Psalms

ADVENT PRAYER: Monday Of Advent 1 by Martin Shannon

December 4, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 67 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us. (v. 1) Aaron and the Levitical priesthood were instructed to bless the people of Israel with these words: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace,” (Numbers 6:24-26).  Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing that comes out of the same tradition.  It sees the blessing of God as the very source of life and health, without which there is no hope for prosperity or peace. A rich tone of thanksgiving is prevalent throughout the psalm, and this probably explains why it was used at the great autumn Feast of Sukkot, or [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: First Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

December 3, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 33 Our soul waits for the Lord. (v. 20) The first word of Psalm 33 is one of six words for “praise” used by the author of this song.  It first appears in scripture in the book of Leviticus to describe the response of the Jewish assembly when the fire of God came down from Heaven and consumed the offerings made by Moses and Aaron in the tent of meeting.  When all the people saw the glory of the Lord unexpectedly appearing in this way, “they shouted for joy and fell facedown,” (Leviticus 9:24).  This was a spontaneous cry of rejoicing, elicited by an extraordinarily dramatic sign of God’s presence come among them. Psalm 33 is a call to praise and worship.  Unlike many psalms that were written in [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Introduction by Martin Shannon

December 2, 2017

From My Soul Waits In his rule for monastic life, Saint Benedict wrote that the life of a monk should be like a continuous Lent (chapter 49).  He acknowledged that not everyone has the strength to do this (how’s that for understatement?), so, at least during the liturgical season, he wanted his monks to take on some additional and intentional acts of self-denial, all the while never forgetting that the essential aim of Lent is to look forward to Easter with joy and longing.  Life has plenty of asceticism built in already (most of it unexpected), and it is nothing if not a hope and desire for resurrection in the end.  So, even though he didn’t, perhaps Benedict could have said something similar about Advent. I live in an [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: The Sleep by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

November 28, 2017

Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2) Of all the thoughts of God that are Borne inward unto souls afar, Along the Psalmist’s music deep, Now tell me if that any is, For gift or grace, surpassing this: “He giveth his beloved—sleep?” What would we give to our beloved? The hero’s heart to be unmoved, The poet’s star-tuned harp to sweep, The patriot’s voice to teach and rouse, The monarch’s crown to light the brows? He giveth his beloved—sleep. What do we give to our [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: In Pilgrim Life Our Rest by Edwin Sandys

November 21, 2017

For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: The First Six Verses Of The Ninetieth Psalm by Robert Burns

November 7, 2017

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the Earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.  For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. (Psalm 90:1-6) O Thou, the first, the greatest friend Of all the human race! Whose strong right hand has ever been Their stay and dwelling-place! Before the [...]

POETRY: On The Spirit Adulterated By The Flesh by Henry Colman

October 31, 2017

Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.  My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. (Psalm 119:24-25) How do I spin my time away In caring how to get Ungodly wealth, and fret My self to sweat, As if thou Lord hadst meant this clay No after life, no reckoning day. What graceless fool would love his Earth So, as with all his might To pamper with delight The same ‘gainst right, Forgetting his divine soul’s birth Was nobler, and of greater worth? Thou Lord didst frame this soul of mine Only to honor thee, Not basely fond to be Of vanity, Unflesh it then, and so refine It Lord it may be all divine. Quicken my dull-drooping spirit That it may praise thy name, Cleanse it from sin and blame, [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: The Heart Is Deep by Roger Wolcott

October 24, 2017

Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity: who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not. They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep. (Psalm 64:1-6) He that can trace a ship making her way, Amidst the threatening surges on the sea; Or track a towering eagle in the air, Or [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: Meditation Seven by Edward Taylor

October 17, 2017

My  heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever. (Psalm 45:1-2) Thy human frame, my glorious Lord, I spy. A golden still with Heavenly choice drugs filled Thy holy love, the glowing heat whereby The spirit of grace is graciously distilled. Thy mouth the neck through which these spirits still; My soul thy vial make, and therewith fill. Thy speech the liquor in thy vessel stands, Well tinged with grace, a blessed tincture, lo, Thy words distilled grace in thy lips poured, and Give graces tincture in them where they go. Thy words in graces [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: In Tenebris II by Thomas Hardy

October 10, 2017

Considerabam ad dexteram, et videbam; et non erat qui cognosceret me.  Non est qui requirat animam meam. [I looked also upon my right hand, and saw there was no man that would know me; no man cared for my soul.] (Psalm 142:5) When the clouds’ swoln bosoms echo back the shouts of the many and strong That things are all as they best may be, save a few to be right ere long, And my eyes have not the vision in them to discern what to these is so clear, The blot seems straightway in me alone; one better he were not here. The stout upstanders say, All’s well with us: ruers have nought to rue! And what the potent say so oft, can it fail to be somewhat true? Breezily go they, breezily come; their dust smokes around their career, Till I [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: Along The Banks by Joel Barlow

October 3, 2017

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.  We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.  For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.  How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.  If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.  Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.  O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: Laudate Dominum by Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

September 26, 2017

O praise the Lord, all ye nation: praise him, all ye people. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 117:1–2) Praise him that aye Remains the same: All tongues display Iehavoa’s fame. Sing all that share This Earthly ball: His mercies are Exposed to all: Like as the word Once he doth give, Rolled in record, Doth time [...]

POETRY: Praise Ye The Lord, O Celebrate His Fame by Peleg Folger

September 19, 2017

O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the Earth is full of thy riches.  So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.  There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.  That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.  Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.  Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the Earth.  The glory of the Lord shall endure forever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works. [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: Lord, Hear My Prayer by John Clare

September 12, 2017

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.  Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.  For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.  My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.  By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.  I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.  I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.  Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.  For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.  Because of thine indignation and thy [...]

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 [...]

POETRY: Te Deum by Charles Reznikoff

August 29, 2017

O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. (Psalm 98:1) Not because of victories I sing, Having none, but for the common sunshine, the breeze, the largess of the spring. Not for victory but for the day’s work done as well as I was able; not for a seat upon the dais but at the common [...]

POETRY: Lord I Sleep And I Sleep by David Shapiro

August 22, 2017

Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands. At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep. Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from Heaven; the Earth feared, and was still, when God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the Earth. Selah. (Psalm 76:4-9) Lord I sleep and I sleep I am haunted all night by the look of cars When I sleep they can speak, they say: Ride me, David. I am fast as death Well who lighted this road up? Who made me this clear? You know I am soft as plasma [...]

POETRY: Complaining by George Herbert

August 15, 2017

But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is. Forsake me not, O Lord: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation. (Psalm 38:19-22) Do not beguile my heart, Because thou art My power and wisdom. Put me not to shame, Because I am Thy clay that weeps, thy dust that calls. Thou art the Lord of glory: The deed and story Are both thy due: but I a silly fly That live or die According as the weather falls. Art thou all justice, Lord? Shows not thy word More attributes? Am I all throat or eye, To weep or cry? Have I no parts but those of grief? Let not thy wrathful [...]