Learning to Love the Psalms

PSALMS: Continuing With The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

October 16, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms In our study, we have made a beginning of learning to love the psalms.  We have looked at some of the attractions and difficulties of the Psalter.  We have summarized the great themes, subjects, and emotions of these songs.  We have examined some of the forms and uses of the psalms.  But this book is at best an introduction and invitation to growing in an appreciation of the Psalter.  You need to carry on with what we have started together. One way to continue is through personal reading, reflection, and meditation.  The psalms are invaluable for us as they draw us ever deeper into the character of the Christian life, the movement of the history of the church, and the presence and power of Christ for [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 150 by W. Robert Godfrey

October 9, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms With Psalm 150, we come to the culmination of praise.  Here, we have praise without a shadow or deflection of attention from God.  Thirteen times the call to praise is repeated.  The psalmist is full of joy and delight in the Lord for his great salvation. The fullness of praise in Psalm 150 is a fitting summary of the themes of Book Five of the Psalter, where God’s salvation of Israel is reviewed and the call to praise is often repeated.  At the heart of the first psalm in Book Five, Psalm 107, we read, “Tell of his deeds in songs of joy,” (v. 22b).  At the heart of the first of David’s last eight psalms of the Psalter, we read, “For they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 149 by W. Robert Godfrey

October 2, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The focus in Psalm 149 is on God’s redemptive faithfulness in the covenant of grace.  So Psalm 149 is a “new song,” (v. 1), like the new song of salvation we see in Psalm 98: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.  He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel,” (vv. 1-3a). After the crisis of Book Three, the king and people in Book Four looked for comfort to God’s faithfulness, especially as displayed in creation and in the covenant.  Because Psalm 148 already made [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 148 by W. Robert Godfrey

September 25, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 148 is a psalm that praises God for his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises.  It calls for praise of the Lord from the heavens and from the Earth.  This psalm calls the heavens, (v. 1), and the Earth, (v. 7), to praise.  This praise culminates in verse 13 with the acknowledgement that God is above all things both in Heaven and on Earth: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above Earth and Heaven.” The praise from the heavens is to come from the angelic hosts, from the lights in the firmament, and from the upper waters.  The praise from the Earth comes from the sea creatures, from the weather, from the dry land and vegetation, and from the [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 147 by W. Robert Godfrey

September 18, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Book Two of the Psalter reflects on the king’s commitment to the Kingdom of God.  Psalm 147 praises God for providing for his people and building up his kingdom.  The focus on the kingdom in this psalm is obvious in several verses: “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel,” (v. 2); “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!  Praise your God, O Zion!” (v. 12); and “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel.  He has not dealt thus with any other nation,” (vv. 19-20a). This focus on the kingdom connects Psalm 147 with the language and themes of Book Two in several ways.  The gathering of the outcasts, (v. 2), points to the provision of the Lord for the needs [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 146 by W. Robert Godfrey

September 11, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 146 is the first psalm of this concluding set.  It is full of praise for God’s care and specifies how God “keeps faith forever,” (v. 6), to bless his people. This psalm connects in many ways to the first book of the Psalter, both linguistically and thematically.  The word “blessed” in Psalm 146:5 is the same word found in Psalms 1:1; 2:12; 40:4; and 41:1-2.  Psalm 146:8 refers to the righteous, as does Psalm 1:5.  The phrase, “way of the wicked,” connects Psalm 146:9 to Psalm 1:6.  “Salvation,” mentioned in Psalm 146:3, is found in Psalm 3:2, 8.  The theme of not trusting princes, (Psalm 146:3), resonates with Psalm 2:2.  The Lord who reigns as King, (Psalm 146:10), echoes [...]

PSALMS: The Last Five Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

September 4, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms The last five psalms of the Psalter form a concluding group to Book Five.  All five of these psalms begin and end with the same word: “Hallelujah,” (praise the Lord).  Also, in contrast to the preceding eight psalms, (138–145), which are all ascribed to David, these last five psalms are untitled.  These psalms, united and highlighted at the end of the collection, invite the reader to explore their meaning and function in the Book of Psalms as a whole. The fact that there are five psalms in this group does not seem to represent a symbolic number in any way.  The only significance to the number five in the Psalter is the division of the Psalter into five books.  Are the last five psalms, then, a [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 138 by W. Robert Godfrey

August 28, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 138 begins the sixth section of the fifth book of the Psalter.  This section contains eight psalms of David, which contain both praise and intense prayer for help.  These psalms, as a recapitulation of redemptive history, point to a restored and blessed kingship.  This king still struggles – the new Heaven and new Earth have not yet arrived – but he is blessed by the Lord and praises him: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.  They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.  The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” (Psalm 145:5-6, 8). All eight of these [...]

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 [...]