifice.
  • Fourth, we come to know his goodness, love, and faithfulness forever.

Verse 5 talks about God’s faithfulness. In I John 1:9 scripture ties God’s faithfulness to his forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful to forgive. Thus, we have our whole reason for thankfulness because God has forgiven us our sins through sacrifice—the sacrifice of his son.

Let’s notice how God describes us. “We are the sheep of his pasture.” This implies that God is our shepherd. We usually think of Jesus words in John 10:11 about Jesus sacrificing himself for the sheep. But on the flip side we must remember the point of being sheep. Sheep were sacrificial animals. Their coats provide clothing. Their bodies provide meat. And their blood offered forgiveness through ritual sacrifice (Leviticus 1:10-13). Ultimately Jesus was our sacrificial lamb, and he calls us to imitate him with our lives. Our lives and our deaths should be a “Pleasing aroma” to the Lord (Leviticus 1:13). We our thankful because we are forgiven.

So, what is the author’s big idea? Sometimes to understand the full meaning of a passage we have to dig down below the surface level to see how a biblical author used certain words and phrases. If we only read Psalm 100 at a surface level, we will miss the deeper representations in the text. But, since we’ve taken a deeper look at words used in the passage, sheep, gates, and courts, we discover something about this Psalm that the ancient Israelites would have understood on their surface. This is not only a Psalm of thanksgiving, it is also a Psalm of redemption. And what is there that is greater to thank God for than our redemption in Christ?


Look at the different types of blessing or thanks we can give God:

  • Joyful noise 
  • Gladness 
  • Singing 
  • Thanksgiving — a type of praise that responds to God’s provision, deliverance, or character.
  • Praise — this means to commend God and praise him for who he is.
  • Bless — recitations having to do with recognizing power. “I bless you for your strength, or forgiveness, or justice, etc.”

Our praise to God should be filled with emotion, from deep in the center of our hearts. Notice that the Psalmist uses words like “joyful” and “gladness.” If our worship and expressions of devotion have no emotional content, then something is wrong. Moses wrote for us to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength. The intellect is important, but never enough.

Our passage tells us two things:

  1. How to praise and thank God, and
  2. Why to praise and thank God.

The “why” is found in our redemption.

The best way to apply this Psalm is to simply do what it says, to praise, thank, and bless God for his goodness to us. To do so publicly as well as privately.

Tom Terry is head of Global Broadcast Strategy for JESUS Film Project and serves as General Manager of The Better FM, an online radio station for Asia. Tom is also the author of several books, including Bible studies and "Like An Eagle," his biography about living in Mongolia for ten years.
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