Lecture 10: Grateful Songs of Praise and Psalm 92
Course: Psalms, by Dr. Bruce Waltke
Lecture 10: Grateful Songs of Praise and Psalm 92
A. The Historical Approach
So, our aim is to understand the Book of Psalms better and enter more accurately the mind of the Psalmist. So we have from the history of the study of the Psalms, we have chosen ten approaches to the study. Our aim is neither to teach the theology of the Psalms as such, though we do nor to address the spiritual life; these are the aims of the church. Our aim is to interpret Scripture as best we can from where we are. There are five approaches to the Psalms that open them up in regards to depth and clarity. We want to approach the Psalms historically and then the form critical approach, the liturgical approach, the rhetorical approach and redaction criticism of how it is all edited and put together. We spent a day on the historical approach defending Davidic authorship. We learned the ‘I’ of the Psalms is the king and we can think of Psalms as a royal hymnbook. It is all about the king where the king prays and people are praying for the king as we have seen in the pilgrimage Psalm, praying for the anointed. Throughout the Psalms, ten royal Psalms have been identified which permeates the Salter. When you understand that it is the king in prayer and when he hands it over to the director of Music, we learn how to sing along with the king. This lays a solid foundation to the New Testament interpretation for the Psalms that they speak of our Lord, Jesus Christ, because he is the Son of David. They become a picture of his prayers and I’m convinced that Jesus memorized the Book of Psalms. They were constantly upon his lips, even up on the cross, saying, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ This is Psalm 22: into your hands I commit my spirit. And note that most of the Psalms are lament more than any other, which is to say lament, destress and difficulty is normative for the righteous. It is normal to be in difficulty for the glory of God so that we might develop spiritually. Jesus clearly states this is part of the Christian’s life.
The whole of the Psalms became part of Jesus’ vocabulary. On the Emmaus Rd he told the disciples that the Psalms spoke of him. Why didn’t you understand that the sufferings and the glory that followed the suffering were speaking of me? We are trying to establish this understanding exegetically, but ultimately it is the work of the Spirit when we are able to see our Lord Jesus Christ in the Psalms. So, you can see the value of the historical approach; it gives you a totally new insight into the Salter. This traditional approach was by David and put into the life of David.
B. The Form Critical Approach
The Form Critical Approach recognizes the different kinds of Psalms. It was never looked at scientifically until Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) did the work on this. I am not the one to judge his own spiritual life but some of the things he said are very problematical. But he certainly understood that the Psalms fell into different distinct types and thus a very good way to approach the entire Salter. Gunkel identified five different types: Psalms of Praise and these were the hymns; he isolated from these another type of hymn and then there were the lament or petition psalms. There were communicable Songs of Thanksgiving. In studying Gunkel, we see in 1st Chronicles 16:4 where David appointed the Levites to minister at the temple to petition, to give thanks and to give praise. These were three that Gunkel had analyzed out of the text which the writer of 1st Chronicles 16:4 simply stated. So what Gunkel surmised, actually had Biblical warranty to think of the Psalms in these three categories. In our last lecture, in looking at the hymns and the methodology of looking at the forms, I narrowed it down to one or two of these hymns to give us a taste at understanding these types of Psalms. Broadly speaking, we looked at the hymns and considered their motifs, having certain elements to them. For the hymn, it is a call to praise and a cause for praise. It has a concluding call to praise at the end. In considering the call to praise; God has to tell us to praise him! In the cause for praise, we really learned the theology of the Psalms.
In this, they enumerate the sublime attributes of God; his incommunicable attributes and his communicable attributes. His incommunicable attributes are within himself, not being dependent on anyone else, but instead everything is dependent upon him and we are dependent on him. He is eternal and omniscient; he is omnipresent. In giving voice to this and in praising God, it becomes doxological theology, namely that their praise to God comes back to us as the Word of God to us. So we are learning theology through their words of praise and what they know about God and God uses it as part of his inspired Scripture which speaks to us. This is a wonderful way to learn theology. We learn also the God only wants hymns from those who are righteous and those who depend upon him. Songs on the lips of sinners is an abomination to him and sometimes you see and hear this on television and other places. God wants it from the lips of the pious.
There are two kinds of praise: praises to God that celebrate his attributes and his salvation history that deals with the creation, the Exodus, the conquest and the settlement of the Land. There is not much reference to history after the time of David; it is really the Exodus and conquest which they celebrate in the historical record. So you have these general Songs of Praise and then you have Thanksgiving Songs. These are where God answered certain prayers. The NIV calls these songs, ‘grateful praise songs.’ The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is not the same as the English word. In English, we go up to people and say thank you, but in Hebrew there is nothing like that. Thanksgiving is that I tell everybody else about you. Thanksgiving is something public, not private. So, it is grateful praise when we tell others what God has done for us. For the hymns, we did two Psalms, Psalm 100 was one of them:
Shout to I AM, all the earth!
Serve I AM with rejoicing! Come before him with a joyful shout!
Know that I AM, he is God! He himself has made us; and indeed, we are his people, and the flock he shepherds.
Enter his gates with grateful praise; his court with praise! Give him grateful praise! Bless his Name!
For I AM is good; His unfailing love [endures] forever; His reliability, throughout generations.
This is a confession to God made by his people. You celebrate our God with us, having made these two confessions. After this confession, we can enter his courts with praise. We also looked at Psalm 8 in our last lecture. Now we turn to Psalm 92 for this lecture.
II. Psalm 92
We begin today with a song of grateful praise: Psalm 92: A song for the Sabbath Day. This belongs with the first temple period when they would sing this song in the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. We start with my own translation of the Psalm. Note that all translations are truthful and adequate in the sense that all of them try to be faithful to the message, but no translation is perfect. Due to continued Biblical Archaeology and the study of Semitic languages which was never available to Luther or Calvin, we have a much more precise knowledge of God’s Word.
1 It is good to give grateful praise to I AM, to sing praise to your Name, Most High;
2 To proclaim in the morning your unfailing love, and your reliability during the night,
3 Upon the ten-stringed lute, upon the soft sounds with the lyre.
4 Surely, you, I AM, cause me to rejoice in your deeds, I shout cries of joy for the works of your hands.
5 How great are your works, I AM, and your thoughts are exceedingly profound.
6 A brutish person does not know, and a fool does not understand this:
7 When the wicked flourished like grass, and all evil-doers blossomed, it led to their being exterminated forever.
8 For you are on high forever, I AM!
9 For look! Your enemies, I AM, for look! Your enemies perish;
10 You exalted my horn like a wild-ox; which I rubbed with rich olive oil.
11 And my eyes glazed in triumph at those who tried to ambush me; my ears will hear of the destruction of the wicked who attack me.
12 A righteous person flourishes like a palm tree, He or she grows like a cedar of Lebanon,
13 Planted in the house of I AM; in the courts of our God they flourish.
14 They will still thrive in old age; they will be full of sap and thick with leaves,
15 Proclaiming that I AM is upright, My Rock, in whom there is no injustice.
The form of the psalm is poetry and three things that characterize this include parallelism where you say a line and then you say a related line. Every verse is given in the form of a parallelism as we see in verse 1: it is good to give grateful praise and the parallel is to sing praise to I AM and the parallel to that is your name. He is talking to the congregation saying that it is good to give praise to I AM. He is talking about I AM but then he changes to sing your name, Most High. He is addressing the people with God being part of the congregation and so he addresses specifically Yahweh whose name means ‘I AM’. The key to the psalm is in verse 8: for you are on high forever, I AM! This relates back to the first verse calling I AM, Most High. The Psalm is also full of figures of speech which are characteristic of poetry. For example, ‘the wicked flourish like grass, but the righteous flourish like palm trees and the cedars of Lebanon.’ The grass grows quickly but quickly dies but the palm trees and the cedars of Lebanon grow tall and they seem to live forever. This figurative language requires us to reflect upon these figures of speech and suddenly we see the contrast between what is being said. So, this is terse poetry. The verses become snapshots in a slide show, unlike prose which is like a moving picture. It requires you to think how these verses and also stanzas are related to another.
There seems to be two introductions; at first he seems to be generally talking to the congregation in verse 1, but then in verse 2, he talks about God’s unfailing love and reliability. This becomes more specific in verse 4 where he changes to ‘I’, he going to praise God for a specific thing. The parallelism is deeds and the works of your hands. In this case in verses 10 and 11 he tells us what God did: you exalted my horn like a wild-ox; which I rubbed with rich olive oil. My eyes glazed in triumph at those who tried to ambush me; my ears will hear of the destruction of the wicked who attack me. So he was being attacked by the enemy. He was in a crises and he is now likened to a wild ox with horns. He exalted his horn above his enemies and he triumphed over them. The person who is being talked about here is a warrior, a king who has experienced battle and comes out victorious. Now he returns to the temple and poses a psalm for all the people to sing. He addresses the problem of understanding the prosperity of the wicked. That is what he is addressing in verse 6 and 7 where he says that a brutish person doesn’t know, and a foolish person doesn’t understand this: when the wicked flourish like grass and all evil-doers blossomed, it led to their being exterminated forever. From verses 10 & 11 he goes to a universal truth that this flourishing of the wickedness will eventual lead to their extermination. The victory over evil will lead to the universal prosperity of the righteous.
The setting is the temple and the use of musical instruments in verses 2 and 3 is on the Sabbath. It is being sung in conjunction with a sacrifice at the same time. The Psalm addresses both the congregation and also God. Verse 13 indicates being part of a community: planted in the house of I AM; in the courts of our God they flourish. He uses the pronoun, ‘our’ in stating ‘our God they flourish.’ The individual who conquered is now part of a community. This makes the most sense in imaging myself in the temple with the king and the righteous who are celebrating together in the courts of the Lord. According to the Mishnah which is part of the Talmud, the Levitical choir in the second temple chanted a psalm each day of the week: Sunday – Psalm 24, Monday – Psalm 48, Tuesday – Psalm 82, Wednesday – Psalm 94, Thursday – Psalm 81, Friday – Psalm 93 and Saturday – Psalm 92. This was the tradition of the time. There is no reason to think that this doesn’t go back to the first temple before the exile. So we are looking at a hymn that the church has sung for well over two thousand and five hundred years. This is proof of God’s unfailing love for us; he preserves his people. Despite all the difficulties the church has faced and even betrayed from within, attacked from the outside with liberalism of weeds within a garden, we are still here and we will remain here until the Lord returns. God will not be defeated with the last word being life, a triumphant resurrected body.
This is a royal psalm, we don’t know by whom; perhaps by some Godly king. This psalm is also eschatological-messianic; looking forward to the ultimate triumph of the righteous and being like trees, immortality was brought to light by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, immortality is likened to a tree which is full of sap within and thick and vibrant without. This is where it leaves the image with the living longevity of a tree. It is on the trajectory of eternal life but we haven’t reached the full clarity of it. It infers it but not quite implicitly in this psalm. The ultimate triumph is when he conquers death. The Targum, an Aramaic translation from before the time of Jesus translates verse 8, ‘but you are high and supreme in this age, O LORD, and you are high and supreme in the age to come.’ It was forever, thus looking toward the Eschaton. It is a psalm for the future, for the day that is completely Shabbat (tranquil) for all eternity. You can see how the New Testament comes out of this context. This historic king and his report of victory typify Jesus Christ and his victory over Satan, sin and death and the universal covenant community identifies itself with this King.
4. Rhetoric & Structure
The idea of rhetoric is that you can enter into the message of the psalm. It uses various devices to help do this. It seems to have a chiastic structure:
A. King praises I AM 1—4[2—5]
B. Praise for God’s great work and profound thoughts 5—6[6—7]
C. All evil doers eliminated (tricolon) 7
X. I AM is on high forever (4 words) 8
C.’ All evil doers perish (tricolon) 9
B.’ King rejoices in victory 10—11[11—12]
A.’ Righteous and king praise I Am 12—15[13—16]
The structure starts with praise and ends with praise inverses 2-5 and 13-16. The psalmist calls upon the congregation to praise by proclaiming his unfailing love. The first four verses are about praise. The last four verses, 12-15 also deal with the flourishing of the righteous because they are bringing praise to God. They are all proclaiming that I Am is upright and just. So, it begins with praise and it ends with praise. The king praises I Am in verses 1-4 and the people praise I Am in verses 12-15. In verse 5 and 6 includes praise for God’s works and his profound thoughts. These thoughts are calculated in that they are not on the spire of the moment. Parallel to this is the king rejoicing in his victory. In verses 7 and 9, evil doers are eliminated and perished. Both of these verses are a tricola. In verse 7 we have ‘all evil-doers’ and then in verse 9 ‘your enemies’. In verse 7 the evil doers blossom and then perish and now they are scattered. C and C prime we see that all evil doers perish. The catchword is ‘all evil-doers’ and ‘exterminated/perish. The pivot is verse 8 where it says that God will be on high forever. There are only four words in the Hebrew text. God is on high in space and forever in time. We see that the king is being used by God to destroy the enemy but he wants to make it clear that behind the whole thing is God’s plan and he is on high. The chiastic structure is normative here to Hebrew poetic and it is different from linear thinking. We have an inclusion with a beginning and ending catchword. The word ‘works’ in verse 4 & 5 links the first two strophes; ‘all evil doers’ links the second and third strophes. Then ‘on high’ and ‘you raise up’ are derivative from the Hebrew root ‘to be high’, which is linked to the third strophe to the center line; and the catchword ‘flourish’ links the second and fourth strophes in verses 7, 12-13.
There are two stanzas around this central line: verses 1-7 and verses 9-16. I don’t think it is an accident that there are seven verses in each half. There is balance in all of this and you begin to see the poetics of it all. This is a fairly new approach and within academia we see how it is all put together. It bothers me that the church is anti-intellectual because this helps us to go so much deeper into God’s word. The first stanza falls into four verses and then three verses. There is praise in verses 1-4 and then God’s awesomeness is in verses 5-7. Then you get three verses of what God did matching those in verses 5-7 with verses 9-11. Then you get four verses of praise at the end. So, we have 4 then 3 and then 3 and then 4: 7 plus 7. The name of I AM is used seven different times. None of this accidental, these poets are brilliant. This is a way of meditating on God’s word. Consider the following breakdown:
a. First Stanza (vv. 1—7)
I. Introduction: tireless praise for God’s work, 1—4[2—5]
A. First Introduction: inform of corporate praise of I AM’s sublimities, 1—3[2—4]
1. Summary statement: good to praise with music, 1
2. Elaboration of words of praise, 2
3. Elaboration of music of praise, 3
B. Second Introduction: in form of personal praise of I AM’s work, 4
II. Greatness of God’s works and thoughts, 5—7[6—8]
A. Summary statement, 5
B. Fools Don’t Understand, 6
C. Wicked prosper to be eliminated, 7
1. Wicked prosper, 7a
2. All evil-doers eliminated, 7b
III. Center Line: I AM on high forever, (v. 8)
We have an introduction and then group praise and the second introduction of person praise for God’s work. In the summary statement, it says it is good to praise with music. I am thinking in terms of parallelism: what is similar and what is different. One is to give grateful praise and the next is to sing it. In verse 2 you have an elaboration of words and in verse 3, you have an elaboration of music. Verse 2 modifies verse 1a and verse 3 modifies verse 1b. So you have, it is good to give grateful praise to God (I AM), to proclaim in the morning your unfailing love and your reliability during the night. We are to sing it upon the ten-stringed lute, upon the soft sounds with the lyre. He develops the words and then he develops the music. We should mediate on what is going on here. In the figure of speech: morning and night, we call this merism: day and night, summer and winter, morning and evening, etc. These are statements of opposites with a meaning of totality. This is why I headed this section ‘tireless praise’. This would be done in the temple where they had priests ministering day and night. This psalm could be sung day and night, continuously all the time. Now we have the greatness of God’s work in a summary statement in verse 5 and then the thoughts behind them. What he is saying here is: God’s thoughts are deep and not accessible to everybody. The fool cannot access this truth; they just don’t get it. God deliberately conceals it from the fool and he deliberately hides it from people who have no faith. They don’t have the spirit to understand it. This shows you that much of the preaching today is more therapy and many aren’t interested in deep doctrine. He is teaching that the wicked prosper in order to be eliminated. The center line is the pivot of the chiasm that states that God is on high forever.
b. Second Stanza (vv. 9—15[10—16])
IV. All evil-doers eliminated, 9—11[10—12]
A. God’s enemies perish, 9
B. The King victorious over evil-doers, 10—11[11-12]
1. The King’s great strength, 10
2. The King sees and hears of the rout of his enemies, 11
V. Righteous flourish in temple proclaiming God’s justice, 12-15[13-16]
A. Righteous flourish in temple, 12—13[13—14]
1. Righteous flourish like palm trees and cedars of Lebanon, 13
2. Righteous flourish in temple courtyards, 14
B. Righteous flourish in old age proclaiming I AM’s justice, 14—15[15—16]
1. Righteous flourish in old age, 14
2. Proclaiming I AM’s justice, 15
Then in the second stanza he again says that all evil-doers will be eliminated and that God’s enemies will perish with the King having victory over them all. The last stanza is the righteous flourishing in the temple proclaiming God’s justice. God elected us to give him praise and in a sense if we don’t give him praise, God would die; for if nobody knows God is alive and real, then he doesn’t exist. But there will always be someone to give God praise, for Jesus said if there isn’t, the stones would praise him.
When we say that God’s Word is good, we mean it has substance and style. It advances and enriches life. Praising God advances life and enriches life and we are fully alive to what is going on. It is beautiful in style; it is attractive. These are the two ideas of good, in substance to benefit and advance life and it is attractive and pleasing. I hope as we work with the Psalms, you will find it pleasing as well enriching to your life.
1. The Wicked Fools will be Destroyed
Interestingly, as the wicked go to great depths to hide their plans from God (I AM), God goes to great depths to hide his plans from fools as mentioned in Isaiah 29:15. In Romans 11:33 we have, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!’ The notion of God’s hidden plans lays the foundation for the rest of the psalm, says Robert Alter. These fools that are mentioned simply do not have the heart to understand. This psalm deals with the problem of evil and why the wicked prosper. As already stated, they prosper in order that God will triumph and demonstrate his power. Without this contrast, we would not know the greatness of God. The synonymous parallels of verse 6 sounds like an aphorism. These fools, the brutish person in Hebrew refers to as a beast, cattle or an animal. The idiom refers to a stupid man who does not have the rationality that differentiates men from animals. They have delusions of thinking in their wickedness and evil, but God will smash these delusions of lies and deceit and evil junk. God will get all the glory for this and that is why we need the difficulties of life so God will get the glory as he brings us through all of this evil. It is all part of his profound thoughts. The believer understands all of this, the pious and those dependent on God understand this. But the fool cannot understand this; they don’t believe it. In verse 7 where it says that it led to their being exterminated forever; the word exterminated is ‘shamad’ in Hebrew and is always used of a human agent. That is always by humans; they are banned and put aside. All the way through, God is using a human agent and it is the king. That’s why the center line is so important, that behind it all, the Lord is on high. His works and profound thoughts are behind the whole thing.
2. The King’s Victory
In regards to verse 9, saying your enemies will perish, disappear, vanish and cease to exist. These are all evil doers. They will be scattered which is to say divided and separated from each other. This relates to Job 41:9 where it says ‘behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him. When the community of evil-doers are scattered, they cannot reproduce their thoughts, words and deeds to the next generation. They have no future. We see in verse 10 that it talks about the king’s great strength. The parallel lines point both to I AM as the ultimate Agent of the King’s victory where it says that you raise my horn and to the King’s enthusiastic participation in his elevation of rubbing his horn with rich oil. God exalted him and he enthusiastically embraces his calling. I rubbed by horns to make them clean and more effective. His eyes glazed in triumph at those who tried to ambush. The knowledge of this victory will continue into the future and where it says that my ears will hear assumes that others will declare it, recounting this great victory that he has. This is a picture of Christ and his resurrection; he experienced it, that is the King and he heard others talking about it. And we are talking about it today; everywhere in the world, forever.
3. The Trees of Lebanon
From verses 12-15, we see the righteous are flourishing. The first couplet, verses 12-13 is unified grammatically by being a single sentence, rhetorically by its Chiastically structured catchword ‘flourish’, and semantically by an arboreal imagery. In verse 12, the righteous are singled out individually, and then in 13, they are represented collectively. Verse 12 focuses on the tree-simile, and 13 focuses on the temple as the source of growth. The righteous flourishes like a palm tree and a cedar of Lebanon. The righteous proclaim I AM is upright. ‘Flourishes’ is temporal and universal prosperity. The splendor and longevity of the stately palm tree and the towering cedar of Lebanon, contrast with the ephemeral flourishing of lowly grass in verse 7. This imagery and language is evocative: the wicked are like grass and the righteous are like palm trees. What do you think about this language, being like palm trees and cedars of Lebanon compared to the wicked being like grass that easily die. I believe it shows our royal priesthood; we tower over all others, we rule. There is an idea of extreme value with the produce of the palm tree and the value of the cedar tree. The sap of the palm tree could be used for making wine and the tree lives to be about two hundred years. They were stately and regal in appearance, provided food from it produce with a demand for abundant water with a great longevity, as does the righteous demand an abundant supply of spiritual food. The kings of Israel would give anything to have a house built out of cedar wood, it was so highly prized. When people neglect the House of God for their work, they shrivel; they don’t have the right kind of food. We need constant spiritual food. The righteous grow and increase in righteousness in life. The increase is so great that they become like the cedars of Lebanon.
From the flourishing like the palm tree with its fruit and growing like the cedar tree with its strength, we are told that they are now planted in the house of God, in the courts of the Lord. Trees don’t grow in the temple or does it? The first temple was the Garden of Eden; the temple is where God dwells. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was also a mountain (Ezekiel 28), the mountain of God and there was a river that flowed through the garden. The river broke apart into four head waters. There was a relief on the northern palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, from 600 BC showing a sanctuary on a mountain, surrounded by a park divided by canals of water. This relief combined the motifs of the paradisiacal garden of the gods and the temple as the realm of fertility and life. According to Psalm 92, the righteous are like the park of paradise that blooms in the courts surrounding the house of Yahweh. All of this seems to be the imagery in the mind of the palmist. This is also a picture of us being watered and thus flourishing in the temple of God. As we meditate on God day and night, we become like a channel of water and thus we find our spiritual life in the temple of the Lord where we hear the Word of God and we sing the praises of God. This is our source of life and therefore we flourish in the garden. Interestingly, the palm tree grows in the hot desert area getting its water through deep roots in the ground; whereas the cedars of Lebanon grow in the high and cold mountains. They are opposite and yet both are in the temple of God. This shows all sorts of people make up the righteous in the church. This is marvelous imagery.
In old age, they will continue to flourish and proclaim that God is upright and just. In the final verse 15 in proclaiming that God is upright. Literally I suggest the meaning is to be straight without a curve or bend or level without a bump. It is flawless; this is the idea. So we as the upright are to be flawless with a bend; that is God. Figuratively it means faultlessly just and moral, according to Torah ethics. And the words, ‘my Rock’ means it is imperviously solid; you cannot break it and therefore it speaks of safety, security and salvation. You are perfectly secure with this Rock. Amen.