Lecture 1 - Introduction to Psalms

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Lesson

Dr. Waltke summarizes the different approaches to studying the Psalms. By understanding "how" it means, you will understand more clearly "what" it means. 

01 Dr. Bruce Waltke

Outline

I.  Introduction

A. Most Popular Book in the Old Testament

B. Most Difficult Book in the Bible

II. Approaches to Understanding the Psalms

A. The Rhetorical Approach and the Different Kinds of Structure

B. The Historical Approach

C. Other Approaches: Liturgical and Eschatological Messianic Approach

III. Hermeneutics and the Spiritual Approach

Transcription

Course: Book of Psalms

Lecture: Introduction

This is the 1st lecture in the online series of lectures on Psalms by Dr Bruce Waltke. Recommended Reading includes: The Psalms as Christian Lament, James Houston, Bruce Waltke; The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary, James Houston, Bruce Waltke

I. Introduction

I begin to have a serious interest in the Psalms back in 1958 when I was teaching exegesis, meaning to see in the text what the author intended it to mean. The opposite of that is eisegesis where we read into the text what we want it to mean. In exegesis we allow the meaning to come out of the text to us. You need to read the text appropriately and to do this; you need to read it holistically. The sum is always greater than the parts and the parts have meaning within the whole. To teach any book, you can’t just teach a portion of the book. This is difficult, especially in the Old Testament where many of the books are made up of multiple chapters. I believe the best text for teaching exegesis is the Book of Psalms. The average size of the chapters in Psalms is about ten verses each. The Psalms speaks to our deepest emotions, our anguish and yet our joy. So it runs with the whole gambit of every emotion you may experience.  My next major encounter with the book was in 1968 at Dallas Seminary where they would bring in people for exposition. So it is one thing to bring out of the text and it is another thing to put it forth in a manner where people can digest it. So I begin to understand the different approaches to the Psalms.  I was also on the NIV committee for Psalms. I continued to periodically teach the Psalms in different contexts after that. I am now writing a commentary on the Psalms with Professor Houston at Oxford University which consists of both the historical aspect of how the church understood the Psalms along with the voice of the Psalmist, the text itself.

A. Most Popular Book in the Old Testament

The Book of Psalms is the most popular book of the Old Testament with the Christian community compared to the Torah for the Hebrew community. Often publishers will combine the Book of Psalms with the New Testament. Quotations and allusions to the Psalms are contained in every book of the New Testament with the exception 2nd and 3rd john, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon. The Lord Jesus Christ probably memorized the book, and he and the apostolic community argued that the Psalms speak of him. It is also the most represented corpus in the Qumran community. It is the first book ever printed, and it became the most widely translated book in the 16th and 17th century England. It is also the Bible’s longest and most complex book, containing a collection of religious Hebrew poetry extending over a thousand years, from Moses to the post-exilic era. It achieved its final shape by about the time of the New Testament. There are five approaches beside the plain sense of Scripture which have proved helpful in knowing how it means: the historical, form critical, liturgical, rhetorical, eschatological and editorial. The book expresses a wide variety of human moods, from heart wrenching anguish to bursts of exuberant joy and in addition, it is interspersed with religious instruction.

Where is God’s justice when people are suffering unjustly, when the wicked seem to have the upper hand? They don’t conceal that problem with which we all struggle with. They give expression to their pain and they talk about the absence of God. In distress they say, ‘where are you God?’ Even Christ on the Cross gave expression, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’ Jesus was tempted in every point as we are. And if you fill the same, know that our Lord has experienced the same as you and without sin. It expresses all the emotions which we have. Psalms is also the most often quoted book in the New Testament. It is quoted around two hundred and fifty times. What amazes me most; the Biblical writers were not formally educated. They were not Scribes and yet they had such a control of the Scriptures. They were able to use it so deftly and very exegetical and very creatively and using it for new situations.  These fishermen had this kind of knowledge just astounded the scribes and the lawyers and the educated in the rabbinical circles. Where did these men get this knowledge from? Of course it goes back to the Holy Spirit but often the Holy Spirit uses what is already there. I think they must have memorized the Scriptures. They were simple lay people without a formal education that spent their lives in the Psalms. Therefore when they pray and sing like in the Book of Revelation when John hears the angels singing, he was hearing songs like the Book of Psalms. In Romans 8, we read ‘we are counted as sheep for the slaughter’, which comes from Psalms 44. In addition, almost everybody knows Psalm 23; one of the most famous texts in the world. The six verses can transform a person’s life because it is so powerful and it’s better than a whole gallery of pictures. Early Christian monastic schools introduced young initiates to the study of Scriptures starting with the Psalms. They had to commit Psalms to memory and recite them while performing their daily work. So this would become part of their character. To be a bishop in the early church you had to memorize the Book of Psalms so that you could examine the priests so that they knew the Book of Psalms also. Psalms has also been the spiritual food of the church for the last two thousand years and in this study we are participating in that study. Preaching from the book is thoroughly Biblical, not therapeutic like many of the sermons today which try to make people happy. This doesn’t make people holly. And if we had more of the Bible and exposition, we would have a holly and more disciplined church.

B. Most Difficult Book

I suggest that of all the books of the Old Testament, Psalms is the most difficult. It is written over a period of a thousand years. It oldest Psalm is Psalm 90 which is by Moses. That goes back to around 1300 BC and then some Psalms come from after the exile; in fact Psalm 137 speaks of the time they were in Babylon, it is a distinct kind of Psalm about Zion. Altogether there are about five so Psalms like this. So evidence from Qumran suggests that it reached its final form about the time of the Christian era. But this is debatable. There are many different types of material in the Psalms, some that is very difficult to understand within the Christian idea of the love and faithfulness of God. In teaching the course, I have to address the real issues of this book. Even the issue of authorship within academia there is a prejudice toward the idea of David writing the Psalms. If you have a conservative viewpoint toward Scripture there is very little openness. But thank God for the blood of the lamp that makes us white as snow! Another difficult in teaching the book is concerned with talking about God. There is something unauthentic in this; it is difficult to talk about God in this manner because God is our Lord; our savior and our redeemer. The only appropriative way of speaking about God is in the second person, ‘you oh Lord.’ When I talk ‘about’ God, I tend to distant God from myself as if I’m putting myself above God. How do you do this? It bothers me, yet in theology you have to do that. I wish that I could write the way Augustin did in the confessions. With him, it was always: you oh Lord. It was always in the 2nd Person. So my genre is academic and this tends toward the scientific. We must be aware and consider this as a problem in our discussions about God. We need to always come back to the personal relationship and not overly dwell on the academic understanding of God. You can’t come to know anybody by talking about them. It has to be through the spirit, through sympathy and humility. We will even misread what people say if we don’t, otherwise what you say will be bastardized making it the opposite of what was meant. 

In 2nd Timothy 3:16, Paul says that all Scripture is inspired by God and then he tells us what its purpose is. It is profitable for doctrine, truth, and who God is; it is profitable to know who you are in being a servant of God. It is knowledge of yourself, a knowledge of God; it’s a double knowledge. The more you know God the better you know yourself.  It’s for doctrine and the Psalms are for doctrine and it has a lot to say about God. Interestingly, you don’t have the doctrine of God from an apostle or from a prophet or from Moses. You have the doctrine of God as the people of God understood him. The Psalms are where the people of God are and what they understood about God and the book is within their whole fabric of thinking. We learn in Psalms who we are and one thing you will see, we are in contradiction to the wicked. It is black and white, the difference between darkness and light between those who depend upon God and those who depend upon themselves. We are defined by our dependence, our meekness, our child likeness; as a totally dependent person. When you understand truth, we are rebuked because we fall so short of what reality is. When we don’t live in the reality of God, we don’t live in truth; we are even somewhat insane looking at the world through wrong eyes.  But the objective of the course is not theology which I have taught from different books. This course is preliminary to theology. I want to give you glasses to read the Psalms authentically which will make your theology more solid. So to repeat myself, ‘you don’t know what a text means until you know how it means.’

II. Approaches to Understanding Psalms

A. The Rhetorical Approach and the Different Kinds of Structure. Another approach is called the rhetorical approach which will be referred to constantly throughout the lectures. First in contrast to form criticism that studies the typical and so it groups literature according to its genres, rhetorical approach studies the particular within the typical. There are alternating, chiastic and concentric structures. Its guiding rubric declares that proper or appropriate articulation of form content yields proper or appropriate articulation of meaning. In this, parallel patterns tend to invite comparison of the parallel sequences and the individual parallel elements. Comparison often reveals progression but not necessarily opposite or contrast between the parallel components. For example it goes ABC and escalates from there in 1st Kings 19:9b-18:

A.  Setting at the cave and word of LORD came (19:9a)

 

B.  LORD's question: what are you doing here, Elijah (19:9b)

 

 

C.  Answer: “I have been very zealous... my life away” (19:10f

 

 

 

D.  Then the LORD said (19:11a)

 

 

 

 

E.  Wind...not in the wind (19:11b)

 

 

 

 

 

F.  Earthquake...not in earthquake (19:11c)

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.  Fire … not in fire (19:12a)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. Sound of sheer silence (19:13a)

 

It is A prime, B prime, C prime, D prime, etc. This is a very common pattern. Unless you have that lens of what they are doing you can’t understand what is happening and why it is happening. This is alternating parallelism. There is another kind that is Chiastic; a chiasm is from the Greek letter Qi and has a cross to it. Look at the repetitions in the this text which uses the verb ‘to know’ (da’at) wisdom and instruction and to understand words of insight; to receive instruction in prudence: righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth; to understand proverbs and parables, the sayings of the wise and their riddles. This is from Proverbs; the fear of I AM is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and instruction which fools despise. Look at the construction below. This is in all the near Eastern literatures. 

1:2a

A

 

 

Comprehensive, intellectual values: To know wisdom and instruction לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר  [da’at hokmah umusar]

1:2b

 

B

 

Literary Expression of Wisdom to understand words of insight

1:3a

 

 

C

Instrumental virtue: prudence

1:3b

 

 

X

Moral, communal virtues: righteous, justice, equity

1:4-5

 

 

C’

Instrumental virtue: prudence, discretion, guidance

1:6

 

B’

 

Literary expressions of wisdom to understand proverbs and parables 

1:7

A’

 

 

Comprehensive, intellectual virtues:knowledge; wisdom and instruction דָּעַת חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר [da’at hokmah umusar]

 

Notice how A. matches A.’ The Hebrew reads that you have to know wisdom and instruction. Now notice the key in A.’ Comprehensive, intellectual virtues. It says knowledge, wisdom instruction. The Hebrew is exactly the same sequence. Wisdom and instruction is the object of to know. In verse 7, ‘Fearing the LORD is the beginning of moral knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.’ Wisdom and instruction is the object of despise. The syntax is different here; one is the object of ‘to know’ and the other is the object of ‘despise.’ To know is known as an infinitive whereas in English ‘despise’ is a verb. The word order is typical wisdom parabolic wording. So we see that A matches A’. In B, the literary expression of wisdom is to understand words of insight match B’ in verse 6 is to understand proverbs and parables. Now it talks about instrumental virtues that belong to wisdom, namely prudence as shown in C and C’ with prudence, discretion, and guidance. Notice the X, it is communal virtues: righteous, justice and equity. The privet is the reality of what wisdom really is. It is the moral, it is telling you to do what is right, of establishing justice and being fair. This is what the book is about. This is the value of knowing structures and I find that spiritually challenging to me. The fool in verse 7 is an adult and they despise and rejected. Now the mocker is filled with pride. He delights in his mockery; he is the political pundit in the Newspaper that is always knocking the Word of God down. They are brilliant but they are mockers. Don’t rebuke a mocker, he will only kick back. They cannot see Christianity; they just bring shame as seen in Proverbs 9. Note again that the non-committed are called the ‘simple’ in Proverbs.

So, there are three principal kinds of construction in the Hebrew literature; one is alternating structure. If you have a thought, you call it ‘A’, if you have another thought; you call it ‘B’ and then ‘C’. So you go A B C and then A B C with a lot of different varieties. There is also the Chiastic construction. You go A B C and then X and then C prime, B prime and then ‘A’ prime. X is the pivot. We need to know these structures to understand what it means.  The third kind is concentric; you go A B, then A B C and then C prime, B prime and A prime. There is no X, it just reverses itself.  In using water to help with the imagery to clarify these constructions; first, we have the Chiastic and that to me is like throwing a rock into a pond watching the ripples move outward. The ripples are all matching one another and the Pivot is where the rock hit the pond. Concentric construction would be like the tide, it comes in, it goes out, but there is no Pivot. The third is like the waves of the ocean; the wave comes in and then there is another wave that pushes the water further and further up. This last one to me is alternating construction. So alternating construction is waves, you could think of Chiastic construction as rock in a pond and you concentric construction as the tide.

The third pattern is the concentric pattern. Proverbs 1:22-33 is actually a Chiasmic Concentric structure. It goes A B C then C’ B’ A’ and in this way woman wisdom is able to say the same thing twice. There is not X. You can think of this as the tide comes in and then goes out. 

22-23

How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.

A

 

 

Wisdom rebukes peti to repent

24-25

But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke,

 

B

 

Peti is condemned

26-27

I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

 

 

C

So Wisdom rejects them at judgement

28-29

Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord

 

 

C’

Again she says that Wisdom rejects them at Judgement

30-31

Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

 

B’

 

Peti is condemned for their rejection

32-33

For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.

A’

 

 

Death versus the security of the wise

 

An alternating parallelism as shown below between the religious education of 5-8 below and the ethical education of 9-11 and the alternating is A B C and A’ B’ C’. So the A is a summary statement in verse 5, which has to do with a religious education; you will find the Fear of the Lord, the knowledge of God and theology. That matches verse 9 of the ethics; then you will understand what is right and just and fair. These are ethical terms.

The Purpose of a Godly Character 2:12-22

12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse,
13 who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways?
14 who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.
16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.
18 Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.
20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

Parallel patterns tend to invite comparison of parallel sequences and of individual parallel elements.  Look at the following, especially at the parallels starting at the first set compared to the second set of  A through H and then E through H in the second set.

A.  Setting at the cave and word of LORD came (19:9a)

 

B.  LORD's question: what are you doing here, Elijah (19:9b)

 

 

C.  Answer: “I have been very zealous... my life away” (19:10f

 

 

 

D.  Then the LORD said (19:11a)

 

 

 

 

E.  Wind...not in the wind (19:11b)

 

 

 

 

 

F.  Earthquake...not in earthquake (19:11c)

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.  Fire … not in fire (19:12a)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. Sound of sheer silence (19:13a)

A.  Setting: at the cave a voice came (19:13b

 

B.  Question: what are you doing here, Elijah (19:13c)

 

 

C.  Answer: “I have been very zealous ... away” (19:14)

 

 

 

D.  Then the LORD said (19:15a

 

 

 

 

E.  Anoint Hazael (19:15)

 

 

 

 

 

F.  Anoint Jehu (19:16a)

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.  Fire … not in fire (19:12a)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. Sound of sheer silence (19:13a)

 

 

 

 

E.  Anoint Elisha (19:16b

 

 

 

 

 

F.  Jehu kills (19:17b)

 

 

 

 

 

 

G.  Elisha kills (19:17c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. 7,000 have not bowed to Baal

 

Instead of the earthquake, we have Jehu who killed off the whole house of Baal and brought death. The parallel to the wind is Hazael and the parallel to the earthquake is Jehu and the parallel to the fire is Elisha kills. Parallel to the sheer silence is the 7,000 who didn’t bow to Baal. You couldn’t hear them. So once you understand that, you can interpret it correctly.

Let’s us look at 1st Kings 1-11 and the Chiastic parallelism of it; I will match A and A’ prime immediately.  So we have a prophet who intervenes in the royal succession. You have Nathan who is putting Solomon on the throne instead Adonijah, and then notice how A prime ends: a prophet determines the royal succession. That is in chapter 11:26-43. So it begins with a prophet putting a king on the throne and it ends with a prophet taking the king off the throne and putting somebody else on the throne.

A.  prophet intervenes in the royal succession: 1:1-2:12

 

B.  Solomon eliminates threats to his security: 2:13-4

 

 

C.  The early promise of Solomon's reign: 3:1-15

 

 

 

D.  Solomon uses his gift for the people: 3:16-4:34

 

 

 

 

E.  Preparations for building temple: 5:1-18

 

 

 

 

 

F.  Solomon builds the Temple 6:1-37

 

 

Pivot

 

 

G.  Solomon builds 'rival' buildings 7:1-12

 

 

 

 

 

F'  Solomon furnishes the temple 7:13-51

 

 

 

 

E'  Solomon dedicates the temple, warned by God 8:1-9:9

 

 

 

D'  Solomon uses his gifts for himself 9:10-10:29

 

 

C'  Tragic failure of Solomon's reign 11:1-13

 

B'  Yahweh raises up threats to Solomon's security: 11:14-25

A'  A prophet determines the royal succession 11:26-43

 

So A and A’ (prime) match each other. So in B, Solomon eliminates the threat to his security and so he removes Joab and Adonijah and those in the coalition: the son of Saul, Shimei who had to stay in the city of Jerusalem, but he left the city in search of his slave who ran away. The counterpart to that is B’ (prime) where Yahweh raises up threats to Solomon’s security; he raise up Jeroboam for example along with the Syrian kings and others. So it becomes a total reversal; you had a prophet putting him on the throne and then a prophet taking him off the throne, eliminating any threats but now you have new threats matching each other. You had the early promise of Solomon’s reign but the in C’ (prime) we have the failure of Solomon’s reign. In D Solomon uses his gift for the people but then in D’ prime, Solomon uses his gift for himself.  Solomon prepares to build the temple in E but in E’ prime Solomon dedicates the temple but is warned by God. F is where Solomon builds the Temple and F’ prime he furnishes the temple. Now we have the pivot in G where Solomon builds other buildings that rival the temple. He built a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter, he built a great judgement hall called the Forest of Lebanon because it had so much cedar in it and he built his own house but then he stopped building the temple. So he is building the temple and so he stops and now he starts building his own place and palaces. That was his downfall. That’s the pivot.

B. The Historical Approach

The traditional approach is the historical approach. When the NIV translates ‘of David’, is this best or should it be ‘by David’. The first one ‘of David’ is a fudged translation. Almost all translations do it without making a decision about it. It can either mean belonging to David or of David or it can mean by David. We will investigate this approach. So what difference does it make whether it is grounded in history or not. Another approach we will be using is the Form Critical approach whereby it distinguishes groups of Psalms according to their different types. The first are the songs of praise or hymns where we get the doctrine of God, primarily. It is within these Psalms they celebrate their attributes, his acts of creation and history and his faithfulness to his people. There are also petitions which are prayers. However, there is no petition without praise. All petitions are doxological and communal with Psalm 88 being the only exception which is called the black sheep of the Salter. Why is it that Job could protest? He wished that he had never been born and thus called into question God’s justice. God rebukes him for this and he has to repent. The Psalmist does the same thing and God is pleased; so what is the difference? Job had no praise but the Psalmist did. A petition without praise is not acceptable because it is an expression of unbelief. In understanding the form, you can compare it with other Psalms and then other Scriptures. They are also highly humble in that they will not take matters into their own hands. They depend upon God from the saying, the righteous are dependent upon God and they stand opposed to the person who avenges himself. Another point is that people take what is meant for the people of God and apply it to the state and that is a big error. It will destroy the state.

The symbol for the church is the Cross. From Romans 13, we see that the symbol for the state is the sword and we have to keep those ethics distinct. I’m talking about the church, not the world. The world is a different story. I have said that it will give us doctrines about God and the Saints. So as Paul says, so that the man of God will be equipped for every good work. This is so we can be salt and light to the world. This is something of what we get into form criticism.

C. Other Approaches: the Liturgical and Eschatological Messianic Approach

We will also look at the liturgical approach but mostly as I have said, we will deal mostly with the rhetorical approach. The objective in all of these approaches and given structures is to teach the reader how to read the Psalms. I will begin every section with the rhetorical approach. There is also the Eschatological Messianic Approach; Psalms that speak of Jesus. So I hope you are beginning to see part of the complexity of Psalms. How do we understand its history in relation to David and see how it is speaking about Jesus. We will finally consider redaction criticism in how the whole book is put together. Why is it in five books and the meaning in the way they are connected together? So we will look at Psalms broadly trying to get a total picture and then we will look at particular Psalms as examples of different approaches and structures.

III. Hermeneutics and the Spiritual Approach

It is critical that you read the text with a pure heart and in the right way. Pray before you approach Scripture and humble yourself before God in humility. Most scholars within academia do not read it through the lens of a pure theological heart. This is fundamental because so much error in academia comes from having wrong presuppositions to the text. In thinking about Scripture what is your doctrine of Scripture. This defines us; is this the Word or isn’t it the Word of God? How do you look at Scripture? Normally this is not addressed and it causes a lot of confusion. There are all kinds of ideas from people about Scripture that you never will know. One such scholar thinks that the righteous are associated to physiological problems.  Another example: consider the painting named the Mona Lisa, a greatly renowned painting known the world over. Everybody is concerned about her exotic enigmatic smile. So how do you explain this smile? One person said that it is like when her little daughter pees in the bathtub! I was amazed at this, his is like trashing a picture, but this is the way she saw it. People see Scripture is so many different ways and much of it isn’t good.

So we will always consider the spiritual approach to the all the Psalms we study. Generally, we will go from broad to specific throughout the study.

Duration

1 hour

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