6. Introduction to the Psalms # 3

When I began to read books on the Psalms I realised that scholar’s differ on the names for the different types (or ‘genres) of the Psalms. For example Longman suggests that there are “roughly seven basic types”. He does say that “we need to be flexible as we speak of a Psalm’s genre” but suggests the following types: “the hymn, the lament, the thanksgiving psalm, the psalm of remembrance, the psalm of confidence, the wisdom psalm and the kingship psalm.” There are other ways to look at the different kinds of psalms as well, but we can consider those at a later time.

So, obviously “the hymn” describes the psalms of praise. They are “easily recognised by their exuberant praise of the Lord. The psalmist pulls out all the stops in his rejoicing in God’s goodness.” (Tremper Longman 111 How to Read the Psalms) We all know these psalms. They are the ones often read out in our worship times in church, or used in our own personal times with God.

Ones like Psalm 103, which begins with:

“I will praise the Lord.     Deep down inside me, I will praise him.     I will praise him, because his name is holy. I will praise the Lord.     I won’t forget anything he does for me.”

And finishes with:

20 Praise the Lord, you angels of his.     Praise him, you mighty ones     who carry out his orders and obey his word. 21 Praise the Lord, all you angels in heaven.     Praise him, all you who serve him and do what he wants. 22 Let everything the Lord has made praise him     everywhere in his kingdom.   I will praise the Lord.”

As you read this and other “hymns”, there is no doubt Who deserves our worship and praise and adoration (see the reasons for the psalmist’s praise in verses 3-19). And what a great resource for God’s people for so long, considering that (according to Longman) the oldest psalm was “probably written about 3500 years ago”!

I am continually amazed by our God who is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) and the truth expressed by his worshippers over thousands of years remains the same unchanging truth even today, no matter where you live or what language you speak. “Praise the Lord”!

5. Introduction to the Psalms # 2

At the age of 18 I began to read the Bible for the first time in my life. My young friend at the time noticed a change happening in my life and she remarked, “Reading that book is affecting you!” She was absolutely right and reading “that book” turned my life upside down – in a very positive way!

Over 45 years the Word of God has continued to have this affect in my life and I get the feeling that my in-depth study of the Psalms is doing the same thing. But considering what the author of Hebrews said, that “the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12), then no wonder!

Thomas Watson, a seventeenth century English Puritan pastor, understood the need for reading the Bible with both our heads and our hearts. He said, ‘keep reading your Bibles until your hearts are warmed…read the Word not only as history, but allow it to affect you deeply. Let the Word of God not only inform you but also inflame you.’

Let me share just a few things that people have said about the Psalms:

It has been said that, “the whole gamut of human experience is expressed in the Psalter…the Psalms speak to all seasons of our souls…our intellect is informed, our emotions are refined and our wills are directed.” (Tremper Longman 111 How to Read the Psalms  Intervarsity Press 1988)

Of course, the Psalms are most recognised for their use in worship and praise of God, both personally and corporately. Brueggeman states that “Praise is the duty and delight, the ultimate vocation of the human community; indeed, of all creation. Yes, all of life is aimed toward God and finally exists for the sake of God…We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self, to return our energy and worth to the One from whom it has been granted. In our return to that One, we find our deepest joy.” There is no doubt the Psalmists understood this truth.

He continues, “When we become specific about praise of God in the biblical tradition, we arrive quickly at the Book of Psalms, which is the central resource for praise in the Bible.” (Walter Brueggemann Israel’s Praise. Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology Fortress Press 1988)

But there is much more to the Psalms than praise and we will look at some of these things later.

4. Introduction to the Psalms # 1

At the same time as I was beginning my deeper journey into the Psalms, good friends of ours were facing an extremely difficult time of loss in their lives.  We endeavoured to bring some small comfort and pray for them. But words don’t come easy in such situations, either to one’s friend or even to God.

It was during this time that I read these words:

“Psalms [are] profoundly Jewish [in] character…the psalms of negativity, the complaints of various kinds, the cries for vengeance and profound penitence are foundational to a life of faith in…God. Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience…Psalms as a canonical book is finally an act of hope. But the hope is rooted precisely in the midst of loss and darkness, where God is surprisingly present. The Jewish reality of exile, the Christian confession of crucifixion and cross, the honest recognition that there is an untamed darkness in our life that must be embraced – all of that is fundamental to the gift of new life.

The Psalms are profoundly subversive of the dominant culture, which wants to deny and cover over the darkness we are called to enter. Personally we shun negativity. Publicly we deny the failure of our attempts to exercise control…Against all of this the Psalms issue a mighty protest and invite us into a more honest facing of the darkness. The reason the darkness may be faced and lived in is that even in the darkness, there is One to address…”   (‘The Message of the Psalms – A Theological Commentary’ by Walter Brueggemann – Augsburg Publishing House)

The Psalms, so I am discovering, give us the language to not only praise and worship our great God, but also to talk to Him about difficult times in our lives and in the lives of others.

Eugene Peterson in his introduction to Psalms in the Message Bible says that “The Hebrews…provided us with this prayer book that gives us a language adequate for responding to the God who speaks to us.”  (‘The Message – The Bible in Contemporary Language’ by Eugene H Peterson – NavPress)