In the church at Santa Clara, where I preach, we’re doing a yearly theme of “Loving the Old Testament.” We’re reading through the Old Testament together, and many of the classes and sermons supplement the daily readings. Since it’s such a rich quarry of material, members have recently asked me to supplement these lessons with some extra material on the Psalms. Consequently, in the next few weeks, I’ll post several blog posts pertaining to Israel’s ancient musical book of prayer and praise.
Each time I go through a section of scripture, I gain a few new insights, or I notice a few things that haven’t captured my attention in quite the same way before. In this go-around on the Psalms, here are a few of those observations.
- The passion and intensity with which the psalmists speak. There is an incredible desire to cry out to God and be heard, and this is intensified with the powerful metaphors they use. I’ve dubbed Psalm 139 the “Search Warrant” psalm, Psalm 51 “Healing a Broken Heart,” and Psalm 73, “Is Godliness Really Worth It?”
- How they address God. The Psalmists speak of the LORD (Yahweh) as a Rock, Deliverer, King, Shepherd, and personal God. They extol His virtues, they sing His praises, and, in Psalm 63 for example, they wake up in the middle of the night thinking about Him.
- The manner in which the psalmists speak to others. They curse their enemies (Ps. 137), they dismiss evil men and they challenge their fellow servants to sing the praises of the LORD. In fact, they commit to talking about the greatness of God to others, including the next generation (Psalm 78:1-8) and the “great congregation” (Psalm 40:9). No one is going to silence them!
- The manner in which they talk to themselves. This time through, I’ve noticed a lot of contemplation and self-reflection going on. Have you ever talked to yourself? The Psalmists seem to do it often. Psalm 103 helps us put gratitude back into our attitude. There is the repeated refrain: “Bless the LORD, O my soul…” (vv. 1, 2, 22). Ps. 42:5 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God….” It is a sentiment that we should be talking to ourselves about!
- The mixture of intensely personal information with corporate praise. When I learned to pray publicly, I was told to keep the “personal stuff” at home and to mention things “appropriate” to the group as a whole. That distinction is largely missing from the Psalms. In Psalm 40, David fights off depression, and he goes out of the “mire” into the “choir”! Other psalms speak of personal challenges, personal enemies, and personal sins, yet their private sentiments become the public property of all the Israelites, and to us as well. I believe that part of the reason for this is that human beings struggle with largely the same issues, and God is allowing us all to grow spiritually by identifying with them.