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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 10
As noted in the section above, these psalms have to do with the power and presence of God, and what that reality means for the righteous and the wicked. But these psalms are angled toward human perception of God’s power and presence. They are about the views of the practical atheist vs the views of the practical theist. Neither type of person reflects only in the abstract, removed from the life-view of God’s presence or His absence; rather they live these realities out practically in their own lives.

The practical atheist is one who bases his life on such ideas: “in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (v.4). He lives his life doing evil deeds thinking, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees” (v.11). He concludes his life thinking, “He [God] won’t call me to account” (v.13). In his atheism, the functional atheist lives a wicked life that creates victims and oppresses the weak. He lives and behaves as if God does not exist. The threat of the practical atheist to both the community and to the powerless individuals is not only in the content of their beliefs, but in the form of their actions (to the extent that their beliefs result in actions). By living without the “fear-of-the-LORD,” they feel free to oppress the widow, the orphan, and the weak if it leads to self-promotion or fulfills deep rooted selfish desires.

On the other hand, the psalmist can be described as a practical theist. He too does not only keep his beliefs in the abstract, but lives and acts upon these beliefs. The psalmist both affirms God’s active power and calls on God to “arise” and make His power known (v.12). The psalmist, as a practical theist, actually reverses the language of the practical atheist. The language of the psalmist is: “Do not forget the helpless” (v.12); “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted” (v.14); and He will “call the evildoer to account for his wickedness” (v.15). The practical theist understands that there are consequences for our actions (Psalm 9.16) and that the consequences come from God, who is both “the righteous judge” (Psalm 9.4) and “the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10.14). God will defend the oppressed and care for the hurting, and in order to do that He will have to inflict punishment upon the wicked. The psalmist lives out this faith in the concrete choices of daily life, just as the practical atheist lives out his concrete choices.

In these psalms there are two things that we can point out concerning what it means to keep faith in God: (1) to continue to trust in God’s faithfulness in spite of the presence of oppression – to know that His presence is near even if it feels that He is far away; and (2) it means to struggle against oppression, to refuse to throw in one’s lot with those who oppress the poor and the weak. We can now have a fuller picture of what it means to have faith in God when we are able to read and meditate on both Psalm 9 and 10.

Prayer: Father, we thank you for the faith you have given us. Like your faithful servant, the psalmist, we praise your name in both the theological highs and the tangible lows of life. We praise you that you are a God that is both the “righteous judge” who judges all impartially, and that you are the “helper of the fatherless” who pours out mercies on the lowly, the hurting, the poor, and the weak. Thank you for the whole revelation of yourself through your Son, Jesus the Messiah, and through your Holy Scriptures. We praise your name O Most High! Amen.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 9
Before we dive into the meaning of this psalm, we must establish that both Psalm 9 and 10 are meant to be read as a single unit. The reason for this is because they both make up one lengthy acrostic psalm. An acrostic is a poem (or other form of literature) in which the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text) spells out a word, message or the alphabet. In the case of Psalm 9 and 10, the first word of every second verse of the psalms begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (alephtav). These acrostic forms of poetry may have been utilized to help the people of God with memorization and recitation. It is not only this acrostic form that ties these psalms together but their use of similar vocabulary and themes. These psalms paint a larger picture of the power and the presence of God and what that means for the righteous ones and the wicked ones.

This theme of the power and presence of God is expounded on in these psalms which are prayers for help – trust and praise in the LORD’s judgment and justice along with pleas for God’s intervention for the oppressed. These psalms, placed together, paint a fuller picture of faith. Psalm 9 is about the psalmist’s theological convictions and belief systems concerning God. Psalm 9 presents the psalmist’s confidence of faith in who God is because it is describing the abstract. The psalmist knows of God only in broad theoretical truths. That is why we need to connect it with Psalm 10 which shows what the psalmist’s theological convictions really are when life becomes complex and difficult. We see a glimpse of his actual theology is when the safety of hypotheticals crumble away to the earth-shattering reality of pain, fear, and oppression that stems from real, concrete situations filled with real, hurtful people.

The psalmist begins Psalm 9 with imperfect verbs (incomplete actions, or actions that have not yet happened). He “will give thanks”; he “will tell of all your wonderful deeds”; he “will be glad and rejoice in you”; and he “will sing the praises of your name” (vv.1-2). It is always easier to tell God what we “will” do for Him. It is easy to convince ourselves of this as well. But when his theology meets real life, the psalmist’s posture changes. We see real life hit the psalmist in Psalm 10.1, “Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” When the psalmist actually encounters the enemy – which he was so confident God would “destroy” and “blot out their names for ever and ever” (Psalm 9.5) – who lives a wicked life and yet “his ways are always prosperous” (Psalm 10.5), his words change. He meets someone who believes “Nothing will ever shake me. No one will ever do me harm” (v.6). The psalmist’s theology from Psalm 9 is in conflict with the real life presented in Psalm 10. Everything that the psalmist believed concerning the power and the presence of God, and what that meant for the righteous and the wicked, is not reflected in real life! The psalmist knows what he believes, but it is in conflict with the reality that is confronting him.

This is where our picture of faith can broaden by reading both Psalm 9 and 10 together. We can have all the proper theological convictions concerning God, but it only matters in what we do; how we live out those convictions when life comes knocking at the door. What are we to do when our theology comes into conflict with the “realities” of our world? How do we reconcile our beliefs with the realities we encounter that challenge or even contradict our belief about God and the world around us? Keep reading.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Excursus 6: Sheol, The Realm of the Dead
In the psalmist’s theological treatment of God’s justice being acted upon the wicked he proclaims, “The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9.17). This realm of the dead was known by the ancient Israelites as Sheol. This realm was considered to be a place where God was not present; although there are some exceptions (see Psalm 139). Theologian John H. Walton gives a few judgments of what Sheol was like within the cognitive environment (the thinking) of the ancient Near East:

  1. Those in Sheol are viewed as separated from God (Psalm. 6.5; 88.10-12; Isaiah 38.18), though God has access to Sheol (Amos 9.2; Proverbs 15.11).
  2. Sheol is never referred to as the abode of the wicked alone.
  3. While Sheol is never identified as the place where all go, the burden of proof rests on those who suggest that there was an alternative.
  4. Sheol is a place of negation: no possessions, memory, knowledge, or joy.
  5. It is not viewed as a place where judgment or punishment take place, though it is considered an act of God’s judgment to be sent there rather than remaining alive. Thus it is inaccurate to translate Sheol as “hell” if the latter is by definition a place of punishment.
  6. There is no reference that suggests varying compartments in Sheol. “Deepest Sheol” (e.g., Deuteronomy 32.22; NIV “the realm of the dead below”) refers only to its location (“beneath”) rather than to a lower compartment.

In the OT there is not much emphasis on the after-life as there is in rabbinic Judaism and the NT. For the psalmist, and much of the early OT writings, there is an emphasis on the continuity of life (on earth) in the people. Brevard Childs teaches, “The threat that assails the suffering psalmist is that in death he is cast off from the worship of God.” There is no worship of God in Sheol. In the Psalms, the dead are divorced from communion with God because they are outside the province of His cult. This, for ancient Israelites, is the true sting of death. Psalm 88.10-12 expresses the despair of this reality well,

Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

We see from this psalm that no soundings of praises “rise up” from Sheol – which is the whole point of the Psalter (originally named tehillim, or “praises”). It is in Sheol that God’s wonders are absent and it is where God’s love and faithfulness cannot be “declared.”

If y’all want to read the above blog with the footnotes or see my bibliography please click on the “download” buttons below. Thank you.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 8
In this psalm there is a grandiose picture of humankind that is contemplated by the psalmist. But this exalted picture of humans is only explicated in the context of God’s glory. We will be made glorious because He is glory. We will be made holy ones because He is the Holy One. The psalmist has a proper anthropology (talking rightly about humans) because he inserts it into a proper theology (talking rightly about God). The psalmist both opens and closes this psalm with the same confession: “LORD, our LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv.1, 9). The psalmist understands that in order to properly comprehend our place in the cosmos (the creation) we need to properly comprehend our place before God (the Creator).

After confessing God’s majesty, the psalmist talks about the magnificent nature of the heavens (“the moon and the stars”) and how God’s glory is “set” there (v.1b). The psalmist understood how beautiful and grand the world around him was and the stars in the heavens were without the convention of modern scientific discoveries. He didn’t need a telescope to know that the stars were “out of this world” amazing! He saw that which was around him and knew it was beautiful; it was truthful. And through this beauty all around Him he saw God’s fingerprint all over it (v.3).

Then the psalmist turns his gaze from “out there” toward himself – the nature of humankind. God’s glory is so great that its expression shines even through humans. Even though the creation all around the psalmist was so magnificent, he knew that humans were even more special and magnificent. He can see God’s face in the heavens above, and He can see God’s face in the face of his neighbor. That’s the image of God that gives all humans inherent dignity and it is this special image that makes us special in all of creation (Genesis 1.26-27). This is such a grand gesture of God to us that the psalmist can’t help but ask: “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (v.4). What’s so special about me? Why does God look at me with such pleasure when there are stars and the moon to look at? I’m a sinner and I don’t deserve to be acknowledged. But that’s the glory of the gospel! That God does care so much about us that He gave His only Son to redeem, forgive, and transform us. Not only that, but creation itself (in all its marred beauty) is waiting in “eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8.19). And why does Paul tell us the creation is waiting on us? Because “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8.21). This is amazing to hear: though we are the climax of creation (Genesis 1.26-27) and we are made “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8.5), we are deliberately interrelated and interconnected to the rest of creation.

We see this “freedom and glory of the children of God” here in this psalm in verse 2, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” It is helpful to know that the original name of the Psalter was tehillim which means “praises.” The whole Psalter is meant to lead the people of God to praise the LORD (Psalm 150). Therefore, it is through our praises of God, because of His glory, that we find our “freedom and glory” and through this all of creation is redeemed. Our praises to God are the “stronghold” in this world against the enemy. Amen!

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 7
Hebrews 10.26-27 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” These words are helpful to capture the idea presented here in Psalm 7. This psalm also exemplifies the wisdom presented in the opening of the entire Psalter – Psalm 1: God will bless the way of the righteous ones and He will pour out wrath upon the way of the wicked ones.

The psalmist begins placing his trust in God, “I take refuge in you” (v.1). He calls on the protection of the LORD from his enemies who are as brutal and violent as lions pursuing their prey to devour (v.2). The cruel violence of this imagery is important to keep in mind.

Even though his faith and trust is in the LORD, the psalmist still takes time to confess his sins. To confess the hidden evils in his heart. The psalmist asks that if “there is guilt on my hands” (v.3), then he will accept the wrath that he deserves. If he is to be found as violent as lions, then he accepts having his life trampled to the ground (v.5). But the psalmist believes in his innocence. In fact, the psalmist asks the LORD to “vindicate” (or justify) him “according to my righteousness, according to my integrity” (v.8). This may rub us the wrong way because any appeal to “my righteousness” would seem utterly presumptuous. We focus on “God’s righteousness” when we think of His “vindication” of us. But if we consider the whole of Psalm 7, we will see that there is not a contradiction of righteousness here. We must keep in mind the theological implications of the significance of “my righteousness” (v.8) being situated completely in the context of, and is encompassed by, God’s righteousness (v.6, 9, 11, 17).

A core attribute of God is His justice. The core of this psalm lies in verse 9: “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day.” And what accounts for God being such a righteous judge? Well, He “probes minds and hearts” (v.9); therefore, He knows fully every person – the righteous and the wicked. And because of God’s righteousness He “saves the upright in heart” (v.10). And who are the upright in heart? They are those who “relent” (v.12). To relent means to fully surrender or abandon a harsh intention or cruel treatment. Those who are as violent as lions are not ones who relent (v.2). It is these violent wicked ones that do not relent, and therefore God “prepares his deadly weapons” for them (v.12-13).

God, in all His divine justice, seeks to protect the innocent and give relief to the victims. We cannot remove victims from our sins. Sin always creates victims – whether of the other or of the self. And God’s justice allows Him to “vindicate” and “save” the victim (who is the innocent one), and at the same time carries out His wrath on the violent and the wicked. Therefore, the innocent victim, the psalmist, can worship the LORD “because of his righteousness” (v.17).

Prayer: Father, we ask that you search us deeply and bring to light our sin. We confess that we have sinned against you and made victims – of ourselves and of others – through our sins. We have been your enemies. We ask for forgiveness and to be blessed with your righteousness. We praise you for transforming us from your enemies to your children. We thank you that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That is how we see your love today and forever more.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Excursus 5: Imprecatory Psalms
Before we explore the nature and the use of imprecatory psalms for the church today we need to heed the words of Psalms scholar Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford when she says, “The imprecatory psalms are heartfelt, raw, angry, and difficult.” But just because this is a difficult subject does not mean we can ignore it. The word “imprecatory” or “imprecation” means “an invocation [or supplication] of judgment, calamity, or curse uttered against one’s enemies, or the enemies of God.” In other words, calling upon the wrath of God to take vengeance on the enemy (or enemies) on behalf of the psalmist, who has been a victim of said enemy (or enemies). The answer to violence in these psalms is a reciprocation of violence to the one(s) initially promoting and acting out violence. It is this harsh and violent nature of the imprecatory psalms that have made most Christians uncomfortable with them. Jesus calls us to “turn the other cheek” and to love our enemies and seek peace with all. So, what are we to do with these violent, and potentially dangerous words that have ended up in our Bible?
When we think of these psalms we need to keep in mind two things: (1) God’s righteousness; and (2) the victim. Jacobson says, “God’s characteristic quality of righteousness binds God to the reality of delivering the innocent and thus of punishing the wicked.” The reason for this righteousness is to “set right” that which is “not right,” or not good. The victim(s) that sings these imprecatory psalms “are shouting out their suffering because of the overwhelming injustices and abject indifferences of their foe, their enemies.” This is oppression and violence that cannot be easily remedied with generosity or “turning the other cheek.” The victim needs the permission to cry out in rage.
But we do not leave the situation in rage. These psalms are meant to “empty out” the rage in one’s heart in order to be given the energy to move past anger and vengeance and onto working to correct these injustices. We need to think deeply and meditate on the reflection of theologian J. Clinton McCann on such a violent psalms as Psalm 137:
“In the face of monstrous evil, the worst possible response is to feel nothing. What must be felt is grief, rage, and outrage. In their absence, evil becomes an acceptable commonplace. To forget is to submit to evil, to wither and die; to remember is to resist, be faithful, and live again…. The psalmist in Psalm 137 submits the anger to God. This submission of anger to God obviates the need for actual revenge on the enemy. For survivors of victimization, to express grief and rage and outrage is to live – to remember is to bear the pain of reliving an unutterable horror – a cross. But to remember is also to resist the forces of evil in hope of living again – resurrection.”

If y’all want to read the above blog with the footnotes please click on the “download” button below. Thank you.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 6
“How long, LORD, how long?” These are the most relatable words for one who is deeply anguished. I think if you were to use any sentence to summarize what lament psalms are, this sentence would do the trick. When you are in the thick of despair, crisis, anxiety, and fear you can’t help but cry out these words: “How long, LORD, how long?” Verse 3 can be the theme of this psalm: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long?”
Psalm 6 gives us a full experience of anguish. The psalmist expresses pain and turmoil both internally (v.2) and externally (v.7). This psalm encompasses the stress of a whole person. We experience trouble like this in our own lives: we have plenty of external trouble (attacks from others), but we also have internal trouble (attacks from within – illness, temptations, lies). The psalmist invokes God to restrain His “rebukes” and “disciplines” of “anger” and “wrath” while he is in turmoil (v.1). He then proceeds to anguish about his internal trouble – illness. The psalmist is completely vulnerable with us and reveals that he is “faint” and that his “bones are in agony” (v.2). This was a common way to express illness in the ancient world because one’s bones were often viewed as the seat of one’s physical strength and health. But this physical illness has also affected the psalmist psychologically because his “soul is in deep anguish” (v.3). Usually physical ailments and the broken psychological state of a person are interdependent. The key phrase in verse 3, “How long, LORD, how long?” indicates that the psalmist has been experiencing these internal troubles for a long period of time. When we experience this internal distress it could feel like an eternity. We convince ourselves – especially those struggling with chronic pain and distress – that it will never leave us, it’ll never end. That’s what our psalmist felt and believed. That’s what pushed him to cry out these words to God.
The psalmist describes, in brutal detail, the anguish that these internal troubles have inflicted on him (vv.5-6). The pain is so long and unbearable that he feels that he is going to die (v.5). He has drenched his bed and his couch in tears from this bitter anguish (v.6). And not only is the psalmist dealing with internal trouble, but he reveals that he is also dealing with external troubles (v.7). His eyes hurt from crying so much (v.7), and he is tired from it all!
But praise the LORD there is always hope! In the depths of his despair and long-suffering, the psalmist turns to the LORD: “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (v.4). Even in the thick of it, God’s attributes still come to the light – His “unfailing love.” And we see that the psalmist held on to this hope, and thus, the results of this steadfast patience. We see in verses 8b-9 that “the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” The psalmist’s tears were not for nothing. His tired eyes can rest now that his prayer has been heard. In the LORD, the psalmist can confidently declare, and even experience, that “all my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish” (v.10). The enemies here can include both external ones (foes) and internal ones (illness). Just as the psalmist was overwhelmed (v.5-6) and in deep anguish (v.3), because of the LORD his enemies are now the ones who are “overwhelmed” (v.10a) and the ones who experience deep “anguish” (v.10b). The “How long, LORD, how long?” (v.3) fades away and transforms into “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (v.4).

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 5
Psalm 5 can essentially extend our understanding of God’s relationship with the world. As we saw above, a canonical connection between this psalm and Psalm 4 is useful for our understanding of who God is. Another connection between these psalms are their emphasis on God’s hearing. But as we will see God’s hearing is crucial for Him to enact His speaking or declarations.
In verses 1-3, we need to consider the verbs used of God that relate it back to Psalm 4: “listen” (v.1); “hear” (v.2); and “you hear” (v.3). The psalmist wants to continue to emphasize this theme of God being a really good listener. But where God is a good listener in the positive sense in Psalm 4 – He faithfully hears His faithful ones – in this psalm there is a negative effect of God’s hearing. Where God faithfully hears the cries of the righteous, He also critically hears the lies and corruption of the wicked ones.
Verses 4-5 introduces to whom and what God’s wrath and hate is directed to: “wickedness” (v.4a); “evil people” (v.4b); “the arrogant” (v.5a); and “all who do wrong” (v.5b). So the object of God’s wrath and hate is identified in verses 4-5, and then we see in what way God inclines His critical and just ear towards those who are wicked and evil.
We see the negative power of the tongue in verses 6-9. The wicked are further described in “hearing” terms: they are “those who tell lies” and are “deceitful” (v.6); and “not a word from their mouth can be trusted” (v.9a). It is important what follows this statement: “their heart is filled with malice” (v.9b). Why does the psalmist connect the words of the wicked one’s mouth with malice in his heart? Well consider the words of our Lord Jesus in Mark 7.15, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” He is talking about the words one speaks because those words come from the source of the person – their heart. If a person speaks evil words, then it is a good indication that the person’s heart is evil and corrupt. This is why the wicked are described as such: “their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies” (v.9). These words are borrowed by the apostle Paul to talk about everyone in Romans 3.13. Essentially, we all fit the description above concerning the wicked. God hears the wicked tongues of the evil ones; so God first hears the wickedness of our own tongues.
But the gospel is declared in Psalm 5.10-12. Even though we all fit the description above, God does not leave us there. For even though the power of our tongue is powerful to bring about our corruption and wickedness, the psalmist shows that God’s words are even more powerful to bring justice and righteousness. Verse 10 calls for God to “declare” – to declare the wicked “guilty” and to “banish them.” But for the righteous “who take refuge” in Him, they will use their powerful tongues to “sing for joy” (v.11). This singing occurs because the LORD will surely “bless the righteous” (v.12). This is justification by faith: God declares us to be righteous in Jesus Christ, and therefore, He declares the reality of new life upon us to live out. God’s Word is far more powerful than our wicked tongues and because of that we can praise Him.
Prayer: Thank you God for declaring us righteous and speaking new life into our dead hearts. We praise you because you hear us not as wicked enemies, but as your faithful children. Amen!

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Excursus 4: Canonical Connections Between the Psalms
There is, what one would call, a canonical connection between Psalm 4 and Psalm 5. What does canonical mean? Well, I’m glad you asked. The term “canon” refers to the collection of sacred books that the church in history has deemed, through careful procedures of acceptability, certain books to be viewed officially accepted as genuine. The canon is the Bible we have now. This process of canonization is not limited to the church only, but it is a process that has been done by early rabbinical Judaism of the early sacred traditions and Scriptures of ancient Israel. So, canon means looking at the whole collection of sacred books set before us. Therefore, reading canonically (or viewing one book in light of the rest of the books in the canon) is a form of reading a specific book, or chapter, or verse within the framework of how it fits, or relates, with the rest of the book(s) of the canon. Essentially, the question refers to the “text as it currently is”; how this final form of a text in our current Bible works with the rest of the final forms of texts throughout the rest of our current Bible.
All that being said, a canonical view of individual psalms in relation to the rest of the Psalter is helpful. In fact, it is through this lens of interrelatedness between individual psalms that the Psalter was probably edited and organized. These connections could have been for many reasons such as textual connections, connections of ideas that each psalm conveys, etc. For example, Psalm 4, for the sake of the temple traditions, was probably used for evening liturgy, while Psalm 5, which follows Psalm 4, was probably used the following day for morning liturgy. Therefore, not only do individual psalms convey theology, but the relationship between psalms conveys theology also. As we saw above, the psalmist can lay down and sleep in peace because of his confidence of trust in the LORD (Psalm 4.8). And in a like manner, the psalmist can relay his requests in the morning with the same confidence of trust in the LORD (Psalm 5.3). This connection between two individual psalms builds a theology that the LORD can be trusted in all aspects of our lives; whether we lay down to sleep He has us, and when we awake and take on the rest of the day He has us. This theology could not be made unless a canonical connection was made between the two psalms.
It is important for our purposes of this study to keep this canonical connection between the individual psalms of the whole Psalter in mind as we move forward because, in a sense, the Psalter is telling a story. The Psalter tells the story of a God interacting with and caring deeply for His people as they move from lament to praise. Every psalm is individual and telling something special of the divine-human relationship, but they are ultimately telling us that this relationship, when we stay on the path of righteousness that God lays before us (Psalm 1), will always end in praise (Psalm 150). When we trust fully in God with our whole lives – whether we lay down to sleep (Psalm 4.8) or wake up ready to take on a new day (Psalm 5.3) – we will be held and heard by God at every moment and we will be blessed. We can learn to sing songs of praises even in our cries of despair. When we are reviled and attacked by the evil one (fill in the blank for “one”), we can have confidence in our trust in the LORD to ultimately deliver us. We can trust in His faithful ear to hear us. And He ultimately will be praised. All glory goes to God and this glory shines forth through our ultimate good. The Psalter is telling us a story; we have to be faithful in our hearing this whole story so that our lives can reflect this story.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 4
This psalm can essentially be broken up into two parts in explaining our relationship with God: (1) verses 1-3 show that the LORD is a hearing God; and (2) because of this verses 4-8 show that we can ultimately put our trust in this LORD.
First, verses 1-3 open and end with two connected ideas: calling (v.1) and answering (v.3). Before we get to the peace we experience in our relationship with God (vv.4-8), the psalmist first describes what kind of God we are in relationship with (vv.1-3). He is a hearing God. Verse 1 opens with the plea, “Answer me when I call to you.” The psalmist is calling upon YHWH to give relief from distress and to show mercy by hearing his prayers (v.1). But this is contingent on who God is, “my righteous God” (v.1). The psalmist calls upon the mercy of God for help because he knows that He is a righteous God. Then verse 2 shows what ails the psalmist’s heart – attacks from his enemies (v.2a) and the state in which these enemies wrongly live (v.2b). They are ones who “love delusions and seek false gods,” or lies. But the psalmist is confident in being heard by God when he calls because “the LORD has set apart his faithful servant for himself” (v.3). So we can be confident in two things from verses 1-3: (1) we know that God hears us because He is “my righteous God”; and (2) He hears us because we are His elect (or “set apart” ones). All this shows YHWH as a God who faithfully hears His people.
The second part of the psalm (vv.4-8) shows us that because of who God is (v.1), we can ultimately put our trust in Him. This ultimate trust in the LORD culminates with our ultimate peace in life. Verse 4 begins with the imperatives to the people of God to “tremble and do not sin” and while they are in their beds to “search your hearts and be silent.” This may be an exhortation to the faithful to stand firm in their identity and to not live in a state of turmoil because “panic” or “confusion” before the LORD is the state that enemies live in, not the faithful (see 1 Samuel 7.10, ESV). After the faithful are found firm in their identity and state before the LORD, the psalmist then encourages offerings of the “sacrifice of the righteous and trust in the LORD” (v.5). Micah 6.8 tells us what proper sacrifice is pleasing to God, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It is through this full trust in the LORD that the psalmist declares of God, “Let the light of your face shine on us” (v.6; see the benediction in Numbers 6.24-26). This state of blessing from the LORD fills the psalmist’s heart with a new joy he has never before experienced (v.7); therefore, he can sleep in a state of peace and safety (v.8). This proclamation to sleep in full trust in the LORD is important because it is in sleep that we are at our most vulnerable. The psalmist says that he “dwells in safety” in the trust of the LORD even in his most vulnerable state. We have no control of what happens around us when we are in a state of slumber. The psalmist tells us that it’s okay because the LORD is in control and cares for us even while we lay down to sleep (v.8). Therefore, we can lay our heads down on our pillows at night in a state of peace that is so warm and secure like a baby coddled into the bosom of her mother as she rests in full protection, warmth, and peace.
Prayer: Father, thank you for who you are, “my righteous God.” Thank you for the state of peace we get to live and sleep in because of your grace. We wake each new day with mercies that are new every morning. Great is your faithful ear toward us LORD; you always hear us. Amen.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 3
Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt sad, broken, and confused? Have you ever felt so heavy from the weight of life that the only gasp of air that you could muster is for a cry? You ever felt so vulnerable in the world that you did not want to step outside the confines of your house and deal with others? Well, then you would understand what it means to lament. The psalms can teach us this lost art of lamentation. To cry out and become undone by our pain and sorrow. To let out that which wants to burst forth. And God wants that. God wants to hear your lament because He cares so deeply for your heart. These words of lament are meant to empty out our hearts so that there is room for God to fill them with His peace and joy.
The first part of the Psalter is less a book of praises than a book of prayers for God’s help. Psalm 3 is this prayer of help. Psalm 3 has elements that make up the structure of a lament psalm: the complaint (vv.1-2), the confession of trust (vv.3-6), and a petition (v.7). This psalm also ends with a closing benediction or blessing (v.8).
The psalmist opens with the complaint (vv.1-2), which are words from his adversaries. There are “many” adversaries (v.1) and they declare negatively of the psalmist that “God will not deliver him” (v.2). This assumes that either God cannot or will not help the psalmist in the midst of trouble. Either God does not have the power to help or that God has no fidelity (relational covenantal faithfulness) to the psalmist. Either claim is an arrogant presumption against God (i.e., claiming to know what God does) and an attack against a fellow human. The adversaries are attacking the psalmist’s source of hope.
Verses 3-6 are a reassurance of the character of God and a confession of trust in his source of hope. The poem shifts at verse 3 with the words “But you” and the psalmist begins his counterargument of the negative assertion that “God will not deliver him” (v.2). Verse 3 gives three titles to God: “a shield around me”; “my glory”; and “the One who lifts my head high.” All these titles show that God protects His loved ones and shows them honor and respect. Verse 4 states that God will answer “from his holy mountain.” This is a reference to God’s faithfulness to His people in the past on Mt. Sinai. And then the psalmist moves from God’s past fidelity to what He is doing in the present and what he will continue to do in His faithfulness. He will “sustain” His people (v.5), therefore we ought not to fear “tens of thousands” (v.6). This is a reference back to verse 1 on the “many” who assail the psalmist.
The petition (v.7) and benediction (v.8) stems from the above confession of trust in who God is (vv.3-6). The petition, “Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God!” is a reversal of the enemies original claim (v.2). After confessing who God is, the psalmist can trust that the enemies are wrong in what they say about God and that God will indeed deliver His people. The psalmist ends his lament with a confession of what he believes of the LORD (contra the enemies) and then invokes God’s blessing on the people (v.8). In the trouble of life and against the attack of enemies, the psalmist finds true faith and trust in the faithful God of Israel.
Prayer: Father, we pray that in the midst of our trouble we can find deeper, faithful expressions of your character. We pray that our cries of lament can be transformed into laughs of joy and praise you. I pray that we receive your strength in the turmoil of life. Show us more of yourself.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 2
I have a friend who is from Britain. We often have conversations about each other’s experiences growing up in different countries. One time we talked about the political state of our countries and I was embarrassed to admit that I did not know the name of their Prime Minister – Theresa May. She was shocked and I realized that I only know the president of America because I live here and it affects me. I want to know who the leader of America is because, in a sense, he is my king. People need to know who is ruling them. People need to know who is in charge. That is where Psalm 2 comes in. Psalm 2 tells us who the king is, and who is really in charge.
This psalm can be considered part two of the introduction to the whole Psalter that goes with Psalm 1. This psalm introduces the rest of the Psalter because it introduces one of the biggest themes of the psalms: the Davidic king. With this psalm specifically, the king plays a large role. There is an important structure of this poem that follows A-B-B-A form:
A) The “kings of the earth” rebel against the LORD (vv.1-3)
B) The divine king is “enthroned in heaven” and rebukes the earth-kings (vv.4-5)
B) The Davidic king is enthroned on Zion and he is the “son” that inherits the nations (vv.6-9)
A) The “kings” (earth-kings) are warned of who really is in charge (vv.10-12
This structure shows that kingship is the talk of this psalm. And there are conflicting reigns in this world. The psalmist says that it is “the kings of the earth” and “the rulers” (officials) that band together against “the LORD” and “his anointed” (v.2). There are two conflicting entities in enmity for the ruling of the earth. One would think that such a power struggle between two superpowers require war and fighting. But the psalmist presents the battle so one-sided. He says in verse 4 that the LORD “in heaven laughs” and “scoffs at them.” This isn’t even a struggle for the LORD and His anointed (king). That is why this psalm is a warning to the other entity, the earth-kings. In verse 10, the psalmist declares “you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” He calls them to the wisdom presented in Psalm 1 – the way of the righteous. Those not in step with the way of the LORD leads to destruction (Ps. 2.12; cf., Ps.1.6). In verse 8, the psalmist declares that the same “nations” and “kings” that rebelled in verse 1 will be the king’s inheritance. God’s response to the rebellion of the earthly powers is the installation of the Davidic monarch on Zion.
So the basic question of Psalm 2 is: Who rules the earth? The answer is: God from heaven (v.4) who extends heaven’s will downward to our sphere through the work of Israel and her king (v.6-9). The whole world needs to know her king; the One who is in charge. This affects us as the psalmist says, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (v.12). The LORD rules the world. He rules the universe. Therefore, we ought to “be wise” (v.10) with the earth-kings and recognize His rule over all of life. That is where true wisdom lies, in the kingship of the LORD.
Prayer: Father, remind us of your kingship. Give us the power to live in the reality of your kingdom. Even though we cannot see you, you reign. Let us be blessed in this truth and take refuge in your kingship when the powers of this world overcome us. Help us to be wise by acknowledging your reign in the world and by walking in step in the way of your kingdom.

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A Reflection on the Psalms

Excursus 2: Hebrew Poetry
The Psalms are poetry with a purpose. Like songs today, they are the discourse of the heart. The soul’s means of communication. Robert Alter says, “We cannot all be poets, but what some are privileged to grasp through an act of imaginative penetration others may accomplish more prosaically, step by step through patient analysis.” Essentially, we are all able to appreciate and examine the art of biblical poetry in our own study of the Psalms. But we must first understand the characteristics of Hebrew poetry.
Hebrew poetry may not sound like “normal” poetry because it does not follow English poetry in predictable end rhyme or meter. These English poetic features can be found in Hebrew poetry, but they are extremely infrequent and do not function for structuring the poem. “The basic characteristic of Hebrew poetry is known as parallelism, the juxtaposition of two or more balanced grammatical elements.” An example of this parallelism can be seen in Psalm 96:
“Sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.” (96.1)
These two phrases are parallel to each other because of the relationship between them – the imperative to “sing to the LORD.” But there is also a slight difference between the phrases that actually help qualify each other. The first phrase describes what the song should be (i.e., “a new song”), while the second phrase prescribes who should sing (i.e., “all the earth”). It is through this parallelism that the poet can pair literary ideas together because “the delight for the poet is in expressing something eloquently” and “the delight for the audience is in discovering the eloquence of the expression.” This eloquence of expression does not make something truer, rather it is a technique that allows the truth to ring with more quality in the ear of the listener – painting truth rather than saying it.
Another defining characteristic of Hebrew poetry is evocative language – powerfully descriptive language. Evocative language employs metaphor, simile, hyperbole, imagery, drama, intensity, repetition, and so on. The psalmist’s deployment of the above techniques enables the personal language of pathos to be felt and appreciated by readers of every generation. The theological truth found in this language has more of a purpose than to relay information – it aims to deeply move the reader.
As you continue on through this devotional of the Psalms pay close attention to the poetic techniques mentioned above. It is through the means of poetry that the Psalms touch our very souls. Keep in mind that “the psalms are poetry of faith,” therefore “faithful interpretation must attend both to their theological nature and also to their poetic nature.” The power of the language is inseparable from the meaning. The meaning of the Psalms exists in, with, and under the poetic language.

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