Learning to Love the Psalms

PSALMS: Psalm 135 by W. Robert Godfrey

August 14, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 135 is the first in a group of three psalms that primarily focus on the enemies of God’s people.  Still, Psalm 135 is an appropriate psalm to follow the songs of ascents.  The pilgrim journey to Jerusalem culminated in the call of Psalm 134:2: “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!”  Now, in Psalm 135, the psalmist stands in the temple, calling on temple workers as well as the priests and Levites to join the king and people in praise.  This psalm, too, begins and ends with sections that call the servants of the Lord to praise him, (vv. 1-2, 19-21).  The intimate fellowship of God and his people in the temple is expressed in verse 21: “Blessed be the Lord from Zion, he [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 121 by W. Robert Godfrey

August 7, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 121 is the second in the fifteen songs of ascents.  These songs all relate in some way to the idea of going up to Jerusalem as pilgrims to meet with God.  These psalms are all rather short with pointed themes.  The first of these songs expresses a feeling of being far from God and longing for his peace.  The last psalm speaks of the blessing that Zion gives to the people.  Other psalms celebrate the strength and joy of Zion, God’s blessings on the families of his people, and the full redemption of God. Psalm 121 fits into this group as a reflection on the journey of the pilgrim toward Jerusalem.  In Old Testament times, the journey was a real trip over difficult terrain to a physical city.  [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 118 by W. Robert Godfrey

July 31, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 118 is the last psalm of the Egyptian Hallel, (Psalms 113–118), the six psalms that the Jews used especially during the Passover feast as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.  Of these six, only Psalm 114 makes an explicit reference to Egypt, but all of the psalms are appropriate for leading Israel to reflect on God’s rescue of his people from the house of bondage.  Psalm 113:7, for example, applies to the exodus, as well as to many other times in Israel’s history: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Psalm 118 concludes the Egyptian Hallel with words full of praise and celebration for God’s blessing upon his people.  It is above all a psalm [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 110 by W. Robert Godfrey

July 24, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms If Psalm 109 gives us remarkable insight into the suffering of King Jesus, Psalm 110 opens for us his triumph in resurrection glory.  This third psalm of David in Book Five shows us not only the importance of the king in the redemptive plan of God, but it also transforms in a surprising way the whole meaning of the kingship. Most of the psalm is about a victorious king.  God himself seats this great king at his right hand and promises to subject the king’s enemies to him so completely that they will be no more than a footstool, (v. 1).  The scepter of this king will stretch out from Zion over all his enemies, (v. 2).  He will lead his eager troops into battle clothed in dazzling robes, (v. 3).  He [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 109 by W. Robert Godfrey

July 17, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The praise of Book Five follows on the prayer for the deliverance of the exiled people near the end of Book Four: “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise,” (Psalm 106:47).  Psalm 107 praises God for answering that prayer: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south,” (vv. 1-3).  The psalm similarly ends with great confidence in the love of the Lord: “But he raises up the needy out of affliction [...]

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

July 3, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms After the two relatively short books (seventeen psalms each in Books Three and Four), we come to the last and longest book of the Psalter.  The forty-four psalms of the fifth book offer praise to God in gradually increasing intensity.  The praise of God comes from a variety of times and authors.  It grows in various ways until it culminates in the perfection of praise. Some parts of the structure of this book of the Psalter are more obvious than in other books.  For example, each of the psalms from 120 to 134 bears the title, “A song of ascents.”  Presumably, pilgrims sang these psalms on their way to Jerusalem to worship God in some of the great festivals of Israel.  Psalms 138–118 have [...]

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 [...]