Day 178: Psalms 120-131; The Songs of Ascent

Ascending to the Temple of God in Jerusalem Photo Credit: www.praisechoir.com

Ascending to the Temple of God in Jerusalem
Photo Credit: www.praisechoir.com

Today’s psalms are part of a collection of psalms known as the “Pilgrim Psalms,” or as the they say in their titles, “song of ascents.”  They are also sometimes called Gradual Psalms or Songs of Degrees.  Many scholars believe these psalms were sung by the worshipers as they ascended up the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals which are recorded in Deuteronomy 16:16.   They may have also been sung by the kohanim (aka. the Korahites), who were the Temple priests, as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Its also possible that these songs were sung by the captives as they returned from Babylon to Israel!

While information like that is nice to know, I think it pales in comparison to what we get from these psalms today.  These songs were indeed used for preparing the people and their leaders for worship.  If you think back to Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the whole purpose of worship was to come before God and be made new and clean once again.  This happened through sacrifice and, if it never happened at any other times in a year, it did happen on these three dates: The Passover (aka. The Feast of Unleavened Bread), The Feast of Weeks, and The Feast of Tabernacles.  Each of these feasts come with their own appropriate code of conduct, but all of them have one thing in common, a corporate re-orientation of the lives of those in the Israelite community; a remembrance of who they are and where they came from.  We can see this very clearly in the lines of these psalms:

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me…”

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!”

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

The Psalms of Ascent: A Call to Prayer Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

The Psalms of Ascent:
A Call to Prayer
Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

These psalms, as is true with many of the other psalms, make me think a lot about my own orientation and that of the Church as well.  Do we come into church on any given Sunday expecting to encounter God?  Do we take time to prepare ourselves for worship?  Do we recognize who God is and who we are?  Do we feel like we even need God’s help?  Is this really the first time we have thought about God since last Sunday?  These are difficult questions to ask not because the answers are difficult to find, but because the truth of the answers is difficult to swallow.

Today’s psalms are short and quick to read.  They run the gambit of praise, thanksgiving, lament, hope, trust, and just about any emotion you can think of.  The page(s) that they are on are good to keep bookmarked or dogeared in your Bible and the psalms contained therein are good reminders of the right orientation for our lives.  Like a compass always pointing north, these Psalms (and the whole Bible really) point us directly in the direction of God… a reminder that I’m sure we need on a daily basis.



Day 170: Psalms 85-89; The Name of the Lord

The Lord Passes before Moses Photo Credit: www.bibleinbits.com/

The Lord Passes before Moses
Photo Credit: www.bibleinbits.com

As we move further and further into the Psalms, I think that the tendency is just to brush over them and not really read them.  I mean, as far as chapters go this is by far the longest book in the Bible and we tend to start thinking that all of these Psalms are the same in one way or another.  Of course it is true that many of the Psalms use the same phrases, talk about the same things, and ultimately declare the same messages, but each one is special in its own way.  Each are individual models of how to praise, lament, thank, petition, and ultimately worship God.  Today we read through Psalm 86, which in verse 15 brings us back all the way to the book of Exodus using the name that the Lord gave Himself and proclaimed when He passed by Moses:

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands,forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Why is this a big deal?  Because it is the name of God.  Moreover, it is really the best description of who God is and how God acts both then and now.  The words “gracious” and “merciful” are coupled with the name of God 12 times in the Old Testament, all of which show them to be some of the primary attributes of God.  I wonder if that is how we always think of God though, as one who is first and foremost gracious and merciful, and also slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  I wonder if this is how the world see God… or if this is how Christians are actually proclaiming God…

While I wouldn’t pretend to claim that I know how all Christians preach about and describe God to the people that they meet every day, I think I can make a pretty educated guess as to what is being said based on the prevailing opinion of culture.  Do people see God as a deity who is abounding in steadfast love or one that is slow to anger?  I doubt it.  Why?  Take one look at the prevailing opinions on God right now or at the “gospel” that is being preached by many churches:  Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism – ‘live a good life and be nice to people and God will give you nice things, and He might even help you occasionally when you get in to trouble.’

The Psalms & God A Call to Prayer Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

The Psalms & God
A Call to Prayer
Photo credit: www.cccooperagency.wordpress.com

I don’t know about you, but to be honest, this is not at all the God of the Bible.  It certainly isn’t how God describes Himself either.  Time and time again we see God intimately involved in the lives of His creatures, sustaining and upholding all of creation.  We say that God is love, but also that He is very distant (deism)… these things seem to stand in conflict with each other.  How can you love someone and yet be ever distant and uncaring?

No… the deistic god is not the God of the Bible.  We worship and serve a God that is intimately involved and interested in our lives.  God loves us so much that, because of His overwhelming grace and mercy, He sent His Son to die for us which is the ultimate expression of love.  When we sin, He doesn’t turn away from us, but has compassion on us and welcomes us back with open arms.  God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

PSALM 85 is a psalm of lament written by the Korahites. This psalm is also interwoven with a breath of thanksgiving that walks the path of asking God for restoration and thanking Him for His actions.

PSALM 86 is a psalm of lament written by David.  Unlike most of David’s laments, this psalm has a section of hope and trust that is pasted right in the middle of the two sections of lament making this psalm end on a rather low note.

PSALM 87 is a psalm of praise written by the Korahites. This psalm is also prophetic in nature and stands as one of the psalms of Ascent that people would sing as they made their way up to Jerusalem and to the Temple for worship.

PSALM 88 is a psalm of lament that is attributed to both the Korahites and to Heman the Ezrahite.  This is probably the darkest of all the lament psalms as it seems to have no hope.  The writer does not make a turn towards trust or hope but truly feels as though the Lord has abandoned him which is interesting coming from a man named ‘Heman’ which in Hebrew means ‘faithful.’  This is the only psalm attributed to Heman.

PSALM 89 is a royal psalm written by Ethan the Ezrahite. This is the only psalm that is attributed to Ethan and proclaims the greatness and reign of God over all of creation.  Interestingly this psalm also takes a turn towards lament at the end, asking the same God that is exalted above creation to reveal Himself to the writer in the time of trouble.



Day 169: Psalms 79-84; Deeply Longing

I really love Psalm 84.  It talks very deeply of the longing of the psalmist to be in the presence of the Lord.  This isn’t just about spending a minute or two in prayer, but a deep longing to dwell in God’s presence.  The Psalmist seems to understand what it means to be in God’s presence, to know the peace of God and to bask in His glory.  He even goes on to say that he would rather be a doorkeeper in God’s house, a lowly servant working by opening and closing the door, than to dwell in places elsewhere.  The words of the Psalm are just beautiful.  I think today, in lue of anything else to say, I’ll just let the Psalm speak for itself.

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
    ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you!

PSALM 79 is a psalm of lament written by Asaph.  This psalm is also an imprecatory psalm as we can see the psalmist petitioning the Lord for His justice.  Like most lament psalms, this psalm ends on a note of hope and trust.

PSALM 80 is also a psalm of lament written by Asaph.  In this psalm we see the psalmist crying out for restoration.  While there is no specific hopeful tone that we see at the end, the whole psalm is a testament to the trust that the writer has in God to restore them.

PSALM 81 is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving written by Asaph.  This is an interesting praise song in that it talks about the poor decisions of God’s people.  However, it does proclaim God’s mighty works and tell the story of God’s providence making it a didactic psalm as well.

PSALM 82 is a prayer of lament written by Asaph as well.  Asaph’s writing here is also didactic in nature and makes the turn towards trust in the very last line of the psalm, proclaiming God’s rule over the world.

PSALM 83 also a prayer of lament that is written by Asaph.  This psalm, however, is much more imprecatory and seems to be aimed directly at the psalmist’s enemies.  The turn towards hope and trust in this lament can be seen in the writer’s trust in God’s work and justice.

PSALM 84 is a psalm of praise that is written by the Korahites.  This is a Psalm of ascent which lends its self to being naturally didactic in nature as well.  This would have been a psalm that people would have sang as they made their way up to Jerusalem and up to the temple as well… like a good song on the way to church!



Day 167: Psalms 72-75; The books of the Psalms

So as you can see today, at least in the reading of the ESV Bible, that we are transitioning from book 2 of the Psalm to book 3.  I think that this is a good time to mention something about the different books and what they mean.  The division of the psalms is very reminiscent of the division of the 5 books of the Pentateuch.  While the Psalms themselves do not necessarily correlate to the themes of the books of the Pentateuch (aka. book 1 of the Psalms isn’t like Genesis in the Pentateuch) their divisions are traditionally seen as holding that symbolism.  Each of the books contain their own benediction, or parting blessing, at the end of them.  We can see this today at the end of psalm 72:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

Each of the books also has some of its own characteristics as well.  We don’t necessarily see these in the English translations, but the when read in the original Hebrew that they were written in, the distinctions are very noticeable.  He is a break down of some of the differences:

  1. The first book comprises the first 41 Psalms. All of these are ascribed to David except Psalms 1, 2, 10, and 33, which, though untitled in the Hebrew, were also traditionally ascribed to David. While Davidic authorship cannot be confirmed, this probably is the oldest section of the Psalms.  These Psalms also use the word “Yahweh” or “YHWH” when God is referenced in them.  This would have been spoken as “Adonai” as the Hebrew people believe that the name of God is too Holy to be spoken by humans.
  2. The second book consists of the next 31 Psalms (42–72). Eighteen of these are ascribed to David. Psalm 72 begins “For Solomon”, but is traditionally understood as being written by David as a prayer for his son. The rest are anonymous, but are often attributed to the Korahites.  In this section of  the Psalms, the word “Elohim” is used to reference God.  This word in Hebrew is actually the word for “God” but is also used to reference other gods as well.  It is a more general word used to reference deity.
  3. The third book contains seventeen Psalms (73–89), of which Psalm 86 is ascribed to David, Psalm 88 to Heman the Ezrahite, and Psalm 89 to Ethan the Ezrahite.  The rest of the Psalms in this section are attributed to Asaph or the Korahites.
  4. The fourth book also contains seventeen Psalms (90–106), of which Psalm 90 is ascribed to Moses, and Psalms 101 and 103 to David.  The rest of this book is comprised of Psalms written anonymously.
  5. The fifth book contains the remaining 44 Psalms. Of these, 15 are ascribed to David, one (Psalm 127) as a charge to Solomon.  The rest are anonymously written including Psalms 146-150 which both serve as a doxology for book 5 and is also the doxology for the whole of the Psalms.

PSALM 72 is a Royal Psalm that is traditionally thought to be written by Solomon, but could also have been written by David as a charge to Solomon.  Psalm 72 is also considered to be a Messianic and Prophetic Psalm as well.  The end of this Psalm is also the Doxology of book 2.

PSALM 73 is a Wisdom Psalm that is written by Asaph.  Psalm 73 is also didactic in nature, as most wisdom psalms tend to be.  It talks about being with God, walking with God, learning the ways of God, and following God as He leads us.

PSALM 74 is a Psalm of lament that is written by Asaph.  This Psalm also contains elements of hope in them, but it not imprecatory or didactic like many of the other psalms that are classified as lament.

PSALM 75 is a psalm of thanksgiving that is written by Asaph.  This psalm talks about the equality with which God judges and really declares how God truly is the measure for justice in the world, which I think makes it a didactic psalm as well.

This brings us to the half way point of the Psalms!



Day 163: Psalms 49-54; A Prophetic Oracle

Today’s reading covers psalm 50 which is considered to be a “prophetic oracle” psalm.  In this Psalm, the writer speaks the words of the Lord towards the people.  This is the main thrust of prophecy, the delivery of the Word of God to a people at a certain time regarding a certain message.  Many Christians tend to lump prophecy into the books of the prophets and often think of it in terms of the visions of Daniel or the revelation of John in the New Testament.  Along with these thoughts come the plethora of weird and crazy imagery that comes with this particular genre of Biblical reading.  These writings are both marvelous and confusing, leaving us guessing as to what their true meanings are and how we are supposed to interpret them.  To be honest though, most of the things that come to mind when we talk about prophecy actually fall into their own category of Biblical literature called “apocalyptic literature.”

Still, it seems that the word and idea of prophecy has been co-opted into a much greater (not necessarily better) meaning by the contemporary culture and the culture of years past as well.  What do you think about when you hear the word prophecy?  Some people think of Nostradamus or the Mayan calendar.  Perhaps the first thing that jumps to you mind is the ‘prophecy’ of Harold Camping about the end of the world.  Maybe something along the lines of the “Left Behind” book series comes to mind as well.  While these are all different interpretations of ‘prophecy,’ whether gleaned from the pages of Scripture or ‘received’ by the Spirit, we need to make sure that we know what prophecy really is, what it is doing in the Bible, and how exactly we should interpret prophecy in the words of the Bible and also what we should do with the ‘prophecies’ that we hear about in the world today.

The first important point about prophecy is that the prophecy found in the Bible was directed first and foremost, primarily at a target audience from that day and age.  There are some that would say that there are secret messages contained within Biblical prophecy that needs to be unlocked, a notion that is in itself non-biblical.  The prophets were people called and sent by God, empowered to give a message to a particular group of people , centering around a Word from the Lord that needed to be delivered to the people.  Thinking that the prophet would stand up before a crowd and deliver a message that would have made no sense to the audience to whom he/she is speaking.  No, the words of prophecy would have been understood by the people of Israel.

While it is true that we believe that the Word of the Lord is living and active, and we believe that the Lord speaks to us through His word, we need to make sure that we are hearing what God wants us to hear rather than what we want us to hear.  What is more important than that is that we need to always be looking for the truth, the hope, and the trust that lies in each of the prophetic writings.  Even though these prophecies were written to an audience of another time and culture doesn’t mean that God is not able to speak through the Word of scripture none the less.  Ultimately, as we read and interpret the prophetic writings, we need to be making sure that it is God who is being raised up and glorified in all things and that we are not looking first to ourselves and using Scriptural texts to honor ourselves and life up our own motives.

PSALM 49 is a Psalm of Wisdom written by the Korahites. As the wisdom psalms always have, there is a very particular didactic quality to this Psalm as well.

PSALM 50 is a prophetic Oracle that was written by Asaph.  This is also a psalm of praise that is didactic in nature as well, something that is natural for prophetic writing.

PSALM 51 is a penitential psalm of lament that is written by David.  It was written after the prophet Nathan came to David after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, a narrative recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12.

PSALM 52 is a psalm of lament that is also didactic in nature.  This psalm is written by David and was written after the high priest Ahimelech had been executed by Saul for helping David, a narrative recorded in 2 Samuel 22.

PSALM 53 is also a psalm of lament that is didactic in nature.  It too was written as a lament of David and is basically a repeat of psalm 14 but includes the phrase, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'”

PSALM 54 is a psalm of lament that is also an imprecatory psalm that was written by David.  This psalm was written while David was hiding from Saul.



Day 162: Psalms 43-48; Psalms and Songs of Praise

Today we come to a group of Psalms that are all Psalms oriented around praising God.  While many of the Psalms have elements of praise in them, these particular Psalms, and some others, are full of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.  They take time within them to describe the many attributes of God and spell out very clearly who God is and why the writers are praising Him.  When I read these particular psalms, I often feel as though I stand in awe of God a great deal more than perhaps the average day of the week.  God is so eloquently described and so greatly uplifted I can’t help but be more amazed by Him and His acts.  Its as if I am being reminded once again who God really is and, on top of that, I am praising Him while learning more about Him.  In some ways its the same as when we lament and but remember in our lament who God is and why we continue to place our hope in Him even through the bad times.

Raising up our hands in worship

Raising up our hands in worship

Reading these psalms of praise, which were likely the popular praise songs of their day makes me think a bit about our contemporary context of worship as well.  Day after day there seems to be a plethora of new Christian music out there, its almost hard to sift through it all.  Some of it is certainly meant to be music that can be used in a corporate worship setting while the rest of it certainly isn’t.  I think many of my readers will know what I’m talking about, but for the sake of the rest, let me explain.

There are songs that are written that are clearly directed toward God, songs that are intended to be worshipful in nature.  There are also songs that definitely don’t fit this category.  In the mix are songs that are theologically solid, while others are definitely not.  I also know that there are many songs that are very well suited for congregational singing, while others are not for one reason or another.  Along with these there are many other categories that I tend to look at in music as I evaluate it for corporate worship at Overisel.  The music we sing may be different than the songs that you sing at your church, but the important thing is that when we join together for corporate worship, we are able to lift up and glorify the name of God together as the body of Christ.

Too often I think that we get caught up in the hype of the contemporary Christian music that is out there.  Every song means something different to someone and we find songs that we feel are “cool” and think they would be great for worship at church.  While I don’t want to discount anyone’s feelings towards a song of the emotions that a song my raise, it is important to remember that worship is about God, not about us.  It isn’t about the style that we like or the songs that we like best.  Worship is about raising up and glorifying God through all that we do, and particularly in our corporate worship.  Anything that would get in our way, anything that might hinder us from worship, anything that would take the place of God in our lives including the things that we want is idolatry.  Let us make sure that it is truly God that we are magnifying in our worship each and every day.

Kneeling at the Cross

Kneeling at the Cross

PSALM 43 is a psalm of lament that is actually a continuation from psalm 42.  At first these two psalms were combined, but in the cannon of Scripture, they have become Psalm 42 & 43.  This Psalm was written by the Korahites and is also a psalm of pilgrimage, also known as a psalm of ascent.

PSALM 44 is a particularly dark psalm of lament written by the Korahites.  There is definitely an section in which we see hope and trust in this psalm, but it is located in the center of very deep lament.

PSALM 45 is a royal psalm and  which has elements of a prophetic psalm.  It was also written by the Korahites and is considered by many to be “the wedding psalm” as it is indeed a wedding song.

PSALM 46 is a psalm of praise that is written by the Korahites as well.  In this psalm we can clearly see the elements of thanksgiving as well.  This psalm is also considered to be a psalm of ascent or a pilgrimage psalm.

PSALM 47 is also a psalm of praise that is also written by the Korahites.  This psalm is also called an enthronement psalm as describes God’s sovereign rule and affirms His position as a powerful Creator and sovereign Lord.

PSALM 48 is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving that is written by the Korahites.  This too, along with psalm 43 and 46, is a psalm of ascent or a pilgrimage psalm, something that is made somewhat clear as we see the author talking about the city of Zion.  This is usually a give away that the Psalm is a psalm of ascent.