The following is taken from the Bible Advocate - Setember/October 2014, a publication of the Church of God, Seventh Day; Denver, CO, USA.
PSALMS…. HEART AND SOUL OF SCRIPTURE[the overview]
Broaden and deepen your friendship with this wonderful Bible terrain.
by Calvin Burrell
In dealing with the Psalms, we join a multitude of folks who resort there regularly for solace and strength. These 150 "chapters" are among the most oft-read texts in the world's bestseller!
People of faith are attracted to the Psalms for good reasons. They occupy high and middle ground in Scripture. They stand out as the Bible's longest book — fifty Hebrew words longer than Jeremiah, the runner-up.
A psalm is Hebrew poetry that was once set to music for use in Solomon's temple. The psalms in our Bibles were in the "hymnbook" from which Jesus of Nazareth sang in the synagogue. As they helped shape and sustain Him in His human formation, so they can serve us in like manner — if we learn them.
Wonder and woe
A common misconception is that the Psalms consist mostly of praise poems, written to exult in God's goodness. Of these there are many, like Psalm 100, a premier poem of public praise, and Psalm 150, a crescendo of instrumental applause at the Psalter's end. Between these two are the marvellous 103rd and more hallelujahs in 111-113, 117, 135, and 144-149.
Further reading, however, shows that the "mostly praise" description fits less than a quarter of the psalms in our Bible. In contrast with the constant praise we expect, what we actually find is a higher fraction of psalms permeated with protest and complaint. Psalm 88 is a prime example of these, and many other psalms (6, 7, 14, 35, 42, 43, and 51-60, for example) carry more gloom than gratitude. David and all other Hebrew poets had their enemies, so themes of grievance and strife are common here.
The presence — even popularity — of this less positive psalm-type reflects the trials, troubles, and tribulations common to all God's children, both ancient and modern. In good times and bad, Christians can find their voice in the Psalms, and God shows Himself patient to bear with us through them all.
Let it also be said that expressions of hope and trust in the Lord are sprinkled through most of these vexed and vexing sections of Psalms. After the nadir of Psalm 88, the tone brightens considerably, with only few exceptions to the psalmists' joy, through to the end.
How do the psalmists deal with the reality that life is often painful? Mostly, they cope by honest expression of their feelings in God's presence.
One thing they do not say is that the whole mess is evil and should be abandoned for some heavenly retreat in the sky. Neither the earth (read Psalm 8) nor our physical bodes (139:14) are responsible for suffering, fearfully and wonderfully made as they are.
As Creator of the natural world with its solemn majesty and simple marvels, God places great value on what He said was very good at the start. Several psalms of nature express a world-view that pushes back against those who see the created order as fodder for the fires of a future judgment day. Read, for example, the nature passages in Psalms 8, 19, 72, 104, 147, or 148 - then celebrate the fresh and lofty dignity given to God's creative handiwork, whether popularly renowned or not.
From the 93rd through the 99th psalms, we find a Hebrew equivalent of the tension seen in Jesus' message that the kingdom of God is present now in His message and ministry, yet has not yet filled the whole earth. The blessedness of salvation is "already, but not yet," we may say.
This double-edged truth was here in the Psalms, centuries before Christ: "The Lord reigns ... Let the earth rejoice. The Lord is great in Zion ... high above all the peoples ... Your throne is established ... from everlasting.... You have established equity [and] executed justice ..." (93:1, 2; 97:1ff; 99:1-5): These words recognize God's kingdom in the present of David's time. The same psalms also say that since evil often triumphs and suffering abounds (94:1-7), the same Lord who already reigns in the earth must come to judge the earth in righteousness and the peoples with His truth (96:13; 98:9). Both the "already" reign of God in His marvellous created order and the "not yet" coming of the Lord to put it all right again are causes for great praise in the Psalms.
The Psalms teach us not to expect escape from here to heaven but to anticipate God's coming here and bringing His justice to all things, all people, all creation. One unmistakable application of this is that God's people should care for all things natural — our bodies, our health, our environment — because God does! He made literal bodies and worlds at the beginning, and they are in His plan for the blessed end of all things: resurrection of bodies in immortal yet physical form and restoration of the earth to its original splendor and more — all in the Psalms.
The Psalms provide several brief but energizing glimpses of the Messiah-Christ and of the gospel message preached by His apostles and the early church.
As essential backdrop for the Christian gospel, the Psalms uphold the law of God in no uncertain terms. This begins in the first psalm and gains momentum in the magnificent 19th. The psalmist's greatest praise for God's Torah instruction through the written Word is found in the massive 119th, though, where all but a few of the 176 verses echo a positive refrain on the biblical materials known as law: His testimonies, His statutes, His ordinances, His judgments, His commandments, His ways, and His Word.
In upholding God's moral instruction so strongly as the Psalms do, the reality about sin must also be faced in truth: More law from God means more sin for people. (The two halves of Psalm 119:96 in King James English suggest both the breadth of God's law and the corresponding failure of humans to fully obey.) No surprise, then, that several psalms major on confession, repentance, forgiveness of, and salvation from, sin.
That every human needs this salvation is seen in Psalms 53:3 and 130:3. That Jesus is the penal substitute provided for our sins is conveyed in Psalm 69:9, where the Messiah says to God, "The reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me."
Psalm 51, King David's repentance song, is strewn with pleas that can be effectual to bring grace again when humbly read and heartily prayed by any present-day sinner. Other penitential segments are in Psalms 32; 38; 103:3, 10-14; and 130:3-8.
The answer to our sin problem in Psalms is not to remove the law (as some say Paul does in the New Testament) but to magnify mercy (110+ uses in Psalms), salvation (110+ uses), deliverance (90+ uses), and redemption (20+ uses). The Lord's mercy toward His people is seen in His not dealing with us as our sins deserve (103:1Off) — a preview of Christ's work on the cross. A core message of the Psalms is that the afflictions and sins of the righteous are many, but the Lord delivers us from every one (34:19).
We conclude with the majestic 19th psalm, which has been declared the most marvellous poem ever written. It begins by telling how God uses the solar system and all creation to get out the word of His glory, a point we earlier tried to make:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices Like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat (w. 1-6).
Then the sweet Psalmist of Israel turns from the revelation of God in nature (His created world) to His revelation in the To-rah (His written Word), to which we previously referred:
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward (w. 7-11).
The final verses glance back to our third psalm theme above: the reality of sin and the good news of salvation. As you read them, look for categories of sins, one of which anticipates apostolic teaching about a "sin unto death" (KJV) in 1 John 5:16, 17.
Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression (w. 12, 13).
Now whisper with David his closing prayer for inward holiness, ending in confidence that the holy Lord who was His strong rock and Redeemer is our Lord and Savior indeed!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer (v. 14).
Jesus in the Psalms
God's Son, the Messiah, is anticipated in the Psalter (see Luke 24:44). Prominent Messianic psalms are 2, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 72, and 110. These verses stand out:
"You are My Son, today I have begotten You" (2:7).
"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (22:1).
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions" (45:6, 7; quoted about Christ in Hebrews 1:8,9).
"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool'" (110:1).
"The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (118:22).
— Calvin Burrell
by Bill Simmon
The michtam psalms (16, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60) are a beautiful set identified through wording like this: "Psalm 16: A Michtam of David." Strong's Concordance defines michtam as "an engraving, that is, (technically) a poem." When the Old Testament (Hebrew) Scriptures were translated into Greek before 200 BC, the word [Hebrew is given] was chosen for michtam. Its English equivalent, stelography, is defined as "the practice of chiseling commemorative inscriptions in pillars, tablets, etc."
These pillar engravings in ancient days projected ideas to an entire society as lasting reminders. They were a proclamation set in stone for all to see, a vigilant witness as new generations were born and died. Every reader — rich, poor, Jew, or Gentile — was given the same wisdom. What David intended was powerful and important/something to be inscribed for future generations to know and remember. These michtam psalms pass along ideas intended to encourage and maintain the daily awareness of the reader. They are to be etched into the pillars of our conscience also, guiding our lives toward God.
Psalm 16:1: Preserve me. This tells how to be God-connected. Withdraw from idol worship: "Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer" (v. 4). Then, engrave these concepts within: The Lord is my portion and my counselor; only He guides me on the path of life to fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (v. 5-11). From start to end, David exhorts us to find God and be preserved in the world.
Psalm 56:1: Be merciful. Facing life's trials and on the precipice, David pens these encouragements: Whenever I'm afraid, I will trust in You; I will not fear what flesh can do ... I will praise God's word ... You have delivered me from death (vv. 3, 4, 10-13). Faith etched deeply inside us will run deeper and stronger than fear of this moment in the flesh.
Psalm 57:1: In the shadow of Your wings. Though in the struggle again with his soul "among lions," David does not fear but maintains an eye on his future deliverance with a steadfast heart of song and praise (w. 4-7). Our faith too must be deeply engrained and unfaltering.
Psalm 58:1, 2: Judgment of the wicked. David's reflection becomes pointed talk toward those who are willingly "deaf and dumb" (vv. 1-5) and do not speak, and act for truth and justice. The end of the wicked is that "God will take them away "as with a whirlwind," but the righteous have a reward (vv. 9-11).
Psalm 59:1, 2: Deliver me. Though much of this psalm is a plaintive cry against his foes (vv. 3-15), David finds courage to expect rescue and sing praise (w. 8-10, 16, 17), requiring a faith embedded by time and use.
Psalm 60:1: Restore us again. Amid trouble at home and abroad (w. 6-11), David's words are self-convicting: O God, You have cast us off, scattered us, been displeased, shown Your people hard things, made us drink the wine of confusion (vv. 1-3). Repentance comes from an engraved knowledge of right and wrong that convicts us. God is a loving Father who will rise up on our behalf. Through God we will do mighty things.
Our struggle is to live these concepts and remain faithful witnesses during dark times, both to those who witness our trials and to those who provoke them. This becomes easier when God's words are etched deeply inside: michtam.
Bill Simmon is a
used equipment manager for a tractor dealership and serves with a Sabbath fellowship in Wichita, KS.
Are You Happy?
by Calvin Burrell
"I made up my mind to be happy today."
So said my friend Raul often when we worked closely in ministry. He was always happy in spite of what was "happening" around him — plus or minus. Whether his days were clear or cloudy, Raul talked to God, persevered through it, and practiced inward and outward joy.
Unhappy stuff happens to everybody, even to those near to God's heart. Soak in the Psalms and you'll see. A recent read-through turned up twenty-five of one hundred fifty poem-songs that would never win a positive-thinking essay contest. Thirty-two more I listed as "mixed": They included several verses of misery and gloom alongside their more positive features.
I'm grateful the Psalms don't require unbroken joy and praise, because there are days I don't feel very happy either. Those are usually the times I don't like others or myself much. Some days are just like that; they too shall pass.
What's the source of our negative feelings? Who knows, but I don't think it's the Devil alone who causes them. Instead, I suspect most emotions are generated within us as a soul-ish (mind, will, emotions) response to all the stimuli we've received on any given day.
Do our feelings have moral implications? Some say that emotions are neither right nor wrong; they just are. It seems better to say that our feelings, like our thoughts, do carry either positive or negative charge, more or less. Most feelings may be indicators of how well we're letting this mind be in us that was also in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of God within us helps us discern these things.
What's the best way to cure those feelings that carry a negative charge? Overcome them with positive thoughts, words (like Raul's), and actions. Let the joy of the Lord be our strength.
Experience says that the most likely thing about gloomy feelings is that they will change. Sometimes in an hour or less, but usually after a good night's sleep, melancholy moves on.
I hope life works like that for you, too — by the grace and truth of God. Martin Luther caught a fine truth in this rhyme: "Feelings come and feelings go, And feelings are deceiving. My warrant is the Word of God —Naught else is worth believing."
For me, time, rest, and regular input of Scripture are reliable cures for gloom and despair.
Every negative emotion we've ever had, someone else had it first. Many someones, really. Even the godliest people — men and women after God's heart —have endured dark nights of the soul.
Most of the negative feelings we've ever had find an echo in the psalms of Scripture. We can read them, sing them, meditate on and pray them, if we will — then wrestle with the feelings or put up with them until they too pass.
The corollary of this is also true: Every positive emotion we've ever had — joy, peace, praise, contentment, delight, exhilaration, etc. — somebody else had first. The Psalms reflect most or all of our positive emotions as well. By putting feelings into words, they serve to perpetuate the emotion and root it deeply so that it blossoms more regularly. Let's be wise to trace our finest feelings to their Source and thank Him as David did.
My friend Raul is still happy today because he settled that in his mind, because he seeks the psalmists' high refuge daily, and because he daily echoes their praise.
SONS OF KORAH
Editor's note: Who are the sons of Korah? In the Bible, they're responsible for writing a number of the psalms. In Australia, they're a band of musicians dedicated to giving a fresh voice to the Bible's hymnbook, using a unique acoustic, multiethnic sound.
The BA caught up with the group's leader, Matthew Jacoby, while they were touring in Australia recently.
BA: We see "Sons of Korah" in the subtitles of a dozen psalms, all in the second and third books (Psalms 42-89). Who was Korah, and who were his sons?
MJ: The name Sons of Korah comes from a group of Levitical musicians to whom at least thirteen of the psalms are attributed (see the small print titles under the numbers of Psalms 42-49 and 84-88). The original sons of Korah were responsible for the ministry of music and song in Old Testament worship, particularly with the musical composition and performance of psalms. What follows is the remarkable story of this family, according to the Bible's brief record.
The sons of Korah tell a wonderful story of God's grace. It appears that this family of musicians were descendants of the same Korah who led a rebellion against Moses in the desert (Numbers 16). This was a serious crime that led to serious consequences for all those involved. We read that God caused the ground to open up and swallow all those who were involved in the rebellion along with their families (v. 31ff). In Numbers 26:11 we read the words "The line of Korah, however, did not die out" (NIV throughout). And sure enough as we follow the genealogies through Chronicles we see that the line of Korah did indeed continue. According to 1 Chronicles 6:31ff, when David organized the different tasks for the temple worship, he assigned the ministry of song for a large part to the Kohathites. The head of this group was Heman, who is the writer of Psalm 88 and a direct descendant of Korah the Kohathite. Hence the psalm is also attributed to the sons of Korah. It seems that at some point this musical family came to be named after their rebellious forefather. The continuing existence of this family line — sons of Korah — was a living testimony to the grace of God that they were happy to declare. They certainly had much to sing about. We feel the same way.
BA: Which few psalms have become your audience favorites, and why?
MJ: Psalm 121 is probably the most requested. It is a psalm of assurance and comfort in the uncertainties of life. Psalm 139 is another that people tend to go back to. The other one that's very popular is Psalm 27. We recorded this in four parts, and to date it is the work I am most happy with. It is an amazing expression of a heart devoted to God and therefore so impervious to fear in the midst of the greatest threats.
BA: Do you stick verbatim with mostly one translation of the psalms for your lyrics?
MJ: We take some liberties with the text in order to make it work with the music, but not so much that the text itself becomes unrecognizable. We want people to recognize the Psalms and memorize them in a form that is as close to a good English translation as possible. We use the NIV as our main guide simply because it is the most widely used translation. I think the NIV translators did a good job of keeping the poetic element in the psalms.
(THE NIV MAYBE GOOD IN PARTS, BUT IT SHOULD NOT BE YOUR BEDROCK BIBLE; IT IS BASED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ON THE TWO CORRUPT MSS - THE VATICANUS AND THE SINAITICUS; WHICH MOST MODERN NT BIBLES ARE BASED ON, VERY CORRUPT! THE NEWKJV SHOULD BE YOUR NUMBER ONE ENGLISH BIBLE - SEE THE STUDIES "HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE" - Keith Hunt)
BA: Does your group have a default music style, or does each psalm call for a slightly different genre?
MJ: Yes, each psalm calls for its own style. To express the wide range of emotions in the Psalms we draw on a wide range of musical styles. For many of the praise psalms, for example, we draw on the exhilarating sounds of Latin music. For the lament psalms we often use the haunting tones of Arabic music, which also evokes the original eastern context of the psalms themselves. There are also hints of Celtic music here and there. Overall, these styles are hybrids and blends. The result, I think, is something interesting and engaging. To work with many psalms, we have had to move outside the standard three-minute pop song. Many of them run over a few tracks on our albums and are structured in movements that follow each psalm's emotional content. Other psalms do fit into a simpler folk-pop form that keeps them accessible. We play mostly acoustic instruments to keep a timeless element in the music. We do use some electronics though to create a kind of movie soundtrack effect that acts as a bed upon which the acoustic sounds can create an ambient and reflective mood.
BA: The "Sons of Korah" subtitle is found on several bright psalms, like 84 and 85, but also on Psalm 88 - one that N. T. Wright calls "the darkest poem in the whole book." Do you sing the darker psalms as often as you do the brighter ones? How do people respond differently to these genres?
MJ: We sing many of the darker psalms. We believe this genre to be a really important aspect of the prayer life of the Christian community. Darker psalms are an acknowledgment that there are things that grieve God, and in some way they are therefore the reciprocation of the sadness of God over the lost state of the world. If we are to take hold of the truth of the good news, we must first face reality. Unless you face the dark realities of life, the good news will be meaningless. In the lament psalms, the psalmists are faced with the realities of a broken world, and even their own depravity. As they face these realities, their "groaning" sets their hope on what God is doing, and faith rises up. According to Psalm 126, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy." The goal of the Psalms is joy, but the first rung of the ladder to joy, so to speak, is down in the depths of lament. The idea of complaining to God is a vital expression of faith. It is a faith that will not lower expectations of God when the human situation seems to contradict the promises of God. We should not be content with alienation and spiritual power-lessness when God promises us fellowship and empowerment. So when the psalmists feel that they lack what God has promised, they complain. The Psalms are showing us what faith does in
this respect. They model prayer and worship in the tension of life in a broken world in which we await the culmination of God's work of redemption. The Psalms are the expression of the groaning that Paul talks about in Romans 8. This groaning, according to Paul, is a fruit of the Spirit (v. 23). The Psalms are not merely Old Testament songs; they are songs for the church because they are the expression of people praying "in the spirit on all occasions" (Ephesians 6:18). We tend to want the joy without the sorrow. But that is not possible. James speaks to this situation when he says, "Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:9, 10). That sounds like the lament psalms to me. Sorrow is not a thing of the past; it is a vital aspect of faith. So long as there are things in the world and things in us that grieve God, just so long will there be causes for lament.
BA: How do the Psalms speak to the postmodern world?
MJ: They present a faith that is real and grounded in reality. Spiritual expressions are not romanticized; they are authentic and honest. This gutsy and relational spirituality goes beyond prayers of token piety. It is people relating to God through the roller coaster ride of human experience. As a result, you have a far broader range of expression than you find in popular spirituality today. So many expressions in the Psalms would be counter-cultural in today's church context. Yet they speak powerfully to our world. They show us the journey of faith not in abstract form, but from the inside. They are experiential in nature and they invite us into experience.
Visit the Sons of Korah at son-sofkorah.com
BRING BACK PRAISE
by Dorothy Nimchuk
In an effort to get youngsters off the couch, a Canadian TV commercial promotes "Bring back play." This concept is certainly conducive to good health, prompting children to be active.
Even more important, however, is spiritual health in which godly obedience supersedes bodily exercise — something Paul mentions in 1 Timothy 4:8. This is a special challenge in our current culture in which sports and entertainment have taken center stage and crowded out spiritual pursuits, in addition, the air around us is often polluted with lewd stories, loose lips, and loud curses.
We've lost our ability to praise God in this kind of worldly environment. It's time to "bring back praise" and honor the heavenly Father.
How can we do this? By returning to the Psalms. They are filled with praise for what God has done. They encourage people to serve the Lord with gladness, sing praises to His name, acknowledge His power and glory, and be thankful for His blessings. He is so deserving of praise.
For example, Psalm 36:5-9 is an ode to God's mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, judgments, and loving-kindness. It teaches that we can safely trust in His care and provision. The joy we experience in God's presence transcends the balance in our bank accounts or the food served on our tables.
But praise doesn't always come easily in life. David composed many psalms while in the solitude of the desert with his father's sheep. He praised God for strength and courage to kill a lion and a bear that threatened the sheep. Serving under King Saul, David led his troops into battle in the name of the Lord and praised Him for victories won. When Saul turned against him, David poured out his heart to God through his psalms, battling his own demons of despair.
Worse times for David came when he lusted for another man's wife and experienced God's disfavor. Brought up short by Nathan the prophet for his misdeeds, David was remorseful and quick to repent. He pleaded that God's presence would not leave him.
In times of fear and distress, David remembered to call upon the Lord in both prayer and praise, with the sure knowledge that he would find solace and solutions. Many of us echo his sentiments in times of distress. God should be praised for the good times but also for the growing times when life appears bleak and we seek to learn its lessons.
We are the crowning glory of God's creation. When we enter into God's presence, it is fitting to bring a gift to the Host — a gift of self as a living sacrifice, wrapped in a garment of praise and tied with the ribbon of cheerful obedience. The Psalms serve as a kind of "commercial" in the Bible, reminding us to do that — especially in hard times. They recall God's greatness, power, and authority and that God stands between His people and their enemies.
The Psalms encourage us when we're depressed and lift us up when we're low. In both private reading and public worship, they offer relief from trouble in the expression of highest praise.
Dorothy and Nick Nimchuk, retired CoG7 pastor, Live in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
By the time you read this, the San Diego CoG7 will have spent most of a summer in the Psalms. This twelve-week season began for us June 21 and will end September 13.
The initial idea came one April evening at sunset on La Jolla Shores beach while I sought God's guidance on my preaching. Typical sermon prep for me involves three things: looking at Scripture; looking at the world around; and looking to God for discernment in comparing and contrasting the two.
Where in Scripture could I find expressed both the high and
low tides of life? Where in the Word is there described both the struggle of emotions that shift like sand and the blessing of faith as solid and unmoving as the rock wall just down the beach? Where in the Bible is there a crying out from the crushing waves of suffering, with assurance of a rescue that doesn't just save us from drowning but actually lifts us up to ride in victory over those waves?
We find all of that throughout the Word, praise God. But He was directing me to a specific section of Scripture: the Psalms.
I'd like to tell you what it looks and feels like on the other side of this twelve-week summer season, but I can't. We aren't there yet!
As I write this in the first week, we've begun a congregational plan to read through the Psalms, and every sermon, every Sabbath class, and every Sabbath praise time will be based out of, or inspired by, passages from this book. As we internalize, memorize, meditate on, and apply the Psalms, we will cry out for spiritual revival in every area of our lives.
And we don't want to stop there! We are asking God to use us in a mighty way so that the revival can spread beyond our congregation — to our friends, co-workers, family members, neighborhoods, and community.
"Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law" (Psalm 119:18).
"My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up" (5:3).
"But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me" (13:5, 6).
These are our prayers, that the almighty, sovereign God would open our eyes to see wonderful things in His Word; that He would accept our "Summer in the Psalms" as a sacrifice prepared for Him; that we will watch with faithful expectation, trust in His steadfast love, and rejoice in His salvation. We also pray that the conclusion of this season will see us singing in thanksgiving because of the bountiful way God has dealt with us.
— John Marlin, San Diego, CA
The Psalms' images of our Lord, as the Good Shepherd and us as His sheep share the same comforting truth: Christ watches over us lovingly, and always will.
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and us as His sheep is one of the Bible's most powerful reminders of the enduring love of Christ. While this idea is often associated with the Gospels, it is also held in the pages of the Psalms.
In the most famous psalm, 23, David describes our Lord as a shepherd who meets the needs of His flock, finds them pleasant resting places, and guards them against danger. David's youthful experiences tending his father's sheep helped him create this memorable illustration of the Savior's love for us (1 Samuel 17:34).
Later in the Psalms, Asaph sings, "We, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations" (79:13). Similar sheep themes appear in Psalms 95:6, 7 and 100:3.
In Psalm 28:9, David prays, "Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; shepherd them also, and bear them up forever," and Psalm 80:1, 2 contains a kindred prayer. Psalm 78:52 describes the Lord's rescue of the Israelites from Egypt as a specific instance of Him guiding His people like a flock.
Psalm 49:14 takes a different approach, portraying unrepentant sinners as sheep who will end up in the grave, shepherded by death. Those who follow the Good Shepherd will be led safely through the valley of the shadow of death and escape this fate (23:4).
Thankfully, if ever our lives are not as they should be, we can cry out as David did, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments" (119:176).
Long before Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7), David knew the Lord cares about us and will save us, no matter where we are.
Foreshadowing similar allegories in the parables of Jesus, the Psalms' images of our Lord as the Good Shepherd and us as His sheep share the same comforting truth: Christ watches over us lovingly, and always will.
— Jonathan Carner, Mobile, AL
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? .... I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear (Psalm 22:1, 2).
Has your soul ever reached out to God, and the only response you got was deafening silence? The Psalms often express the grief of God's silence, with a plea to be heard and answered (for other examples, see 28:1, 2; 55:1,2).
We were born as conversing beings, with God and others. From the beginning God enjoyed sweet communion with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. Then He spoke to His people through prophets. Now God has spoken to us through Jesus Christ and the God-breathed Scriptures.
The truth is that our heavenly Father is always speaking, but we are often hard of hearing. Thus, God's seeming silence. If you find yourself not hearing from God, consider these strategies:
* Take steps to ensure you are in the will of God (Psalm 19:14; 139:23, 24). Disobedience can block the channel of hearing from God. He is not obligated to speak to us if we have not obeyed His instructions. Have you despised the counsel and corrections of the Lord?
* Consider you are being tested. As master teacher, God teaches us His words and life lessons, then permits a test. When I teach an aspect of curriculum, I have to allow my students to undergo tests so they'll know what they've learned, then identify the gaps in their learning. God was silent at some points in job's trials so that Satan could know that Job feared God with integrity. Has God given Satan permission to examine you as one of the trophies of His grace?
* Be still and know that He is God (46:10a). When we stop struggling for answers, they often come. In times of silence, make a conscious effort to be confident in the things you know to be true of God: He is faithful, kind, all-powerful, and wise. He never makes a mistake (103:1-5).
* Make sure God hasn't already spoken through Scripture. Sometimes people wait for a word from God when the Bible has provided answers or guidelines. Search the Scriptures, for in them are His words of wisdom and life (19:7).
* Evaluate the experiences of your life. Divine dialogue is happening consistently. What is God saying to you through your daily events? Seek wise counsel to help analyze your silent situations.
* Be patient. God is sovereign; He will "speak" when He chooses (62:1, 5).
* Be committed to a lifestyle of praise. An authentic, consistent worshiper captures the attention of God, who inhabits the praise of His people. In the environment of thanksgiving God is more likely to speak. Like David, make the decision to bless the Lord at all times, and let His praise be continually in your mouth (34:1)!
Everything God does is stamped with purpose — even His silence. Be so secure in His love that you can trustingly embrace His handpicked seasons of silence and wisely take action according to your situation.
— Donna Sherwood, London, England
My favorite psalm wouldn't make most people's top ten list. It's not the 1st, 23rd, 51st, 100th, 119th, or 150th. It's Psalm 25, a psalm in which a few key themes of the Psalter speak most powerfully to me.
Whatever I may appear to be outwardly, inwardly I am often troubled by sin and emotional turmoil. I often find myself in need of deliverance, forgiveness, and instruction in righteousness.
It's then I find myself quoting the final verse of Psalm 25. Thanks to my unique name, I don't even need to personalize it: "Redeem Israel, O God, out of all [his] troubles."
Psalm 25 is a desperate plea for God to answer us in our distress, rather than letting us fall to our adversaries (vv. 1-3). It's a supplication for our Savior God to teach us to live in righteousness (w. 4, 5). It's a humble confession that we need God to remember His endless compassion rather than our numerous sins. It's a proclamation that God is good and upright, that as sinners we depend on His loving-kindness to teach us a new way (vv. 6-11).
Psalm 25 reminds us that God is faithful and that following Him is the pathway to true and eternal life (vv. 12-15). It ends with a plea that God would turn to us and be gracious, healing our lonely affliction and forgiving our sins (vv. 16-18). Whereas in other psalms David offers imprecatory prayers against his enemies, here he simply asks for protection and deliverance as he walks in integrity and uprightness (vv. 19-21). He ends with a humble plea for redemption from all that ails him, offered to the only God who can answer (v. 22).
I often return to Psalm 25, particularly when I don't know what else to pray. There I find a kindred spirit in David, a man who knew sin and sorrow, but also knew the God of mercy and righteousness who could deliver Him. Like David, I seek that God with the words of Psalm 25. And like David, I always find Him faithful.
— Israel Steinmetz, San Antonio, TX
EMBRACING THE PSALMS
In their helpful book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart describe the Psalms as a "guide to worship."1 How can this collection of one hundred fifty ancient hymns and poems guide our worship? What must we understand about them, and about worship, so we can embrace the Psalms as a resource in becoming a church passionate in worship? Let me propose a few ideas.
First, consider worship as a progression of three r's: revelation, recognition, response. Worship begins as God reveals Himself. The transcendent God of the universe makes Himself immanent in activity like creating, speaking from a burning bush, or coming to earth as the divine-human Savior.
But not everyone sees God for who He is. We must recognize Him as He reveals Himself, which becomes the basis for our response. Worship of God does not happen among those who shut Him out. Once we willingly recognize God for who He is, we are compelled to respond in multi-faceted worship.
How could we not respond?
That worship looks something like this. Recognizing God as loving, we respond in love. Recognizing God as sovereign, we respond in service. Recognizing God as beautiful, we respond in adoration. Recognizing God as powerful and faithful, we respond in fear and faith.
Categories of psalms
Now we turn to the Psalms. Fee and Stuart describe them in seven categories:
Psalms of Lament: "express struggles, suffering, or disappointment to the Lord."
Psalms of Thanksgiving: "help a person or group express thoughts and feelings of gratefulness."
Psalms of Praise: "center on the praise of God for who God is, for God's greatness and beneficence"
Psalms of Salvation-History:
review the "history of God's saving works among the people of Israel, especially his deliverance of them from bondage in Egypt…"
Psalms of Celebration and Affirmation:
include covenant renewal liturgies, royal psalms, and songs of Zion/Jerusalem; express faith in God's faithfulness to His people and the coming Messiah-king.
Psalms of Wisdom:
describe "the merits of wisdom and the wise life."
Psalms of Trust:
focus on the truth that "God may be trusted... even in times of despair, his goodness and care for his people ought to be expressed"2
In each category, the three r's are in the background. We respond to God with our laments, our praise, our trouble, and our joy because the Word reveals Him as the source of all good, provider of every need, and protector from every harm. We honor God because we recognize Him as the beginning and the end, the author and finisher of our faith. We look to God as the source of all wisdom and the one in whom to place our trust. Why? Because He has revealed Himself faithful, we have recognized His trustworthiness, and we can't help but respond in worship and adoration.
Focus on God
The Psalms invite us to join the ancient Israelites in worshipping God in every season of life, for who He is and what He does. They urge us to praise God for every blessing and come to Him with every need. They prompt us to remember what God has done in the past and celebrate what He will do in the future.
Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth — Fourth Edition, 231.
Israel Steinmetz, serves as Dean of Academic Affairs for LifeSpring School of Ministry.
One precious psalm heals one grieving mom. by Shirley Brosius
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you knew if you only had it, your life would be nearly perfect? I felt that way when I became pregnant with our third child. Already blessed with a wonderful husband and two healthy sons, I welcomed the chance to have a little girl. I pictured the perfect family: mommy, daddy, three kids, a house in the country....
Our baby girl arrived five weeks early on an April Fool's Day morning. But our cries shattered the dawn, not hers. Christy Marie weighed five pounds, so doctors could not explain her under-developed lungs. We were devastated by her death. I felt God had pulled a cruel joke on us.
How could God take our baby, our only daughter? We loved God and had dedicated our lives to serve Him in whatever way He called. Our congregation had prayerfully supported me throughout a difficult pregnancy. How could God say "no" to our prayers for a healthy baby?
I lay on my hospital bed, turning the pages of Scripture, which seemed dry as fall leaves. Numb with grief, I found no encouragement there. I felt God had deserted me.
My pastor said I would learn from this experience. What could I possibly learn from this tragedy?
The weekend after Christy's funeral, my husband took our sons to church, and I listened to a Christian radio station. While a choir sang "As the Deer," hope, like a leaf in the spring breeze, stirred ever so slightly in my soul.
Psalm 42, on which that song is based, perfectly reflected my feelings. When I read it, I discovered that like the psalmist, I thirsted for God and wanted to get to know Him better through this tragic, unexpected experience. I related to the psalmist's emotions; tears soaked my pillow. And although my soul was "downcast" and my emotions yo-yoed, I determined I would put my hope in God and trust that someday I would again praise Him (vv. 1-5).
I clung to that hope. I memorized Psalm 42 and repeated it to myself as I sought refuge in God during that long, dark night of my soul.
Some time later, I found out my pregnancy had aggravated a hearing condition known as otosclerosis, and I needed surgery. Too emotionally distraught, I put it off for a year. My severe loss of hearing, however, left me feeling isolated and trapped in my grief.
Once I had that surgery and could better communicate, I hoped I could move on in my grief, but I developed cancer and needed major surgery. The loss of my child, the loss of normal hearing, and the loss of my child-bearing ability — in three consecutive years — left me feeling depleted mentally, physically, and emotionally. I truly doubted that I would ever again lead a happy, productive life.
But as I waited on God, I applied more of Psalm 42 to my sad situation. I began by remembering how good God had been to me in the past (v. 6). He had seen me through many losses and disappointments. When I was a child, I suffered from rheumatic fever that limited physical activity during my youth. My father was ill throughout my childhood, restricting our income. He died when I was 19.
And it was only by God's grace, shown through the good will of a brother, I had gone to college.
During my pregnancy I had given up my job as church secretary because I'd planned to stay home with our new baby. Now with no baby, no job, and both sons in school, how would I spend my time? How might I get my mind off my grief?
At our pastor's suggestion, I enrolled in seminary courses to better equip myself for Christian service. The studies informed my faith, gave me something productive to do, and brought joy to my heart. I love to learn. In time my pastor suggested I earn a master's degree in Christian education and join our church staff. God had closed a door, but His grace had opened a window.
For ten years I served as a director of Christian education. Our two sons eventually brought wonderful daughters-in-law into our lives, then grandchildren. In fact, I was in the birthing room when my first granddaughter arrived! Just like her aunt, Christy Marie, Rachel appeared five weeks early, but she immediately let us know her lungs were quite healthy. Twenty years after Christy's death, Rachel's birth helped to heal my heart and made me one happy Grandma.
In time I discovered my niche as an inspirational writer and speaker, and I found that by sharing the story of how God restored my life, I could offer hope to others experiencing loss and heartache. People can identify with my struggles and draw strength for their own journeys.
Psalm 42 reminds me that God is personal. As the psalmist poured out his soul to God (v. 6), so I poured out my soul. I prayed that my grief would lessen, that I would receive strength for the day, that my physical strength would return. God answered my prayer by calming my spirit, bringing friends and relatives to support me in my sorrow, and blessing me with a husband who held me and cried with me. God cares — for me.
Psalm 42 reminds me that when I thirst, God refreshes me and acts on my behalf. Through the verses I memorized, His song whispered encouragement to me in the night (v. 8). And just as a drink quenches my physical thirst, His Word refreshed me as I read promises of Scripture in the morning light.
When I struggled to focus on Scripture in general, Psalm 42 applied to my life in a real way. It told me that I could hope in God and that someday I would be able to praise Him for His help (v. 11). So I hoped and waited, and today I praise Him for seeing me through this difficult time and letting me learn through it, as my pastor said I would. I developed greater compassion for people who experience loss of any kind. I learned to trust God, even when He appears untrustworthy. And eternity has become more real to me, knowing our Christy will one day find its air easier to breathe.
Many times I have received God's comfort and grace through the words of the psalmists. My picture-perfect life never developed, but with God in the picture, life is good. Very, very good.
Shirley Brosius, writes from Millersburg, PA.