Learning to Love the Psalms

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 [...]

PSALMS: Poetic Forms Of The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

October 10, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms The meaning of any kind of poetry is tied to the form of the poem.  The essence of poetry is the artful variation of words and images in forms different from ordinary prose communication.  Think of Shakespeare’s brief poetic lines in Richard II: I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. In these poetic lines, Shakespeare’s reversal of word order is both memorable and arresting.  The form draws us into reflecting on the meaning of the words.  The same is true with the meaning of the psalms. To understand the psalms, we need to understand something of the literary forms of Hebrew poetry.  The forms of Hebrew poetry, however, are different from those of English poetry and therefore require [...]

PSALMS: Speakers In The Psalms? by W. Robert Godfrey

October 4, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms One of the most important complexities that we must address as we seek to appreciate the psalms can be expressed as a question: Who speaks in the psalms?  One psalm speaks in the third person: “Blessed is the man….” (Psalm 1:1)  Another speaks in the first person singular: “Answer me when I call….” (Psalm 4:1)  Still another speaks in the first person plural: “O God, we have heard with our ears….” (Psalm 44:1)  So, who is speaking in the psalms? David the King In answering this question, we must say in the first place that often David is speaking.  In the titles of seventy-three psalms, David is named as the author.  Some scholars have debated whether these [...]

PSALMS: Recurring Themes In The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

September 26, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms A great aid to our study of the psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the psalms.  Certain basic themes unite the psalms and underscore essential truths about God and his care for his people.  In addition to these great truths about God, we will also see that the Psalter voices specific responses from God’s people to those truths.  The combination of objective truths and subjective responses are the recurring rhythm of the Psalter. One great theme dominates the Psalter.  What is that theme?  John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the Book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation [...]

PSALMS: The Difficulty With The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

September 12, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms If the psalms are so rich, why is it that many of us today do not treasure and appreciate them as the church did in the past? There are several reasons.  The first is the diminished use of the King James Version of the Bible.  The movement away from the King James Version has meant that the familiar poetic expressions of that version which had been passed down through many generations have largely been forgotten.  With no one Bible translation replacing the King James Version, that poetry has not been effectively replaced for many contemporary Christians. The second is the failure of many Christians in our time to study and use the psalms.  Few Christians sing the psalms anymore.  Even if a songbook [...]

PSALMS: A Well-Loved Psalm—Psalm 114 by W. Robert Godfrey

September 5, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Let us look at a psalm as an illustration of how attractive and spiritually powerful the Psalter is.  Psalm 114 was especially loved by the French Huguenots and helps us to reflect on what they treasured in the psalms and to whet our appetite for more.  The French Huguenots sang this psalm often and gladly (even though the Genevan tune to which it was set strikes our contemporary ears as very strange and difficult).  It was also a psalm that was important to God’s people in Old Testament times for it was part of the “Egyptian Hallel,” Psalms 113–118, which was sung by the Jews at the Passover season. It is a psalm so brief and simple that it may not initially impress the reader.  The [...]

PSALMS: The Attraction Of The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

August 29, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms At a recent conference, I was asked what my favorite book of the Bible is.  My initial reaction was to wonder if that was a bad question.  Should we not like all of the Word of God equally?  Then I thought that I should cooperate, and I asked myself what book I most often turn to and enjoy.  I realized that the answer was easy.  In recent years, that book has been the book of Psalms. I was converted to Christ as a junior in high school through the ministry of a church that primarily sang the psalms.  So, for many years, I have lived in the psalms and have come to know some things about them.  But only in recent years have I found them profoundly engaging and fascinating.  These years have been a [...]