The Psalter Reclaimed Reflection Essay

I read The Psalter Reclaimed in its entirety via the Kindle app on my phone during breaks at work and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms by Gordan Wenham is a superb introduction and resource to the Psalms and their place in the Christian life today. This essay will be structured around the three questions posed for the review by Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Old Testament Orientation II which are: how the Psalms contribute to the Christian’s understanding of worship, what the Psalms contribute to understanding the Messiah, and how the Psalms contribute to Christian ethics.

 

  • What do the Psalms contribute to the Christian’s understanding of the nature of worship?

 

The Psalms are not meant to be edited out or “Christianized,” they are the worship collection of prayers and songs for the people of God. Wenham argues that the Psalms have been central in Jewish and Christian worship for centuries.[1] Wenham further suggests that the Psalms were meant to be memorized to instill God’s dealings with man in those who sung and meditated upon them.[2] The Psalms do particularly emphasize worship as an all-encompassing activity in the Believer’s life, but merely the fact that they were sung and prayed with the purpose of indoctrinating the users is not going far enough in probing how they contribute to the nature of worship. Surprisingly, one of the largest themes in the Psalms is surprisingly lament and not praise (Ps 13; 22; 69; 88).[3] While the New Testament clearly says to give thanks in all things (1 Thess 5:18), the Psalms clearly shows the Believer how to wrestle through real life. Yes we rejoice, but we also have stuff we have to deal with in prayer. The truth is that worship does not have to be, nor was it meant to be all smiles and happiness while avoiding the pressures of life. The lament or complaint Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard claim is the “most common genre of prayer” we have in the Psalter.[4] Duvall and Hays succinctly state that “The psalmists tell God exactly how they feel, and it often does not sound very spiritual or mature.”[5] Often worship is idealized as always being positive, upbeat and exalting God in modern American Christianity. Certainly, Christians should praise God enthusiastically. However, deep lament (gut level honesty) has a place in our spiritual formation as well and that aspect is particularly important for the Church today to recover in its worship practices.

Further, the Psalms teach that worship is not just corporate. Much worship also occurs privately as an individual (Ps 63:6) and within the home.[6] While I disagree with Wenham that Jesus was praying the entire Psalter on the cross,[7] Jesus did pray the Psalms individually on different occasions (Ps 22; Jn 2:17; 15:25) and led His disciples arguably in a hymn which was a Psalm (Matt 26:30). Surely Psalms were sung corporately, but they were also individual meditations and heart cries. This proves that Christianity is a religion built on a relationship with God and so was Judaism. Throughout God’s dealings with man, He has not asked man to put on a ruse and clean themselves up outwardly only. No, God wants true worship from the heart of the individual, even if it is messy (Ps 38-44).

 

  • What do the Psalms contribute to the Christian’s understanding of the Messiah?

 

As was already briefly touched on, the Psalms were prayed by Jesus but do the Psalms contain prophesies or foreshadows of Christ? Arguably yes, especially in Psalm 22. But before taking on Psalm 22, a brief survey through the Psalms is helpful to see the thread of the Messiah even in the hymn book of Israel and the Early Church. To begin Psalm 2, critical scholars may attempt to explain it away[8] but it clearly points to God’s Son as the coming Savior (Ps 2:7) but also as the supreme Lord to which man must give an account (Ps 2:4-6, 9, 12). Prophetically Psalm 72:8 was quoted in Zechariah 9:10 which is clearly a prophetic reference to Christ’s millennial reign over the earth (Rev 20:1-6). In Psalm 110, David prophetically says that “the Lord says to my Lord” to sit at His right hand until His enemies are made into His footstool. Jesus Christ is clearly sitting by the Father’s side until He is dispatched to take His throne (Rom 8:34; Acts 2:33; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20). Jesus Christ Himself, apologetically used the Psalm 110 my Lord phrase to prove that the Messiah is not just David’s biological son, but rather He is the Son of God and Lord of David and all the earth (Matt 22:41-46). Lastly, Psalm 22 prophetically points to the Messiah but not just generally. Although Wenham spent much of his chapter on the Messianic nature of the Psalms defending passages against the attacks of critical scholars, Psalm 22 pours forth a living testament that greatly contributes to the Jewish understanding of the Messiah portrayed in the Gospel accounts. In verse 1, Jesus’ groaning prayer of why His Father turned His back toward the Son upon the cross is seen. Further, in verses 6 and 7, the mocking and derision Christ bore is seen as it also is elsewhere in Isaiah 53:3-8. Verse 10 perhaps shows its only fulfillment in Christ. How has God been the God of any from the womb except the Messiah? Every human being is born in sin (Ps 51:5; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22). No human being has repented in the womb; therefore, only Christ, born of a virgin, could fulfill the detail of verse 10. Verse 14 may refer to the fact that Christ died early, His side was pierced, and the blood and water flowed out. In addition, being raised on a cross in crucifixion could account for bones being out of joint.  Verse 15, could point to Christ’s utter sacrifice and exhaustion in His suffering for sin as well as His refusal to drink and take an anesthetic. Verses 16-18 unquestionably foretold Christ’s crucifixion with a crowd of sinners beholding, His feet and hands being nailed, not a single bone being broken as an acceptable perfect sacrifice, and the gambling over His clothes. In short, the Psalms foreshadow and even prophesy details of the Messiah’s life, especially of His sufferings. The question is, did the Jewish people get it? Did they understand what they were singing about? It does not appear so for the majority rejected Him. But for the Christian today, the Psalms hold a sweet remembrance . . . and a solemn one, of all that the Savior suffered and died for—the transgressions of mankind.

  • What do the Psalms contribute to the Christian’s understanding of biblical ethics?

The Psalms, like the Proverbs, contrast the righteous and the wicked. This characteristic is clearly seen in the very first Psalm (a popular one to memorize) in which the godly person is exhorted to not follow wicked counsellors (vs 1), to meditate throughout the day on God’s Law (vs 2), and to remember that while the righteous will prosper, the wicked will stand judgment (vs 3-6).  It would be a mistake to dismiss the Psalms’ contrast of the righteous and the wicked in anr emphasis on loving the Law of God as simply being “an Old Testament thing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian should love God’s Law, for it is perfect (Ps 19:7; Js 1:25). God’s Law, while the canon of what is right, correct and true is not meant to be a bar to strive to meet but always despise as unattainable. Rather, the Law of God should be loved for who it comes from and because it is true. Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm and it is a Psalm about walking according to and loving God’s Law (Ps 119:160, 174-176). Jesus stated the same truth in perhaps more comfortable terms (Jn 17:17).

The imprecation or curses of the Psalms upon the wicked have been edited out by many Christians in their worship today.[9] While Wenham discusses critical theories and Zenger and McCann’s’ views at length, Micah 6:8 seems to sum up the question for Believers today. Why should Christians be surprised at imprecation? Considering Micah 6:8, Christians are to be kind, humble and fight for justice. Fighting for justice means that judgment has to come to wrongdoers—now. No, not in the future after they die, now injustice needs to be dealt with; specifically, the individuals who are causing the injustice or perverting justice. The Scriptures are clear that the godly are to stand up for the oppressed and care for those truly in need while keeping themselves unspotted by the world’s sins (Is 1:17; Js 1:26-27; 1 Jn 2:15-17). Such actions being commanded surely imply prayers for those ends to come to pass. May the Lord act by defending the oppressed and avenging them, for He is God.

In summary, the Psalms still impact Christians today, and despite modern worship trends and changes, the truths of the Psalms endure. Christians would do well to learn from the Psalms that true worship is not just upbeat, but rather honest and lament in one’s worship is ok. As a matter of fact, true worship must lament at times. And while the Psalms should still be used in the congregation, they also retain their original value of being precious material for personal worship and meditation. Remembering the Messiah’s sufferings and His glorious reign in the Millennium as seen in the Psalms is something Christians do well to reflect on both as they read and sing the Psalms, especially Psalm 22. And, finally, imprecation is a component of worship and Christian singing that needs be recovered. Praying for the salvation of the wicked is a good thing, but also praying for God to uphold justice is not wrong. May Believers stand for justice as well as be humble in heart and kind toward our fellow man as Micah 6:8 teaches.

_______________________

[1] Gordan Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), Kindle, loc 97-107.

[2] Ibid., loc 176.

[3] Ibid., loc 660.

 [4] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation Rev and updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 352.

[5] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2012), 392.

[6] Wenham, loc 547.

[7] Ibid., loc 700.

[8] Ibid., loc 1360.

[9] Ibid., loc 2326.

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