The Psalter is made up of five books; to mimic Israel’s five books of the Torah; the first five books of the Bible that are sometimes called ‘The Pentateuch.’ One Jewish tradition explains that this is not just a coincidence:
As Moses gave five books of laws to Israel, so David gave five books of Psalms to Israel.
Christian scholars, Waltke & Houston, expanded on this observation:
Moses instituted Israel’s liturgical elements: its sacred objects, festivals, personnel and activities, and David (Israel’s “Mozart”) transformed the Mosaic liturgy into an opera by prescribing the staging of Solomon’s temple, giving it musical accompaniment and the libretto of his psalms.
The Psalter, then, is a kind of ‘Concept Album’ or ‘Opera’ with lots of individual songs that inspired by a theme or idea and given shape with an overall plot; something like this:
Books I & II (psalms 1-72) allow us to hear the king at prayer.
Book III (psalms 73-89) take on a darker shade because now the Davidic Covenant is viewed as established in the distant past and fractured. It has come to nothing and so the final note at the end of the first three books is an anguished cry from David’s descendants. But there is hope!
Book IV (psalms 90-106) – introduces another perspective. Without a king, Israel falls back upon its heritage. They look back to Moses, who is now mentioned seven times (he only got one mention before; and his only song in the Psalter introduces this Book IV). So Israel looks to their eternal king, I AM – “O God our help in ages past, our hope in years to come.” Psalms 93-99 The so-called ‘enthronement psalms’) celebrate “I AM is king!” he has been Israel’s refuge in the past, long before the monarchy existed; and He will continue to be Israel’s refuge now that monarchy is gone. Blessed are they that trust in Him.
Book V (psalms 107-150) complete the five-fold division. Psalm 106:47 concluded the previous Book with the petition, “Save us, I AM our God, and gather us from the nations.” Book V begins with praise for I AM, for answering their prayer: “he gathered us from the lands.” The troubles of the Exile have been overcome. Two groups of David collections found in the Book (108-110 and 138-145) probably serve as a model in response to the concerns that preceded them. And there is a prominent Messianic hope in some of them.
It’s possible that this focus upon the King throughout the Psalter was deliberately designed as early as 520BCE.
hose of you who were around last year’s explorations in Jesus’ parables will be struck by the shared emphasis on king, kingship and kingdom. Jesus fulfils and extends all these hopes as Israel’s Messiah-King for the nations. Through him we too are drawn into the psalms as members of his “royal-priesthood” and “holy nation.”
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Daily Psalms (Psalter in one month) The floowing pattern of reading the Psalms allows you to read through the whole book of the psalms in one month.
1Morning Ps. 1-5 Evening pm Ps.6-8
2Morning Ps.9-11 Evening Ps.12-14
3Morning Ps.15-17 Evening Ps.18
4Morning Ps.19-21 Evening Ps.22-23
5Morning Ps.24-26 Evening Ps.27-29
6Morning Ps.30-31 Evening Ps.32-34
7Morning Ps.35-36 Evening Ps.37
8Morning Ps.38-40 Evening Ps.41-43
9Morning Ps.44—46 Evening Ps.47-49
10Morning Ps.50-52 Evening Ps.53-55
11Morning Ps.56-58 Evening Ps.59-61
12Morning Ps.62-64 Evening Ps.65-67
13Morning Ps.68 Evening Ps.69-70
14Morning Ps.71-72 Evening Ps.73-74
15Morning Ps.75-77 Evening Ps.78
16Morning Ps.79-81 Evening Ps.82-85
17Morning Ps.86-88 Evening Ps.89
18Morning Ps.90-92 Evening Ps.93-94
19Morning Ps.95-97 Evening Ps.98-101
20Morning Ps.102-103 Evening Ps.104
21Morning Ps.105 Evening Ps.106
22Morning Ps.107 Evening Ps.108-109
23Morning Ps.110-113 Evening Ps.114-115
24Morning Ps.116-118 Evening Ps.119:1-32
25Morning Ps.119:33-72 Evening Ps.119:73-104
26Morning Ps.119:105-144 Evening Ps.119:145-176
27Morning Ps.120-125 Evening Ps.126-131
28Morning Ps.132-135 Evening Ps.136-138
29Morning Ps.139-141 EveningPs.142-143
30Morning Ps.144-146 Evening Ps.147-150
|1ST March 2020 – 1st in Lent (St. David’s Day) – LAMENT
Text: Psalm 13; Rom.8:18-39
It’s an odd thing. Jesus wept. Job wept. David wept. Jeremiah wept. They did it openly. Their weeping became a matter of public record. Their weeping, sanctioned by inclusion in our Holy Scriptures, a continuing and reliable witness that weeping has an honoured place in the life of faith.
But just try it yourself. Even, maybe especially, in church where these tear-soaked Scriptures are provided to shape our souls and form our behaviour. Before you know it, a half-dozen men and women surround you with handkerchiefs, murmuring reassurances, telling you that it is going to be alright, intent on helping you to “get over it.”
Why are Christians, of all people, embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow, unpractised in the language of lament? It certainly is not a biblical heritage, for virtually all our ancestors in the faith were thoroughly “acquainted with grief.” And our Saviour was, as everyone knows, “a Man of Sorrows.”
So runs Eugene Peterson’s foreword to Michael Card’s book, A Sacred Sorrow.
Why indeed are we “unpractised in the language of lament”? Perhaps at least part of the answer lies in our neglect of the Psalms. We lack both permission and vocabulary. Orthodoxy tells us that God is present. Resurrection confirms that Jesus is alive. But as Eugene Peterson points out, Scripture illustrates a tear-filled faith. We have plenty of reasons to praise God with exuberant joy; of course we do, and a veritable Christian music industry obliges us. But life is not all ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise the Lord.’ Children suffer. People die. Nations fight. Creation is polluted. God is cursed. We need to learn to sing ‘the Blues’; which, let’s face it, is just another form of lament.
For the nest seven weeks, therefore, we’re going to pass through this veil of tears; plunge into the depths of sorrow. We’re going to learn from the masters of lament how to mourn over ourselves and how to mourn on behalf of our neighbours, our nation and our planet. What better time in the liturgical year to undertake such a task than during Lent; the time of sorrowful self-examination!
Psalm 13 is a primer in lament. It contains the basic elements of disorientation and daring, of argued petition and anguished waiting. It ends in confident trust and thankful praise – but let’s not get there too fast (as is our modern wont to do). The News at Ten may lighten the darkness with a happy ending, but we must neither seek nor settle for such sweeteners. Elsewhere Peterson gives us very good reasons for attending honestly to the painful experience of God’s absence and our need to master lament.
These witnesses to the experience of God’s absence in the country of salvation are enormously important. They are rarely celebrated, whether in or out of church – this is not an area of life that most of us take kindly to – and not infrequently suppressed. But given our consumerist tendencies to shop for a god or goddess who will cater to our appetites for cosiness and good feelings, they are necessary. Necessary to prevent us from reducing God Almighty to god-at-my-beck-and-call. Necessary to place disciplined constraints on our collective…”spiritual sweet tooth.” Necessary to enlarge our readiness for salvation beyond our carefully fenced in and devoutly tended backyard spirituality gardens.
Any understanding of God that doesn’t take into account God’s silence is a half truth – in effect, a cruel distortion – and leaves us vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by leaders who are quite willing to fill in the biblical blanks with what the Holy Spirit never tells.
Psalm 13 hits us with the shrill two-word question that most of us have voiced at some stage in our life; and which all of us will, sooner or later, need to voice: ‘How long?’ Lament always begins in the middle. We don’t approach the start of crisis like we approach a set of traffic lights. Rarely are we given much advance warning. Grief suddenly encompasses us like a thick, disorienting fog. We were getting on fine. Things were ticking along. Okay there wasn’t much by way of adrenalin rush, but life made sense and we were in control. Then bang! When grief sets in, when God feels absent, there is no before and after. We are in the middle of it. We don’t know how or why. Those are not questions we seek answers to. Our only concern is: ‘How long?’
The psalmist feels forgotten by God and deduces that God is hiding from him. The result is a profound sense of disorientation as all kinds of explanation and competing justifications run through his head. The mind is in gear, but sorrow overcomes the heart. In this instance; it is not always the case, the psalmist must contend with human as well as divine tormentors: ‘How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?’ It hurts that God abandons us. It hurts more that our enemies are emboldened by this abandonment. There are times when we are at fault. Our own sin, our own disobedience, our own neglect of ‘the means of grace’ – all of these things eventually bite us; and the psalmists acknowledge that. But sometimes it’s not us, it’s God! Daring speech dares to shout at God.
Lament begins with the shrill cry of someone in pain, but it moves on to petition; particular requests are made to God and motivations are attached to these requests:
Lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed” lest my foes rejoice.
As Walter Brueggemann points out, the Lamenter’s plight is fundamentally and ultimately God’s problem. If one of God’s people is diminished, God too is diminished. If a God-follower is defeated, the enemy will conclude that God is not to be trusted, or cannot be relied upon, or is not capable of rescuing, or does not exist at all. Lament always insists that ‘God has skin in the game.’ If we try to argue that, somehow, we deserve God’s attention; that God is indebted to us, we are on shaky ground. If, on the other hand, we argue that God’s own reputation is at stake and God’s declared purposes in Creation are at risk, we are on much firmer ground. For God’s sake, God must act!
With a shrill of pain and a catalogue of petitions and motivations, the lament now reaches its most crucial phase. The Lamenter must now wait. The great English spiritual director, Evelyn Underhill understood all of this very well. In a letter to one of her many correspondents she gave this advice:
We have to feel utterly helpless, weak, unable to stand up to it, if we are ever to learn real trust and abandonment. After all, Our Lord Himself didn’t say, “I accept this darkness peacefully,” etc. He said, in the first instance, “Why hast thou forsaken me!” – pain, bewilderment, and all that you reckon in yourself as “failure” – but it isn’t, my lamb – it’s the “other side” of love. Don’t struggle to “find proofs of God’s existence” when He seems to vanish. Throw your hand in and wait, as quietly as you are able.
The waiting time really is crucial if, as Peterson reminds us, we are to avoid reducing God Almighty to a god-at-our-beck-and-call. And one of the biggest problems at this juncture may not be so much our impatience as the impatience of our family, friends and fellow believers. Job’s comforters possessed the most orthodox theology, but they still got God wrong. Our contemporaries are no different; except they (we) are probably worse theologians and more impatient. At least they stayed silent for seven days and seven nights before presuming to utter a word. We want to make it all better. We want a swift resolution to the grief we observe. More to the point: we have our own life to live without all these negative vibes! Perhaps that’s why we remain so immature and so unsatisfied.
Eventually the mood in the lament lightens and life has a new orientation. There are three statements of trust followed by one motivational clause:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Having put his trust in the covenant-faithfulness of God and found God to be reliant, the psalmist looks to the future: ‘my heart shall rejoice…I will sing.’ God will assuredly come to the rescue if he hasn’t already done so. Salvation is a done deal. And having given God good reasons to act, the psalmist now gives good reason to act himself: ‘because God has dealt bountifully with me.’ The Lamenter may not be out of the woods yet, but it is now only a matter of time. Hence our reading from Romans 8 –
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purposes…If God is for us, who will be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
As this season of Lent unfolds, let’s begin to apply ourselves to learning the craft of lament, for we encounter the Man of Sorrows before He encounters us as our Risen Lord.
Aim: To examine a four Psalms that have had a pivotal role in the life of the worshipping Church and explore how these Psalms might restore our corporate life.
Psalms that played a pivotal role in the life of the worshipping Church