[Each year the regular contributors to Focus Online present a series of articles which focus on a Biblical text or topic. This year we turn our focus to the Psalms in a series we call, “Songs for Our Times.” Join us. Share us. Most importantly sing with us about the glory of our God.]
Songs can say things with power and intimacy unlike any other human expression. For example, a couple’s eyes sparkle when they talk about “our song.” Patriotism swells when the crowd sings, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When life is good it’s just fun to sing, “I’m happy.” Even when we are broken-hearted, we know “sad songs say so much.” As a result, the story of our lives has a musical soundtrack.
It is not surprising that our relationship with God is also expressed in song. The Old Testament is filled with poetic portrayals of pain and praise poured out before the audience of God. The book of Psalms neatly collects one-hundred fifty of these refrains to express the heart of faith.
The Psalms, however, are much more than an expression of ancient conviction. Their truths and troubles are timeless. Perhaps this is why the Psalms are quoted more often than any other book in the New Testament. The Psalms are used extensively by Jesus,1 Paul2 and Peter.3 In other words, to fully understand and express the gospel we must know the Psalms (Luke 24:44).
The Psalms provide a window to see God. Similes and metaphors are piled together to illuminate the reality of the invisible God. A cup full of his infinite attributes are captured in poetic couplets for our astonishment. Sketches of his mighty works are painted with verse for our amazement.
11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
12 The north and the south, you have created them;
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
(Psalm 89:11–12; also 104:10-13)
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1–2)
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
What a God! Yet, our vocabulary of faith is often so small it fits into the palm of our hand. No wonder we stagger with fears and struggle with insignificance. Our God is so small! Our definition of his character is so tiny!
However, the Psalms expand our anemic worship vocabulary! It “schools us” in the language of heaven, until we get a more accurate understanding of our infinitely glorious God.
When was the last time you called God “your Rock,” or described him as “your refuge”? When have you prayed, “Most High, Almighty God you are my fortress”? Why do we these words live in our hymn books, but not our lives?
The Psalms fling open the windows of heaven to show us a God who is boundlessly more powerful than our greatest struggles and infinitely more gracious toward our deepest pains. These are the psalms for our times!
The Psalms also provide a mirror for our souls. They reflect the full panorama of human emotions from joy to despair. They explore human reasoning by taking us on intellectual flights of praise and plunging us into grueling struggles of doubt. The purpose of this emotional and intellectual journey is to see ourselves more clearly so we might walk with the Lord more faithfully.
The organization of the book of Psalms points to this practical purpose. As Bullock wrote, “The place of the law in Israel’s religion is written into the structure of the Book of Psalms (Bullock. Encountering the Book of Psalms. (p. 58)). The law is central.4 This is shown by how the Psalms are divided into five books as an allusion to the five books of Law (Gen. – Deut.). 5
In addition, the first Psalm sets the tone.
1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)
The centrality of God’s law is then put through the megaphone of Psalm 119’s record setting 176 verses, which is an opera of praise to the law. The entire book of Psalms joins as a chorus to sing, “Give Me the Bible!” This is the same reason the church is to sing (Col. 3:16-17)!
As a result, the Psalms also have a discordant echo of the pain, both personally and nationally, of not following the law (Psalm 32; 51; 106), which drives the reader to the Lord in repentance for forgiveness. These are psalms for our times!
Overall, the Psalms connect our heart’s need to heaven’s reply. After all, the Psalms were temple worship. The temple was the meeting place between heaven and humans. It is where people brought their sins, blood and tears and received heaven’s revised assessment of their condition.
When we see God as he is, and we follow His law as we ought (receiving forgiveness when we fail), we can live life in an atmosphere of heavenly praise. Yes, the Psalms seem dominated by sorrow and confusion. So does life! Yet, each book of Psalms ends with a doxology (Psalm 41:13; 72:18-19; 89:52; 106:48; 146-150), with the last five Psalms acting as a full concert of endless, boundless praise.
The Psalms bring the sounds of heaven to the hearts of homesick travelers.6 No matter what time or place we find ourselves we can join the chorus around the throne of God with songs of hope and joy. Definitely, these are psalms for our times.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
1 (Matt. 27:46; John 2:17; 13:18)
2 (Acts 13:33-35; Rom. 3:10-18; 4:6-8; 11:9-10)
3 (Acts 1:20; Acts 2:25-28; 1 Pet. 2:7; 3:10-12)
4 (Psalm 19:7-11; 37:30-31; 40:8; 78:1-10)
|Psalm||Chief Author||Number of Psalms||Closing Doxology|
|Book 1||Psalms 1-41||David||41||
|Book 5||Psalms 107-150||David/
6“A decided shift takes place as we move from the beginning of the book to its end. As we move toward the end, praise overtakes lament until at the very end of the book we have a virtual fireworks of praise.” (Longman, T., III. (1988). How to Read the Psalms (p. 45)).
Ideas for Group Studies
[This Fall we will focus on fifteen studies from the Psalms. They are perfect to share with friends and other believers, and you can use them as a basis for a group study. Here is an example of how this can be done with the above article.]
Songs for Our Times (Study Guide)
[Read the article and consider the following questions]
Why do you believe songs are such a powerful form of communication?
What does Jesus tell us about the role of the Psalms in Luke 24:44?
Psalms as A Window into Heaven
Read Psalm 89:11–12; Psalm 91:1–2, and Psalm 18:2. What description of God in these verses most impresses you? What other descriptions of God in the Psalms amaze you?
Why do you think our vocabulary about God so limited?
Psalms as A Mirror into the Heart
Read the following Psalms and record how they elevate your view of God’s word.
If these verses describe how Israel valued God’s Law, how should we feel about the gospel? (Hebrews 1:1-3) How should we practically express our appreciation for the gospel message?
What role does “singing” play in “letting the word of Christ dwell” in us? Read Colossians 3:12-17.
Tremper Longman writes, that in the Psalms “the laments substantially outnumber the songs of praise” (Longman, T., III. How to Read the Psalms (p. 45)). Why do you think this is the case?
Read Psalm 32 and describe what it means to be forgiven.
Psalms Connect Our Heart’s Need to Heaven’s Reply
Read the words of praise which close each book of the Psalms.
Which reason for praise, or expression of praise, catches your attention? How can you take the praise with you this week?
Introduction to the Psalms
My dear friend Jerry King prepared an introduction to the Psalms. I heard him teach it twice. It is wonderfully done and will help you get a deeper appreciation for how the Psalms describe our God. Please click on the link below. It is worth it!