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    Aug 03, 2014

    Class 12: Psalms

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, Suffering, Wisdom, Bible Prophecy, Bible Interpretation, Nature of God, The Glory of God, The Holiness of God, Work of Christ, Repentance


    Summary: The Book of Psalms is the prayer and praise book of God’s Son and God’s people


    Open with prayer.  The class then opens with you reading the last three Psalms, end to end without pausing in between.  This should take about 2-3 minutes.  Practice it ahead of time so you can read fairly quickly without making mistakes.  That way you can leave the class with the emotional force of these amazing words as you begin the class.


    1 Praise the Lord!
    Praise the Lord from the heavens;
        praise him in the heights!
    Praise him, all his angels;
        praise him, all his hosts!

    Praise him, sun and moon,
        praise him, all you shining stars!
    Praise him, you highest heavens,
        and you waters above the heavens!

    Let them praise the name of the Lord!
        For he commanded and they were created.
    And he established them forever and ever;
        he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.[a]

    Praise the Lord from the earth,
        you great sea creatures and all deeps,
    fire and hail, snow and mist,
        stormy wind fulfilling his word!

    Mountains and all hills,
        fruit trees and all cedars!
    10 Beasts and all livestock,
        creeping things and flying birds!

    11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
        princes and all rulers of the earth!
    12 Young men and maidens together,
        old men and children!

    13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
        for his name alone is exalted;
        his majesty is above earth and heaven.
    14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
        praise for all his saints,
        for the people of Israel who are near to him.
    Praise the Lord!

    1 Praise the Lord!
    Sing to the Lord a new song,
        his praise in the assembly of the godly!
    Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
        let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
    Let them praise his name with dancing,
        making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
    For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
        he adorns the humble with salvation.
    Let the godly exult in glory;
        let them sing for joy on their beds.
    Let the high praises of God be in their throats
        and two-edged swords in their hands,
    to execute vengeance on the nations
        and punishments on the peoples,
    to bind their kings with chains
        and their nobles with fetters of iron,
    to execute on them the judgment written!
        This is honor for all his godly ones.
    Praise the Lord!

    1 Praise the Lord!
    Praise God in his sanctuary;
        praise him in his mighty heavens![b]
    Praise him for his mighty deeds;
        praise him according to his excellent greatness!

    Praise him with trumpet sound;
        praise him with lute and harp!
    Praise him with tambourine and dance;
        praise him with strings and pipe!
    Praise him with sounding cymbals;
        praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
    Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
    Praise the Lord!



    Amen.  Good morning!  Hopefully that gives you a taste of the glory of our subject matter for today: the Psalms, often described as the hymnal of the Bible. Christians through the ages have testified to the power and the solace of the psalms to speak to God in times of great sadness and times of great joy. The question for us today is, how do they speak to us?


    Calvin called this book


    “‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul’; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.” (Comm. p. xxxvii)


    In good times, nothing better expresses praise to God than the words of the Psalms. In bad times, nothing can better remind us that God knows our sorrows and our troubles, and there is no better way in the midst of those trials to express our faith.


    Today we want to study the psalms by posing five questions:

                1. What are the Psalms?

                2. Who wrote the Psalms, and when?

                3. How are the Psalms structured?

                4. What are the different kinds of Psalms?


                5. How do the Psalms point to Jesus?

                6. How do we read the Psalms as Christians?


    I. What are the Psalms[1]?


    The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 musical poems and prayers with different human authors and characterized by different literary forms

    • All were written in Hebrew
    • Some unfamiliar words that appear in the psalms - such as Selah - are probably notes for musical or worship direction.
    • Many of them have introductory notes, which we can treat as reliable.[2]
    • Many of the psalms were composed for and sung on special occasions. For example, at least five psalms (2, 21, 72, 101, and 110) were created for the coronation of the king.
    • Some of the Psalms appear linked to historical events. For example, fourteen psalms are linked to historical episodes in the life of David (Psalms 3, 7, 18, 30, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, and 142)


    The Psalms are entirely poetry, which means that the language is condensed and conveys its meaning through image and structure.

    • English poetry, as you know, tends to work through sound, rhythm and rhyme.
    • However, Hebrew poetry uses “parallelism” to either reinforce, contrast or develop and expand an idea.

                                        Example of reinforcement: Psalm 103:10:

                                        He does not deal with us according to our sins,

                                        nor repay us according to our iniquities.      


                                        Example of contrast: Psalm 63:8

                                        My soul clings to you;

                                        your right hand upholds me.

    At first, this verse expresses our desire to hold onto God. But then it turns the idea around and reminds us of the opposite - that he is holding us.


    English poetry often doesn’t survive translation well.  But, as Derek Kidner has written in his commentary on the Psalms,


    "…the poetry of the Psalms has a broad simplicity of rhythm and imagery which survives transplanting into almost any soil. Above all, the fact that its parallelisms are those of sense rather than of sound allows it to reproduce its chief effects with very little loss of either force or beauty. It is well fitted by God's providence to invite ‘all the earth’ to ‘sing the glory of his name’” (Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 4)


    II. Who Wrote the Psalms, and When?


    The psalms were written by many different people over a long period.

    • Moses wrote Psalm 90 in the 14th century B.C.,
    • Ezra, may have written Psalm 119 and a few other psalms after the exile—about 1000 years after Moses.
    • In addition to Moses and (maybe) Ezra, authors include: the Sons of Korah and Asaph (worship leaders), Solomon, who wrote Psalm 72, and David, who wrote 73 of them.  “The Psalter opens with a flurry of Davidic psalms and closes with a similar grouping (3-9; 11-32; 34-41; 138-145.[3]


    We don’t know, but perhaps Ezra compiled and organized them in their present form for use in the rebuilt Temple.  Of course, though the book has many different human authors, Jesus teaches us that behind all of this is a single author: God.


    III.  How Are the Psalms Structured?


    The psalms are divided into five books

    • Each book concludes with a doxology - a special song of praise to God.
    • Book 5 ends with five doxologies (145-150).  They likely are a climax to the whole book, not just book 5.  I read to you the last three of the Psalms at the beginning of the class.


    Book 1 includes Psalms 1-41. This section probably was assembled around David’s lifetime.


    The first two psalms are particularly worth noting for our purposes, because they show the meaning we can derive from how the psalms are ordered.  Psalm 1 presents us with two types of people: a righteous man, and a wicked man.

    • Look at this righteous man in verses 1 to 3.

    Blessed is the man
        who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
    nor stands in the way of sinners,
        nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

    but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
        and on his law he meditates day and night.

    He is like a tree
        planted by streams of water
    that yields its fruit in its season,
        and its leaf does not wither.
    In all that he does, he prospers.



    • So who is this model of righteous living, who delights in God’s law, meditating on it day and night?  Was it any of the Israelites?  Is it any of us?


    Now look at Psalm 2.

    • Verse 2, the kings of the take their stand against the Lord and his Anointed One (Messsiah).
    • Verse 5: he rebukes them.
    • Verse 6: He’s installed his King.
    • Verses 7-9: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’”

    So we have the promise of this grand messianic figure, who will be King, and Messiah and Son and who will rule over the earth. At the beginning of the Psalter, then, there is an eschatological (end-time) expectation of the Messiah’s rule over the whole earth.  Is it any accident that this Messianic figure comes just after the statement of love for God’s Word that no human could ever honestly make?  That is, no human but Jesus?


    And then immediately after this, we have 30 Psalms by David.


    Book 2 includes Psalms 42-72

    • These psalms often address distress and difficulty experienced by individual people.
    • Speaking generally, these are psalms of great comfort.


    Book 3 includes Psalms 73-89

    • Many of these psalms were probably written after the exile to Babylon, and may have been written to comfort the people in this time.
    • These psalms help us understand the apparent triumph of evil men, and how fleeting it is in light of God’s greater purposes.


    Book 4 includes Psalms  90-106

    • This book shows the importance of worship in the wake of the exile.
    • In general, this section stresses divine kingship and contrasts it with human kingdoms[4].


    The last book, Book 5, also stresses divine kingship

    • This section - which includes Psalms 107 through Psalm 150 - is the longest section in the Psalms
    • Its main theme is praise to God, and it includes the well-known “songs of ascents,” Psalms 120-134 that pilgrims used as they approached the temple.
    • It includes the emotional low point of the Psalms—137—where the horrors of the Babylonian pillage of Jerusalem are captured in a handful of searing images.  And then builds back up, beginning with another set of the psalms of David, to finish with the burst of praise that I read a few minutes ago.  The theme of this section is summed up well by Psalm 150:6: Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.



    IV. What Are the Different Kinds of Psalms?


    There are many different views on this, but generally speaking, we can sort the psalms into ten different kinds:

    1. Psalms of lament.  Psalm 3 is an example.  These psalms are pleas for deliverance from a variety of foes.  But they’re not simply pity parties.  They are also incredible expressions of trust—often with an assurance of God’s mercy and provision.  These psalms are so useful for us because of their honesty of struggle, on the one hand—and insistence on trusting in God on the other.  Great for forming our prayers to God in times if difficulty.
    2. Psalms of thanksgiving.  Psalm 30 is a good example.  “I will give thanks to you forever!”
    3. Psalms of praise (like what I read at the beginning of class.”  These often begin with a Summons to praise, followed by a Reason for praise, concluding with a Recapitulation of praise.
    4. Enthronement psalms
    5. Royal psalms
    6. Psalms of Zion
    7. Psalms of wisdom: like we looked at in Psalm 1.
    8. Psalms of Trust
    9. Liturgies
    10. Torah Psalms – Psalm 119


    V. How Do the Psalms Point Us to Jesus?


    Well, then, that’s a basic primer on the psalms.  But how do they point us to Jesus?  And once we see how the Psalms relate to Jesus, we can hopefully answer another question: how we are to read the Psalms as Christians? That’s not as simple as one might think. For instance, Psalm 18 reads, “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.” (v. 20)  Can you read and pray this in your quite time?


    Well, we can only find answers to these questions by looking at the best commentary available on the Old Testament, the New Testament. What did Jesus and the New Testament authors say about the Psalms?  Quite simply, they all said the Psalms were fulfilled in Jesus. Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 24:44? “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” How did Jesus “fulfill” what was written about him in the Psalms? 


    In his book The Ancient Love Song: Finding Christ in the Old Testament, Charles Drew titles his chapter on the Psalms “Songs of the Messiah.” And he divides the songs of the Messiah into two types:  songs about the Messiah and songs by the Messiah. And I think this division helps us know how Jesus “fulfills” the Psalms, as well as how to read them as Christians.


    Psalms about the Messiah

    The Psalms about the Messiah are not hard to recognize. Psalm after psalm focuses our attention this great and glorious king of Israel, so great and glorious, in fact, they must be prophetic.


    We already saw an example of one of these Psalms in Psalm 2, that tells about this coming Messiah who will be installed as king, and who will dash his enemies like pieces of pottery.  What do we do with psalms like this? Again, we want to ask what the New Testament say about them.  Speaking to the Jews in Acts 4, Peter and John say this passage is about Jesus (Acts 4:26). So does the author of Hebrews (1:5).


    Psalm 110 proclaims this Messiah as well: “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand,

    until I make your enemies your footstool.’  The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.  Rule in the midst of your enemies!” Jesus quotes this Psalm several times (Matt. 22:41-45, Mark 12:35-37). Peter explicitly says it points to Jesus in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:32-36). And the author of Hebrews does the same (Heb. 1:13; 4:14 through 5:10, 7:11-28).


    Obviously the language here goes far beyond praising the current monarch: these psalms are about the divine, forever king that was promised to David.  The Messiah.


    Psalms by the Messiah

    But the New Testament authors also use the Psalms in another intriguing way:  they put words and experiences of the psalmists into the mouth and life of Jesus (Drew, 88). There’s a sense in which we read the Psalms as if they were by the Messiah, and here especially we find ourselves drawn into a broad range of human experience and emotion.

    • Jesus clears the temple (John 2:14-17) because, quoting from Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
    • Jesus goes to his death (John 15:25) because, quoting from Psalms 35:19 and 69:4, “They hated me without reason.
    • And describing his own heart’s turmoil (John 12:27), Jesus quotes David in Psalm 6:3-4.
    • A number of Jesus’ last words are taken from the Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Psalm 22:1); “I thirst” (John 19:28; Psalm 69:21); “Into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5).
    • But not just Jesus’ suffering, also his vindication: Peter points to Psalm 16 to explain the resurrection: You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Acts 2:22-36; Psalm 16;10).
    • Even Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes on the cross, is used to describe his ministry today in the church by the author of Hebrews: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.  12 He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises’” (2:11-12; Psalm 22:22).


    Again and again, the psalmist’s experiences and words are being put into Jesus’ mouth and life. We could look at many more examples. Remember Calvin’s quote? The psalms are “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul”? All the emotions that we feel throughout life, we can find in the Psalms—and many of them were written to be vocalized not just by us, but more directly, by Jesus.


    VI. How Do We Read the Psalms as Christians?


    There are four broad lessons I think we can take from this about how we are to read the Psalms as Christians.


    1. We read them with sensitivity to the Psalm type, original Old Testament meaning, and its location in the canon.

    An explicitly messianic Psalm, like Psalm 2, will be read differently than a song of lament, like Psalm 3, or a confession, like Psalm 51.  We need to read each Psalm understanding its unique characteristics and its place in the larger context of Scripture[5].


    2. We read them (selectively) as the songs of the perfect God-fearing man—the Messiah.

    The book of Psalms is one way God’s given us to talk to him in a way that honors him while never minimizing the trials we know.  When God the Son became man and put on flesh, he entered into the realm of our temptations, trials, and miseries. Christ was “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (5:7). And, “he learned obedience from what he suffered” (v. 8). In the Psalms, we must listen for the voice of the Messiah, which will open up new depths of understanding of him.  Often, we can work so hard at protecting his divinity, we distance ourselves from his humanity. Drew writes,


    “When we turn to the words of the Psalter and read them as Christ’s very words, his humanity suddenly comes to life for us. We understand more fully what it means that our Lord submitted himself to the yoke of our flesh in order to redeem us. Read the words of Psalm 84:1-2—“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord”—and then picture Jesus at age twelve sitting with the rabbis in his Father’s house…Hear the boy’s quiet words of rebuke to his frantic parents, ‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ And then wonder with fresh insight at the words of Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD.”


    Jesus understands human suffering[6]:

    “Jesus knew the wounds of betrayal and desertion…

    ‘Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Ps. 38:11).


    ‘You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them’ (Ps. 41:9).


                “Jesus knew the fear and loneliness that drives us in desperation to God for help…


    ‘See how my enemies have increase and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you’ (Ps. 25:1-2).


    “Jesus knew, in the face of great suffering, the temptation to doubt God’s love:


    ‘Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent’ (Ps. 22:1-2).


    “Jesus knew physical suffering and death…


    “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death…they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps. 22:14-16).


    Jesus, in his birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, redoes redemption history. He does it all over again. Who is that paradigmatic righteous man in Psalm 1?  It can only be Christ, or at least, Christ fulfills it, just like he fulfilled the law by keeping the law in its entirety.  He is the ideal of righteousness in every way throughout the Psalms and throughout the Bible. And so in the Psalms he is both the Davidic, messianic figure taking dominion over the earth. But he is also the perfect people of God; he is God’s son Israel.  In the psalms, we get him as both king and servant.


    And this should be a tremendous source of comfort! He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet was without sin.  So we can put our trust in him.  Listen to Drew again:


    “We can derive immense comfort from reading the Psalms as the word of our Mediator. Read this way, they remind us that there exists a man who lived for us the life that we should live, but fail to do so. There lives a man who loved to be continually in the courts of the Lord—unlike me. There lives a man who knows the full range of human sufferings—better than I do. There lives a man whose sufferings were entirely undeserved—unlike mine. There lives a man who could say, “I wash my hands in innocence, and go about thy altar, O Lord, singing a song of thanksgiving,” a man with “clean hands and a pure heart,” a man who could truly protest his full righteousness and innocence. That man was not David (Psalms 32 and 51 make this plain), and it certainly is not I. It is my great Redeemer, the man Jesus, who not only died in my place, but also lived in my place.

    “The next time you read, ‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”’ (Psalm 122:1) and are tempted to feel horribly guilty because you would rather be playing golf than worshiping God, remember that these are first and foremost the words of the one true Worshiper who fulfilled all righteousness on your behalf. More likely than not, when you perceive the matter this way, you will want to put your bags aside and go with thanks to praise the One who has so fully saved you” (94-95).


    3. We read them for ourselves THROUGH the Mediator.


    As Christians, we know to only approach the throne of our holy God through Christ our mediator, and in him we can approach with confidence! In other words, as you read the Psalms, keep Christ—mentally—continually at your side, like a trailblazer who is now leading you down the trail that he blazed.

                Goldsworthy: “We should not be seduced into thinking that the Psalms can speak from and of themselves to us. If they speak to us of God, they must speak to us of the God who has finally revealed himself in Jesus Christ. If they speak to us of sinners, they speak to us of those who are outside of Christ. If they speak of the judgment of God, they speak to us of the curse of the law that Christ suffered for his people on the cross. If they speak to us of the faithful, the godly, or the righteous, they speak to us first of Christ, and only then of those who are redeemed in Christ” (Whole Bible, 200).



    So being sensitive to context, we can understand the Psalms as both an amazing model of prayer for us and as a giant arrow pointing to Christ.  They draw us to true worship.  I love how Drew puts it in his book:


    “At the most profound theological level, worship is a spectator sport. We gather to watch the Father vindicate his Son in the preaching of the gospel and to watch the Son give praise to his Father in the praises of our lips. For the Spirit Christ indwells us, and that Spirit lives to extol the Father and the Son” (100).


    So let’s do just that.  And use the Psalms as God’s perfect gift to gain access to that marvelous theater of worship.  Let’s pray.


    [1] The traditional Hebrew title for the book comes from a word that means “songs of praise” – tehillim. The title “Psalms” comes from the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, taken from the word psallo “to pluck,” a word used in context of stringed instruments.

    [2] We should recognize that those introductory titles are part of our Bible as it has come down to us and are not just surplus. However, they are not necessarily inspired. The LXX was translated c. 200 BC. Not all are present yet. However, Jesus himself seems to give these superscriptions great weight, basing one of his arguments with the Pharisees on them. Cf. Matt. 22:41-46 & Psalm 110.


    [3] Dempster, 194

    [4] Psalm 110 is a good example of this

    [5] Paraphrasing Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 201

    [6] This section continues to quote from Drew.