Lecture 18 - Liturgical Approach

Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke

Lecture 18: Liturgical Approach

I. Review of Approaches

We have been attempting to enter into the mind of the Psalmist, David. In addition of the historical method of interpretation against the historical background, we have been looking at other accredited methods or approaches within church history for a better understanding of entering into the mind of the psalmist. After the introduction of course, I talked about hermeneutics, the art of interpretation. The principle point here, fundamentally, we must have a spiritual approach to the Psalms because ultimately the author is God and God is spirit and we can’t encounter God through a scientific method. We encounter through spirit, faith, hope and love; all being the expression of God’s Holy Spirit. We also have to come with sympathy of the human author if we are to understand him in order to enter into his world and into his history representing Israel’s covenant and his faith in the God of that covenant. We must share that common spirit with him otherwise we will err in our interpretation. In addition to God and the human author, there is the text which requires a scientific approach. We focus on this in academics and on such approach is the historical approach as already mentioned. The important point here is that the author is a king and there is a royal interpretation to the psalms because it is a royal hymnbook. It is the songs of the king who has gone through suffering and triumphs. This royal element is far more extensive than the ten psalms that mention the king and so this permeates the entire book. This provides profound implications to our faith because they indirectly speak of Christ.

With each approach I have tried to exegesis with some detail entering into the psalm in order to see the reality and helpfulness of that approach. We considered Psalm 4 in regards to the historical approach. In preparation of considering psalms in terms of forms and groups, the broadest form of looking at the Psalms is through poetry against narrative and prose. We tried to expound what Hebrew poetry is. After that we considered Form Critical Approach which is grouping the Psalms into distinct genres. This included understanding the historical background from which they originated as well as looking at their various genres or forms. We begin by noticing the broad category of hymns. These were songs in praise of God; basically they praised God as the creator and as the redeemer, the Lord of creation and history. It looks at God broadly, not specific answers to prayer. We look at other songs of grateful praise where you prayed to the Lord for a specific need and God answered that need and then you have a specific song of praise. For the hymns, we looked at Psalm 100 and also at Psalm 8. For the Song of Grateful Praise, we looked at Psalm 92 as well as Psalm 51 which can come under this group. However we also dealt with Psalm 51 in terms of David’s lament. The largest category of Psalms included lectures 11 and 12 dealing with the lament. We noticed that fifty of the Psalms deal with lament and crises. They look to God in their need. We also noted that in coming to God, there was always praise associated with the psalm. Even though perplexed as in Psalm 41, it began with praise of God. This is the difference between the Psalms and the Book of Job. Job complained of his sufferings without praise and that was displeasing to God and Job had to repent.

The Psalmist also complained, and we noticed the difference between lament and complaint, where lament is when you are suffering compared to a complaint where you are suffering but it is unjust and you wonder where God is in the midst of it. It is where you haven’t violated any law and thus it is undeserved suffering. Lament can be any kind of suffering, including deserved sufferings with confession of sins. So we looked at the individual lament, such as Psalm 3, the very first psalm after the introduction of David when he had to flee from Absalom. And then we also looked at a messianic psalm which we will talk about later and about the Messiah particularly. Psalm 22 is the messianic psalm that Jesus took upon his lips. We also looked at the communal lament. I had hoped to do Psalm 90, but turns out that we don’t have time to do that. We looked at Psalm 44 which I just mentioned. A derivative of the lament psalms are Songs of Trust as these psalms have distinctive motifs and one of them includes a section on confidence. From lament they move to petition through confidence because they remind themselves of who they are and more importantly who God is and what he has done for his people.

II. The Liturgical Approach

The Liturgical Approach is a derivative of the Form Critical Approach. We said that the form criticism has two parts: the setting in life and the way the psalm is composed, its mood, its vocabulary, its motifs that make it either a hymn of praise or grateful song or a lament. In regards to the setting of the psalm, we will consider it extensively to the point that it will seem like a separate approach. It is so quantitatively more than what we have done so far and therefore it actually becomes qualitatively another approach. This Liturgical Approach in the literature is normally called the cultus approach. This is a difficult term because for the average English speaker, a cult means a small group of people who hold to some kind of religious idea or practice that the majority regard as strange or evil sinister. That isn’t how it is used in academic literature. The cultus in academic literature refers to the external expression of religion. So, in this lecture we will look at defining it and then see the settings in life where it occurs and other aspects such as how it functions and also sacred sights, calendar, people, actions and objects. Two of the main thinkers in regards to this are Eichrodt and Mowinekel. Mowinekel was a Scandinavians Norwegian Scholar and wrote his first major work in 1904 and then the next was in the 1920s. He defines a cult or ritual as being the socially established and regulated holy acts and words in which the encounter and communion of the deity with the congregation is established, developed, and brought to its ultimate goals.

A. The Cultus As Expression of Religious Experience

So it deals with holy acts and words that establish a relationship between God and the worshiper. Eichrodt says the term ‘cultus’ should be taken to mean the expression of religious experience in concrete external actions performed within the congregation or community, preferably, by officially appointed exponents and in set forms. Kurt Goldammer comes at it differently; as a structured experience: symbolic, meaningful activity, pattern of facts which have a reasonable connection with each other in the mind of attitude of the person who stands within it. Religion has two aspects as we know: the inner spiritual experience, feelings and emotions and thoughts that find expression in external actions. As soon as you have two people worshipping together, you will have some kind of form, namely, a place where you meet and a time that you meet. So immediately there is some kind of external form that has to be imposed upon: congregational worship. When we are within that worship, there will be a pattern of invocation, inviting God and trusting Christ to be in our presence. In some communions, they actually carry the Cross into the congregation which is symbolic of Christ taking his residence upon the songs of praises, being present with his people. Sometimes the Bible is held up and carried into the congregation and we invoke God’s presence and we will sing his praises. We will bring our prayers before him. At some point, there will be a reading of Scripture, prayerful illumination, the preaching of the Word and a response. In some communions, the highlight of the sermon is an invitation to make a decision of some kind. In other congregations the highlight of the worship is the participation in the Lord’s Supper in which they receive a gift, trusting God’s forgiveness and participating in his presence through the supper and the words that accompany the supper.

In regards to a conclusion, it is the material over against purely inward, spiritual feelings. It is the regulated and set forms over against spontaneity. Some people worship better with spontaneity while others worship better with a stricter form. It is not a matter of right and wrong but rather a matter of what best suits the individual. Interestingly, one of the strengths of the New Testament, it has very little on set forms. In fact Christianity is able to adapt itself to a number of cultures because of this. Unlike the Old Testament which is in a very strict form, the New Testament has less form to it. It is the congregation over against the individual and its integrated structure gives activity as a meaning to it. As it is applied to the Psalter, in the use of this literature the individual became one with his group and shared the spirit which moved it, whether the mood of the moment was contrition, trust, or glad thanksgiving. He found himself, and he also found the God of his soul’s desire through his unreserved participation in the acts of communal worship, whereby the rich resources and inspiring traditions of his people’s history were made available to him. I have not defined the term according to Hegel’s definition who thought of it as finite existence in essential being.

Hegel’s definition misrepresents the Bible; that you do not barge into God’s presence but instead you come into his presence through covenant structure; namely that is why we begin with confession of sin finding his forgiveness. We realize that we are broken for not loving God with all of our heart and not loving neighbors as ourselves and therefore we need to confess. We have no right to come into his presence in sinfulness. Entering into the presence of God demands entering it through provisions of the covenant; we saw in Psalm 1, it is the person who keeps the Law and finds delight in his law that enters into the worship of the Psalms. In the Israelite cult the God-man relation is not natural, in the sense that it is given. There is a requirement for decision; laws are decreed; threats and promises support allegiance. In a personal way, God and man stand confronting each other. So we must be right with God through the mediation of Jesus Christ in order to participate in this external participation of religion and the use of the Psalms within it.

B. Siz im Leben

With Sitz im Leben, we see that the Psalms originated with David, not necessarily the temple, in David’s wilderness experience where he was being prepared for kingship and where he was learning a life of faith. So in his contest against Saul and later on against Absalom; even Psalm 3 is composed away from the temple. Psalm 42 and 43, the Psalmist is in exile somewhere around Mount Hermon. Psalm 137 is written in the Babylonian exile. So they were composed apart from the temple in some cases; some were composed for the temple such as the grateful songs of praise. The hymns of praise were composed for the temple. But even those that were composed away from the temple often had the temple at heart, like Psalm 3 which references God’s holy place. Psalm 42 and 43 shows that he is looking forward to returning to the worship at the temple. And in any case, the Psalms were handled over to the chief musician for the use in the temple. So, the principle side of the psalter is the temple itself.

But in regards to the historical critics who try to debunk the superscripts and then accepts Wellhausen theory along with Gunkel and deny the Davidic authorship. Gunkel uses the literary analytical approach where you accept the Wellhausen apotheosis. They also think the material attributed to Moses is a forgery by the priests. So, this is what Wellhausen thinks. So with them, Wellhasuen and Gunkel along with Mowinckel, there is no Mosaic regulation and so therefore you have no real Moses. The material attributed to Moses, they date it a thousand years later and wasn’t available to David. Gunkel recognizes the Psalms and their forms go back to the first temple and he acknowledges the temple and the cultus, but for him the psalter itself (because of his Wellhausen background) originates in the post exilic period.

C. Gunkel and Mowinckel and Markduk and Baal

So that it is imitating the poets in the post exilic period are imitating the temple material and so he thinks that they are writing prayers for the synagogue and not the temple. They are using the forms for the temple but he doesn’t really believe that they were written at the time of the temple. This is why he does away with the superscripts. And thus he thinks that much of Psalter reflects democratization of the cult and dated to exilic and post exilic epochs, employing imagery of the pre-exilic period. So he dates it to these epochs and epics. And so the military language you have in the psalter are simply images from people in this epoch who are suffering mental illness. In Gunkel’s mind, these sufferings to some extent are people who are mentally disturbed. These ideas by Wellhausen and Gunkel are really diabolical without any historical evidence or support. They are simply made up, yet, this is actually an academic tract in Biblical training and you can’t be in academic training and not run across Gunkel. Now Mowinckel was Gunkel’s student and recognized that they come from the temple and he interprets the Psalms as not being from David but from the pre-exilic period and he reconstructs what is called an enthronement festival. Remember now, Mowinckel, like Gunkel and others that follow him have taken Moses out of the background. In addition, Mowinckel also thinks that this festival is influenced by Mesopotamian Akitu’s festival in Babylon where the god Markduk who was enthroned annually because in the pagan religions there was no sense of history. So their concern was recreating their god annually, thus bringing back spring and life out of the death of winter. Markduk was the god who conquered the abyss and chaos and the pagans reenacted the god’s creation every year. So again, this tries to say that it was the Mesopotamian Akitu festival that influenced these psalms and not the Mosaic Law. So, Mowinckel holds that Yahweh, the God of Israel was enthroned annually like Markduk and also like Baal. So, Yahweh was re-established every year like a new god.

1. Enthronement Psalms

Following Gunkel who holds that Yahweh or the Lord has become King and he understood it as God was crowned annually as king at the Enthronement Festival. This expression occurs in five psalms: 47 v8, 93 v1, 96 v10, and then again in 97 v1 and 99 v1. For these enthronement psalms, Psalm 93:1 says, ‘the LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.’ But Gunkel would translate the LORD reigns as the LORD has become king and this would be done yearly. This happens again in Psalm 96:10 where it says ‘Say among the nations, The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’ We have this again in Psalm 97:1, ‘The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastland be glad!’ It is also in Psalm 99:1, ‘the LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!’ These other psalms are celebrating God’s reign. What they mean is Yahweh was enthroned annually in a temple ritual. This was done in an autumn festival in connection with the proclamation that Yahweh has become king. This was influenced by the Akitu festival where Markduk was enthroned annually. Gunkel and Mowinckel didn’t have the Ugaritic text which was discovered in 1940 which shows a similar theme like that of Markduk.

2. A Re-interpretation of the Psalms

We find similar notions in the Ugaritic myths where it’s now Baal instead of Markduk, the god of rain, whereas Markduk was defeating Tiamat, the god of chaos. Baal was the god of life giving rain verses either Mutt which in Hebrew means death or Yam which means sea or Neha which means river. Again, according to Gunkel, the cultus functions in order to re-enact and to re-actualize the creation of the world and of Israel. They believe that God reigns but this was a necessary part, almost like a sacrament, like the Roman Catholic view of mass where you sacrifice Christ in the Mass. So they are similar to that kind of view – the mass of re-sacrifice of Christ. Through the ritual they are recreating both the creation and Israel’s history or Israel’s redemption. Gunkel limited himself to just these five psalms, but Mowinckel thinks that the entire psalter belongs to this ritual. It is a whole re-interpretation of the Book of Psalms. Gunkel and both Mowinckel are very influential in Academia. Yahweh’s coming at the enthronement festival sets the world right again and crushes every onslaught that the enemies might make on his city and people.

They see that Yahweh is represented by the king and the king is regarded as the god who entered into the city in triumph. So all of this according to Mowinckel is sacramental in this re-creation of nature and of history; its aims were to discover inner connections between psalms showing what the congregation was experiencing and feeling through acts and words of the cultus. Furthermore, Mowinckel says that the power inherent in the act is also concentrated in the word; the Holy Word is effective and creative. Also in remembrance and re-enactment of cultus, the historical facts of salvation are turned into effective reality. We shall neither understand the Psalms nor its place in actual life, its cultic situation and its aim, until we have connected it with the festival in question, and with its idea and cultic forms. This alters the way you think about the Psalms. This is according to the thinking of Mowinckel and part of his re-interpretation of the Psalms.

D. Personal Evaluation of what Mowinckel Says

1. Positive

My evaluation of it, first, I think the autumn festival under the king became the primary festival just like in the churches’ calendar. It seems to me that Christmas has become the primary holiday. So I think under the kingship, the fall festival became the dominant festival in Israel’s calendar. The Book of King’s tells us that the dedication of the temple occurs at this time and this way. All the men of Israel came to Israel to King Solomon at the time of the festival, in the mouth of Ethanim, the 7th mouth. We are told that when Jeroboam set up a rival cultus, he instituted a festival on the 15th day of the 8th mouth, like the festival held in Judah. Of course Jeroboam cultus is a bastardization of the Mosaic cultus with the symbolism being a bull instead of an ark. Hosea speaks about the festival with regards to the princes and the wine. And probably, the Day of the King is this autumn festival. This would explain from the Book of Kings under Josiah’s reform, not since the days of Judges and the Kings of Israel had any such Passover been observed. It seems as though the Passover was eclipsed in favor of the fall festival. So I think there is some element of truth that the fall festival had become the dominant festival in Israel during the time of the Monarchy. So I would argue that it is grammatically possible to translate God reigns as Yahweh has become king.

There is a third value that some Psalms are written in light of that chaos imagery. They are using that imagery for God’s creative activity. In the midst, there are three essential elements. There is the protagonist, the creating god and there is the antagonist, the god who is restraining creation and then after the creating god is victorious over the hostile restraining god, then he is worthy of a temple and they build a temple in his honor. These are three dominate ideas and they celebrate his temple because he is the victorious god. In Psalm 93 we see how these three elements come into play and I think unless you understand these three elements, it is almost an unintelligible psalm. Look at the following:

The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!
Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.
We have these three elements: the Lord is robed with strength and it is connected with creating the world. There was a victory at the creation and strength was added as a belt. This was a victory over chaos. The world was established and became firm and secure. This is not annually as such but permanently as it says that the throne was established from long ago from eternity. God is there from the beginning of time; there is no re-enactment. Note that the adversary is representing by the sea which is symbolic of death as it illustrates being lifted up by their voice and roaring. They represent all that is evil. But the LORD is mightier than the seas and the waves. Your decrees stand firm, holiness adorns your house O LORD, forevermore. This mythic imagery helps us in our interpretation.

2. Negative

The problem is that it looks to ancient near eastern pagan religions to reconstruct the festival, not to the Mosaic Law. For Gunkel and Mowinckel, the Mosaic simply doesn’t exist. All the constructions of the festival are hypothetical and lacking a clear Scriptural warrant. The variety of the views calls into question the methodology. You must understand the Gunkel, himself, rejected Mowinckel’s instruction on such a large scale. He said that it was purely imagination. There was no restrains as he limited himself to just the five verses and not the whole of the Psalms, yet he begins the idea with the festival. Today Mowinckel’s take on this is largely rejected and that is why I hesitated to even get into Mowinckel’s construction of these Psalms. But I think anyone who is educated in the Psalms should be aware of this material. Another by the name of Visor sees the Psalms as the making of the Sinai Covenant. This is just a universalism with too board a brush so I don’t buy in to interpreting all the Psalms into one festival.

The plain sense of the psalter, including superscripts and subscripts show that many psalms began as private prayers. This is in reverse of Gunkel; they started as private prayers and then become songs of the temple in the temple worship. Some psalms were obviously composed away from the temple while other psalms were composed for the temple. Some of the Psalms are Wisdom Psalms such as Psalm 49. It is debated in how it fits into temple life.

E. The Function of the Cultus

This will help us see how the Psalms are composed against the temple liturgy. There are four usages of the Psalms, one being symbolic, a visible form that profoundly portrays the living stuff of religion. They also function typically in that they are a divinely intended, visible form to portray what will become real or actual in the future. They also function sacramentally as in spiritual participation in words that accompany cultic acts and fourth, they function artistically. This is advocating a point of view, not in a negative propaganda way, but instead based on truth.

1. Symbolically

Symbolically, you have religious experience and now you give it concrete expression in external actions. This is of man toward God which could involve ascending prayers going up to God or the raising of hands. This could also be of God to man. It is true that only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year, but there was no mystery about being clearly known to all Israel. The Holy of Holies itself was all symbolic with craved palm trees on the wall and other trees representing the Garden of Eden and eternal life. At the very center of the Holy of Hollies was the Ark of the Covenant. And interestingly as you progress through the temple doors, they became narrower as you approached the Holy of Hollies. Even the roof line dropped toward the Holy of Hollies and the Ark of the Covenant. Thus the focus was on the Ark of the Covenant. There was nothing like this in pagan religions which would have had a statue representing their god. But the temple held the transcendent moral rule of God, it was ethics. It was a way of living that represented the heart of Israel. The Ten Commandments were in the Ark of the Covenant and over that was the mercy seat with the blood that made atonement that made it possible for sinful people to enter into God’s presence. Over the lid of the Ark were the cherubim, sphinxes like figures that guarded the sanctity and preserved it. So, just as the cherubim protected the Garden of Eden so sin couldn’t enter into it, the cherubim protected the sanctity of God’s holy place. Outside of this, you had the light and the show bread whereby you could eat and fellowship with God. Then there was the altar of incense symbolling prayer. This was teaching theology through symbolism.

2. Psalm 73

In considering Psalm 73, in the sanctuary he sees the crisis of faith is resolved. This is usually referred to as a Wisdom Psalm. In reading the Psalm, he doesn’t doubt God’s goodness and everything he says is wrapped in praise where he affirms his faith immediately. However, you can see that his experience conflicts with his faith. Read it carefully.

Surly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
Surly you have placed them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge that I may tell of all your works.

Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith