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

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

Redemption in the Key of D(avid): A One-Page Guide To Reading the Psalms Canonically

Yesterday I taught through the Psalms.  150 Psalms in about an hour.  It was a fast-paced survey of how the Psalter moves…

from the suffering and glory of the historical David in Psalms 1-72
to fall of David’s house and Israel’s exile because of their covenant breaking in
Psalms 73-89
to a YHWH-centered interlude in
Psalms 90-106 which promises redemption and recovery of God’s people because of God’s covenant faithfulness and steadfast love…
to finally the messianic hope of another greater David to come in
Psalms 107-150.

Overall, reading the Psalter as one glorious story of redemption– “Redemption in the Key of D(avid),” you might say– is an illuminating and I would argue the most biblical way to read the Psalms.

It is evident that the Psalms are more than the ancient Israelites equivalent to a WOW Worship CD.  It is not a random compilation of the best hits from the Temple.  The (chrono)logical arrangement of the Psalter is impressive. As Old Testament scholars are helping us see, the content of the Psalms tells us the story of redemptive history, looking back to the David of history and anticipating the eschatological David to come who is God himself (Psalm 110:1; cf Psalm 45:6,).  In other words, while each Psalm is captivating in its own right, set in its own historical, put together,  it becomes evident that a larger story is being told.

To help my church and anyone else who is interested, I have put my notes online, which include a one page outline of the Psalter according to its canonical arrangement.  If it can serve you as a helpful ‘bookmark’ or ‘roadmap,’ please print it out and stick in your Bible to help see how the Psalms fit together to point us to Christ.

It is amazing to see Christ in all of Scripture, and anything that pastor-teachers can do to show how all the Bible leads to Christ will always encourage the faith of our people.  Here are the notes:

Psalms: Redemption in the Key of D(avid)
A Canonical Reading of the Psalter
.

For more on this subject see, John Walton’s JETS article (1991), “Psalms: A Cantata About the Davidic Covenant,”Paul House’s chapter on the Psalms in his Old Testament Theology, and Stephen Dempster’s section on the Psalms in Dominion and Dynasty. I bet Jim Hamilton will also have a great chapter on this when his book, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment comes out this Fall.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss