The Historical Background of Psalm 74–75: A Case for Reading Psalms with 1–2 Chronicles

the-psalms.jpgIn 2017 I preached a sermon on Psalms 73–89. In it, I argued the historical background of Book 3 followed the historical events of 2 Chronicles (as this image illustrates). From this reading, Psalms 74–75 find a historical connection in Shisak’s invasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 10–12 (ca. 930 BC).

Many commentators place the “temple-smashing” description of Psalm 74 at the Babylonian destruction of the temple (ca. 586 BC). Surely, the later dating is plausible, but in my reading the textual evidence is equally, if not more, plausible for an earlier reading. And I tried to show that in the sermon.

This week, we recorded a new Via Emmaus podcast and the question about history came up again. So what follows are a few notes on Psalm 74–75 and why I believe it is best to read Psalms 73–89 in parallel with 2 Chronicles.

Take time to read, consider, and let me know what you think. If Chronicles runs parallel to the Psalms and vice-versa, then it opens large vistas in how to understand both books. 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

Getting into the Psalms: A Personal and Pastoral Reflection

psalmsPsalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Psalm 110, Psalm 121 and Psalm 139. These are just a few of my favorite Psalms. Through the years, I have prayed these Psalms, memorized them, preached them, and turned to them in dozens of counseling situations.

In fact, I remember one Sunday a few years ago when in preaching Galatians, I called an audible and preached Psalm 103, because the needs of the congregation were so great that only a Psalm could reach the depths of emotion present in the room that Sunday. And another time, a distraught husband visited church, and Psalm 32 became the landing zone to help assess the impact of his sin and the hope of finding forgiveness—“Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven” (v. 1)

More personally, the Psalms have been a regular source of strength, comfort, and encouragement to me. When first learning how the Bible applied to all areas of life, Psalm 139 gave sufficient reason to oppose abortion. I still remember turning to verses 13–16 to explain why Bible-believing Christians must defend life in the womb. Likewise, when facing trials, Psalm 121 has regularly been a comfort. Its promises of the Lord’s protection have steeled my heart from many worries. And more recently, when facing the hostility of a purported minister of the gospell, Psalm 55 was sufficient to strengthen my soul. To know that God’s people face betrayal is gut-wrenching reality, but one that the Psalms are capable of addressing. In short, the Psalms have played a necessary role in my life over the years. They have fed my soul. And I’ve seen them feed the souls of others.

Practically, I read at least one Psalm a day. (Except for those days when I don’t and then I catch up on the following day or two). In chronological order, I read through the whole Psalter in five months (January–May), with one extra month (June) to read them through more quickly. I do this to help facilitate prayer, but also to remind myself of the storyline of salvation contained therein. Yes, there is an order to the Psalms and knowing it adds greatly to understanding the Psalms and worshiping their God.  Continue reading

How do you order the books of the Old Testament?

Last week, on Moore to the Point, Jim Hamilton presented a compact and compelling case for reading the Old Testament according to the earliest Hebrew organization: Torah, Prophets (Naviim), Writings (Ketuvim).  Citing Roger Beckwith and David Noel Freedman, Hamilton argued that we should consider the interpretive ramifications canonical arrangement has on our biblical theology, and make adjustments according to the oldest arrangements.  He makes three arguments for such a change, which he summarizes here:

We should accept the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings, and we should order English translations of the books of the OT accordingly because (1) the order in use by English translations now does not match the orders of the books in lists drawn up by early church fathers; (2) Protestants have agreed with Hebrew tradition rather than Septuagint tradition on which books should be included between the covers of the Bible, so Protestants should also agree with Hebrew tradition on how those books should be arranged; and (3) this is the order that Jesus endorsed and that Matthew and Luke apparently expected their audiences to recognize.

The most compelling reason for considering this original, Hebrew reading is that it may help us read the Bible as Jesus did and in turn, it may help us see the Hebrew Bible as unified redemptive story that founds its fulfillment in our Messiah.  Both of those seem like very strong reasons to read the Scriptures this way.

Stephen Dempster, in his outstanding work on the Hebrew Bible, Dominion and Dynasty, appeals to this arrangement and constructs his OT theology accordingly.  His excellent book supports Hamilton’s case, and would be a good read for anyone who wants to think about this issue more.  It also shows how this re-arrangement could (and should) impact theology and biblical understanding.  Read Hamilton’s blog, “Stirring the Pot: How Should the Books of the Old Testamen Be Ordered?” and decide for yourself.

One final thought, how would you teach this in the local church? 

Dr. Hamilton answered that question in his class, “Messiah in the Old Testament,” and said he would do so humbly, patiently, over time, advocating the veracity of God’s Word and teaching his congregation about the history of its reception and transmission.  Maybe he will offer a follow up post that gives practical steps to introducing this sort of thing in the local assembly. 

If you accept this older reading, how would you teach it to your English Bible congregation?

Sola Deo Gloria, dss