Learning to Love the Psalms

PSALMS: Psalm 106 by W. Robert Godfrey

June 19, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 106 is the last and longest psalm of Book Four.  It is one of the new songs of praise for God’s redemptive work.  If looking to creation builds up faith, so too does looking at God’s great saving works of the past.  This historical psalm reviews Israel’s past with special attention to the exodus and wandering in the wilderness.  But it also looks beyond that time to Israel’s present sufferings.  As a conclusion to the fourth book of the Psalter, it shows that whatever comfort may be found in creation and covenant, Israel’s full redemption is still a future reality. This psalm begins and ends with praise and contains repeated evidence of God’s saving mercies for his people.   It is [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 104 by W. Robert Godfrey

June 12, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 104 is a song of praise to God for his works of creation.  Here most fully in Book Four, the psalmist seeks comfort and encouragement for his faith in the power and wisdom of God’s creative acts.  This psalm praises God for the goodness of his creation and the great variety planted in it.  It is an exuberant celebration of the God of creation. This kind of psalm we might call the “old song” of creation.  The phrase “old song” does not appear in the Psalter, but is the proper contrast to the “new song” spoken of in six psalms, (33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1).  In the context of these six psalms, it is clear that the “new song” is not a reference to the creativity of the [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 103 by W. Robert Godfrey

June 5, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 103 is the first of the four psalms that end Book Four, a concluding section that centers on comfort in the praise of God.  Remembering the greatness of God leads to the worship of God and an essential element of the worship of God is praise to the Lord.  This psalm begins and ends with the words, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” This psalm is the second of the two by David in this book.  It is a psalm of praise in which David himself looks back for comfort to creation and to the covenant given to Moses at Sinai.  David reflects on the fleeting nature of human life and on the seriousness of sin.  These two human problems lead him to think of the humble origins of man, who was made of the dust of [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 95 by W. Robert Godfrey

May 22, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 95 begins the second section of Book Four, the section that centers on comfort in the worship of God.  As Book Four began with psalms that remembered the greatness of God in creation and covenant, so it continues with psalms that call us to worship the God of creation and covenant.  The people of God seek comfort in the midst of crises of faith by reminding themselves of  God’s character and meeting with God in worship. The beginning of this psalm is a strong and familiar call to worship.  This call motivates us to worship by reflecting on the character and work of God for his people.  God is “the rock of our salvation,” (v. 1).  He is “a great God, and a great King above all gods,” [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 92 by W. Robert Godfrey

May 15, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 92 is titled, “A Psalm.  A Song for the Sabbath.”  The Sabbath was a central institution in the Old Testament.  God had strictly charged Israel to keep the Sabbath day holy.  God declared that he had grounded the sanctity of the Sabbath in his creation, (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11), and in his redemptive work, (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).  When the prophets warned Israel about her sins, desecration of the Sabbath was listed as a very serious issue, (see, for example, Isaiah 56; 58).  Because of the importance of the Sabbath for Israel, it is surprising that this psalm is the only one in the Psalter that refers to that holy day.  Even more surprising, perhaps, is the apparent absence of any [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 90 by W. Robert Godfrey

May 8, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The first psalm of Book Four begins to answer the crisis of faith that was so strong in Book Three.  It is a serious, somber poem that expresses in prayer the needs and hopes of God’s people.  It is full of faith and it is full of longing.  The title tells us that this psalm is a prayer of Moses.  It is the only psalm attributed to Moses in the Psalter, and it takes us back to both creation and the covenant at Sinai for comfort.  As we will see, it reverberates with the language of Deuteronomy. We will explore this psalm through one of its best-known verses: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” (v. 12).  This verse is often treated as if it were a proverb that means, [...]

PSALMS: The Character And Structure Of Book Four by W. Robert Godfrey

May 1, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Book Three ends with a powerful statement of the crisis of faith: “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49)  Where will the people of God look for hope and help when God’s promise to their king seems to have failed?  In the depths of their confusion, where will they find comfort?  The beginning of Book Four points the way.  The first verses of Psalm 90 take us back through the generations of Israel to the creation itself: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the Earth and the world, from everlasting and everlasting you are God.”  Book Four [...]

PSALMS: Psalms 88 And 89 by W. Robert Godfrey

April 24, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalms 88 and 89 conclude the third book of the Psalter with an especially intense expression of the crisis of faith that dominates this book.  They were written by two authors who are little known to us, but who are apparently leaders in groups of musicians that were established in David’s day, (1 Chronicles 6:31-47).  Psalm 88 expresses the crisis in very individual terms while Psalm 89 shows the national significance of Israel’s confusion and suffering. Psalm 89 begins on a positive note about God’s promises to the nation.  The psalmist wants everyone to know how good and reliable the Lord is: “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your [...]

PSALMS: Psalms 86 And 87 by W. Robert Godfrey

April 17, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalms 86 and 87 illustrate different emphases in the section of Book Three that deals with crisis and the hope of rescue and restoration, (Psalms 79-87).  Most of these psalms contain cries for rescue that fit the broader theme of a crisis of faith in Israel.  Psalm 86 illustrates this type of psalm even though the central section of the psalm is quite hopeful.  Psalm 87, by contrast, is one of the psalms in Book Three that looks away from the crisis and is filled with a remarkable confidence in God’s anticipated restoration of his people and a blessing for the world. Psalm 86 is the only psalm in Book Three that is attributed to David.  To the extent that this psalm reflects a crisis of faith, it [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 81 by W. Robert Godfrey

April 10, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 81 is a remarkable and important psalm in the Psalter.  This psalm of Asaph is more specific than many psalms about the original occasion for its composition.  The formal occasion for writing this psalm was to celebrate a season of important religious festivals in Israel: “Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day,” (v. 3).  Only in the seventh month of the year do we find holy days at the new moon and the full moon.  In the festivals of this month, we see Israel called to reflect on God’s great mercy to and care for her, and we see Israel called to remember and repent of her sins. The new moon marked the new year in Israel’s ecclesiastical calendar.  Leviticus [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 78 by W. Robert Godfrey

April 3, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 78 is one of the psalms in Book Three that does not directly develop the theme of the book.  It does not express a sense of crisis in the present life of an individual or of the nation as a whole.  Rather, this psalm is a long reflection on past crises as the people of God faced several different kinds of temptation.  The psalm actually ends with a confident assertion that the coming of David was the solution to the crises of earlier times.  This expression of hope in David has the effect of heightening the problem of Book Three: If the house of David fails, what will become of us and of the promises of God? Psalm 78 begins with the language of wisdom literature.  It indicates that history is a [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 74 by W. Robert Godfrey

March 20, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The personal crisis of faith of the psalmist in Psalm 73 was resolved for him when he entered the temple.  But the crisis of faith in Psalm 74 is a crisis for the whole nation, because the enemies of God’s people have destroyed the temple.  The temple as God’s dwelling with his people and his promise of salvation seemed secure forever.  That security was the promise of psalm 48.  But now the temple is in ruins.  The psalmist writes as if he observed the horror of the destruction: “Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place,” (v. 4a). The destruction of the temple occurred at the hands of the Babylonians in 587 BC, more than four hundred years after David.  This psalm must [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 73 by W. Robert Godfrey

March 13, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The first half of Psalm 73 poignantly introduces the theme of the crisis of faith that dominates Book Three.  The psalm begins with a rousing confession of confidence in God: “Truly God is good to Israel.”  But then it records a severe personal struggle with the unfairness of life.  The particular pain the psalmist suffers is an envy of the wicked: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” (v. 3).  Why do the wicked seem to prosper in this life?  If God blesses the evil man more than the good, why bother to be good? The reality of this struggle for the psalmist is intense.  Everything seems to go well for the wicked: “For they have no pangs until death; [...]

PSALMS: The Character And Structure Of Book Three by W. Robert Godfrey

March 6, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Book Three is sharply different from the two books that precede it.  In simply formal terms, this book is much shorter, with seventeen psalms as opposed to forty-one in Book One and thirty-one in Book Two.  Also, only one psalm is attributed to David, whereas Book One has thirty-seven and Book Two has eighteen.  In Book Three, the first eleven psalms (Psalms 73-83) are attributed to Asaph, four are attributed to the sons of Korah (Psalms 84, 85, 87, 88), and one each is attributed to David (Psalm 86) and to Ethan the Ezrahite (Psalm 89). The much more important difference between Book Three and the other books of the Psalter is that of the most dominant theme of the book.  This book represents a real [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 72 by W. Robert Godfrey

February 27, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms This last psalm in Book Two presents a remarkable picture of Israel’s king.  Solomon’s name appears in the title, suggesting that he is the author and that this psalm expresses his ideal vision of God’s king and kingdom.  It is a vision that seems to look far beyond anything that Israel had ever experienced.  Some in Solomon’s day may have seen it as the kind of poetic exaggeration often spoken in the courts of kings.  But in our day, we can see that it has been fulfilled in the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the psalm moves back and forth between the ways in which God has blessed his king and the ways in which God has blessed his people through the king.  Here, we see that kingship [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 69 by W. Robert Godfrey

February 20, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms This psalm presents now-familiar elements of lament and praise, but in a particularly pointed and vivid way.  The suffering is poignant, the praise strong, the imprecations severe, and the anticipations of Christ detailed.  The psalm is primarily a series of supplications with elaborations explaining the circumstances that have produced these prayers, (vv. 1-29).  The psalm concludes with a call to praise God as the One who hears and answers prayer, (vv. 30-36). The first prayer is an individual cry for rescue: “Save me, O God!”  The psalmist presents his need in the poetic image of a man who is drowning.  The waters surround and threaten him so that his life seems at its end, (vv. 1-2).  Added to [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 68 by W. Robert Godfrey

February 6, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 68 is at once one of the most solemn and most exuberant psalms in the Psalter.  It unites a key moment of communal celebration with very personal reflections and assurance about the character of God.  It is a psalm filled with joy and encouragement. Formally, this psalm is part of a great procession into the temple: “Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary – the singers in front, the musicians last, between them virgins playing tambourines: Bless God in the great congregation,” (vv. 24-26a).  The exact occasion of this triumphal procession cannot be determined.  The psalm may have been written for use at more than one victory or even for some [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 51 by W. Robert Godfrey

January 30, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms According to its title, David wrote Psalm 51 in response to his sin with Bathsheba and the word of judgment that God sent to him through Nathan the prophet.  David had indeed sinned grievously, not only by committing adultery with Bathsheba, but also by arranging the murder of her husband, Uriah, to cover up his sin.  For these sins, Nathan had pronounced the Lord’s judgment: because David had had Uriah killed with the sword, the sword would never depart from the house of David; because he had taken the wife of Uriah from him, someone from David’s own household would take his wives from him; because David deserved to die for his sin, the Lord would take away his sin, but still the son conceived of the [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 48 by W. Robert Godfrey

January 23, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The great theme of this psalm is the presence and blessing of God in the city of Jerusalem.  At the center of the psalm stands this great expression of confidence: “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever,” (v. 8).  The psalmist declares that the security of Jerusalem is not only something of which he has heard, but it is also something that he has seen with his own eyes.  Jerusalem is secure because God makes her secure, and he makes her secure because she is his own precious city.  Jerusalem belongs to God in a unique way because he dwells in her (“Within her citadels God has made himself known,” (v. 3) and [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 46 by W. Robert Godfrey

January 16, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 46 is a song that reflects the great strength that flows to God’s people from their faith in the strength of God.  The song celebrates God’s deliverance of his people and particularly his defense of Jerusalem, “the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High,” (v. 4).  In this psalm, the theme of Book Two is developed quite fully.  God displays kingship and strength in his Earthly kingdom and citadel.  The central verse of this psalm stresses the powerful presence of God in Jerusalem: “The Lord of hosts is with us,” (v. 7a).  A particular historical incident may well have inspired this psalm.  The most likely candidate is the Lord’s deliverance of Jerusalem from the hand of [...]

PSALMS: The Character And Structure Of Book Two by W. Robert Godfrey

January 9, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Book Two underscores the importance of the king and the kingdom of God’s people.  Every psalm in this book except one mentions the king and either Jerusalem or the temple.  While the king is central in Book One, especially in his personal struggles of faith, he is central in Book Two in relation to the kingdom of God.  This book seems to have a greater concentration on the corporate dimensions of the life of the people of God than Book One.  The opening psalm, to be sure, continues the very personal expression of spiritual concern in very eloquent terms: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God,” (Psalm 42:1-2).  Yet that [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 30 by W. Robert Godfrey

December 19, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms The title of Psalm 30 attributes the psalm to David and tells us that it was written for “the dedication of the temple.”  Perhaps David, who was not permitted to build the temple himself, was looking forward to that future building of the temple and its meaning for God’s people.  Yet, when we look at the psalm, we find no mention of the temple and no obvious connection to its dedication.  Psalm 29, with its statement, “And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (v. 9), might seem more appropriate for such an occasion.  More appropriate still would be Psalm 68 with its picture of a procession into the temple: “Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 22 by W. Robert Godfrey

December 12, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 22 begins with the most anguished cry in human history: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  These are the words that Jesus took on his lips at the depth of his suffering on the cross.  His suffering was unique at that point as he offered himself up for the sins of his people.  And so, we have tended to see this cry as unique to Jesus.  But such an approach to these words is clearly wrong.  Jesus was not inventing unique words to interpret his suffering.  Rather, he was quoting Psalm 22:1.  These words were first uttered by David, and David was speaking for all of God’s people.  We need to reflect on these words and the whole psalm as they relate to Christ and to all his people [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 21 by W. Robert Godfrey

December 5, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Although Book Two of the Psalter focuses in important ways on Israel’s king in his kingdom, we have already seen that the subject of the king is by no means absent from Book One.  Psalm 21 is obvious proof of the importance of the king in this first part of the Psalter.  Here is a psalm that glorifies Israel’s king while always recognizing that all that he has comes from his God. This psalm again gives us insight into its meaning through its form.  At the center of the psalm stands the faith of the king: “For the king trusts in the Lord,” (v. 7).  The calling of the king is to rest in God, confident of his love and good purpose.  The king of this psalm is a man of faith who relies on God [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 18 by W. Robert Godfrey

November 28, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 18 is a psalm of David, a song celebrating “the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.”  This psalm, the longest of Book One, praises God for his deliverance.  It is also recorded, with slight differences, in 2 Samuel 22.  At the center of this psalm is a strong confession of faith: “With the merciful you show yourself merciful,” (v. 25). This psalm begins (vv. 1-6) and ends (vv. 46-50) with praise offered to God.  It is praise filled with love and thanksgiving for God’s protection from enemies and from death.  The praise rejoices in the victories God has given his king and his people – victories displayed before the world. The [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 8 by W. Robert Godfrey

November 21, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 8 is another song of David, but it is very different from Psalm 3.  Psalm 8 is one of the small number of psalms in Book One that do not express distress on the part of God’s people.  Instead, it represents a psalm that celebrates the great creative work of God.  The psalmist uses this celebration of the glory and power of God as a way to build confidence in God. The focus in the psalm is very much on God and his splendor.  Again, the form of the psalm makes that point clear.  The first and the last declarations of the psalm are the repeated praise of God: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the Earth!”  In this verse, we hear an echo of Genesis 1.  Genesis 1:2 tells us [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 3 by W. Robert Godfrey

November 14, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 3 bears a title indicating the author and the historical situation that inspired the psalm: “A psalm of David.  When he fled from Absalom his son.”  Although the psalm comes from the pen of the king and representative of Israel and relates to events of his life, the tone of the psalm is deeply personal.  It expresses perfectly the prevailing theme of this book: real distress linked to deep confidence in God. The poetic center of the psalm is verse 5: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.”  Here David confesses his confidence in the Lord even while he is asleep – a time of great potential weakness and danger.  David may be thinking of how he had received a [...]

PSALMS: The Character And Structure Of Book One by W. Robert Godfrey

November 7, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms The realism of the Psalter in facing the great difficulties of the Christian life is one of its most appealing and refreshing features.  The psalms don’t sugarcoat the life of faith.  They state problems and struggles openly and clearly.  The serious emotions evoked by the disappointments, pains, and frustrations of life are expressed strongly and honestly.  At the same time, the psalms present powerful responses of faith.  Over and over in Book One, God’s king puts our problems in the context of God’s presence.  His love, and his deliverance.  In the midst of trouble, the king and the people grow in trusting God.  Here is the great theme of Book One of the Psalter: The King’s Confidence in [...]

PSALMS: Summary by W. Robert Godfrey

October 24, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms This introduction to our study of the psalms has prepared us to turn now to the five books of the Psalter.  As we approach each book and each individual psalm, we will make progress in our appreciation of the psalms as we remember to ask basic questions of each psalm: What details in this psalm – words, historical references, ideas – seem to require further study? Which of the great themes of the Psalter do I find in this individual psalm? What human responses do I find in this psalm? Is the character of this psalm primarily individual or communal? What are some formal poetic features of the poem I am studying, and how do these features illumine its meaning? Is the central verse of the psalm the [...]

PSALMS: Broader Structures In The Psalter by W. Robert Godfrey

October 17, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Within the Psalter, certain groups of psalms have long been identified.  Psalms 146–150 are concluding psalms of praise, each beginning and ending with the same Hebrew word: Hallelujah.  Psalms 113–118 have been known as the Egyptian Hallel, the psalms used to celebrate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt at the feast of the Passover.  As we study the Psalter, we may see other groups of psalms emerging.  For example, in Book One, Psalms 19–26 seem to form a special group prophetic of the redemptive work of Christ. Still other groups of psalms are united by certain words or ideas that are repeated from one psalm to another.  These links are complex, and we will only scratch the surface of them [...]