From Dust to Trust: Rebuilding Shattered Dreams with the God of the Psalms (Psalms 90–106)

the-psalmsWhat happens when your dreams are pulverized? To whom do you turn? Where do you run?

In the Psalms, Book 3 (Psalms 73–89) concludes with the crushing news that the crown of David had been buried in the dust of the earth. In short, because of Israel’s sin, and the sin of David’s sons in particular, God permitted the nations of Egypt and Babylon to plunder and then exile the nation of Judah. In 586 B.C., the final phase of God’s judgment sent the exiles to Babylon, destroyed the temple, and ended the rule of David’s sons.  Second Chronicles 36 tells of this exile. And Psalms 88–89 sing of the horror of these events, wondering even how God could permit his covenant with David to suffer so great loss.

In last week’s sermon, I considered this tragic fall. This week, I moved into Psalms 90–106, where we discover what the God of Israel did to resurrect his people from the dust of death. In short, there is great encouragement in Book 4 of the Psalms. For anyone suffering the calamities of this world, even losing all that they own, this section of the Psalter is a powerful message of hope, as it continues to trace God’s work of redemption from David (Psalms 1–71) to David’s son Solomon (Ps 72) to David’s sons (Psalms 73–89) to the hope God himself dwelling with people (Psalms 90–106) and raising up a new David (Psalms 101–03 and 107–150).

If such a message sounds needed, you can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Below you will find discussion questions, the four infographics we’ve used to help outline the Psalms, plus a few articles I’ve compiled to help show why reading the Psalms as one story is both biblically faithful and pastorally fruitful. Continue reading

Reading the Psalms from the Beginning: How Reading the Psalms Canonically Is More Ancient Than Modern

focusIs a canonical approach to the Psalms a new creation, or the invention of modern scholars? Or do we do we find anything like it in church history?

This important question was raised recently and I didn’t have a one-stop, go-to resource to provide an answer in the affirmative. Indeed, most studies advocating the canonical reading do not spend great time on interpretive strategies in early church. Rather, most focus on, in the words of Hans Frei, the “Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative,” and the biblical-theological need and warrant to read the Psalms as a literary whole.

Still the question lingers. Is a canonical approach merely a recent invention. Providentially, my reading on the Psalms took me to David Mitchell’s work , The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalmswhere he spends fifty pages tracing the history of psalm interpretation. In his first chapter, he give a resounding ‘yes’ to the question, order and arrangement have always been taken into consideration until the modern period of hermeneutics. Only since the Enlightenment, with its skepticism towards the supernatural inspiration of the Bible, has an atomized approach to the Psalms been the norm.

In what follows I summarize his research and outline why we can have great confidence that a canonical approach to the Psalms is not just a modern invention, it is a recovery and an amplification of the Christian practice of reading the Bible as God’s inspired word. Continue reading

From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House (Psalms 73–89)

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From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House

In his chapter on the Psalms, Paul House writes of Book 3, Psalms 73–89:

Subtle shifts in tone, superscriptions and content leading up to historical summaries in Psalms 78 and 89 indicate that part three [Psalms 73–89] reflects Israel’s decline into sin and exile. This national demise occurs in about 930–587 B.C. and has been described previously in 1 Kings 12–1 Kings 25 as well as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Twelve. The view of history found here matches that in the Prophets: Israel’s covenant breaking led God to rebuke, and then reject, the chosen people and to expel them from the promised land. These Psalms portray this rebuke and rejection against a background of the remnants faith struggles and the Lord’s patience. (Old Testament Theology, 413–14)

In Sunday’s message I attempted to show some of the history of Judah that stands behind the events of Book 3. I argued that by learning the history of David’s sons and listening to the priestly heralds of Book 3 we come to learn about Israel’s hope and our own hope. Whereas the sins of David’s sons led to the demise of their throne, God would ultimately remain faithful, as it evidenced throughout Book 3 and even more in Books 4 and 5.

While fulling getting our hands on the history and poetry of Israel challenges us—we are, after all, removed from Israel’s history by over 3,000 years and differing languages—it is evident that devastating fall afflicts David’s house and the house of the Lord between the end of Book 2 and the end of Book 3. Psalm 72 shows the exalted throne of David, now given to Solomon; Psalm 89 shows the crown of David thrown into the dust.

In the infographic, I try to show some of the probable connections that make up the details of Book 3, as it gives the soundtrack of David’s falling house. Discussion questions below focus on Psalm 89. And sermon audio and sermon notes are also available. (You can find a list of observations related to Psalm 74 and 2 Chronicles 10–12 here). Continue reading

Reading the Psalms Carefully Means Reading the Psalms Canonically: Six Quotations from ‘The Shape and Message of Psalms 73–89’

carefullyAmong recent studies on the Psalms, one of the most linguistically rigorous is that of Robert Cole, (former?) professor of Old Testament at Southeastern Theological Seminary. His monograph The Shape of the Message of Book III (Psalms 73–89) shows just how carefully the editor(s) of the Psalms arranged the collection of the Psalms. And any student of the Psalms would benefit from his exhaustive study.

Devoting a chapter to each Psalm (17 in all), he shows how every psalm can and must be read in light of its surrounding context. His trench work shows that a canonical approach the Psalms is not just the product of an over-eager imagination that sees connection from a high altitude. Rather, he demonstrates how the grammar of the Psalms is intentionally ‘shaped’ to fit one Psalm into another.

For instance, he shows how Psalm 73, which begins Book III, develops verbal connections with Psalm 72 in the first strophe (vv. 1–12) and how the second (vv. 13–17) and third (vv. 18-29) strophes of the same Psalm anticipate words and events in Psalm 74 (pp. 15–28). In order, he follows this methodology through Book III, showing why a canonical reading of the Psalms is more than permissible. For those who care deeply about literary context, it is necessary.

For any pastor preaching through the Psalms or any student of Hebrew poetics or biblical hermeneutics, Cole’s book is an excellent technical study on how the Scriptures are knit together. At the same time, his opening section provides a number of quotations on recent research on the Psalms. Following Gerald Wilson and others, he provides more than half dozen block quotes arguing for the necessity of reading the Psalms as a whole. Continue reading

A Parade and a Pacemaker: Getting Into the Psalms, So That the Psalms Get Into You

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A Parade and a Pacemaker: Getting Into the Psalms, So That the Psalms Get Into You

After three weeks away from preaching, and hearing three faithful sermons on Psalms 22–24, Psalm 73, and Psalm 88, I took to the pulpit again yesterday. And instead of jumping into Book 3 of the Psalms, I sought to answer one question: How do we get into the Psalms? Or more precisely, how does a canonical approach to the Psalms apply to our daily devotions?

Comparing the Psalms to Christ-anticipating parade, I made the case that we must read the Psalms

  1. With Christ as our guide,
  2. Consistently,
  3. Prayerfully,
  4. Canonically,
  5. Consecutively, and
  6. With Christ as our goal.

You can listen to the message here or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a few resources. Continue reading

Gone with the Wind: Malcolm Muggeridge on the Effervescence of Geo-Political Rulers

warMy best friend from high school posted this Malcolm Muggeridge quote today on his Facebook account. In light of the world’s unrest, and our need to pray for international peace, they are quite fitting. In an essay entitled “But Not of Christ,” Muggeridge writes,

We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.

I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. Continue reading

Does Paul Interpret Moses Allegorically? A Few Lexical Notes on Galatians 4:24

allegoryNow this was written allegorically: these women are two covenants.
One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.[1]
– Galatians 4:24 –

What does ἀλληγορούμενα mean in Galatians 4:24?

To answer the question about the lexical meaning of ἀλληγορούμενα is difficult, because it is only used once in the New Testament. That being said, I think we can say a few things, acknowledging that this word and its immediate context (Gal 4:21–31) is a hotbed for interpretive disagreement. That said, here are a few notes on the matter which came from a recent Sunday School class. Continue reading

Learning to Read Moses’ Allegory: Matthew Emerson on Galatians 4:21–31 and Paul’s Reading of the Pentateuch

paul.jpegIn his illuminating article on Galatians 4:21–31, Matthew Emerson shows how we should learn to read Moses from the Apostle Paul. In a passage that typically is used as an example for how to not read the Old Testament like Paul, Emerson makes the opposite case. And I believe he is exactly right.

In his article,“Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21–31,” he lists a number of historical and contemporary approaches to Paul’s use of allegoreō in Galatians 4:24. In what follows, I will list some of his findings (all the quotations are from his article) and summarize his compelling argument for learning how to read Moses from Paul in Galatians 4:21–31. If you can get to his article, I encourage you to read it, or anything he writes. Continue reading

On “Speaking Allegorically”: An Engagement with Friedrich Büschel in the TDNT

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[Here is the first in a few blogposts following up from today’s Sunday School lesson on Galatians 4:21–31 at Occoquan Bible Church.]

In the first volume of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Friedrich Büchsel notes how “allegorical exposition” is common among ancient people including “Indians, Mohammedans, Greeks, Jews and Christians.”[1] In particular, allegorical interpretation arose when something in the text brought modern offense, as is the case of Homer. This too carried over in Christian interpretation. Where various Old Testament texts seemed to oppose accepted theology, allegorical interpretations were made to smooth out the differences. Büschel notes, “In method, . . .  the Jewish and Christian interpretation of the OT is dependent on this allegorical exposition of Homer.”[2]

Büschel goes on to report Aristobulus as the first Jewish interpreter to adopt an allegorical approach and he learned it from the Greeks: “It can hardly be doubted that he took over the allegorical method from the Greeks, for he is saturated with Greek culture and uses the same method to interpret Greek poetry.”[3] Still, the greatest name associated with allegory is that of Philo. Philo may have been influenced by Greek culture but never at the expense of the literal sense. If anything, he upheld the literal sense of the Law and then went beyond the literal sense. This kind of polyvalent approach adumbrates that of other known ‘allegorists’ like Origen. In his own day, Büschel calls Philo “a theologian of the centre who avoids extremes and can combine diverse elements.”[4] In fact, it would be misleading to label Philo an extreme if that implied he forsook the legal requirements of the Law. Rather, as Büschel concludes,

In this matter we should bear in mind the highly complicated nature of Philo’s theology. It maintains an artificial balance between a legal and literalistic Judaism on the one side and an intellectual and spiritualistic mysticism on the other, never inclining too much to either the one or the other, but keeping the two in equilibrium.[5]

While Greek approaches to literature influenced Aristobulus and Philo, it also impacted the Jews in Palestine. For instance, one positive fruit of this allegorical approach was the inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon. “Only by means of allegorising could this collection of love songs be understood as a representation of the love which binds Israel to God.”[6] Additionally, the nature of “allegory” is different in Palestine. “Among the Palestinians allegorical interpretations are both rarer and less arbitrary; the distance between the literal meaning and the allegorical is much less.”[7] This difference stems from the Palestinians distance from Greco-Roman philosophy and from their closer adherence to the text. Nevertheless, it is apparent that among Jews there is a polyvalent approach to the text (“For the Palestinians, too, it is in keeping with the dignity of Scripture that it has many meanings”[8]), and thus an openness to reading the Scriptures allegorically. Continue reading

Preaching to the Late Modern Mind: Five Cultural Narratives to Know

preachingIn his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller addresses how Christianity confronts culture. Wisely he speaks of the way we must (1) affirm truth in culture, (2) confront idols in culture, and (3) show how truth in culture is derived from and only satisfied by the Christ who reigns supreme over all cultures. Thus, instead of just being for or against culture, Keller describes a “Yes, but no, but yes” approach for preaching Christ to culture.

Approaching culture in this nuanced way means understanding the modern world in which we live. In a chapter entitled “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind,” he describes the difference between the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christianity brought dignity and personal value to the West. In other words, before Christianity emerged in the West, the pagan world with its philosophers conceived of the world as an impersonal universe. Belief in a tri-personal God, sovereignly directing history and seeking to redeem humanity changed all of that. And the bounty of the Western world, therefore, is a byproduct of Christianity’s influence.

In one place, Keller nicely summarizes five differences between the pre-Christian world with the Christian West. He then goes on to explain how secularism has taken Christian values to the extreme, making them idolatrous falsehoods. But in explaining how Christian values have gone rogue, he doesn’t include them in his compact table. On page 128, there is one column missing (that would help flesh out his argument on pp. 128–33).

So, I added the third column to the table below to help show the way in which the West has left Christianity behind and distorted many of the values it provided. By seeing in our culture post-Christian culture the traces of Christian thought, we can as Keller points out, begin to lead people back to the source of the values (e.g., science, individualism, personal choice) they embrace today. Indeed, if you value and enjoy science, justice, or personal choice today, it is worth noting where those cultural gifts derive. Keller’s chapter on preaching Christ to culture is an excellent place to begin thinking about that relationship.

Five Chief Narratives of Western Thought[1]

Before Christianity Emerged [in the West] After Christianity Came to the West After Christianity ‘Left’ the West
The body and material world are less important and real than the realm of ideas The body and material world are good. Improving them is important. Science is possible. Science is absolute. Materialism is absolute. Technology is sufficient to solve our problems.
History is cyclical, with no direction. History is making progress. Progress means history is unimportant. Everything novel is superior to the past.
Individuals are unimportant. Only the clan and tribe matter. All individuals are important, have dignity, and deserve our help and respect. Individuals are supremely important. Individualistic expression should never be questioned, even when detrimental to the group.
Human choices don’t matter; we are fated. Human choices matter and we are responsible for our actions. Choice is sancrosanct and must be guarded and guaranteed at all costs.
Emotions and feelings should not be explored, only overcome. Emotions and feelings are good and important. They should be understood and directed. Emotions and feelings are determinative. To feel authentic I must express my desires and never suppress them.

In sum, these “five axes,” which Keller adapts from Charles Taylor (The Secular Age), help diagnose some of the challenges in front of us. Together these five narratives can be classified as follows:

  • rationality (and an explanation of where the world came from and what we can know about it),
  • history (and the meaning of life),
  • society (and the relationship of individuals to groups),
  • morality (and who gets to determine right and wrong), and
  • identity (and where we get our sense of value and purpose).

To be sure, these realities do not drive our exegesis of the biblical text, but in communicating that text to others we must be aware of these ideas. Knowing these cultural baselines helps us affirm and deny the beliefs we find in individuals and in our surrounding culture. Preachers must be aware of these realities to wisely apply God’s Word.

Indeed, all Christians should have a growing awareness of cultural presuppositions. Why? So that we will not be ensnared by them, and so we can communicate the gospel by rightly affirming some cultural desires as finding their telos in Christ and by confronting others cultural idols as errant promises that ultimately lead to death (Prov. 14:12).

In short, Keller’s sections on preaching Christ in a post-Christian culture are worth considering. They challenge the faithful witness to love his neighbor(s) by knowing what his neighbor believes and loves. Therefore, while planting ourselves in God’s unchanging Word, we must also learn how to share Christ with others who embrace various aspects of the aforementioned narratives.

To that end, let us continue to give ourselves the Word and the world, so that we can take the good news of the former to meet the dire needs of the latter.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

_________________

[1] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 128. First two columns are verbatim; the last column summaries Keller’s prose.