7. Psalms of Praise (Psalm 8 introduction)

At the college, where I am on staff, we have times of worship and teaching together as a community. At the beginning of 2014 I shared on Psalm 8 as we commenced another year. Below are a few thoughts from that day:

“When we read the Psalms it’s important to remember that they were all written at a particular time in history, by a particular person in a particular circumstance. As we read them thousands of years later, it’s helpful to try and see yourself in the circumstances of the writer, if possible (some are easier than others!). So, today I want you to imagine yourself as David, the shepherd boy. It’s been a busy day taking the sheep to greener pastures, keeping them from wandering off and protecting them from wild animals. But the day is now over and there he is laying on his blanket out in the hills of Israel on a warm summer’s night. The night is silent except for the occasional noise made by one of the sheep in his care. The sky is clear and the stars and moon are brilliant and beautiful. As he lies there, he looks up at the overwhelming number of stars above him and his mind turns away from the troubles of the day to the Creator of all this amazing universe, the God he knows as Yahweh, the one who is his God and whom he will refer to in a later psalm, as “the Lord…my Shepherd” (Psalm 23). And as he lays there he worships and speaks out these words to his God,

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.  your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.

Not just nice poetic words, but a prayer to his God. His heart is overwhelmed by the greatness, the majesty, the power, the creative genius, the glory of God and so he composes a song from the words of his prayer, a psalm, which thousands of years later we can also use to worship the God of all creation.

But as he worships God in all his beauty and glory and wonder and splendour he thinks of how small he is compared to God, compared to this huge universe God created. And remember, all he could see, is what we can see with our naked eye – no Hubble telescope in David’s day – so he was unaware of what we know today, and yet that was enough to bring forth awe and worship. He is amazed, that considering how big God is, and how small he is, that God would be in the least bit interested in him. So he says,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

He can’t take it in, considering the greatness of God, yet he still remembers humans like him and not only remembers but cares and blesses and loves, like a Father to his children.

But as David considers this truth, he realises there is more:

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

It’s all so amazing, all too much and his song of praise and adoration ends the way it started,

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

And, I think, God is pleased with David’s song as the shepherd boy, soon to be king, drifts off into a peaceful night’s sleep, under the stars, remembered and cared for by Yahweh, his Creator, his Father, his God, my God, and your God.”

Certainly a wonderful Psalm of praise and adoration to the Lord.

The Jewish Study Bible comments about this psalm that it “is pure praise, without any requests, and like other hymns from the bible…expresses the…moment when the individual stands before [God] and appreciates the greatness and power of the Divine.”  (The Jewish Study Bible Tanakh Translation Oxford University Press 2004 )

If the sky is clear tonight, why not go outside, look up and pray (or sing) David’s psalm to the Creator of all that you see above.

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)

 

3. Sons of Korah

I seem to recall that one of the first things I did, other than begin to read the Psalms and some good books on the Psalms, was to check out the group called Sons of Korah. I had heard of them before but never really listened to their music, which is all based on the Psalms. I now  enjoy their music and have been to a couple of their concerts. Very inspiring! Check out their website at sonsofkorah.com  or listen to Psalm 1 at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfxT8fZi5qA

2. Photo

The photo below was taken recently when I was visiting Morisset in NSW. It is of the trees surrounding Dora Creek and reminded me of the words of Psalm 1. “Blessed is the person who obeys the law of the Lord…that kind of person is like a tree planted before a stream of water . It always bears its fruit at the right time…” (1:1,3 NIRV)cropped-tree-psalm-1.jpg

1. The beginnings & references

On 13th January 2012 I wrote in my journal, “I wondered about studying Psalms for a while and even preaching on some of them.” I had previously been studying the life of David and had preached quite a few sermons on him. Studying the Psalms seemed the obvious thing to do after this. So, I began and “for a while” has so far been over 3 years and still wondering if I have even scratched the surface of this amazing book. What follows are some of the things I have discovered and been blessed with over these 3 + years.

Below is the list of books/articles/websites  I have quoted from.

References:
1. Tremper Longman 111 How to Read the Psalms Intervarsity Press 1988
2. Walter Brueggemann The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary Ausberg Publishing House 1984
3. Walter Brueggemann Israel’s Praise. Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology Fortress Press 1988
4. Craig C Broyles New International Biblical Commentary – Psalms Hendrickson Publishers 1999
5. Michael Wilcock The Message of the Psalms Intervarsity Press 2001
6. C.S. Lewis Reflections on the Psalms Fontana Books 1958
7. The Jewish Study Bible Tanakh Translation Oxford University Press 2004
8. Matthew Jacoby Deeper Places – Experiencing God in the Psalms Baker Books 2013
9. James W Sire Learning to Pray Through the Psalms Intervarsity Press 2005
10. C. Hassell Bullock An Introduction to the Old Testament – Poetic Books Moody Publishers 1979, 1988.
11. Charles R. Swindoll Living Beyond the Daily Grind – Reflections on the Songs and Sayings in Scripture Word Publishing 1988.
12. Claus Westermann Praise and Lament in the Psalms Bookcrafters Inc. 1965
13. David J Cohen Why O Lord – Praying our Sorrows Paternoster 2013
14. Kathryn Green-McCreight Darkness is My Only Companion. A Christian Response to Mental Illness Brazos Press 2006
15. Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job – How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today’s Scientific Questions Baker, 2011
16. John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions Baker Academic 1993, 2005
17. James G Murphy Psalms James Family Publishing 1876, 1977. 

                                                                                                                                                                                       18. Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care  Spring 2012, Volume 5, Number 1 edition, Published by the Institute of Spiritual Formation, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, 2012. 

19.  David Bentley Hart The Experience of God  Yale University Press 2013 

20. AW Tozer The Knowledge of the Holy  Authentic Media 2008

  

21.  Paul Bradbury Sowing in Tears. How to Lament in a church of Praise Grove Books Limited 2007 

22  Mark Buchanan in Leadership Journal by Christianity Today International. Fall 2011

23. quoted by Rev. Angus Stewart in his article “John Calvin on the Wonder of the Psalms” at http://www.cprf.co.uk/articles/johncalvinpsalms.htm#.VbiXbDow_IU

24.  Dr Larry Crabb The Silence of Adam – Becoming Men of Courage in a World of Chaos Zondervan 1995

25.  N.T. Wright The Case for the Psalms – Why They Are Essential HarperOne 2013

 

26. D Martyn Lloyd-Jones Faith on Trial – Studies in Psalm 73 Inter-Varsity Press 1965

27.  Artur Weiser The Psalms SCM Press 1962

28. C.H. Spurgeon The Treasury of David Evangelical press 1978 (second edition)

29   Derek Kidner Tyndale OT Commentaries, Psalms Intervarsity Press 1973

30.  Tremper Longman lll Tyndale OT Commentaries, Psalms Intervarsity Press 2014

31.  Wayne Cordeiro Leading on Empty Bethany House Publishers 2009

32.  Charles R. Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind W. Publishing Group 1989

33. Brennan Manning The Signature of Jesus Crown Publishing Group 2011

34. Nik Ripken The Insanity of GodA True Story of Faith Resurrected  B & H Publishing Group 2011

35. Lisa Stilwell The Heavens Proclaim His Glory Thomas Nelson Inc. 2010

36. Phil Moore Straight to the Heart of Psalms Monarch Books 2013

37.  EM Blaiklock Commentary on the Psalms Volume 1 Psalms for Living Psalms 1-72 Scripture Union 1977

38. Theodore Williams God Alive – Studies on Psalms Outreach Publications 1992

39. Walter Brueggemann, William H Bellinger Jr Psalms Cambridge University Press 2014

40. B. Rhodes Psalms SCM Press 1980

41. W.G. Scroggie Psalms Pickering & Inglis 1965