Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

Public reading of Scripture

The reading of the Scriptures must never be perfunctory or merely formal. It should not be a mere authoritative presentation of facts or proclamation of words . . . The reader must live his ideas at the time of utterance. . . . He can manifest to others the impressions made on his own being. . . . [For] when one soul is made to feel that another soul is hearing a message from the King of kings, he too bows his head and hears the voice of the infinite speaking in his own breast.

–S. S. Curry, Vocal and Literary interpretation of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 132.

Thoughts on Psalm 70 and sore knees

The comedian Brian Regan has said that you know you’re getting old when you can pull a muscle in your sleep. There are days in which we feel our human frailty more than others. To be sure, the aching back, the sore knees, and the like are a part of, what we might call, growing closer to eternity. So we mumble things like, “I can’t wait for heaven” or “this back won’t hurt in its glorified state” and we say this with a slight chuckle but with a real hope that this is the case. However, if we can borrow an phrase from Schaeffer, how shall we live today? We are right to believe in a future new heaven and earth in which Christ will gloriously reign but we have to ask, how is He being exalted now in the world of sore knees?

David sets up a memorial in Psalm 70 that reminds us of this very tension. He brackets the Psalm with a cry for the Lord to “hasten” to his side for help (vv. 1, 5). There appears to be shades of an eschatological hope in future glory while at the same time a present trust in the Lord (vs. 4b, 5). So in this present, ugly, painful, and even sneering world (vs. 3) we can still say, “Let God be magnified” (vs. 4c). So rather than making the “most” out of a difficult situation, David exhorts us to make the most of God even while the back still aches.

Some Thoughts on Psalm 33

Lest my fellow contributors think me dead, here are some thoughts I’ve been having…

I have been enjoying reading through some psalms in the study here the past couple weeks. Psalm 33, which we recently used in worship at the church I attend, has been on my mind. I thought I would give some minor observations that might help us think well about this text. This is not intended as a detailed discussion of the content of the psalm, but a few points that help guide our reading thereof.

First, Psalm 33 should be read closely with the psalm(s) that precedes. Several lines of evidence support this supposition. Unlike the surrounding chapters, Psalm 33 does not have a title in the Hebrew text. In fact, a few Hebrew manuscripts connect this psalm with Psalm 32. Moreover, connections between 33:1 and 32:11 cannot be missed. Consider the following:

32:11 Rejoice in Yhwh and be glad, righteous ones! And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
33:1 Shout for joy in Yhwh, righteous ones! Praise is becoming to the upright.

Furthermore, it seems that 32:10 forms the basis for the response in 33:21–22:

32:10 There are many sorrows for the wicked one, but the one who trusts in Yhwh, loyal love surrounds him.
33:21–22 For in him our heart will rejoice, for in his holy name we have trusted. Yhwh, may your loyal love be upon us, according to how we have waited for you.

Therefore, the connections with Psalm 32 appear at both the beginning and ending of Psalm 33, which is an appropriate place for such relationships to be made so that the reader does not fail to observe them.

Second, recognition of these connections guides the reading of the psalm; that is, I don’t believe we should simply consider this mere coincidence. The primary answer to the significance of this connection seems to be that Psalm 33 is given as an appropriate response to the exhortation of Psalm 32. The righteous ones—i.e. those who (within the context of the Psalter) meditate upon Torah (Ps 1) and find refuge in the Son (Ps 2)—are called upon to shout for joy in the Lord.

Third, the psalm is corporate in its nature. As such, it guides the response of the readers/worshipers, informing theologically their response to Yahweh. The corporate response is most specifically seen in the change from third person (vv. 1–19) to first person plural (vv. 20–22). So, what began with a call to worship in vv. 1–3, continued with the author’s reasoning of why such praise and reverence for Yahweh is fitting, ends with the response of the forgiven (see Ps 32). Their response is one of waiting, hoping, and trusting in God’s commitment to His promises. I like what Goldingay says about this in his commentary (p. 474):

The frame of the psalms suggests an equivalent comprehensiveness about our human response to God. Worship involves looking away from ourselves to an object. It involves the making of music and noise. But when we have seen who Yhwh is, it involves an expression of reverence, hope, joy, and trust.

Musings on the Psalms (Part 2)

In my last post, I made the implication that Psalms 1 and 2 provide the appropriate hermeneutical and homiletical gateway to the Psalter in that Psalm 1 shows true wisdom as the result of meditating upon Torah in light of Psalm 2 which focuses the reader upon the messianic implications inherent to the Psalms. Ultimately, the point I am trying to make is that the psalms have a messianic, wisdom context. If we pay appropriate attention to the rest of the book and particularly to the breaks within the book that have been provided, this point is enhanced. Again, all of this is not necessarily original to me.
Books 1 (Pss 1-41) and 2 (Pss 42-72) are broken off as “The prayers of David the son of Jesse” (Ps 72:20). Now, it is important to note that not all the psalms in this section are attributed to David (e.g. Pss 42-50) and that later psalms in the Psalter are also attributed to David. However, this verse can be considered as more important than simply a remnant of an earlier collection that was swallowed up by the rest of the book. Rather, this verse focuses the reader upon the importance of Books 1 and 2 in presenting David as a model of the future Davidic king that was to come, which is clearly in line with Psalm 2. Now, there is much that I could present to you to show this, but suffice it to say that there are many passages within these first two books that have messianic implications. My point here is to show the connection between books 2 and 3.

Book 2 ends with Psalm 72, which is a prayer for the king. If Solomon is indeed taken as the author (and I am fully aware that the title could equally be understood as being “for Solomon” and not “by Solomon” yet I could still make the same argument based upon the picture of Solomon in the rest of the OT), then the fact that Solomon is praying for the future king is important. In particular, it shows that Solomon understood that he himself was not the son whom the Lord promised that David would have (2 Samuel 7). In other words, Solomon prays that some future king’s name would endure forever and that nations might call that future king blessed (72:17). Thus, we have Psalm 72 expressing a significant messianic hope in the sense that the Messiah would be a son of David. Even more significant for our topic here, when you turn your attention to Psalm 73, you find a typical wisdom-oriented psalm, as Asaph struggles to answer the question of the goodness of the Lord (see my discussion of this psalm here).

Turning out attention to the end of Book 3, Psalm 89 brings the first three books to what amounts to a low point. The psalm, which clearly expresses the confidence of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with David (see particularly vv. 26-29), ends with the psalmist wondering how the Lord could have reproached the footsteps of His anointed. For our discussion here, however, the important point is that Psalm 89 ends with a focus upon the promises made to David, which when read within the context of the Psalter again has messianic implications. Interestingly, Psalm 90 begins Book 4 with a psalm of Moses and another psalm of wisdom (see particularly v. 12).

At the end of Book 4, there lies in Psalm 106 a cry on behalf of the nation for forgiveness and deliverance. Thinking about the great rebellion of the nation in the past, the psalmist recognizes the Lord’s compassion because of His loyal love and His covenant (vv. 44-46). In light of this, the psalmist prays for the same salvation, in particular for the hope that the Lord would “gather us from among the nations, To give thanks to Your holy name And glory in Your praise” (v. 47). This clearly reflects the hope that those in exile had and a hope that the parts of the OT connects to the Messiah. Psalm 107, the first psalm in Book 5, also traces the Lord’s lovingkindness to His people. Interestingly, at the end, the psalm takes a turn as the psalmist asks, “Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, And consider the lovingkindnesses of the LORD” (v. 43). As in the other two occasions, a psalm with messianic implications is followed by a psalm concerned with wisdom.

So, in conclusion, my primary point is to show that the rest of the book mirrors the intent of the introduction to the book. Just as the Psalter opens with wisdom and Messiah, so the rest of the book continues the theme at its transitions. The implication: The book of Psalms presents messianic hope, and the wise person will meditate upon these things until the Messiah comes. It is no surprise, then, that when the NT authors began writing about the person of Jesus as the Christ, they found much in the Psalms that presented a picture of the Christ.

Hermeneutical and Homiletical Musings on the Psalms

The Psalter has long fascinated me in my study and teaching, just as it has so many believers who have gone before all of us. Not a few believers have found comfort, encouragement, and conviction on the pages of the book. However, I would like to raise some questions in this post and those that follow about how we read and preach Psalms. For the most part, during my Christian life I have approached the book as if it were (in essence) 150 separate devotions for my enjoyment. Therefore, studying the Psalter meant flipping to a psalm and diving in, reading it as if I were the psalmist. His needs became emblematic of my needs; his praises became catalysts for my praises; his enemies became pictures of my enemies. All in all, those are not bad things, and let me say from the very beginning that the psalms can be read devotionally (to a point). Whatever I say here or later does not negate the fact that I still find those things in the book.

Yet, I would like to raise the bar a little. Does the book (i.e., the text before us as it has been handed down) give us some clues about how it should be read? Should the book be read as a whole? Is there a method to its composition? These questions are not original to me, but I dare say that our preaching (and for that matter our biblical theology) is greatly affected by how we view this issue. So to get started, let me make a few observations that many others have made about Psalms 1 and 2.

Consider the following, which shows connections between the two psalms on a semantic level via the repetition of key words and on a structural level through the use of an inclusio.

Psalm 1

Psalm 2

1:1 How blessed (‘ashre) is the man…    
1:2 And in His law he meditates (fr. hagah) day and night. 2:1 Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising (fr. hagah) a vain thing?
1:6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way (derek) of the wicked will perish (fr. ‘bd). 2:12a Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish (fr. ‘bd) in the way (derek), For His wrath may soon be kindled.
    2:12b How blessed (‘ashre) are all who take refuge in Him!

In addition to these connections, which again others have recognized, there are some other interesting connections:

  • Ps 1 contrasts the sinner with the righteous person, whereas Ps 2 contrasts a sinful world with the righteous Son (obviously taking the psalm messianically).
  • In both psalms, the wicked are done away with (like chaff in Ps 1; like broken pottery in Ps 2).
  • In both psalms, the righteous person is firmly established, either by streams of water or upon holy Mt Zion.
  • Both psalm are concerned with expressing piety. In Ps 1, it is shown by meditating upon Torah; in Ps 2, by doing homage to the Son.
  • In contrast to the psalms that follow, neither of these psalms bears a title.

In and of themselves, these are very compelling reasons to believe that these two psalms were intentionally placed at the beginning of the Psalter. If you buy this argument, then the question becomes, Why?

The conclusion that I make about the presence of these two psalms directly impacts my hermeneutical and homiletical approach to the book. I believe that these two psalms, as the gateway to the Psalter, provide the two primary topics with which the book is concerned and by which its jewels should be mined. That is to say, the Psalter should be read with these psalms in mind. If Psalm 2 expresses the messianic hope of the Psalter (and I believe it does), then we should not be surprised to find that the book has much to say about the Messiah. Moreover, we should not be surprised when David (for the most part) is taken as the prime example of the righteous king. I will have more to say about this later, but suffice it to say, I believe the the Psalter is messianically composed. At the same time, Psalm 1 shows how meditation upon Torah, God’s Word, produces righteousness and fruitful. This psalm, which has long been recognized as a wisdom psalm, expresses the path to true wisdom. Thus, the conclusion I am making is that the Psalter has also been sapientially composed.

Ultimately, with these two psalms as its introduction, the Psalter invites the reader to press on with the recognition that by meditation upon its words one will become wise, for he or she has found the messianic hope inherent to its verse. The proper response for the reader, then, is to praise God in light of this and to continue to meditate upon Torah.

Therefore, hermeneutically, these two psalms provide the proper lens by which to understand the rest of the book. Homiletically, we should never stray too far away from these principles of interpretation, consistently reminding our hearers of the purpose of the Psalter as we have it. I believe that reading and preaching the psalms in context is the key to faithfully understanding and imparting their theological message.

If my arguments were dependent completely upon these two psalms, I might question their validity. However, what I would like to show in my next post is how the book on a global level reflects this sapiential, messianic composition.

Blessings…

Some Resources for Preaching the Psalms

To those of you who commented on a earlier version of this post, I apologize. The first was accidentally erased. I would appreciate it greatly if you would comment again. The resources you recommended were excellent.

Prompted by Paul’s comment and recommendations here, I thought I would share some of the resources I have found most helpful in preaching & teaching the psalms.

My last post on the literary device of inclusio came while I was preparing to preach Psalm 73. Besides BDB and some English translations, I referred to the following three commentaries:

  • Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1990), 226-239. I found Tate on this psalm to be very helpful (at least more than usual). The three volumes in WBC are most helpful in coming to terms with the Hebrew text, but this chapter in particular had a great treatment of how the psalmist begins and returns to the idea of “good.”
  • Craig C. Broyles, Psalms, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 299-305. Although heavy on establishing the form-critical context of the chapter, Broyles comments on Ps 73 helped me bring the more exegetical aspects of my study back down to a preaching level. Since this commentary is one volume on the whole Psalter, Broyles cannot go into super detail. Yet, in some ways, this is helpful in getting the overall gist of the psalm.
  • James M. Boice, Psalms, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 609-615. Honestly, this is one of the few times I have referred to Boyce, but I really enjoyed the way he presented Ps 73. I found it was really helpful in putting simpler language to the conclusions I found in my study from Tate. I will be returning to Boyce the next time I preach from Psalms.

I would have loved to reference some others, but I just did not find the time. This time, however, these served me well.
Some other resources that I would recommend are the following:

  • C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001). Not all the books in this series are extremely helpful, but overall this is a really good resource. Although in most of the book he takes a typical view of walking through the types (or genres) of psalms, chapter 3, “The Seams of the Garment of Praise: The Structure of the Book,” is a must read.
  • Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988. If you have never read this short work, it is helpful in a cursory understanding of poetry, parallelism, imagery, etc.
  • John Goldingay, Psalms. Volume 1: Psalms 1-41 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). Unfortunately, this is the only volume from Goldingay’s series right now. I have read through this in preparation for a class on the Psalms, and I am really looking forward to the next volumes. He presents a fresh translation, interpretation, and theological implications for each psalm. Moreover, he has a helpful glossary for common words encountered throughout the Psalter.
  • Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David. Although I don’t agree with Spurgeon’s conclusions all the time, this is worth having for the comments from other great preachers and teachers, including names such as Calvin, Luther, and many Puritans (concerning this, see the quote here). A must have for the expositor.
  • David Firth and Philip S. Johnston, eds. Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005). This is a collection of essays on various topics related to contemporary reading of Psalms. Like all compilations, some are better than others, but they have an impressive list of scholars contributing. I’ve liked what I’ve read so far.

There are others, but this should get you started. What resources do you recommend?

I will respond to the rest of Paul’s questions in a later post.

Inclusio (Psalm 73)

Preaching from the Psalter presupposes a familiarity with the common literary techniques of Hebrew poetry, by which the psalmists have made their poems and songs beautiful. On the one hand, they use imagery to enhance the impact of their psalms; on the other hand, they use techniques such as parallelisms and acrostics to focus the reader’s mind around the ideas they wish to impart.

A secondary device they often use is inclusio, which “involves repetition in a poem in a way which binds its parts together” (Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms, 107). These repetitions may include using the same sentence (Ps 8:1, 9 or Ps 145:1–2, 21), altering a word or phrase (Ps 69:1, 35), or bringing two concepts/themes together (e.g., Ps 1:1 with Ps 2:12). The ultimate effect of an inclusio is to show what the author believes is of first importance. There are a number of examples of inclusio (such as that of Pss 1, 2) that are extremely indispensable when reading the Psalter. As well, observing such literary techniques enhances our understanding (as well as our preaching), as in Psalm 73.

Psalm 73 traces the thought pattern of Asaph as he struggles to come to terms with what he sees in this world. Despite what seems quite to the contrary, he begins his psalm with the confident assertion (v. 1),

Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!

He knows and believes this, but he envies the prosperity of the wicked and the ease of life for the boasters. Moreover, he even sees his own people abandoning the way of truth to follow the way of the world, which causes him to question whether following and worshiping God is worth it.

Yet, coming into the presence of God (v. 17), he reorients himself to the proper perspectives: (1) the ultimate end of the wicked and (2) the continual presence and protection of God, his refuge. It is here that we see the artistry of the psalmist in his conclusion (v. 28):

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

circle.gifThus, by repetition of the word “good” the author has brought us full circle, and this is ultimately his point. God is good. For Asaph, this goodness was found in the sanctuary, in God’s presence. What is ultimately “good” for us is God’s perpetual presence in our life. It is there that we find our confidence in a world that seems like it’s upside down.

And to think, this important message lies open and before the reader through the literary artistry of inclusio.

A Short Thought from Psalm 50

I should post the next installment for the series on Preaching the Old Testament in the next day or so. However, in the mean time, I offer the following observation…

In doing some preparations for a class on the psalms, I spent some time this morning meditating on Psalm 50. Within this psalm of Asaph, God is called to speak justly over his people (v. 4), and his words are divided between the godly (vv. 7–15) and the wicked (vv. 16–23). In ways, each of the messages is the same: God desires an obedient life (one that honors him) and a grateful heart (vv. 14–15; 22–23). Moreover, it is the one who is obedient and thankful that can expect God’s deliverance (vv. 15, 23). The verse that stuck out to me this morning, however, was v. 16:

But to the wicked one, God has said, “What right did you have to recount my statutes so that you carried my covenant in your mouth?”

Those whom God described as “wicked ones” had at some point spoken the word of God with their lips, possessing the word of his covenant in their mouth. Yet, with that same tongue, they practiced evil, deceit, and slander (see James 3). There was a clear disconnect between what they spoke and how they lived, and for that they were rebuked.

Such an admonition reminded me this morning of the grave responsibility it is for those who speak the Word of God to watch their life and doctrine closely.

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