Twelve Reasons for Reading the Psalms as a Unified Canon That Leads to Christ

bibleTo read something canonically means reading something as a unified whole, instead of fragmenting the book or letter into dozens of independent (or worse, divergent) pieces. Reading canonically seeks to understand the author’s intention, by recognizing the literary shape of his document. It is aware of the genre of the composition, but even more it looks at the internal evidence to see what is there. When reading books in the Bible, this way of reading is challenging, but always well-repaid. By seeing the literary shape of the text, we come much closer to understanding the meaning of the message.

But what if the book is composite, something like Proverbs, which is a collection of wise sayings? Or the Psalms, which is the ‘hymnbook’ of Israel and the Church? Is it possible to such books as a unified whole?

When it comes to the Psalms, I believe the answer is unmistakably, “yes!” And the reasons are manifold. In fact, drawing on the work of other Old Testament scholars, I want to suggest  twelve reasons why you should read the Psalms as a book written as one unified canon. Or to say it differently, here are twelve evidences of intentional arrangement in the Psalter—arrangement that should inform the way we read the Psalms and that should ultimately lead us to a more Christ-centered understanding of the Psalter and its individual Psalms. Continue reading

A Brief History of and Apologetic for Reading the Psalms Canonically

psalmsShould we read the Psalms as 150 individual hymns of praise, thanksgiving, and lament? Or should we read it as one unified hymnbook, written with purposeful arrangement? Or both?

Throughout the history of the church, the Psalter has played a central role in shaping the church at worship. Publicly and privately, these inspired words have fueled faith, directed praise, and expressed lament. Some have used the Psalms as the sole hymnbook for their song services. Others have employed them for counseling and meditation and theological devotion. All who swim in their waters find a glorious taste for God, expressed with the deepest emotions of the human soul. Therefore, like honey, its sweetness is self-evident.

Yet, the question remains: how should we read the Psalms?

Importantly, the answer to that question has shifted over the last one hundred years. And it is worth learning a little bit about the history of Psalm studies to understand why most Christians—of various stripes—read each psalm in isolation for the others. And why that kind of reading should be complemented by an approach that reads the Psalms as one, Spirit-inspired soundtrack to redemptive history.

But to do that, we need to go over oceans and back to the 19th Century. Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Seeking God in His Word (Psalm 119:9–16)

rhythms-of-holinessYesterday, Ben Purves, our Pastor for Student Ministries at Occoquan Bible Church, continued our series on spiritual disciplines. What follows are some discussion questions and resources to go deeper in Psalm 119.

**********

Psalm 119 is one of my favorite Psalms. Both the longest chapter and prayer in the Bible, this 22 stanza psalm is a literary masterpiece. Written as an alphabetic acrostic, it is a beautiful celebration of God’s Word. The psalmist calls the reader to delight and rejoice in God. This last Sunday we looked at the second stanza (vv. 9-16) and considered how we might treasure God’s Word as we head into the New Year. You can listen to the sermon here.

Psalm 119:9-16

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13  With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14  In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15  I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16  I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Discussion Questions

  1. What words are used to describe the Scriptures, and how do they open up different dimensions of God’s Word?
  2. What attributes of God are revealed in the text?
  3. What are the two petitions of the psalmist in vv. 9-16? What does each petition reveal about the psalmist?
  4. Practically — what does it look like to guard our hearts with the Word of God?
  5. What should the relationship be between our love for God, his word, and sharing the gospel?
  6. How would you characterize the heart of the psalmist?
  7. How does one get his heart to be like that of the psalmist?
  8. How might your heart become a treasure storehouse of the Word of God?
  9. What steps might you take to increase your joy in God and His Word in 2017?

Further Resources

Articles

Books

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Putting the Psalter Together: How the Superscriptions Tell the Story

bibleIn canonical studies on the Psalms (i.e., studies that read the Psalter as one unified book, intentionally arranged to communicate a message of messianic hope), Jim Hamilton has provided a helpful reading of the Psalter by paying attention to the superscriptions of the Psalms. Because this Sunday’s message will depend heavily on the superscription in Psalm 20 (“to/for/about David”), I have asked Jim if I could share a large section of his explanation of the Superscriptions and how they relate to the whole of the Psalms.

The following excerpt is taken from his excellent survey of the Bible, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (You can find more about his book here, with ideas for incorporating it into your Bible reading). Continue reading

Thanksgiving According to the Psalms

thanksgivingWhile some of us may still be eating leftover turkey, most of us have moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This is understandable, as calendars and commitments require us to live in the present, not the past. But let us not forget that giving thanks goes beyond thanksgiving.

Indeed, in all Paul’s epistles minus Galatians—oh, those foolish Galatians!—he begins by giving thanks to God for the people he is addressing. Throughout the Bible thanksgiving is a normal and necessary part of saving faith. And so it ought to be a normal and necessary part of our daily living—not just a holiday season in November. Still, what does thanksgiving look like on a regular basis? And how can we grow in our expressions of thanksgiving?

Let’s go to the Psalms to answer that question. Continue reading

The Power of Prayer

powerChristians have always been a praying people. In truth, since the Spirit awakens us to God our Father and moves us to cry out to him (Rom 8:15-17), it is inconceivable that God’s children wouldn’t pray. Yet, as we pray, it is worth asking: From where does the power of prayer come?

To that question we could answer in a number of ways. James 5:19 says, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). In comparison with a passage like Psalm 66:18, we might conclude that powerful prayer depends on the person: God hears and answers his choice servants, but ignores the pleas of men who regard sin in their heart.

Surely, there is some truth in that. But there is also error, if we think that our personal righteousness is the means by which God answers our prayer. Just a few verses before James speaks of “powerful” prayer, he says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” In context, the righteous pray-er is the one who prays in faith. In other words, personal righteousness is the not the source of powerful prayer. Rather, powerful prayer comes from those who by faith confess their sins and plead for God’s mercy. Continue reading

Whose ‘Blessed’? Five Reflections from the Psalms

blessedBlessingIt’s what every wants, but few know how to get.

In America, we have a certain brand of blessing that has come to be known as the prosperity gospel. You can find its explicit version on TBN and its more subtle form in a Christian bookstore near you. This subtler prosperity gospel comes with invitations to ask God for the impossible and promises to help you break through to the blessed life. In its softer form, the blood of Christ may not be denied; it’s just hidden behind the luggage of the Lord’s blessings.

In other words, instead of centering on the “blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Tim 6:15), this soft prosperity preaching, as Kate Bowler calls it, centers on man and his earthly desires. Lost is a sense of eternal gravitas and the biblical conviction that God created the universe for his glory. What it lacks is a sense of what blessing is and isn’t. We need to let Scripture inform our understanding of blessing, and we need to see that true blessing is radically God-centered. Continue reading

Psalm 89: A Covenantal Problem . . . and Its Resolution

Psalm 89 presents the Bible reader with a covenantal problem. Located at the end of Book 3 (Psalms 73-89), it prepares the way for a new movement of God in Books 4 and 5 (Psalms 90-106 and 107-50). It stresses God’s unilateral promise to David that God will keep his covenant. For instance, read verses 28, 34-37.

My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.

I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever,his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” 

Yet, it also laments that God has renounced the covenant (v. 38-39).

But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.

Hence the problem. Continue reading

Psalm 104 and Genesis 1 in Graphic Display

In his brief but illuminating commentary on the Psalms, Derek Kidner graphs the relationship between Genesis 1 and Psalm 104.  I have reproduced an expanded version of his exegetical chart below.  It shows well how the Psalmist wrote his hymn of praise in the light of Moses creation account.

Creation Day        Formed & Filled
Day 1 Gen 1:3-5 Light & Darkness Ps 104:1-2a Light
Day 2 Gen 1:6-8 Heaven & Earth Ps 104:2b-4 Divides the waters
Day 3 Gen 1:9-10 Land & Sea Ps 104:5-9 Land and water distinct
   “   “ Gen 1:11-13 Ps 104:14-18 Vegetation, trees, hills/rocks
Day 4 Gen 1:14-19 Vegetation Ps 104:19-23 Luminaries as timekeepers
Day 5 Gen 1:20-23 Sea & Sky Animals Ps 104:25-26 Creatures of sea and air
Day 6 Gen 1:24-28 Animals & People Ps 104:21-24 Animals and Man
   “    “ Gen 1:29-31 Ps 104:27-30 Food appointed for all

Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 368.

Of course, the relationship is not hard and fast, many aspects of the Psalm bleed into other sections, but like creation itself there is order and overlap.  Pericopes, like ecosystems, often do not have fixed boundaries, but rather discernible patterns and parameters.  God has called us to find order in his organic world/Word, but not to force our mold on either. For a lengthier description of Psalm 104, read my last post, “Seeing the Glory of God in Creation

Soli Deo Gloria, dss